The Bitter Truths; A Walk Into Firdaus’ Controversy – By Okocha Obed
“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”
— MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
There is always that appointed time when rules should be challenged. In the event that the rules birth injustice, then the best way to militate against such extant legislation is by civil disobedience. If there is one scribble worth penning, it remains the applauding activism of a moslem – Amasa Firdaus. It is no longer news that Firdaus, a law graduate from the University of Ilorin, was denied entry into the International Conference Centre situate at Abuja on the 13th day of December. The event was one that law students crave to witness as it is their call to bar ceremony – without which they would at no cost be addressed as lawyers. She wore her Hijab as against the rules and refused to take it off; she went against the body of benchers that Wednesday. The bitter truth is that she did not err. Ratiocinations infra will give reasons why.
This writer is not unaware of the fact that the legal Practitioners Act provided for the Body of Benchers; and that this body has provided the code of conduct for law school, is not strange music to the ear of this writer. A close perusal of the Code of Conduct, however, seems to be silent on what a law student is expected to wear during the ceremony. Arguments that convention could suffice is not one this writer has a grouse with. But in the event that an age-long convention kicks the scrotum of the grund norm, then we need only commonsense to understand the urgent need to stop the kicks before it becomes a matter of orchiectomy. Arguments in favour of the Body of Benchers have flown up in the air like the green witch with her mop stick, and having gulped the creaminess of their arguments, there had been due cause to sick out all of it because it is malapropos to devour the succulent orange and chew its green clothing. So the question remains, what age long convention deserved no kneels? A convention that says Muslims should not wear Hijab on their call to bar ceremony suffers any good reason. Many based arguments on Section 10 CFRN, 1999 and this writer has cried a million times.
Section 10 CFRN, 1999 provides that “the Government of the Federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion.” How this proviso becomes necessary to her struggle is amazing. Whether her act was for the struggle to Islamize Nigeria is not one that can be intelligibly confirmed as accurate. It is far-reaching to arrive at such conclusion even, as we would need to first become gifted with the vision of Teresias or experts at phrenology. If arguments having the above section were raised to appreciate a singular reason that the legal profession is not a slave to any religion being that it is secular, then it should be stressed that such a position is not novel. What becomes novel is tying it to the Hijab controversy. Is it to be believed that the convention that Muslims wear no Hijab to their call to bar ceremony is to reflect secularity of the noble profession? Whoever thought of such ludicrous pooh-pooh idea may have read the Constitution with a bleary eye to have skipped Section 38 CFRN, 1999. Before throwing my legs into the haven the latter section promises, it is not unnecessary to say that the conventional tradition should not be given safe landing into 2018 for few reasons: 1. If the law allows for female Muslims to wear Hijab to law lectures at tertiary institutions, law school, dinners, then on what premise should the Hijab not be worn on their ceremony day? 2. Since female Muslim lawyers wear Hijabs to court after their call to bar ceremony, there is logically no sense in depriving same Muslims from wearing same during their ceremony day.
It has become necessary to have the black prints of section 38 (1) CFRN, 1999. It has that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” This writer does not feign ignorance at the popular saying that all rights are not absolute – its qualification will be turned to in other paragraphs. If we are to marry the action of Amasa Firdaus to the wording of the section (supra), we may have to nod approvingly when said that her refusal to take off her Hijab was for no other reason than her devoutness to the Nigerian Constitution and the Holy Quran. The constitution said in section 10 that Nigeria shall remain a secular state and because it recognizes the diverse religions in Nigeria, it safeguards their existence to avoid extinction of beliefs of Nigerian people. A thorough reading of the above proviso shows that the constitution allows for freedom of religion, freedom to practice same in public places, freedom to manifest and propagate religion, right to observe it. What this means is that a Christian is free to practice Christianity, and a Muslim is free to do same. In public places include universities, law school, market places, and malls, social gatherings, to mention a few.
It may not be known to many but the Muslim faith is such that a female Muslim who is a believer should not display her beauty and ornaments except in the presence of her parents, husband, children, fellow women in the faith, family, slaves whom their right hand possesses. This is the summary of the 30th and 31st verse of the 24th Sura of the Holy Quran. Why it is to be observed diligently is because the veil is a symbol of dressing modestly as was expressly stressed in the same Sura of the Holy Quran. Why it cannot be departed from is because the prayer offered at the completion of the recitation of the Holy Quran is one that each Muslim lives by or aims to live by. It provides as follows:
“O Allah have mercy on me with (the blessings) of the Great Qur’an. Make it for me a Model, Light, Guidance and Mercy. O my Allah remind me whatever I have forgotten of it and teach me what I do not know of it. Grant me its recitation in the watches of the night and in the hours of day. O lord of the worlds make it an Authority for me for my benefit. Amen.”
The ending lines of the prayer has the word ‘authority’ ,hence the reason why a veil cannot be done away with except for reasons that will be highlighted later on. It will matter to drop two decided cases that favours the Hijab controversy – in as much as the cases were not dwelling on the conventional attire for the bar ceremony, its holding covers the field nonetheless. The unreported case of THE PROVOST, KWARA STATE COLLEGE OF EDUCATION, ILORIN&2 ORS V. BASHIRAT SALIU, only serves as a troubleshooter to every verbal ruckus as far as a veil is concerned. According to Massoud Abdul Rahman Oredola JCA, in the case supra, “The right of the respondents to wear their HIJAB veil within the school campus and INDEED ANYWHERE else is adequately protected under our laws. Human rights recognize [sic] and protects religious rights. S.38 of the 1999 CFRN guaranteed freedom of religion to all and sundry. Thus, things that lawfully constitute OPEN MANIFESTATION, PROPAGATION, WORSHIP, TEACHING, PRACTICE and OBSERVANCE of the said religion are equally and by extension similarly guaranteed and protected by the Constitution. Indeed the Hijab, Niqab or Burqa, being part of Islamic code of dressing and by whatever standard a dignified or vividly decent one cannot be taken away by any other than the constitution.” This case supports what has been said in the above paragraphs. A case that adopted the ruling above was Sheikh Oyinwola & ors v. The Gov of Osun State.
