Personal Memorandum Submitted To Nigerian House Of Representatives On February 02, 2018 On The Planned Joint-Committee Public Hearing On The Firdaus’ Hijab Controversy (By Sylvester Udemezue)

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Date: February 02, 2018

THE CHAIRMAN,

Joint Committees on Justice and Judiciary,

House of Representatives

National Assembly Complex,

Abuja (FCT)

ATTENTION:

  • Hon. Razak Atunwa , Chairman, Committee
    on Justice
  • Hon. Aminu Shehu Shagari, Chairman, Committee
    on Judiciary

Dear Sir,

MEMORANDUM TO THE JOINT-COMMITTEE PUBLIC HEARING ON THE
AMASA FIRDAUS` HIJAB CONTROVERSY

PART A: 

INTRODUCTION: THE NEMO JUDEX
ANGLE

“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.”

Dear Mr Chairman, Sir, may I start this presentation by quickly
referring you to a statement credited to the Hon Speaker of the
House of Assembly, Kwara State of Nigeria, Rt Hon Dr Ali
Ahmad,
of which I believe you are aware, since it was
widely published in the news media. On January 03,
2018, while describing the non-admission of Miss
Amasa Firdaus to the Nigerian Bar on account of her earlier refusal
to remove her hijab as an “unlawful discrimination, unwarranted and
unfortunate”, and adding that “the continuous silence of the
Nigerian Law School beyond 30 days would have become unacceptable,”
the respected Speaker, who happens to be an Associate Professor of
law had then declared thus:

“However, I have confidence in the Committee of
Justice of the House of Representatives, led by our own Rt. Hon.
Razak Atunwa to drive at a just resolution of this matter in a
timely fashion”

(Seehttps://www.ilorin.info/fullnews.php?id=22248).

(See also http://aliahmad.com.ng/2017/12/31/firdaus-law-school-saga-kwara-speaker-challenges-law-school-to-end-silence[1]).

In this regard, one needs to quickly make the following
observations:

  • The Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly is an indigene
    of Kwara State;
  • The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on
    Justice, who is co-chairing this joint committees public hearing,
    is an indigene of Kwara State;
  • Miss Amasa Fridaus who is at the Centre of this controversy, is
    an indigene of Kwara State.
  • Even the Chairman of the National Assembly of the Federal
    Republic of Nigeria is from Kwara State.

You know, Mr. Chairman, Sir, that, in view of the disclosure by
the Kwara State House of Assembly Speaker, the ordinary thing for
both the Nigerian Law School and the
Nigerian Body of Benchers to have done in the
circumstances is to apply that you, Mr. Chairman of the House
Committee on Justice, should immediately disqualify yourself from
presiding over this hearing, since you “belong to some
people, and not to all”
as is seen from Rt. Hon Dr.
Ahmad`s January 03, 2018 declaration. An arm of the twin pillars of
natural justice applies here: nemo judex in causa sua
(
one ought to not be a judge in one`s own case).
However, I do not know whether these two institutions (the NLS and
the BOB) would take that course of action. But it is important that
before I proceed, I should respectfully point that out here and
now.

Again, I am aware you are a prominent member of the
Council of Muslim Organizations (CMO), Kwara
State,
which is the umbrella body of all Muslims in Kwara
State. You are also aware that the CMO recently issued an
ultimatum, demanding that the Nigerian Law School must admit Miss
Amasa Fridaus to the Nigerian Bar
“immediately.” (See https://www.vanguardngr.com/2018/01/hijab-controversy-kwara-muslims-ask-law-school-induct-firdaus/)[2]. There is no evidence
anywhere that the CMO as a very responsible organization made any
efforts to hear from the Nigerian Law School or from the Body of
Benchers before jumping into such hasty conclusion and decision.
The CMO simply relied on only Miss Amasa Firdaus` account of the
incident and delivered a ruling, ordering the Nigerian Law School
to immediately induct Miss Firdaus into the legal
profession. While commending what it saw as Miss Amasa Firdaus’s
“resoluteness and courage in the drama to defend the sanctity
of Hijab in the face of intimidation and molestation,”
the
group described Miss Firdaus as “a heroine of Hijab and symbol
of sacrifice
,” while condemning what it viewed as an
illegal decision of the Nigerian Law School to bar the law
graduate from being inducted because she was wearing Hijab.

