The Hijab Controversy & Nigerian Legal Profession: Embracing Intellectual Debate Devoid Of Diatribe

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(Read this insightful intellectual exchange between
PABIODUN OWONIKOKO (SAN) &
PSYLVESTER UDEMEZUE, with
comments by PFEMI FALANA (SAN);
POLANIYIN OKIN;
POLUWASEUN OMOTOSO;
POYEWALE AKINRINADE; &
POTUNBA OLAYINKA BOLANLE on the
legal and ethical issues surrounding the recent face-off between
Miss Firdaus Abdulsalam and the Nigerian Law School over the
former`s insistence on wearing hijab for call to bar)

A Nigerian Law School graduate was reportedly denied her
call-to-the-bar for refusing to take off her Islamic headscarf, the
hijab. Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam
was not permitted by the Body of Benchers to enter the
International Conference Centre (ICC), venue of the 2017
ceremonies, on December 12, 2017 when the call to bar was held. The
Nigerian Law School said that the lady was breaking the dress code
set by the School and by the Body of Benchers (the body responsible
for the Call to Bar, but Firdaus, who was already wearing her new
gown, insisted on wearing the wig on top of her hijab. The hijab is
a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their
religion or culture. According reports, Miss Abdulsalam called the
refusal of the Nigerian Law School to call her to the bar a
violation of her right to freedom of religion as protected by
Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution. The call to bar is the
official moment where an individual is sworn into a law society or
court and obtains licensing to practice law in that jurisdiction.
Miss Abdulsalam can be called to the bar next year only if she is
regarded as having complied with all the rules. This incident has
generated heated argument, discussions among Nigerians at home and
in diaspora, especially on the social media. (see
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/nigerian-law-graduate-denied-call-bar-hijab-171216084329791.html)

Presented below is a part of some nourishing intellectual
discussion which occurred on the hijab controversy on a popular
WhatsApp forum, the LEGAL PRACTICE DISCOURSE (LPD)
Forum
among some Learned Senior Advocates of Nigeria
(SAN`s) and some other lawyers in Nigeria, in respect of the legal
and human right issues raised by the actions of Miss Amasa
Firdaus Abdulsalam
(in having insisted on wearing her
hijab for call to bar) and the reaction by the Body of Benchers (in
having denied the lady access to the venue of the 2017 Call to Bar
for the induction ceremonies on grounds that her actions violated
the mandatory rules governing the conduct of the ceremonies). This
section of the discussion was kicked off by a comment titled,
FIRDAUS HIJAB CRUSADE,” authored
by a learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria and intellectual giant,
Mr. ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM ONE:

FIRDAUS HIJAB CRUSADE.
(BY ABIODUN
OWONIKOKO, SAN)

The reactions (for and against) to her conscientious objection
to being forced to wear wig without hijab at her call to bar show
that we are misinterpreting the poor girl. And for those who may be
unaware I was part of the appellant`s legal team in the Court
of Appeal case that resolved the constitutionality of hijab wearing
by female pupils in Lagos State public secondary schools. It was
from outset a test case. We needed someone with the right fact
scenario to pursue it right from high court to the court of
appeal.

In my view, Firdaus was not unaware of the rules and code of
dressing at call to Bar ceremonies for qualifying lawyers as
happened last week. Hers was a conscious political statement;
probably misguided or not well informed, having regard to the lack
of consensus among Muslim schools of thought on hijab being a
religious prescription for Muslim women. She knew well enough the
consequence of her decision and was evidently prepared to face it.
She craved publicity (free advert) for her cause on a global
platform and she’s getting it.  All said, I think I
respect the girl more than I do those who fail to appreciate her
objective — she wants a bar that is domesticated and nuanced to
reflect our culture and realities. Whether accommodation of hijab
for those who treasure it as a statement of faith (not necessarily
of piety) should be given consideration in the light of this
incident (which I welcome) is a matter that we can no longer avoid
discussing robustly. Citing differences between US, UK legal
system and ours is not an answer to the question posed by the poor
lady. I want to believe she’s having her laugh at us because she
set us an examination, which we elected to sit for — but now insist
on marking her script as her examiner. We need more of her type who
have courage of their conviction with willingness to pay the price,
to challenge our settled view about matters that require deep
rethinking. If someone were to refuse to wear wig and gown at
call to bar on account of being a colonial anachronism (not based
on religion), I wonder if we would have a different argument in
rejoinder to him.

Having said that, would I (as a Muslim) advise my daughter
to do what Firdaus Amasa did if and when she qualifies to be called
to Bar? Certainly, not. But would I be upset by it, if I knew ahead
and was convinced she chose to do it as a matter of conscience with
full appreciation of the implications for her career in the
conservative legal profession — you bet I will not.  Not that
I have any choice…. Firdaus` is a test of the limit of our
tolerance for disruptive change that is upon us in Nigeria, across
all disciplines. Since the news broke we have seen that the issue
raised by Firdaus` is not esoteric — it’s been addressed in other
African commonwealth countries satisfactorily.

Most of us do not know that in Kenya the bar has accommodated
use of hijab by Muslim women along with their wigs in court. Did it
occur to senior Muslim (particularly female) lawyers to advocate a
reform like this when we had a Muslim female CJN? That would have
been a perfect factual scenario for sympathetic hearing. It would
perhaps have made the Firdaus drama needless and obviated.

We can only conserve and preserve traditions and systems that
work and increase value for efforts. That’s why we observe children
of eminent lawyers taking degrees in the profession only out giving
regard to their parents` expectation but immediately hanging their
wig and gown after call to bar to pursue their own dreams (or
fantasies) like acting, singing, fashion, computer coding etc.
Albeit with differing outcomes on the scale of success if measured
only in money terms while their self-fulfillment and happiness
are discounted. Our younger generations cannot bear in silence, the
hardship and frustration we endure with our atavistic conformance
with moribund status quo. They are giving us warning of an
incipient rebellion against seeming imperviousness to need for
holistic reform that answers to demands of the present and needs of
a future that is more of their own than that of our expiring
generation. This jihad of provoking intellectual debate is far
better and should be warmly welcome in lieu of that made notorious
by ISIS and Boko Haram. ~ By ABIODUN J. OWONIKOKO
SAN
.
++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM TWO:

OLUWASEUN ‘DAYO OMOTOSO (First Reply to Abiodun
Owonikoko, SAN):

With due respect sir I disagree with your submissions. A Bar
reflective of our culture? I am dazed. What part of our culture is
hijab? What tribe does that belong to? Would you put up this same
argument in support of a Mason who insists on going to the call to
bar with his apron or in support of an
Ogboni member who insists wearing his
itagbe or shaki
to the call is his religious right? Would the cheerleaders of this
affront to the solemnity of the bar put up their arguments in
support of a candidate who insists that he worships masquerades and
must be called in a masquerade’s garb? We must understand the
consequences of our choices and the limits of our rights. Talking
about rights, none of them is absolute.

++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM THREE:

FEMI FALANA, SAN (reacting to A.
Owonikoko`s):

Biodun, yours is a commendable intervention.  But can we
blame the girl in a country where Islam and Christianity have been
turned into state religions by the State?  If the Nigerian Law
School commences public events with Muslim prayers and ends with
Christian prayers, can it turn around to blame a student for
wearing her wig on top of her hijab? Could Firdaus not have been
influenced by the Lagos and Ilorin Judicial Divisions of the Court
of Appeal, which ruled that students have a constitutional right or
fundamental right to wear hijab in secondary schools with
prescribed school uniforms? If she challenges the decision of
the Law School, won’t the (Federal) High Court be bound by both
judgments of the Court of Appeal? Or, is the dress code of the Law
School not a prescribed school uniform?

ITEM FOUR:

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (reacting to Femi
Falana`s):

Dear Learned Silk, Sir, kindly permit me to humbly suggest,
with utmost respect, that the issues decided upon by the Court of
Appeal in the cases you have referred to are somehow different from
those in the present scenario. I therefore respectfully do not
think those decisions would guide this instance. Several issues are
at stake here, I believe. And, should the matter ultimately go to
court, all relevant issues would be on display before the courts.
Besides, the lady’s professed “right” to wear hijab for call to bar
is not an absolute right. Further, the lady knew all the relevant
rules from Day One — on her being admitted to the Nigerian Law
School (NLS), and she had then voluntarily executed a WRITEN
UNDERTAKEN to abide by all the rules as well as the Code of Conduct
for Students and Aspirants; and she had indeed, earlier, on THREE
occasions (during the Law Dinners) removed the hijab in compliance
with extant rules, only to now decide to assert her “right” during
the Call to Bar. It is curious! What then has happens to the
principle of “volenti non fit injuria.” Does waiver of
right not apply, if any such “right” had existed in the first
place, which I doubt? Anyway, it is my humble opinion that every
right guaranteed under the Constitution demands some reciprocal
responsibility from the holder or purported owner of such right.
Moreover, the Nigerian Law School, the Council of Legal Education
(CLE) and the Body of Benchers
(BOB) have their own rights, just as Miss Amasa
Firdaus thinks she does have hers. And if the lady (Firdaus)
desires to be a member of the Nigerian Bar, her so-called “rights”
would not excuse her from complying with the conditions precedent
for an admission into the Bar.

Let me respectfully also state at this point that the mere fact
that the NLS starts some ceremonies with prayers and ends with
prayers does not suggest that the CLE/NLS is now a religious
organization, nor that it would now bend its rules in order to
accommodate behaviors, precepts, supposed “rules” of certain
“religious” organizations into its Code of Conduct. The NLS/CLE is
a secular body, just as the Body of Benchers (BOB), whose rules and
regulations do not favour nor discriminate against any particular
religion, but applies equally to all aspirants irrespective of
religious, ethnic, political or social affiliation. The moment the
BOB or the CLE/NLS decides to bend backwards to accommodate
individual predilections of one religious group, other religious
organizations would begin to assert their own “rights” in which
case the NLS/CLE and BOB would become obliged to also accommodate
every one of them; after all, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce
also for the gander.