Having agreed that Section 38(1) has its qualifications, it is good the part of the constitution that so limits the right of religion be underscored. Reading Section 45(1)(a)&(b)CFRN, 1999, it will be gleaned from its wordings that “Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of the constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society – (a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or (b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.” What must not be done is to commence the reading of this section with the aim of stopping at reasonably justifiable in a democratic society since what follows it stands as the yardstick upon which the justifiability should be tested – in other words, a & b shows specificity of the constitution. Where veil was not allowed temporarily in the country was during the high rise of the Boko Haram insurgency where the insurgents wrapped their ugly heads around a black scarf to perpetrate dark-hearted crimes – this is a typical example of interest of defence. The wearing of veil signifies modesty and as such does not offend public morality which preaches decency; it also does not offend public order which preaches moderation. Until we start seeing or hearing of the necessity for Muslims to give up on the wearing of HIJAB because of health concerns, the right to wearing veils by Muslim sisters is well within the law and cannot be broken by a convention that was inspired by legal superstition and excessive symbolism unknown to first world countries. Submitted therefore is that this section does not throw stones at the tinted glass of Muslims wearing a black scarf.
Arguments that have entered many nostrils which obviously reek of spoilt stew are that if reverend sisters can do away with their white veil and attend the ceremony, Amasa Firdaus has no claim. Some have gone as far as duplicating banters that if Hijab will be allowed then traditional worshippers should dress in their regalia to the ceremony. These arguments are faulty to the extent that it hangs in one corner arousing a religious war that was most definitely not envisaged by Amasa Firdaus. This writer is not oblivious of the fact that nuns wear veil as a symbol of consecration to God and as a reflection of being abstemious. This writer is not also unaware of the truth that many churches have given up on hair covering as some reasoned that ‘a spiritual shift’ occurred. As Femi once said, “you cannot force your opinion down my throat”, it needs be meteorically watered here that the Faith of the nuns is sacral and ever respected, and so is the Moslem Faith – by implication, none of these faiths can be used as a measuring tube for either of them or any other religion in Nigeria. That said, it should be penned also that those arguing for traditional religions should please go ahead to bring authorities that imprints attires ‘they’ are to wear publicly, everywhere and anywhere. Firdaus Amasa’s action merely challenged a rule that did not sink well with her religion; it does not mean she expects Islam to be superior to all others; rather she wants that the constitution be complied with – this does not affect the secularity of the law. For the love of knowledge, the stats of 2016 records that 0.8% form people of other religion in Nigeria which makes it inconsequential if placed side by side with the 47.3% practitioners of Islam, the 30% protestants, 10.0% Catholics, unspecified Christians of 10.8%, and 0.5% other Christians. Idol worshippers are fast becoming Islamized or birthed into Christendom; some others that find it difficult to adjust to Islam and Christianity embraces paganism – if the mental picture drawn here as regards other religion appear as jargons, then treat as by the way.
The spate occurrence that has witnessed Nigeria drink from the copy and paste bowl of the British is one tightly glued to a rigid and familiar love-hate admiration of ancient thralldom. We have virtually embraced every aspect of the British legal orientation like faithful sheep eager to feed from the accommodating palms of a shepherd. On the matter of dress code, Rule 6(b) of the Rule of Professional Conduct for the legal profession here in Nigeria provides inter alia that while the court is in session, a lawyer should not assume an undignified posture and should not remove his wig without the judge’s permission – this is to avoid unnecessary attention to oneself. It is no news that we swallowed as pills the manner of dressing used in England and though this writer is not against a wig and gown, does it not trouble a sane mind that even founders of the age-long practice are giving up on it and allowing the wig and gown only in criminal cases – the reason is fair, the lawyers choose to maintain an unidentifiable identity during top profile criminal cases. Now, the Nigerian Law School Code of Conduct provided for dress code only during the stay in Law School. It did not provide for penalties when dress codes are not met yet Firdaus Amasa was given a kick too hard at the discretion of body of benchers not eager to hear her twists and resolutions. She wore her Hijab and had a wig on her head. It remains two thoughts, are conventions older and weightier than provisions of the constitution? Or are Hijabs too filthy on such a ceremony?
The second question is easy to answer. Of course it knows no filth except unwashed for months – still, this is no yardstick to continue in such convention limpidly lacking merit. To the former question, we keep being choked with cold belabour that rules are rules. Who says rules are not meant to be broken. Intelligibly, she resorted to the constitution and made a valid claim. The grund norm beats any other legislation, let alone a worn-out convention in need of grease, and as such that convention must lick the sacral feet of the law of our land vide Sections 1(3) CFRN which has that a law inconsistent with the constitution shall be null and void to the level of its inconsistency.
This is not a time to becloud our heads with sentiments. This is not a time to begin to trade religious insults as this remains a struggle for justice and not supremacy of a religion. Firdaus broke no law, she civilly disobeyed and we now water down her intrepidity equating her status to a raca or an unwise youth. She spoke the bitter truth; the body of benchers did not listen.
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