Addressing a news conference in Ilorin, CMO’s Coordinator and
former Grand Khadi of Kwara State, Justice Idris
Haroon
, said the lady was “denied induction on account
of her resoluteness to exercise her religious rights as enshrined
in the 1999 Constitution.”
(See https://www.vanguardngr.com/2018/01/hijab-controversy-kwara-muslims-ask-law-school-induct-firdaus/)[3].

So, it is understandable exactly why the Honorable Speaker of
the Kwara State House of Assembly described the Chairman of the
Justice Committee of the House of Representatives, Dr Atunwa, as
“our own.”

In the case of Metropolitan Properties Co. (F.G.C.) Ltd.
vs. Lennon (1969) 1 Q.B. 577, 598,
Lord Denning, M.R.,
after reviewing the facts in the case before him, stated, in
respect of the law regarding nemo judex in causa
sua,
as follows:“A man may be disqualified from
sitting in a judicial capacity on one or two grounds. First, a
“direct pecuniary interest” in the subject matter. Second, “bias”
in favour of one side or against the other.

Regarding likelihood of bias, the same Lord Denning,
MR,
in R. v. Amber Valley DC, ex parte
Jackson
 [1985] 1 WLR 298, [1984] 3
All ER 50, gave an insight into the determining factor, as
follows:

“The court looks at the impression which would be given to
other
 people. Even if he was as impartial as
could be, nevertheless if right-minded
persons
 would think that, in the
circumstances, there was a real likelihood of bias on his part,
then
 he should not sit. and if he does sit,
his decision cannot stand”. It is irrelevant whether
he
 was in fact biased, because “justice is
rooted in [public] confidence”.
 

This rule has been applied in several cases, in Nigerian and
elsewhere, to strike down decisions reached in such circumstances
of reasonable likelihood of bias. The cases of
R. v. Bow Street Magistrate ex parte Pinochet (No.
2) [2000] 1 AC 119 , [1999] 1 All ER 577 and
R. v. Secretary of State ex parte Kirkstall [1996]
3 All ER 304 easily come to mind. See also the Nigerian case of
ZAMAN v. STATE  (2015) LPELR-24595(CA) where
the Nigerian Court of Appeal stated as follows:

  1. In considering whether there was a real
    likelihood of bias, the Court does not look at the mind of the
    Chairman of the tribunal, or whoever it may be, who sits in a
    judicial capacity. It does not look to see if there was a real
    likelihood that he would, or did, in fact he would, or did, favour
    one side at the expense of the other. The Court looks at the
    impression which would be given to other people. Even if he was as
    impartial as could be, nevertheless, if right-minded persons would
    think that, in the circumstances, there was a real likelihood of
    bias on his part, then he should not sit. And if he does sit, his
    decision cannot stand; see R. vs. Huggins (1895) 1 Q.B. 563 and R.
    vs. Sunderland Justices (1901) 2 K.B. 357 at C.A. per Vaughan
    Williams, L.J. Nevertheless, there must appear to be a real
    likelihood of bias. Surmise or conjecture is not enough: see R. vs.
    Camborne Justices, ex p. Pearce (1955) 1 Q.B. 41 and R. vs.
    Nailsworth Licensing Justices, ex p. Bird (1953) 2 All E.R. 652,
    D.C. There must be circumstances from which a reasonable man would
    think it likely or probable that the justice or chairman, as the
    case may be, would, or did, favour one side unfairly at the expense
    of the other. The Court will not inquire whether he did, in fact,
    favour one side unfairly. Suffice it that reasonable people might
    think he did. The reason is plain enough. Justice must be rooted in
    confidence; and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go
    away thinking: ‘the judge was biased.’…. As Lush, J., said in
    Serjeant vs. Dale (1877) 2 Q.B.D. 558, 567:

‘The law, in laying down this strict rule, has regard not so
much perhaps to the motive which might be supposed to bias the
Judge as to the susceptibilities of the litigant parties. One
important object, at all events, is to clear away everything which
might engender suspicion and distrust of tribunal, and so to
promote the feeling of confidence in the administration of justice
which is so essential to social order and security.’”