There is no one person or (religious) group that does not have
rights! And there is none who doesn’t know how to assert these
“rights,” and to assert them hard. The Catholic Rev. Father wears
his cassock all day and all night long.
The Catholic Rev Sister wears her head veil and long gown all day
and all night long. Traditional rulers among us (Obas, Emirs,
Igwes, Ezes, Obongs, etc.) wear their regalia always. Members of
the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC), the
Cherubim & Seraphim (C&S), etc. go about
their businesses without any footwear. The Charismatic
Ministry
members always insist on wearing prescribed
church aprons. There’s a particular way Pentecostal Pastors dress
always. Imams and Alfas are not left out, neither are the core
traditionalists, chief priests, or even atheists. All these people
and others have always wisely obeyed the dress code at the Call to
Bar, knowing that this is the right thing to do. But when the time
comes, I mean, when this push comes to shove, all of them, each of
them, every one of them, would tell you that if you’re entitled to
wear your hijab, they equally are entitled to wear their apparels,
however awkward, without any let or hindrance.  The result,
Sir, would be total CHAOS and disorderliness, that may signal the
beginning of the annihilation legal education and the profession of
law in Nigeria. We would then have ourselves to blame for this
outcome—- assuming it gets to that. And it would be too late then
to make any U-turn. I agree that people have the right to push for
a change of the status quo. But, up until the change
sought (if it is sought) is duly effected, extant rules must be
obeyed by everyone concerned.

Finally, the need for respect for lawfully constituted authority
is not yet dead. Hence, an Italian writer and scholar of old,
Pope Pius XI (1857–1939), once said, and I agree:
“justice requires that to lawfully constituted
Authority, there must be given that respect and obedience which is
its due…”
And, as American theologian, ethicist,
commentator and professor, Reinhold Niebuhr
(1892–1971), put it, “the false tendency to claim God
as an ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all
religious fanaticism.”
For the late Martin
Luther King Jnr
, “there are some things concerning
which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good
will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial segregation. We must
never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust
ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the
many to give luxuries to the few.”
Earlier, George
Washington
, American Statesman and the first President of
the USA, (reputed to be the father of modern America), had declared
that “..it is our boast, that one man’s religious
tenets will not forfeit the protection of our
Laws” 
It’s however for the courts to decide on
this matter, if it gets into their domain; my comments are without
prejudice to their powers in this respect.

 

Thank you, Learned Silk, Sir.

Respectfully,
Sylvester Udemezue.

++++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM FIVE:

ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN) (a response to
Sylvester Udemezue`s):

I am still unable to see the point of whether she’s right or
wrong when what she set out to do was protest application of the
dress code that in her view did not respect her right to wear hijab
underneath her wig. Once we agree that the Nigerian
Constitution neither prohibits nor mandates wearing of hijab, the
question will then arise: whether in the practical (not textual)
application of the Legal Practitioner’s dress code, a Muslim
woman’s religiously supported right (not obligation) to wear hijab
is being violated. Until she attempted and was denied to wear the
hijab, it was a moot point. An academic question. The incident
has given it life as an issue to litigate upon with an identifiable
complainant who can show locus standi – Firdaus. If Kenya Bar
allows use of hijab beneath lawyers` wig as an expression of
religious right; how strong would be the argument that it is not
unconstitutional to deny Firdaus that right in Nigeria? The test is
what is reasonable in a normal society. It would be interesting to
see whether our courts will be willing to hold that Kenya is not a
reasonable society for accommodating hijab. It does not however
mean that it was wrong to have denied her entry for call to bar at
the last try since as at then, the application of the dress code
had not been challenged or judicially interpreted in a precedent.
It may arguably lead to the court declaring that it amounts to
religious discrimination to deny her the use of hijab. It’s a
totally different matter if she sought to be excused from wearing
the lawyer`s wig, like any other lawyer. And that distinction
is what we might not have sufficiently adverted to. That was not
her contention. The issue is so jurisprudential tricky that
predicting which one of the contrasting lines of argument will
prevail in court may be presumptuous. It’s not black and white
on the facts and I dare not speak with any authority or confidence
about what the courts will eventually decide. But if it helps,
mention must be made that at the first opportunity to hear the
famous appeal in the hijab case the panel declined to proceed
because it was an all-Muslim panel presided over by Augie
JCA (as she then was). Counsel were thereupon advised to pray
the President of the Court of Appeal to reconstitute the panel in
order to give it some religious balance. A full panel of the Court
presided over by a non-Muslim was later assigned to take the
eventual appeal. Although we talk about the hijab issue
resolved by that case, its most ground-breaking pronouncement was
that Nigeria is not secular state. Rather, that by the express
provisions of the constitution, Nigeria is a
multi-religious
nation.

++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM SIX:

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE:

Dear Learned Silk, Sir, I will (with your kind indulgence) say
the following in response, with due respect:

  • You referred to the rule in far-away Kenya and expressed your
    optimism that Nigerian Courts may take a cue from that country. I
    do not think our courts would so do.  That is the rule in
    Kenya; the rule is different in Nigeria and anyone who desires to
    join the legal profession in Nigeria MUST respect the rules of the
    profession or of the relevant regulatory authorities —- whether one
    is a Christian, Moslem, traditionalist, atheist, etc. My beloved
    sister, Miss Amasa Firdaus, elected to not comply with the rules in
    NIGERIA, and hence was denied admission to the Nigerian Bar.
    Nigeria is not Kenya. So, the rules in Kenya cannot govern or guide
    application of Nigerian rules to Nigerians in Nigeria. Besides, I
    am aware that decisions of superior courts in some foreign
    jurisdictions may have some persuasive influence on our courts. I
    doubt if Kenya is now first among such countries. Finally, on this
    point, since our rules expressly prohibit the use of hijab for call
    to bar, which was why all other, hijab-wearing, Muslim ladies (save
    Miss Firdaus) had come to the International; Conference Centre
    (ICC), Abuja, venue of the 2017 Call-to-Bar Ceremonies, without
    wearing their hijab, I honestly do not think such persuasion would
    be entertained in this instance.

 

  • If the lady (Firdaus) refused to remove her hijab and the BOB
    refused to admit her to the Nigerian Bar, and both parties left it
    at that point and went home, having each exercised/asserted each
    party’s right (the lady, the right to refuse to remove her hijab
    and the BOB, the right to refuse to call her to bar on grounds of
    noncompliance with set rules), I do not think there would have been
    any issues. It was the same lady who had taken the matter a step
    further, by going on the social and print media, and indeed
    everywhere, crying for help, and alleging that NLS had denied
    her “fundamental right” to wear hijab for call to bar, against
    extant BOB/CLE rules. So, it’s the lady (and not the Law school,
    nor the BOB) that had caused all this unnecessary brouhaha,
    controversy, with these shenanigans plus her needless religious
    grandstanding and unprovoked “bring-them-down” campaign
    against the BOB/CLE; and therein lies the “wrong” in her conduct!
    Yes, Sir! Hence, another respected Senior Lawyer has described this
    whole matter as a pure “conduct issue,” and not at all a
    “religious issue.”

 

  • I agree with your statement that “it is a totally different
    matter if she (Firdaus) sought to be excused from wearing wig like
    any other lawyer.” 
    But, sir, seeking to be excused from
    wearing the lawyer`s wig on grounds of her religious beliefs is NO
    different from her wearing the wig PLUS other
    things (i.e., hijab) when extant rules say it is only the wig — no
    more, no less. What if an African traditionalist decides to come to
    the Call venue with the lawyer`s wig on, but with some Peacock
    feather hung on top of the wig, in line with his religious beliefs—
    would he not be in the same shoes, Sir? Breach of rule is breach of
    rule, irrespective of how it occurs and notwithstanding the reasons
    given for such violation of rules. If a lawfully constituted
    authority should accept such individual reasons (purely subjective
    reasons) or excuses for this kind of flagrant disregard for its
    rules, I do not think anyone would ever obey any rules; of course,
    each person must have or contrive a reason (which may be religious;
    like a religious “right”) for violating secular rules. E.g., a
    primary school pupil who comes to school later than the scheduled
    time and is therefore not allowed into the school premises and into
    the classroom could allege violation of his “religious right”
    claiming he had come late because he had some religious
    “obligation” to offer prayers in his local church or mosque in the
    morning before coming to school—- a right which he would then
    insist the school must respect. Another student who decides to
    embark on a religious retreat outside of his locality during the
    time of the semester-end exams might return from such (religious)
    retreat and insist that the school must organize for only him his
    own examinations, claiming it would be a breach of his religious
    right (for the affected school) to not so do, since it was his
    adherence to “a religious obligation” that had led him to miss the
    first round of exams. Hmmmmmm!!!! Rights!!!! Fundamental rights!!!
    And what should we expect? The school must accede since such a
    student has a religious right!