 In the case of Olve & Ors. vs.
Enenwali
& Ors. (1976) 1 NMLR the Supreme Court of
Nigeria (quoting the dictum of Brett, Ag. C.J.N, in the case of
Obadara and Ors. vs. The President, Ibadan West District
Grade “B” Court (1964) 1 All NLR 336)
has held at page 49
to 50 (per Nasir, JSC, as he then was), as
follows:”

“The principle that a judge must be impartial is accepted in
the jurisprudence of any civilized country and there are no grounds
for holding that in
this respect the law of Nigeria differs from the law of England or
for hesitating to follow the English decisions.

I am happy that the respected Kwara Assembly Speaker in his
declaration had recognized the need to “drive at a just
resolution of this matter in a timely fashion.”
Mr. Chairman,
Sir, it appears that this very public hearing regarding the Firdaus
controversy is in the nature of one being asked to do justice in
one`s own case, or a case involving a people (a party) who have
already declared that the presiding officer is “our own.” Drawing
some analogy from Rule 34 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for
Legal Practitioners in Nigeria, 2007, it is the rule that a
lawyer or litigant or party or an interested person to a matter
shall not do anything, say anything, or conduct himself in such a
way, as to give the impression, or allow the impression to be
created, that his act or conduct or speech is calculated to gain,
or has the appearance of gaining, special consideration or favour
from the judge, court or panel or (in this case) a
committee.

In views of the above, Mr. Chairman, Sir, I beg of you to rise
above religious, sectional, parochial and primordial sentiments and
considerations in order to do justice, to “drive at a just
resolution of this matter”
without looking back at those to
whom you belong or do not belong. Mr. Chairman, the applicable
maxim, you know more than I do,
is fiat justitia ruat
caelum
[4]
(let
justice be done, though the heavens fall). I make this humble,
passionate plea because as Lord Heward, C.J. said in R. vs.
Sussex Justices, ex p. McCarthy
(1924) 1 K.B. 256, 259:
“it is not merely of some importance, but is of fundamental
importance that justice should not only be done, but should
manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”
Besides, any
actions taken and decisions reached by this Joint Committee hearing
would have serious implications, one way or the other, on legal
education and the legal profession in Nigeria.

PART B:

SUMMARY OF MY PRESENTATION

“Anyone who fights for his or her own personal right without
considering or respecting the rights of others is NOT a crusader
nor a revolutionary….. He or she is simply SELFISH AND SELF
CENTERED.”

(Coordinator, Fight Against Corruption in the Judiciary,
Nigeria)

Mr Chairman, Sir, my humble presentation before this Joint
Committees Public Hearing takes the form of a collation of my
thoughts, and the thoughts of some other Nigerians and lawyers, on
the raging Firdaus` hijab controversy. First, permit me to do a
fair summary of my presentation as follows:

  • Miss Amasa Firdaus` hijab issue is a conduct
    case,
    and nothing more; it is a simple case of flagrant
    disobedience of rules of an organization by a bar aspirant, one who
    proposes to belong to the same organization. It is a conduct issue
    because every aspirant to the Nigerian Bar is required to be of
    good conduct and behavior in order to be qualified
    as a fit and proper person for call to the Nigerian bar. The case
    of Okonjo v. CLE where the judiciary gave legal
    backing to the power of the Body of Benchers and the Council of
    legal Education to prescribe additional rules regulations, etc, to
    regulate aspirants` conduct, is mentioned below.
  • Call to the Nigerian bar is not a right, but only a privilege.
    It is a mere privilege bestowed on only those who deserve the same
    by observing all rules, regulations, conventions and
    instructions
    issued by the relevant regulatory
    authorities;
  • The rules that regulate the affairs of all students of Nigerian
    Law School, and of all aspirants to the Nigerian Bar, are not
    contained in one single document; they are seen in several
    Rules, Codes, Regulations, Conventions and
    Instructions
    issued by the relevant regulatory
    authorities, including the Body of Benchers.
  • The Amasa Firduas` hijab issue is not a religious
    issue
    , and has nothing to do with religion. Anyone who
    imports religion into it does so to perpetrate mischief and cause
    trouble with a view to advancing some undisclosed, sinister
    objective.
  • Neither the Nigerian Law School nor the Nigerian Body of
    Benchers has been found in any manner to discriminate against Islam
    or Muslims, nor against any other religious group in the country.
    Both institutions are secular bodies who recognize the
    multi-religious nature of Nigeria and therefore maintain neutrality
    in all their actions and programs. The respected Learned Senior
    Advocate of Nigeria and rights crusader, Femi Falana, has argued
    that it would be difficult for the Nigerian Law School to
    successfully convince anyone that it is not a religious
    organization when the Law School usually commences all its programs
    with a prayer and ends with a prayer. His words:

“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 (NLS) 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? “

With due respect to the learned SAN, 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 or should 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. (See
the-hijab-brouhaha-nigerian-legal-profession-different-perspectives-to-a-vigorous-debate/)
(se also
http://www.courtroommail.com/2017/12/26/hijab-brouhaha-nigerian-legal-profession-embracing-intellectual-debate-devoid-diatribe/)

  • The ban on wearing of scarf, hijab, or any form of veil or
    apparel (apart from the usual lawyer`s robes) for call to bar is
    respect the secular nature of Nigeria, maintain orderliness and
    avoid chaos in a multi-religious society (such as ours is) wherein
    an unhealthy competition already exists among organizations
    competing for recognition and domination, and in which the
    interests, predilections or demands of one cannot be conveniently
    accommodated without causing unrest and promoting disorderliness,
    which are antithetic to the noble Legal Profession.
  • It is the Nigerian Body of Benchers that is legally empowered
    to be (solely) responsible for call to the Nigerian Bar. Nigerian
    Law School (Council of legal Education) is not the body or
    institution responsible for call to bar.
  • The case of THE PROVOST, KWARA STATE COLLEGE OF
    EDUCATION, ILORIN & 2 ORS VS BASHIRAT SALIU & 2
    ORS
    (Appeal No CA/IL/49/2006) which had decided that a
    student is entitled to wear hijab in a public school has no
    relevance to the present, Amasa Firdaus hijab controversy. The
    scenario has nothing to do with freedom of religion. It has
    everything to do with freedom of association, and the limitations
    it imposes on one`s other freedoms (including freedom of religion).
    The applicable case is CHINWO v OWHONDA (2008) 3
    NWLR (Pt. 1074) 341, 361

PART C:

SECTION ONE:

MY PERSONAL RESPONSE TO THE HON SPEAKER, KWARA STATE
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY ON THE FIRDAUS` HIJAB CONTROVERSY

Let me set out by reproducing my personal response to the
January 03, 2018 declaration and ultimatum against Nigerian Law
School by the Hon Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr
Ali Ahmad. My response is titled and published on a number of media
platforms (including my-personal-opinion-on-the-ultimatum-issued-to-the-nigerian-law-school-by-speaker-of-the-kwara-state-house-of-assembly-by-sylvester-udemezue/[5]
AND
https://www.thenigerianvoice.com/news/261677/my-personal-opinion-on-the-ultimatum-issued-to-the-nigerian.html),
and is reproduced below;