 

  • Respected Learned Silk, Sir, you advise that the Court of
    Appeal has decided that Nigeria is a “multi-religious
    state.”
    I agree. But, with due respect, Sir, I see NO material
    difference between the terms “multi-religious state” and
    “secular state.”  A “secular” state is a state that
    is officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither
    religion nor irreligion; a state that treats all of its citizens
    equally regardless of religious affiliations; a state that avoids
    preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular
    religion/non-religion over other religions/non-religion. A secular
    state does not have a state religion (an established religion in
    accordance with whose precepts the state is governed) or its
    equivalent. A true secular state steadfastly maintains a neutral
    governance style without any influence from religious factions and
    vice versa. A secular state separates church or mosque, etc., from
    state. (See http://www.definitions.net/definition/secular%20state).
    It is therefore clear from the above that a secular state is, more
    often than not, a multi-religious state who, to avoid being accused
    of bias, maintains neutrality and refuses to afford any special or
    preferential treatment to any particular religion over and above
    the others. A “multi-religious” state which runs the affairs of
    state in a neutral manner, and not allowing itself to be
    controlled, influenced or intimidated by any professed “rights” of
    any of its many religions is a SECULAR STATE. Sir, is this not a
    good reason for the NLS and BOB to insist on neutrality by refusing
    to allow use of the Muslim hijab, Catholic Rev Fathers’ Cassock,
    Alb and Stole, Catholic Rev Sisters’ veil and gown, the Lord’s
    Chosen’s Apron, the Deeper Life member’s scarf, the Pentecostal
    Pastors’ COLLAR, the traditionalists regalia, the chiefs, otunbas’
    and high chiefs’ red, white, blue or brown caps, etc., by aspirants
    during the call to bar ceremonies. It is for the same reason of
    secularity that Celestial Church of Christ (CCC) and Cherubim &
    Seraphim (C & S) members who are Nigerian bar aspirants are not
    permitted to come on bare foot into the call to bar venues. If you
    have agreed that Nigeria is a multi-religious country, with each
    religion trying to lord it over the other, then I earnestly beg you
    to agree that Nigeria needs to maintain its secularity by not
    favoring or accommodating the practice or culture of one religious
    group without also accommodating those of the others. Except you
    are suggesting that, in furtherance of some religious “rights,”
    everyone from everywhere should be allowed to wear everything from
    everywhere, anyhow, for Call to bar!  Then, I would say, God
    help us!

 

I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to learn from
you.
Thank you, Learned Silk, Sir.

Respectfully,
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE

+++++++++++++++++++

ITEM SEVEN:

ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN:

Your optimism is fascinating.  I will have you know that
the hijab case was lost at the High Court before a judge who is a
staunch Redeemed Christian Church of God member. Her Ladyship
relied on an European Union Court decision interpreting EU human
rights conventions to hold that denial of right to wear hijab
by a pupil was not a breach of freedom of religion. A contrary
decision of Ilorin Division of the Court of Appeal cited was
supposedly distinguished.  So the judge preferred the EU Court
decision referred to the court from Turkey — holding that hijab
could be banned on ground of secularity of state not to promote or
support a particular faith. That was the reason for constituting a
full panel of the Court of Appeal which reversed the trial court
and upheld religious right to wear hijab by Muslim female students
in public secondary* schools.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM EIGHT:

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE:

Respected Learned Silk, Sir, Miss Amasa Firdaus and all other
Muslim aspirants to the bar were allowed to wear hijab (a
particular type is allowed) to classes/lectures while they were
students in the Nigerian Law School (NLS). The Law School, as we
all know, is owned by the Council of Legal Education (CLE). The
Nigerian Law School (NLS) is a public school, no doubt, I agree.
The scenario is however different here, which has nothing to do
with a public school, the NLS or CLE. Call to Bar is a CEREMONY,
the planning and organization of which are the sole responsibility
of the BODY OF BENCHERS (BOB), an independent corporate body (not a
public school) established by section 3 of the Legal Practitioners
Act, Cap L11, LFN, 2004.  Wearing of all sorts of religious
veils or scarf, including hijab, especially the ones that cover
one`s ears (which is what Miss Firdaus actually wore on the fateful
day) is expressly banned for call to bar CEREMONIES. This case is
not about the (religious) right of a student to wear hijab in a
public school. It is rather about the right of an aspirant to the
Nigerian bar to wear hijab to an INDUCTION ceremony (call to bar)
organized by an organization (not a school), the BOB, where the
rules EXPRESSLY ban the use of such, or that type of, hijab. The
Nigerian Law School has no business with the call to bar ceremonies
—- except to the extent it is permitted by the BOB to assist the
BOB. Call to bar is a SPECIAL, FORMAL SOLEMN CEREMONY, not a
classroom lecture. The call to bar venue is not a classroom nor a
school premises. The Body of Benchers (BOB) is not a public school,
I repeat. Call to bar is an induction/admission ceremony into the
Bar—- the Nigerian Bar (Association). I therefore humbly suggest
that we should consider leaving out these cases dealing with
pupils’ freedom to use hijab in public schools, because I
respectfully do not think they would guide the present scenario,
which has much to do, not with one’s freedom of religion, but
instead with freedom of association and implications of subscribing
to membership of an association. If one desires to belong to an
association, is one not expected to either COMPLY with the express
rules of the association serving as preconditions for admission
into the Association or to otherwise stay away from the
Association? Or, is it the Association that is expected to change
its rules, and bend backwards to OBEY the prospective member’s
personal, even “religious” rules?  This is a major question
the Nigerian Courts would answer in this very instance, I believe.
I repeat, it is not about right to wear hijab in a public school,
and it is not about freedom of religion, but majorly about the
responsibility to obey the rules of an organization or association
to which one voluntarily proposes to belong. This is why His
Lordship, Dongban-Mensem, JCA, once declared as
follows:

“In the exercise of their constitutional rights under
sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantee
freedom of thought, assembly, association, etc., individuals elect
to and do subscribe to membership in associations, which sometimes
curtail their rights. The appellant, while exercising his right,
joined an honourable profession of formidable societal influence
and relevance which of necessity has rules and regulations to guide
his professional conduct and which along the line curtail some of
his choices. The appellant was not compelled to take up the
profession of law and its attendant compulsory membership of the
Nigerian Bar Association. However, once he made the choice to study
and practice law and thereby placing his name on the roll of honour
of belonging to the profession, he stands bound by the internal
rules and regulations of the Association. There would therefore be
no issue of a breach of the Constitution of the country if the
rules demand of him, UNDIVIDED LOYALTY…. How can a law court
interfere and set aside these vital rules for the sanitation of the
Bar? The way forward for the appellant is as in all democratic
settings – a hard campaign for the reversal of these bye-laws by a
majority of the members who after all are said to have voted enmass
for the bye-laws. The appellant needs to sharpen his persuasive
skills and convince the other members of the association that the
said bye-laws are inimical to the progress or perhaps the existence
of the association.”
(see CHINWO v
OWHONDA
  (2008) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1074) 341, 361 on freedom
of association–Implication of subscription to membership of
association).

 Sir, what happened in Abuja, at the ICC, venue of
the 2017 swearing-in or call to bar ceremony, was that the lady
(Miss Firdaus) voluntarily elected to not be called (inducted) into
the Nigerian Bar, by not complying with the mandatory rules, which
apply without any discrimination or preference against any
particular religion. She has thus made her choice. Jurisprudential
theories of obligations based on association or membership are
supported by the commonsensical belief that we should obey the laws
of our societies or associations whose membership we voluntarily
subscribe to because we belong (or voluntarily want to belong) to
them. Then come the theory relating to duty of loyalty and
obedience
, which requires a member or prospective member
of an association to act in accordance with the organization’s
articles, bylaws, and other governing documents, as well as all
applicable rules and regulations, irrespective of the member’s or
prospective member’s personal or religious interests which he or
she is not permitted to rank or place over and above the interests
or rules of the Association to which he or she has voluntarily
subscribed. Finally, the allegation of discrimination against Amasa
Firdaus (on grounds of her religious beliefs) or of violation of
her religious rights could only avail her (Miss Firdaus) in this
particular instance if she is able show that adherents of other
religious organizations (or that other Muslim lady aspirants), who
also came for the same call to bar, were allowed to wear similar
apparels, veils, scarfs, etc., while she, Miss Amasa Firdaus, was
not allowed to wear hers. This, to me, is the only thing that would
permit the bringing in of this right to religious freedom into this
scenario.

Thanks, again, Learned Silk, Sir. Have a nice day. Kindest
regards.

Respectfully,
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE

+++++++++++++++++

ITEM NINE:

ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN (concluding
remarks):

Everything you have reiterated, the lady appreciates. But the
point she’s provoking in all of us is — is the law as applied to
her case in breach of her right to freedom of religion guaranteed
under the constitution as a fundamental right? Nobody has answers
to that? Not even the eminent retired Chief Justice of the Supreme
Court who made a fatherly gesture of persuading her to “leave
mata.”
The opinion of a High Court in litis on the
point (unless and until set aside) is enough to close the issue.
Until then, we are all just engaging in an intellectual
exercise
so long as we don’t judge her decision extra
judicially. It’s as simple as that. And I would think enough is
said about it. We may now eagerly await the originating summons to
test our hypothesis.

+++++++++++++++++

ITEM TEN:

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (concluding remarks):

My position has been that such rights, no doubt guaranteed under
the Constitution, are subject to certain
limitations, restrictions designed to ensure an
orderly and just society and in recognition of the fact that ours
is a secular state, nay, a multi-religious state, in which, as a
matter of law, justice and common sense, NO one particular religion
(out of the existing and conflicting many) should be
guaranteed its own rights over and above
those of the other religions or religious groups. One’s voluntary
subscription to membership of a secular association automatically
imposes certain limitation to one’s right to freedom of religion. A
religious person who has voluntarily subscribed to
membership of a secular associations must know he is obliged to
comply with the entrance rules of the association— the
pre-conditions for becoming its member. Again, for the members and
regulatory bodies/organizations in the legal profession in Nigeria,
it is either we wisely retain the ban on use of
certain hijab, scarf, caps, albs, aprons, cassock, and wearing of
barefoot, veils, feathers, etc., for call-to-bar ceremonies and
preserve the existing sanity in our profession, or we
unwisely lift the existing ban and thereby open
the door for all manners of displays, actions and behaviors,
however awkward, retrogressive, uncivilized, crude or irrational,
by adherents of all kinds of religious organizations (known and
unknown, orthodox and unorthodox, ancient and modern)—- whose
members could then come for the Call to bar with anything and
everything they like to wear, put on , or attach to their heads or
bodies, eyes, ears or nose, anyhow, because they too have
rights, which are NO LESS
constitutionally guaranteed than Miss Amasa Firdaus’ right to wear
hijab in violation of BOB/CLE’s extant rules. It is well!! Whatever
we want for our profession is what we would get in it. We all must
be prepared to live with the choice we decide to make for the
Nigerian Bar. As Max Brooks has advised, in his
book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie
War
, “one can’t blame anyone else, no one but oneself.
One has to make one`s own choices and be prepared to live every
agonizing day with the consequences of those choices.”
Our
lives are only an expression of the choices we make. So, also does
the future of the legal profession in Nigeria depend of our
present choices, decisions, actions or inactions.
In the book, Lanthe, published in 2015, author
Cathlin Shahriary observed that, “all great
choices are made with great risks. You must decide for yourself if
the consequences are worth the action you are willing to
take.”
 Good luck to us!!  I stop here while
we wait on the “wise men” of the Bench, members of the
same noble profession, to come to our aid, now, to
save our profession from avoidable chaos,
confusion, commotion and collapse.

Thank you so much, Learned Silk, Sir.

I remain, respectfully yours,

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE

+++++++++++++++++

ITEM ELEVEN:

OLAJIYI OKIN (contributing):

Learned friends, let’s take a moment to examine the Regulation
Wear as provided by the Body of Benchers (BOB) and see if it admits
of all the arguments about other religions as have been canvassed
on this platform. Part of the regulations provides thus:
“During this exercise, all your facial features,
including your ears must be exposed for capturing. This is also
applicable to all our female Muslim Students wearing the
Hijab”

From the above,
it is clear that wearing of Hijab during the call to bar ceremony
is not totally prohibited. From the appearance of Firdaus, the only
breach of the regulations is that the Hijab covered her ears. She
can therefore be said to have substantially
complied with the regulations. Can traditionalists or any other
religious adherents comply with the regulations to the extent of
the compliance by Frdraus? Is substantial compliance not acceptable
in our laws? I am of the opinion that bringing in the issue of the
paraphernalia of traditionalists and other religious bodies is not
apposite in this regard. The regulations specifically mentioned the
Hijab. The Latin phrase, expressio
unius est exclussio alterius
, which literary means,
the express mention of one thing is the exclusion of the
others
, is applicable in the instant case. The regulations
never mentioned the hood of the monk, the ragtag of the masquerade,
the cassock of the pastor or the white linen of the Eyo masquerade
etc, etc. In my candid opinion, if Firdaus’ Hijab had exposed her
ears (there are Hijabs that expose the ears) then this issue would
not have arisen. In my opinion, she substantially complied with the
regulations and should have been admitted to the Bar. I plead that
our arguments should be within the confines of the regulations
stipulated by the CLE/BOB
++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM TWELVE:

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (reply to Olaniyi Okin)

With due respect, dear Sir, I think this is beside the point
here. The rule you have quoted relates to only attendance
at lectures
at Nigerian Law School. Wearing of hijab is
totally prohibited for call to bar
ceremonies. There’s no doubt about that and this
explains why ALL the hitherto hijab-wearing Muslim
ladies who were to be called to the bar on December 12 and 13,
2017, had come to the ICC, Abuja, venue of the Call, without any
hijabs on their heads. If there were no such rules
outrightly banning wearing of hijab during call to
bar, why did all those hundreds of Muslim ladies come to Abuja
without hijab? Or, did the CLE and BOB inform the other Muslim
ladies of the extant rules but failed to inform only Miss Amasa
Firdaus? Or, is Miss Firdaus the only Muslim lady aspirant to the
Nigerian Bar in 2017?  Now, permit me to ask, is there any
female Muslim lawyer here, now, who wore hijab to her Call to Bar
during her own time? Is there any male lawyer here who has ever
seen (whether physically and on TV) where anyone wore hijab to Call
to Bar in Nigeria?  Miss Firdaus knew the rules banning hijab
for Call to Bar from Day One, but had deliberately chosen to flout
the rules because, as she and her supporters and sympathizers
claim, she was embarking on a “crusade” to make a “human
right”
statement, to prove a point, namely, that she has the
“religious” right to wear hijab to Call to Bar even in violation of
extant secular rules of an organization she voluntarily subscribed
to.  CALL TO BAR IS NOT AN ADMISSION INTO A PUBLIC SCHOOL; IT
IS AN ADMISSION INTO AN ASSOCIATION THE NIGERIAN BAR (ASSOCIATION)
— Call to the Nigerian Bar is tantamount to an admission into the
Nigerian Bar Association; AN INDUCTION PROGRAM into membership of
the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) or the Legal Profession in
Nigeria. Hence a person, once called to the bar, automatically
becomes a member of the NBA. Whether we choose to say NBA or the
Legal Profession, either way, it is an association, a society,
membership of which is voluntary but with some conditions precedent
to be met before one is admitted. If one meets the conditions, one
is admitted. If one does not, one is not admitted. It’s a matter of
choice.
Call to bar ceremony is not an admission into the Body of Benchers
(BOB) nor into the Nigerian Law School (NLS) or the Council of
Legal Education (CLE). The aspirant who appears for call to bar had
earlier been admitted into the NLS after which he did his
registration, started lectures and thereafter did the bar final
exams. It is only after the aspirant has (1) passed the Bar Final
Exams, (2) passed the Portfolio Assessment, (3) participated in the
mandatory Three-Law Dinner terms and (4) is also adjudged to be a
“fit and proper person” being of good conduct, that he
would then be admitted into the legal profession (the Nigerian Bar)
during the call to bar/induction/swearing-in ceremonies. Further,
as we all know, the “CALL TO BAR CERTIFICATE” which is issued on
successful completion of Call to bar ceremonies is the Qualifying
Certificate for becoming a member of the Legal Profession in
Nigeria. Once you’re issued with the Qualifying Certificate (during
the call to bar ceremonies), you become a Barrister (and
Solicitor), a member of the Bar (the Nigerian bar). So, if one is
coming g for the call to bar, such an aspirant is coming to become
a member of an association; accordingly, the aspirant must be
prepared to observe the rules of the association or the rules of
conduct (fit and proper) for entrance into the association. One`s
religious principles cannot be a justifiable reason for
disobedience of such entrance rules. If one`s religious precepts,
doctrines, cultural practices or whatever are in conflict with the
rules of the association which one proposes to join, one has either
to obey the rules of his religion and stay away from membership of
the association or to obey the rules of the association and be
inducted into the association. So, the case of Amasa Firdaus is not
about violation of fundamental right to freedom of religion; it is
about the implications of one subscribing to the membership of a
voluntary organization. Let’s call a spade by its name. The
religious rights, guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution, as
amended, are without doubt subject to certain limitations …. Every
basic human right draws its authoritative force which confers on it
and attaches to it some reciprocal or respective duty. Hence, to
claim one’s rights and ignore one’s duties, or only half fulfill
them, is like building a house with one hand and tearing it down
with the other. As Indira Gandhi once said,
“people tend to forget their duties but remember only
their rights.”
That is what my dear learning friend
and sister, Miss Amasa Firdaus had done!! Mahatma
Gandhi
put it more succinctly: “rights that do
not flow from duty well performed are not worth
having.”
Finally, George Washington
once declared “the government of the United States is
not, in any sense, founded on the Christian
religion,”
Now, I beg us to not forget that,
likewise, the government of the Nigerian State is not, in any
sense, founded on any religion —- not Islam, nor Christianity nor
any other. It is a secular state.

Respectfully,
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE

++++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM THIRTEEN:

 OYEWALE AKINRINADE:

It is all storm in a tea cup. Was the lady in issue not aware of
the dictates of her chosen legal profession? Was she not aware of
the Rules and Regulations on dress code for lawyers on d Call to
Bar day? Has she not got all the opportunities to choose between
her life profession or her religion before she displayed her gross
disrespect to d pillars of our noble profession before the whole
world? As we were warned before our Call to Bar, one of us was
spotted wearing a striped shirt, by the then ex-CJN, Adetokunbo
Ademola, and was asked to leave the queue and wasn’t called to bar
that evening. It was the instant judgement for gross disobedience.
A law or rule not yet set aside must be obeyed. Let’s not encourage
indiscipline under d guise of religious bigotry.

++++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM FOURTEEN:

OTUNBA OLAYINKA BOLANLE:

As we consider the wearing of the Arabian hijab by Law inductees
from the spectrum of the religious angle, perhaps we should
consider the absurdity of a situation that would present itself if
an extremist practitioner of his own peculiar religion says his
“religion” forbids wearing of any clothes whatsoever and that he
should be called to the Bar “NUDE.” After all, that was how we all
came into this world. Once you set a precedent based on sentiments,
all sorts of future situations (however awkward they may be) will
beg to be accommodated in it. I do not see how the observance of
codes of dressing peculiar to a particular profession (known to the
applicant before seeking admission into same) violates anyone’s
fundamental rights or makes you any less a member of the
profession. Let us not encourage bigotry or deviancy. Every
organization has its own rules and regulations. Perhaps, it is
these rules that make each organization unique. If you want to play
women football, FIFA has prescribed codes for their jerseys and
shorts. If you want to join “ogboni confraternity” you must be
willing to put on their “kijipa”(or is it “liki” they call it)….
Religion and Ethnicity are pure diversionary tactics from Nigerian
rulers. Please shine your eyes.