MY PERSONAL OPINION ON THE ULTIMATUM ISSUED TO THE
NIGERIAN LAW SCHOOL BY SPEAKER OF THE KWARA STATE HOUSE OF
ASSEMBLY

A January 03, 2018 news-report published on www.ilorin.info
(and some other news platforms) was captioned, “Firdaus/Law School
saga: Kwara Speaker challenges Law School to end silence,” and
reported that the “Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly,
Rt. Hon. Dr. Ali Ahmad had challenged the Nigeria Law School to
respond to allegation of “unlawful discrimination regarding to the
Firdaus Amasa’s case, noting that continuous silence beyond the
next 30 days will have become unacceptable.” The Hon Speaker who is
also said to be an Associate Professor of Law reportedly described
the incident as “unwarranted and unfortunate,” and stated that when
he (the speaker) was called to Bar in New York, he was dressed only
in suit without the wig and gown and a few Muslim ladies wore their
Hijab without let or hindrance. The speaker then declared that Law
School may have contravened two Appeal Court judgements that had
held that Hijab is a fundamental right of willing Muslim women. The
Speaker expressed his confidence in the Committee of Justice of the
Nigerian House of Representatives, headed by Rt. Hon. Razak Atunwa
(who the Hon Speaker described as “our own”) to arrive at “a just
resolution of this matter in a timely fashion.”

(See https://www.ilorin.info/fullnews.php?id=22248)[6].

(See also http://aliahmad.com.ng/2017/12/31/firdaus-law-school-saga-kwara-speaker-challenges-law-school-to-end-silence[7]). Below is strictly my
personal legal opinion in reaction to the news report regarding the
30-day ultimatum.

Section 1 (1) of the Legal Education (Consolidation) Act,
1976 (Nigeria) establishes the CLE (Council of Legal Education) as
a body corporate ”with perpetual succession and a common seal.”
Section 1 (2) then provides that it (the CLE) “shall have
responsibility for the legal education of persons seeking to become
members of the legal profession” in Nigeria while section 1 (5) of
the same Act confirms that the CLE shall have power to also “do
such things as it considers expedient for the purpose of performing
its functions” under the Act. I therefore believe the Nigerian Law
School (NLS) or the Council of Legal Education (CLE) doesn’t need
to say anything with respect to allegations of “denial” of Call to
bar to Miss Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam, for the following
reasons:

  • The Nigerian Law School (NLS) or the Council of Legal
    Education does not have any responsibility for Call to Bar in
    Nigeria and, for purposes of Call to bar, performs only such
    functions as may be delegated or assigned to it by the Nigerian
    Body of Benchers which is the body statutorily saddled with the
    responsibility for Call to bar. Accordingly, the NLS does not need
    to respond to “allegations” of “denial” of Call to bar raised only
    in the print and social media by any aspirant to the bar or member
    of the public.
  • With due respect, it is very, very incorrect to say that
    the affected lady was “denied” Call to bar. The correct thing to
    say is that she CHOSE, DECIDED of her own volition to not be called
    to the Bar. She had two options — (a). to comply with the extant
    rules and enjoy the privilege of being called to the bar or (b) to
    flout the rules and accordingly lose that privilege. The lady
    (either acting alone or on advice of I-do-not-know-who) voluntarily
    elected the latter. So how on earth can anyone be heard now to
    suggest she was denied Call to bar? Compare the following
    scenarios:
  • a man who arrived the Islamic Holy Mosque for Jummah or
    Jumaat (Friday) prayers in his shoes, was asked to remove the shoes
    because the rule is that shoes are not allowed inside the mosque,
    during prayers, but the man refused to remove the shoes and was as
    a result not allowed entry into the mosque. Can the same man
    validly allege that he was denied entry into the mosque? First, he
    knew the entrance rules (which say, remove your shoes/footwear) and
    he nevertheless chose to not obey the rules. The implication is
    that he wasn’t interested in entering the mosque; else he would
    have simply complied with the rule that says remove your shoes
    before entry.
  • It is the same thing with a man who, having bought his
    flight ticket on an Arik Airlines’ flight, decided to have some
    metal object on his body while boarding the plane. The man was
    thereupon stopped by airport officials who reminded him that metal
    objects are not allowed on board. The man however rejected this
    admonition, insisting that since he had bought the flight ticket,
    he was entitled to board the plane even with the metal object on
    his body. The officials didn’t allow him on board following his
    refusal to comply with the rules. Can the same man allege that he
    was denied entry into a plane he had paid for? So, I personally
    suggest it is high time we faced the truth — if a lady who had an
    opportunity of complying with simple secular, clearly
    non-discriminatory rules, in order to enjoy the privilege (not the
    right) of being called to the bar, chose to flout the rules and was
    as a result not accorded the privilege, the same lady cannot be
    heard (and no one else on or in her behalf can be heard) to
    complain that she was denied the privilege of being called to bar.
    Truth is bitter, but it must be told at all times.
    As Winston Churchill once said, “the truth is
    incontrovertible. malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it,
    but in the end, there it is,” like the walls of Gibraltar,
    unshakable.
  • The NLS or CLE, I believe, does not respond to Media
    rumours or propaganda. If anyone writes to the Law School seeking
    clarification on any issue or issues in respect of which the Law
    School is in a position to respond, I believe the Law School would
    respond appropriately, accordingly. So, as an Associate Professor
    of Law, the Speaker knows that the appropriate thing to do, if he
    wants to know what really happened on any issue he believes affects
    the Law School, is to write to the school and ask for some
    clarification, instead of resorting to media threats, ultimatum,
    and issuing the school a 30-day ultimatum, as reported! Or, is the
    press release by the respected Hon Speaker now a form of service on
    the Law School? Anyway, anything is possible in Nigeria wherein
    Media trials and convictions are the in-thing; the Law School is
    having its own fair share of the Media persecution vide propaganda,
    and unjustly so, in my opinion. But what can it do? Imagine, some
    people are just attacking and maligning the School — left, right,
    front, back and center — in the Media when a simple correspondence
    to the School, seeking clarification, would have been enough for
    them to get the clear picture. I personally didn’t expect an
    Associate Professor of Law to join the bandwagon of those who have
    decided to do everything on the Media—- trials, accusations,
    convictions, punishments, even service or letters and processes.
    With respect to service of letters, even when one chooses to do so
    in the Media (substituted Service), there still is a procedure —-
    you must obtain a leave of court. Now, has that been done here? How
    come the Associate Professor of law is issuing an ultimatum to a
    public institution on the pages of newspapers? Quite
    disappointing!
  • Now, I have some questions for the respected Hon Speaker
    and Associate Professor of Law. He himself was called to bar
    several years ago. Congratulations, Sir. During his call to bar,
    did he see any female aspirant wearing any scarf of any sort,
    head-veil (including but not limited to hijab) for Call to bar? He
    didn’t. And he has never heard that that particular rule has been
    changed! How come he did not invite or summon the lady under
    reference to his office and advise her like this: “Dear Miss
    Firdaus, I myself am a lawyer. Wearing of head veil or scarf during
    Call to bar is not allowed; it is a long-standing rules and
    practice which has not been altered. Please go and comply if you
    truly desire to be called?” Also, during the meeting with the lady,
    the Hon Speaker would take out some time and further educate the
    lady as follows:
  • Call to bar is not Firdaus’ right; it is a privilege that
    is enjoyed only on fulfillment of set conditions and on compliance
    with set rules. So, if you refuse to obey extant rules and are
    thereupon not called to bar, you cannot validly maintain any claim
    based on violation or denial of your rights;
  • Success at Bar Final is not the only condition precedent to
    admission into the Nigerian bar. Beside passing the bar final
    exams, an aspirant to Nigerian Bar must as a matter of necessity
    ALSO (i) pass the mandatory portfolio assessment organized by the
    NLS; (ii) take part in all the mandatory three law dinners (dinner
    terms) organized by the BOB (Body of Benchers); and most
    importantly (iii) *be of good conduct/behaviour,* as captured in
    the term “fit and proper” which has been well defined in the case
    of *OKONJO v. COUNCIL OF LEGAL EDUCATION.* [see
    Okonjo v. Council of Legal Education, FCA/L16/78
    delivered on March 12 1979, 1979 Digest of Appeal Cases (DAC)
    28)]
  • Dear Firdaus, you’re not the only Muslim law aspirant in
    Nigeria. So, stop fanning the embers of religious sentiment,
    fanaticism and bigotry to advance a clearly legal and professional
    conduct matter/issue.
  • Membership of the Nigerian bar is voluntary. Everyone is
    welcome. But anyone who aspires to belong to the Nigerian Bar has a
    duty to comply with the existing conditions precedent as set out in
    paragraph (b) above in addition to rules and regulations made
    pursuant to powers contained in section 3 of the Legal
    Practitioners Act, 1975 (as amended). One’s religious obligations
    (that is, if wearing of head veil or scarf is obligatory in one’s
    religion) do not excuse one from full compliance with mandatory
    rules of an organization the membership of which one has
    voluntarily subscribed to. What some of us do not yet appreciate is
    that one’s assumption of religious obligations is not
    itself mandatory but voluntary.
    Specifically, that keeping
    or observing of any religious precept (such as wearing of scarf
    (head veil) by Catholic Rev Sisters, Body veil or yellow apron by
    Lords’ Chosen adherents, Cassock and alb by Catholic Rev Fathers,
    hijab by some Muslim ladies, barefoot by CCC or C & S members,
    etc.) is mandatory for such religious adherent or groups is only
    because the affected adherent has voluntarily agreed to submit
    himself or herself to the rules/precepts. It a self-imposed rule.
    So one is not permitted to impose one’s voluntarily assumed
    religious obligations on an association to which one aspires to
    belong. That’s the main issue here, in Firdaus’s matter.
    QED!
  • THE NEW YORK BAR VERSUS THE NIGERIAN BAR: WHY THE
    RULES IN NEW YORK, UK OR KENYA CANNOT GOVERN
    NIGERIA