(Read this insightful intellectual exchange between
PABIODUN OWONIKOKO (SAN) &
PSYLVESTER UDEMEZUE, with
comments by PFEMI FALANA (SAN);
POLANIYIN OKIN;
POLUWASEUN OMOTOSO;
POYEWALE AKINRINADE; &
POTUNBA OLAYINKA BOLANLE on the
legal and ethical issues surrounding the recent face-off between
Miss Firdaus Abdulsalam and the Nigerian Law School over the
former`s insistence on wearing hijab for call to bar)

A Nigerian Law School graduate was reportedly denied her
call-to-the-bar for refusing to take off her Islamic headscarf, the
hijab. Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam
was not permitted by the Body of Benchers to enter the
International Conference Centre (ICC), venue of the 2017
ceremonies, on December 12, 2017 when the call to bar was held. The
Nigerian Law School said that the lady was breaking the dress code
set by the School and by the Body of Benchers (the body responsible
for the Call to Bar, but Firdaus, who was already wearing her new
gown, insisted on wearing the wig on top of her hijab. The hijab is
a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their
religion or culture. According reports, Miss Abdulsalam called the
refusal of the Nigerian Law School to call her to the bar a
violation of her right to freedom of religion as protected by
Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution. The call to bar is the
official moment where an individual is sworn into a law society or
court and obtains licensing to practice law in that jurisdiction.
Miss Abdulsalam can be called to the bar next year only if she is
regarded as having complied with all the rules. This incident has
generated heated argument, discussions among Nigerians at home and
in diaspora, especially on the social media. (see
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/nigerian-law-graduate-denied-call-bar-hijab-171216084329791.html)

Presented below is a part of some nourishing intellectual
discussion which occurred on the hijab controversy on a popular
WhatsApp forum, the LEGAL PRACTICE DISCOURSE (LPD)
Forum
among some Learned Senior Advocates of Nigeria
(SAN`s) and some other lawyers in Nigeria, in respect of the legal
and human right issues raised by the actions of Miss Amasa
Firdaus Abdulsalam
(in having insisted on wearing her
hijab for call to bar) and the reaction by the Body of Benchers (in
having denied the lady access to the venue of the 2017 Call to Bar
for the induction ceremonies on grounds that her actions violated
the mandatory rules governing the conduct of the ceremonies). This
section of the discussion was kicked off by a comment titled,
FIRDAUS HIJAB CRUSADE,” authored
by a learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria and intellectual giant,
Mr. ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM ONE:

FIRDAUS HIJAB CRUSADE.
(BY ABIODUN
OWONIKOKO, SAN)

The reactions (for and against) to her conscientious objection
to being forced to wear wig without hijab at her call to bar show
that we are misinterpreting the poor girl. And for those who may be
unaware I was part of the appellant`s legal team in the Court
of Appeal case that resolved the constitutionality of hijab wearing
by female pupils in Lagos State public secondary schools. It was
from outset a test case. We needed someone with the right fact
scenario to pursue it right from high court to the court of
appeal.

In my view, Firdaus was not unaware of the rules and code of
dressing at call to Bar ceremonies for qualifying lawyers as
happened last week. Hers was a conscious political statement;
probably misguided or not well informed, having regard to the lack
of consensus among Muslim schools of thought on hijab being a
religious prescription for Muslim women. She knew well enough the
consequence of her decision and was evidently prepared to face it.
She craved publicity (free advert) for her cause on a global
platform and she’s getting it.  All said, I think I
respect the girl more than I do those who fail to appreciate her
objective — she wants a bar that is domesticated and nuanced to
reflect our culture and realities. Whether accommodation of hijab
for those who treasure it as a statement of faith (not necessarily
of piety) should be given consideration in the light of this
incident (which I welcome) is a matter that we can no longer avoid
discussing robustly. Citing differences between US, UK legal
system and ours is not an answer to the question posed by the poor
lady. I want to believe she’s having her laugh at us because she
set us an examination, which we elected to sit for — but now insist
on marking her script as her examiner. We need more of her type who
have courage of their conviction with willingness to pay the price,
to challenge our settled view about matters that require deep
rethinking. If someone were to refuse to wear wig and gown at
call to bar on account of being a colonial anachronism (not based
on religion), I wonder if we would have a different argument in
rejoinder to him.

Having said that, would I (as a Muslim) advise my daughter
to do what Firdaus Amasa did if and when she qualifies to be called
to Bar? Certainly, not. But would I be upset by it, if I knew ahead
and was convinced she chose to do it as a matter of conscience with
full appreciation of the implications for her career in the
conservative legal profession — you bet I will not.  Not that
I have any choice…. Firdaus` is a test of the limit of our
tolerance for disruptive change that is upon us in Nigeria, across
all disciplines. Since the news broke we have seen that the issue
raised by Firdaus` is not esoteric — it’s been addressed in other
African commonwealth countries satisfactorily.

Most of us do not know that in Kenya the bar has accommodated
use of hijab by Muslim women along with their wigs in court. Did it
occur to senior Muslim (particularly female) lawyers to advocate a
reform like this when we had a Muslim female CJN? That would have
been a perfect factual scenario for sympathetic hearing. It would
perhaps have made the Firdaus drama needless and obviated.

We can only conserve and preserve traditions and systems that
work and increase value for efforts. That’s why we observe children
of eminent lawyers taking degrees in the profession only out giving
regard to their parents` expectation but immediately hanging their
wig and gown after call to bar to pursue their own dreams (or
fantasies) like acting, singing, fashion, computer coding etc.
Albeit with differing outcomes on the scale of success if measured
only in money terms while their self-fulfillment and happiness
are discounted. Our younger generations cannot bear in silence, the
hardship and frustration we endure with our atavistic conformance
with moribund status quo. They are giving us warning of an
incipient rebellion against seeming imperviousness to need for
holistic reform that answers to demands of the present and needs of
a future that is more of their own than that of our expiring
generation. This jihad of provoking intellectual debate is far
better and should be warmly welcome in lieu of that made notorious
by ISIS and Boko Haram. ~ By ABIODUN J. OWONIKOKO
SAN
.
++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM TWO:

OLUWASEUN ‘DAYO OMOTOSO (First Reply to Abiodun
Owonikoko, SAN):

With due respect sir I disagree with your submissions. A Bar
reflective of our culture? I am dazed. What part of our culture is
hijab? What tribe does that belong to? Would you put up this same
argument in support of a Mason who insists on going to the call to
bar with his apron or in support of an
Ogboni member who insists wearing his
itagbe or shaki
to the call is his religious right? Would the cheerleaders of this
affront to the solemnity of the bar put up their arguments in
support of a candidate who insists that he worships masquerades and
must be called in a masquerade’s garb? We must understand the
consequences of our choices and the limits of our rights. Talking
about rights, none of them is absolute.

++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM THREE:

FEMI FALANA, SAN (reacting to A.
Owonikoko`s):

Biodun, yours is a commendable intervention.  But can we
blame the girl in a country where Islam and Christianity have been
turned into state religions by the State?  If the Nigerian Law
School commences public events with Muslim prayers and ends with
Christian prayers, can it turn around to blame a student for
wearing her wig on top of her hijab? Could Firdaus not have been
influenced by the Lagos and Ilorin Judicial Divisions of the Court
of Appeal, which ruled that students have a constitutional right or
fundamental right to wear hijab in secondary schools with
prescribed school uniforms? If she challenges the decision of
the Law School, won’t the (Federal) High Court be bound by both
judgments of the Court of Appeal? Or, is the dress code of the Law
School not a prescribed school uniform?

ITEM FOUR:

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (reacting to Femi
Falana`s):

Dear Learned Silk, Sir, kindly permit me to humbly suggest,
with utmost respect, that the issues decided upon by the Court of
Appeal in the cases you have referred to are somehow different from
those in the present scenario. I therefore respectfully do not
think those decisions would guide this instance. Several issues are
at stake here, I believe. And, should the matter ultimately go to
court, all relevant issues would be on display before the courts.
Besides, the lady’s professed “right” to wear hijab for call to bar
is not an absolute right. Further, the lady knew all the relevant
rules from Day One — on her being admitted to the Nigerian Law
School (NLS), and she had then voluntarily executed a WRITEN
UNDERTAKEN to abide by all the rules as well as the Code of Conduct
for Students and Aspirants; and she had indeed, earlier, on THREE
occasions (during the Law Dinners) removed the hijab in compliance
with extant rules, only to now decide to assert her “right” during
the Call to Bar. It is curious! What then has happens to the
principle of “volenti non fit injuria.” Does waiver of
right not apply, if any such “right” had existed in the first
place, which I doubt? Anyway, it is my humble opinion that every
right guaranteed under the Constitution demands some reciprocal
responsibility from the holder or purported owner of such right.
Moreover, the Nigerian Law School, the Council of Legal Education
(CLE) and the Body of Benchers
(BOB) have their own rights, just as Miss Amasa
Firdaus thinks she does have hers. And if the lady (Firdaus)
desires to be a member of the Nigerian Bar, her so-called “rights”
would not excuse her from complying with the conditions precedent
for an admission into the Bar.

Let me respectfully also state at this point that the mere fact
that the NLS starts some ceremonies with prayers and ends with
prayers does not suggest that the CLE/NLS is now a religious
organization, nor that it would now bend its rules in order to
accommodate behaviors, precepts, supposed “rules” of certain
“religious” organizations into its Code of Conduct. The NLS/CLE is
a secular body, just as the Body of Benchers (BOB), whose rules and
regulations do not favour nor discriminate against any particular
religion, but applies equally to all aspirants irrespective of
religious, ethnic, political or social affiliation. The moment the
BOB or the CLE/NLS decides to bend backwards to accommodate
individual predilections of one religious group, other religious
organizations would begin to assert their own “rights” in which
case the NLS/CLE and BOB would become obliged to also accommodate
every one of them; after all, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce
also for the gander.

There is no one person or (religious) group that does not have
rights! And there is none who doesn’t know how to assert these
“rights,” and to assert them hard. The Catholic Rev. Father wears
his cassock all day and all night long.
The Catholic Rev Sister wears her head veil and long gown all day
and all night long. Traditional rulers among us (Obas, Emirs,
Igwes, Ezes, Obongs, etc.) wear their regalia always. Members of
the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC), the
Cherubim & Seraphim (C&S), etc. go about
their businesses without any footwear. The Charismatic
Ministry
members always insist on wearing prescribed
church aprons. There’s a particular way Pentecostal Pastors dress
always. Imams and Alfas are not left out, neither are the core
traditionalists, chief priests, or even atheists. All these people
and others have always wisely obeyed the dress code at the Call to
Bar, knowing that this is the right thing to do. But when the time
comes, I mean, when this push comes to shove, all of them, each of
them, every one of them, would tell you that if you’re entitled to
wear your hijab, they equally are entitled to wear their apparels,
however awkward, without any let or hindrance.  The result,
Sir, would be total CHAOS and disorderliness, that may signal the
beginning of the annihilation legal education and the profession of
law in Nigeria. We would then have ourselves to blame for this
outcome—- assuming it gets to that. And it would be too late then
to make any U-turn. I agree that people have the right to push for
a change of the status quo. But, up until the change
sought (if it is sought) is duly effected, extant rules must be
obeyed by everyone concerned.

Finally, the need for respect for lawfully constituted authority
is not yet dead. Hence, an Italian writer and scholar of old,
Pope Pius XI (1857–1939), once said, and I agree:
“justice requires that to lawfully constituted
Authority, there must be given that respect and obedience which is
its due…”
And, as American theologian, ethicist,
commentator and professor, Reinhold Niebuhr
(1892–1971), put it, “the false tendency to claim God
as an ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all
religious fanaticism.”
For the late Martin
Luther King Jnr
, “there are some things concerning
which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good
will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial segregation. We must
never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust
ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the
many to give luxuries to the few.”
Earlier, George
Washington
, American Statesman and the first President of
the USA, (reputed to be the father of modern America), had declared
that “..it is our boast, that one man’s religious
tenets will not forfeit the protection of our
Laws” 
It’s however for the courts to decide on
this matter, if it gets into their domain; my comments are without
prejudice to their powers in this respect.

 

Thank you, Learned Silk, Sir.

Respectfully,
Sylvester Udemezue.

++++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM FIVE:

ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN) (a response to
Sylvester Udemezue`s):

I am still unable to see the point of whether she’s right or
wrong when what she set out to do was protest application of the
dress code that in her view did not respect her right to wear hijab
underneath her wig. Once we agree that the Nigerian
Constitution neither prohibits nor mandates wearing of hijab, the
question will then arise: whether in the practical (not textual)
application of the Legal Practitioner’s dress code, a Muslim
woman’s religiously supported right (not obligation) to wear hijab
is being violated. Until she attempted and was denied to wear the
hijab, it was a moot point. An academic question. The incident
has given it life as an issue to litigate upon with an identifiable
complainant who can show locus standi – Firdaus. If Kenya Bar
allows use of hijab beneath lawyers` wig as an expression of
religious right; how strong would be the argument that it is not
unconstitutional to deny Firdaus that right in Nigeria? The test is
what is reasonable in a normal society. It would be interesting to
see whether our courts will be willing to hold that Kenya is not a
reasonable society for accommodating hijab. It does not however
mean that it was wrong to have denied her entry for call to bar at
the last try since as at then, the application of the dress code
had not been challenged or judicially interpreted in a precedent.
It may arguably lead to the court declaring that it amounts to
religious discrimination to deny her the use of hijab. It’s a
totally different matter if she sought to be excused from wearing
the lawyer`s wig, like any other lawyer. And that distinction
is what we might not have sufficiently adverted to. That was not
her contention. The issue is so jurisprudential tricky that
predicting which one of the contrasting lines of argument will
prevail in court may be presumptuous. It’s not black and white
on the facts and I dare not speak with any authority or confidence
about what the courts will eventually decide. But if it helps,
mention must be made that at the first opportunity to hear the
famous appeal in the hijab case the panel declined to proceed
because it was an all-Muslim panel presided over by Augie
JCA (as she then was). Counsel were thereupon advised to pray
the President of the Court of Appeal to reconstitute the panel in
order to give it some religious balance. A full panel of the Court
presided over by a non-Muslim was later assigned to take the
eventual appeal. Although we talk about the hijab issue
resolved by that case, its most ground-breaking pronouncement was
that Nigeria is not secular state. Rather, that by the express
provisions of the constitution, Nigeria is a
multi-religious
nation.

++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM SIX:

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE:

Dear Learned Silk, Sir, I will (with your kind indulgence) say
the following in response, with due respect:

  • You referred to the rule in far-away Kenya and expressed your
    optimism that Nigerian Courts may take a cue from that country. I
    do not think our courts would so do.  That is the rule in
    Kenya; the rule is different in Nigeria and anyone who desires to
    join the legal profession in Nigeria MUST respect the rules of the
    profession or of the relevant regulatory authorities —- whether one
    is a Christian, Moslem, traditionalist, atheist, etc. My beloved
    sister, Miss Amasa Firdaus, elected to not comply with the rules in
    NIGERIA, and hence was denied admission to the Nigerian Bar.
    Nigeria is not Kenya. So, the rules in Kenya cannot govern or guide
    application of Nigerian rules to Nigerians in Nigeria. Besides, I
    am aware that decisions of superior courts in some foreign
    jurisdictions may have some persuasive influence on our courts. I
    doubt if Kenya is now first among such countries. Finally, on this
    point, since our rules expressly prohibit the use of hijab for call
    to bar, which was why all other, hijab-wearing, Muslim ladies (save
    Miss Firdaus) had come to the International; Conference Centre
    (ICC), Abuja, venue of the 2017 Call-to-Bar Ceremonies, without
    wearing their hijab, I honestly do not think such persuasion would
    be entertained in this instance.

 

  • If the lady (Firdaus) refused to remove her hijab and the BOB
    refused to admit her to the Nigerian Bar, and both parties left it
    at that point and went home, having each exercised/asserted each
    party’s right (the lady, the right to refuse to remove her hijab
    and the BOB, the right to refuse to call her to bar on grounds of
    noncompliance with set rules), I do not think there would have been
    any issues. It was the same lady who had taken the matter a step
    further, by going on the social and print media, and indeed
    everywhere, crying for help, and alleging that NLS had denied
    her “fundamental right” to wear hijab for call to bar, against
    extant BOB/CLE rules. So, it’s the lady (and not the Law school,
    nor the BOB) that had caused all this unnecessary brouhaha,
    controversy, with these shenanigans plus her needless religious
    grandstanding and unprovoked “bring-them-down” campaign
    against the BOB/CLE; and therein lies the “wrong” in her conduct!
    Yes, Sir! Hence, another respected Senior Lawyer has described this
    whole matter as a pure “conduct issue,” and not at all a
    “religious issue.”

 

  • I agree with your statement that “it is a totally different
    matter if she (Firdaus) sought to be excused from wearing wig like
    any other lawyer.” 
    But, sir, seeking to be excused from
    wearing the lawyer`s wig on grounds of her religious beliefs is NO
    different from her wearing the wig PLUS other
    things (i.e., hijab) when extant rules say it is only the wig — no
    more, no less. What if an African traditionalist decides to come to
    the Call venue with the lawyer`s wig on, but with some Peacock
    feather hung on top of the wig, in line with his religious beliefs—
    would he not be in the same shoes, Sir? Breach of rule is breach of
    rule, irrespective of how it occurs and notwithstanding the reasons
    given for such violation of rules. If a lawfully constituted
    authority should accept such individual reasons (purely subjective
    reasons) or excuses for this kind of flagrant disregard for its
    rules, I do not think anyone would ever obey any rules; of course,
    each person must have or contrive a reason (which may be religious;
    like a religious “right”) for violating secular rules. E.g., a
    primary school pupil who comes to school later than the scheduled
    time and is therefore not allowed into the school premises and into
    the classroom could allege violation of his “religious right”
    claiming he had come late because he had some religious
    “obligation” to offer prayers in his local church or mosque in the
    morning before coming to school—- a right which he would then
    insist the school must respect. Another student who decides to
    embark on a religious retreat outside of his locality during the
    time of the semester-end exams might return from such (religious)
    retreat and insist that the school must organize for only him his
    own examinations, claiming it would be a breach of his religious
    right (for the affected school) to not so do, since it was his
    adherence to “a religious obligation” that had led him to miss the
    first round of exams. Hmmmmmm!!!! Rights!!!! Fundamental rights!!!
    And what should we expect? The school must accede since such a
    student has a religious right!