Procedures, practices, conventions and rules for legal
education, call to bar, professional conduct, and law practice
obviously differ from country to country. The rules and practice
for Call to Bar in Nigeria are not the same with the rules and
practice in the USA, UK, Kenya, etc. Every country maintains and
operates its own set of rules and regulations (based on its own
peculiarities), which must be strictly adhered to by anyone
aspiring to be admitted to the legal profession in that country.
Speaking specifically, the relevant authorities in New York (USA)
prescribe rules for call to the New York bar while relevant
regulatory authorities in Nigeria prescribe the rules and
preconditions for admission to the Nigerian Bar. Ditto for Kenya.
It’s purely a pointless waste of time for any one to suggest that
the rules regulating call to bar in far away New York or Kenya
should now be extended to Nigerians in Nigeria or should displace
the extant rules in Nigeria and to now become the rules in Nigeria.
Such is unheard of—- in law, in reason, and in common sense! New
York is New York and is not (and will never be) Nigeria. The rules
are different. If any aspirant prefers the rules of the New York
bar to those of Nigeria, let that aspirant move over to New York
and get called to bar there and start practice of law there, and
leave us alone in Nigeria. If anyone wants to be called in Nigeria,
that one must observe Nigerian rules. Nigerian rules alone (until
changed) govern call to bar in Nigeria. New York rules regulate New
York Call. New York rules can’t even apply to nearby Washington or
Ohio, or California let alone applying to Nigeria. So, with due
respect, it’s purely unsound, extremely untenable and grossly
unfounded for anyone to argue that because head veils and scarfs
are allowed in New York during Call to New York bar, veils and
scarfs should be or are therefore allowed in Nigeria during Call to
the Nigerian bar. It’s the worst argument any lawyer can offer in
court or outside of it. Such is horrendous. It’s like asking that
provisions of the USA Constitution should apply to Nigerians in
Nigeria. Why not then also ask that President Donald Trump of the
USA should extend his rulership or leadership to cover Nigeria?
This would then mean that Nigeria (a sovereign country) does not
need to have its own President since the US presidency covers
Nigerians in Nigeria. Bizarre!!! Absurd!!!
 

  • With respect, the two Court of Appeal decisions said to
    uphold the right of a pupil or student to wear hijab or veil to
    lectures or classes in a public secondary school in certain areas
    in Nigeria do not at all apply to the Firdaus scenario. First,
    those cases do not govern everything and all activities and events
    in Nigeria. They have very limited application. Second, the two
    cases would not apply here because the present scenario is not
    about religion but solely about observing the limitations or
    obligations incumbent on a subscriber to the membership of a
    voluntary organization or association. The present case is about
    freedom of association and the limitations or restrictions it
    imposes on one’s Individual, sectional or even religious rights or
    precepts. Accordingly, the relevant/applicable case here is CHINWO
    V. OWHONDA, also of the court of Appeal, and host of other cases,
    laws, rules and regulations and practices.