 

  • Respected Learned Silk, Sir, you advise that the Court of
    Appeal has decided that Nigeria is a “multi-religious
    state.”
    I agree. But, with due respect, Sir, I see NO material
    difference between the terms “multi-religious state” and
    “secular state.”  A “secular” state is a state that
    is officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither
    religion nor irreligion; a state that treats all of its citizens
    equally regardless of religious affiliations; a state that avoids
    preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular
    religion/non-religion over other religions/non-religion. A secular
    state does not have a state religion (an established religion in
    accordance with whose precepts the state is governed) or its
    equivalent. A true secular state steadfastly maintains a neutral
    governance style without any influence from religious factions and
    vice versa. A secular state separates church or mosque, etc., from
    state. (See http://www.definitions.net/definition/secular%20state).
    It is therefore clear from the above that a secular state is, more
    often than not, a multi-religious state who, to avoid being accused
    of bias, maintains neutrality and refuses to afford any special or
    preferential treatment to any particular religion over and above
    the others. A “multi-religious” state which runs the affairs of
    state in a neutral manner, and not allowing itself to be
    controlled, influenced or intimidated by any professed “rights” of
    any of its many religions is a SECULAR STATE. Sir, is this not a
    good reason for the NLS and BOB to insist on neutrality by refusing
    to allow use of the Muslim hijab, Catholic Rev Fathers’ Cassock,
    Alb and Stole, Catholic Rev Sisters’ veil and gown, the Lord’s
    Chosen’s Apron, the Deeper Life member’s scarf, the Pentecostal
    Pastors’ COLLAR, the traditionalists regalia, the chiefs, otunbas’
    and high chiefs’ red, white, blue or brown caps, etc., by aspirants
    during the call to bar ceremonies. It is for the same reason of
    secularity that Celestial Church of Christ (CCC) and Cherubim &
    Seraphim (C & S) members who are Nigerian bar aspirants are not
    permitted to come on bare foot into the call to bar venues. If you
    have agreed that Nigeria is a multi-religious country, with each
    religion trying to lord it over the other, then I earnestly beg you
    to agree that Nigeria needs to maintain its secularity by not
    favoring or accommodating the practice or culture of one religious
    group without also accommodating those of the others. Except you
    are suggesting that, in furtherance of some religious “rights,”
    everyone from everywhere should be allowed to wear everything from
    everywhere, anyhow, for Call to bar!  Then, I would say, God
    help us!

 

I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to learn from
you.
Thank you, Learned Silk, Sir.

Respectfully,
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE

+++++++++++++++++++

ITEM SEVEN:

ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN:

Your optimism is fascinating.  I will have you know that
the hijab case was lost at the High Court before a judge who is a
staunch Redeemed Christian Church of God member. Her Ladyship
relied on an European Union Court decision interpreting EU human
rights conventions to hold that denial of right to wear hijab
by a pupil was not a breach of freedom of religion. A contrary
decision of Ilorin Division of the Court of Appeal cited was
supposedly distinguished.  So the judge preferred the EU Court
decision referred to the court from Turkey — holding that hijab
could be banned on ground of secularity of state not to promote or
support a particular faith. That was the reason for constituting a
full panel of the Court of Appeal which reversed the trial court
and upheld religious right to wear hijab by Muslim female students
in public secondary* schools.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM EIGHT:

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE:

Respected Learned Silk, Sir, Miss Amasa Firdaus and all other
Muslim aspirants to the bar were allowed to wear hijab (a
particular type is allowed) to classes/lectures while they were
students in the Nigerian Law School (NLS). The Law School, as we
all know, is owned by the Council of Legal Education (CLE). The
Nigerian Law School (NLS) is a public school, no doubt, I agree.
The scenario is however different here, which has nothing to do
with a public school, the NLS or CLE. Call to Bar is a CEREMONY,
the planning and organization of which are the sole responsibility
of the BODY OF BENCHERS (BOB), an independent corporate body (not a
public school) established by section 3 of the Legal Practitioners
Act, Cap L11, LFN, 2004.  Wearing of all sorts of religious
veils or scarf, including hijab, especially the ones that cover
one`s ears (which is what Miss Firdaus actually wore on the fateful
day) is expressly banned for call to bar CEREMONIES. This case is
not about the (religious) right of a student to wear hijab in a
public school. It is rather about the right of an aspirant to the
Nigerian bar to wear hijab to an INDUCTION ceremony (call to bar)
organized by an organization (not a school), the BOB, where the
rules EXPRESSLY ban the use of such, or that type of, hijab. The
Nigerian Law School has no business with the call to bar ceremonies
—- except to the extent it is permitted by the BOB to assist the
BOB. Call to bar is a SPECIAL, FORMAL SOLEMN CEREMONY, not a
classroom lecture. The call to bar venue is not a classroom nor a
school premises. The Body of Benchers (BOB) is not a public school,
I repeat. Call to bar is an induction/admission ceremony into the
Bar—- the Nigerian Bar (Association). I therefore humbly suggest
that we should consider leaving out these cases dealing with
pupils’ freedom to use hijab in public schools, because I
respectfully do not think they would guide the present scenario,
which has much to do, not with one’s freedom of religion, but
instead with freedom of association and implications of subscribing
to membership of an association. If one desires to belong to an
association, is one not expected to either COMPLY with the express
rules of the association serving as preconditions for admission
into the Association or to otherwise stay away from the
Association? Or, is it the Association that is expected to change
its rules, and bend backwards to OBEY the prospective member’s
personal, even “religious” rules?  This is a major question
the Nigerian Courts would answer in this very instance, I believe.
I repeat, it is not about right to wear hijab in a public school,
and it is not about freedom of religion, but majorly about the
responsibility to obey the rules of an organization or association
to which one voluntarily proposes to belong. This is why His
Lordship, Dongban-Mensem, JCA, once declared as
follows:

“In the exercise of their constitutional rights under
sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantee
freedom of thought, assembly, association, etc., individuals elect
to and do subscribe to membership in associations, which sometimes
curtail their rights. The appellant, while exercising his right,
joined an honourable profession of formidable societal influence
and relevance which of necessity has rules and regulations to guide
his professional conduct and which along the line curtail some of
his choices. The appellant was not compelled to take up the
profession of law and its attendant compulsory membership of the
Nigerian Bar Association. However, once he made the choice to study
and practice law and thereby placing his name on the roll of honour
of belonging to the profession, he stands bound by the internal
rules and regulations of the Association. There would therefore be
no issue of a breach of the Constitution of the country if the
rules demand of him, UNDIVIDED LOYALTY…. How can a law court
interfere and set aside these vital rules for the sanitation of the
Bar? The way forward for the appellant is as in all democratic
settings – a hard campaign for the reversal of these bye-laws by a
majority of the members who after all are said to have voted enmass
for the bye-laws. The appellant needs to sharpen his persuasive
skills and convince the other members of the association that the
said bye-laws are inimical to the progress or perhaps the existence
of the association.”
(see CHINWO v
OWHONDA
  (2008) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1074) 341, 361 on freedom
of association–Implication of subscription to membership of
association).

 Sir, what happened in Abuja, at the ICC, venue of
the 2017 swearing-in or call to bar ceremony, was that the lady
(Miss Firdaus) voluntarily elected to not be called (inducted) into
the Nigerian Bar, by not complying with the mandatory rules, which
apply without any discrimination or preference against any
particular religion. She has thus made her choice. Jurisprudential
theories of obligations based on association or membership are
supported by the commonsensical belief that we should obey the laws
of our societies or associations whose membership we voluntarily
subscribe to because we belong (or voluntarily want to belong) to
them. Then come the theory relating to duty of loyalty and
obedience
, which requires a member or prospective member
of an association to act in accordance with the organization’s
articles, bylaws, and other governing documents, as well as all
applicable rules and regulations, irrespective of the member’s or
prospective member’s personal or religious interests which he or
she is not permitted to rank or place over and above the interests
or rules of the Association to which he or she has voluntarily
subscribed. Finally, the allegation of discrimination against Amasa
Firdaus (on grounds of her religious beliefs) or of violation of
her religious rights could only avail her (Miss Firdaus) in this
particular instance if she is able show that adherents of other
religious organizations (or that other Muslim lady aspirants), who
also came for the same call to bar, were allowed to wear similar
apparels, veils, scarfs, etc., while she, Miss Amasa Firdaus, was
not allowed to wear hers. This, to me, is the only thing that would
permit the bringing in of this right to religious freedom into this
scenario.

Thanks, again, Learned Silk, Sir. Have a nice day. Kindest
regards.

Respectfully,
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE

+++++++++++++++++

ITEM NINE:

ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN (concluding
remarks):

Everything you have reiterated, the lady appreciates. But the
point she’s provoking in all of us is — is the law as applied to
her case in breach of her right to freedom of religion guaranteed
under the constitution as a fundamental right? Nobody has answers
to that? Not even the eminent retired Chief Justice of the Supreme
Court who made a fatherly gesture of persuading her to “leave
mata.”
The opinion of a High Court in litis on the
point (unless and until set aside) is enough to close the issue.
Until then, we are all just engaging in an intellectual
exercise
so long as we don’t judge her decision extra
judicially. It’s as simple as that. And I would think enough is
said about it. We may now eagerly await the originating summons to
test our hypothesis.

+++++++++++++++++

ITEM TEN:

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (concluding remarks):

My position has been that such rights, no doubt guaranteed under
the Constitution, are subject to certain
limitations, restrictions designed to ensure an
orderly and just society and in recognition of the fact that ours
is a secular state, nay, a multi-religious state, in which, as a
matter of law, justice and common sense, NO one particular religion
(out of the existing and conflicting many) should be
guaranteed its own rights over and above
those of the other religions or religious groups. One’s voluntary
subscription to membership of a secular association automatically
imposes certain limitation to one’s right to freedom of religion. A
religious person who has voluntarily subscribed to
membership of a secular associations must know he is obliged to
comply with the entrance rules of the association— the
pre-conditions for becoming its member. Again, for the members and
regulatory bodies/organizations in the legal profession in Nigeria,
it is either we wisely retain the ban on use of
certain hijab, scarf, caps, albs, aprons, cassock, and wearing of
barefoot, veils, feathers, etc., for call-to-bar ceremonies and
preserve the existing sanity in our profession, or we
unwisely lift the existing ban and thereby open
the door for all manners of displays, actions and behaviors,
however awkward, retrogressive, uncivilized, crude or irrational,
by adherents of all kinds of religious organizations (known and
unknown, orthodox and unorthodox, ancient and modern)—- whose
members could then come for the Call to bar with anything and
everything they like to wear, put on , or attach to their heads or
bodies, eyes, ears or nose, anyhow, because they too have
rights, which are NO LESS
constitutionally guaranteed than Miss Amasa Firdaus’ right to wear
hijab in violation of BOB/CLE’s extant rules. It is well!! Whatever
we want for our profession is what we would get in it. We all must
be prepared to live with the choice we decide to make for the
Nigerian Bar. As Max Brooks has advised, in his
book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie
War
, “one can’t blame anyone else, no one but oneself.
One has to make one`s own choices and be prepared to live every
agonizing day with the consequences of those choices.”
Our
lives are only an expression of the choices we make. So, also does
the future of the legal profession in Nigeria depend of our
present choices, decisions, actions or inactions.
In the book, Lanthe, published in 2015, author
Cathlin Shahriary observed that, “all great
choices are made with great risks. You must decide for yourself if
the consequences are worth the action you are willing to
take.”
 Good luck to us!!  I stop here while
we wait on the “wise men” of the Bench, members of the
same noble profession, to come to our aid, now, to
save our profession from avoidable chaos,
confusion, commotion and collapse.

Thank you so much, Learned Silk, Sir.

I remain, respectfully yours,

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE

+++++++++++++++++

ITEM ELEVEN:

OLAJIYI OKIN (contributing):

Learned friends, let’s take a moment to examine the Regulation
Wear as provided by the Body of Benchers (BOB) and see if it admits
of all the arguments about other religions as have been canvassed
on this platform. Part of the regulations provides thus:
“During this exercise, all your facial features,
including your ears must be exposed for capturing. This is also
applicable to all our female Muslim Students wearing the
Hijab”

From the above,
it is clear that wearing of Hijab during the call to bar ceremony
is not totally prohibited. From the appearance of Firdaus, the only
breach of the regulations is that the Hijab covered her ears. She
can therefore be said to have substantially
complied with the regulations. Can traditionalists or any other
religious adherents comply with the regulations to the extent of
the compliance by Frdraus? Is substantial compliance not acceptable
in our laws? I am of the opinion that bringing in the issue of the
paraphernalia of traditionalists and other religious bodies is not
apposite in this regard. The regulations specifically mentioned the
Hijab. The Latin phrase, expressio
unius est exclussio alterius
, which literary means,
the express mention of one thing is the exclusion of the
others
, is applicable in the instant case. The regulations
never mentioned the hood of the monk, the ragtag of the masquerade,
the cassock of the pastor or the white linen of the Eyo masquerade
etc, etc. In my candid opinion, if Firdaus’ Hijab had exposed her
ears (there are Hijabs that expose the ears) then this issue would
not have arisen. In my opinion, she substantially complied with the
regulations and should have been admitted to the Bar. I plead that
our arguments should be within the confines of the regulations
stipulated by the CLE/BOB
++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM TWELVE:

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (reply to Olaniyi Okin)

With due respect, dear Sir, I think this is beside the point
here. The rule you have quoted relates to only attendance
at lectures
at Nigerian Law School. Wearing of hijab is
totally prohibited for call to bar
ceremonies. There’s no doubt about that and this
explains why ALL the hitherto hijab-wearing Muslim
ladies who were to be called to the bar on December 12 and 13,
2017, had come to the ICC, Abuja, venue of the Call, without any
hijabs on their heads. If there were no such rules
outrightly banning wearing of hijab during call to
bar, why did all those hundreds of Muslim ladies come to Abuja
without hijab? Or, did the CLE and BOB inform the other Muslim
ladies of the extant rules but failed to inform only Miss Amasa
Firdaus? Or, is Miss Firdaus the only Muslim lady aspirant to the
Nigerian Bar in 2017?  Now, permit me to ask, is there any
female Muslim lawyer here, now, who wore hijab to her Call to Bar
during her own time? Is there any male lawyer here who has ever
seen (whether physically and on TV) where anyone wore hijab to Call
to Bar in Nigeria?  Miss Firdaus knew the rules banning hijab
for Call to Bar from Day One, but had deliberately chosen to flout
the rules because, as she and her supporters and sympathizers
claim, she was embarking on a “crusade” to make a “human
right”
statement, to prove a point, namely, that she has the
“religious” right to wear hijab to Call to Bar even in violation of
extant secular rules of an organization she voluntarily subscribed
to.  CALL TO BAR IS NOT AN ADMISSION INTO A PUBLIC SCHOOL; IT
IS AN ADMISSION INTO AN ASSOCIATION THE NIGERIAN BAR (ASSOCIATION)
— Call to the Nigerian Bar is tantamount to an admission into the
Nigerian Bar Association; AN INDUCTION PROGRAM into membership of
the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) or the Legal Profession in
Nigeria. Hence a person, once called to the bar, automatically
becomes a member of the NBA. Whether we choose to say NBA or the
Legal Profession, either way, it is an association, a society,
membership of which is voluntary but with some conditions precedent
to be met before one is admitted. If one meets the conditions, one
is admitted. If one does not, one is not admitted. It’s a matter of
choice.
Call to bar ceremony is not an admission into the Body of Benchers
(BOB) nor into the Nigerian Law School (NLS) or the Council of
Legal Education (CLE). The aspirant who appears for call to bar had
earlier been admitted into the NLS after which he did his
registration, started lectures and thereafter did the bar final
exams. It is only after the aspirant has (1) passed the Bar Final
Exams, (2) passed the Portfolio Assessment, (3) participated in the
mandatory Three-Law Dinner terms and (4) is also adjudged to be a
“fit and proper person” being of good conduct, that he
would then be admitted into the legal profession (the Nigerian Bar)
during the call to bar/induction/swearing-in ceremonies. Further,
as we all know, the “CALL TO BAR CERTIFICATE” which is issued on
successful completion of Call to bar ceremonies is the Qualifying
Certificate for becoming a member of the Legal Profession in
Nigeria. Once you’re issued with the Qualifying Certificate (during
the call to bar ceremonies), you become a Barrister (and
Solicitor), a member of the Bar (the Nigerian bar). So, if one is
coming g for the call to bar, such an aspirant is coming to become
a member of an association; accordingly, the aspirant must be
prepared to observe the rules of the association or the rules of
conduct (fit and proper) for entrance into the association. One`s
religious principles cannot be a justifiable reason for
disobedience of such entrance rules. If one`s religious precepts,
doctrines, cultural practices or whatever are in conflict with the
rules of the association which one proposes to join, one has either
to obey the rules of his religion and stay away from membership of
the association or to obey the rules of the association and be
inducted into the association. So, the case of Amasa Firdaus is not
about violation of fundamental right to freedom of religion; it is
about the implications of one subscribing to the membership of a
voluntary organization. Let’s call a spade by its name. The
religious rights, guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution, as
amended, are without doubt subject to certain limitations …. Every
basic human right draws its authoritative force which confers on it
and attaches to it some reciprocal or respective duty. Hence, to
claim one’s rights and ignore one’s duties, or only half fulfill
them, is like building a house with one hand and tearing it down
with the other. As Indira Gandhi once said,
“people tend to forget their duties but remember only
their rights.”
That is what my dear learning friend
and sister, Miss Amasa Firdaus had done!! Mahatma
Gandhi
put it more succinctly: “rights that do
not flow from duty well performed are not worth
having.”
Finally, George Washington
once declared “the government of the United States is
not, in any sense, founded on the Christian
religion,”
Now, I beg us to not forget that,
likewise, the government of the Nigerian State is not, in any
sense, founded on any religion —- not Islam, nor Christianity nor
any other. It is a secular state.

Respectfully,
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE

++++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM THIRTEEN:

 OYEWALE AKINRINADE:

It is all storm in a tea cup. Was the lady in issue not aware of
the dictates of her chosen legal profession? Was she not aware of
the Rules and Regulations on dress code for lawyers on d Call to
Bar day? Has she not got all the opportunities to choose between
her life profession or her religion before she displayed her gross
disrespect to d pillars of our noble profession before the whole
world? As we were warned before our Call to Bar, one of us was
spotted wearing a striped shirt, by the then ex-CJN, Adetokunbo
Ademola, and was asked to leave the queue and wasn’t called to bar
that evening. It was the instant judgement for gross disobedience.
A law or rule not yet set aside must be obeyed. Let’s not encourage
indiscipline under d guise of religious bigotry.

++++++++++++++++++++++

ITEM FOURTEEN:

OTUNBA OLAYINKA BOLANLE:

As we consider the wearing of the Arabian hijab by Law inductees
from the spectrum of the religious angle, perhaps we should
consider the absurdity of a situation that would present itself if
an extremist practitioner of his own peculiar religion says his
“religion” forbids wearing of any clothes whatsoever and that he
should be called to the Bar “NUDE.” After all, that was how we all
came into this world. Once you set a precedent based on sentiments,
all sorts of future situations (however awkward they may be) will
beg to be accommodated in it. I do not see how the observance of
codes of dressing peculiar to a particular profession (known to the
applicant before seeking admission into same) violates anyone’s
fundamental rights or makes you any less a member of the
profession. Let us not encourage bigotry or deviancy. Every
organization has its own rules and regulations. Perhaps, it is
these rules that make each organization unique. If you want to play
women football, FIFA has prescribed codes for their jerseys and
shorts. If you want to join “ogboni confraternity” you must be
willing to put on their “kijipa”(or is it “liki” they call it)….
Religion and Ethnicity are pure diversionary tactics from Nigerian
rulers. Please shine your eyes.

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