The above are actions what one had reasonably expected from
an Hon Speaker of a State House of Assembly who happens also to
also be a professor of law. But since he has (like some few others)
chosen media trials and issuing an ultimatum on the Law School, I
have nothing more to say other than to say, may God help and guide
us all. I however love the manner the Hon Speaker ended his press
release/interview. It is awesome. He said, in conclusion: *”I have
confidence in the Committee of Justice of the House of
Representatives, led by our own Rt. Hon. Razak Atunwa to drive at a
just resolution of this matter in a timely fashion.”* This means
that, at the end, it’s the “just resolution” of the matter that is
important and that would prevail, not the predilections of
individuals or groups. And the justice of the case must have due
regard to, and take into account, all and everything, including
law, practice and common sense. But one thing the expected “just
resolution” would not recognize is religious sentiments or
predilections because we operate a secular or “multi-religious”
state wherein no one religion ought or be given any “right” or
preference against or over and above the rights of members of the
other coexisting religions. Besides, a “just resolution” would
recognize that while the CLE/ NLS and of the BOB are not entitled
to make rules or regulations that run contrary to provisions of the
Nigerian Constitution, yet, it is settled beyond question,
even by the courts, that no other authority has powers or right
make rules or alter rules already properly made or issued by the
Council of Legal Education (CLE), pursuant to its powers under the
Legal Education (Consolidation) Act, 1976, for purposes of legal
education of aspirants to the Nigeria bar or by the Body of
Benchers (BOB) pursuant to its powers under section 3 of the Legal
Practitioners Act, 1975, as amended
.

Section 3 (1) of the *LEGAL PRACTITIONERS ACT, CAP
L11, LFN, 2004
* establishes the Nigerian Body of Benchers
to be a body of legal practitioners of the highest distinction in
the legal profession in Nigeria and to be responsible for the
formal call to the Bar of persons seeking to become legal
practitioners. Section 3 (5) (e) of the same Act provides that the
Benchers may make regulations — providing, either generally or in
respect of any particular case, for the discharge of the functions
conferred on the Benchers under this Act. Finally, SECTION 4 (1)
(c) provides that subject to the provisions of this section, a
person shall be entitled to be called to the Bar if, and only if he
satisfies the Benchers that he is of good
character
. Some have started asking the question, whether
Miss Firdaus could now be said to have not violated the principle
of “fit and proper” relating to good behaviour, in view of her
utterances and conduct so far.

I respectfully wish to emphasize the last point
(good character) and to remind us that only the BOB and the CLE and
not any other authority have powers to determine which aspirant is
of good character and hence entitled to enjoy or be accorded the
privilege of Call to car or who is not of good character and as
such is not fit and proper to enjoy such privilege. The present
(Firdaus’ matter) has nothing to do with religion. With due
respect, it is pure mischief to attempt to drag religion into this
scenario.

May God/Allah bless and sustain the noble, orderly legal
profession in Nigeria. May He also bless all Nigerians and the
Nigerian state. Finally, may Almighty God/Allah himself in His
infinite grace and mercy rescue us, Nigerians, and Nigeria from the
dangerous and debilitating influence of our own conscious or
unconscious misapplication and misinterpretation of religion. Dear
God/Allah, you gave us religion and spirituality as tools for
building bridges of humanity, orderliness, friendship, love, peace
and progress because you know (as echoed by Suzy
Kassem
in her famous book, Rise Up and Salute the
Sun
) that we all, Christians, Muslims, Traditionalists,
Buddhists, Jewish, etc., are together and collectively the flowers
that make up the Creator’s vast and beautiful garden. God, when you
gave us religion, you had expected that religion and spirituality
must have their proper place and limits in our lives. You didn’t
expect us to transform religion into a division agent. God, the
omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God, you well know (as
Amit Ray, an Indian author, later wrote in the
book, Nonviolence: The Transforming Power) that “spirituality is
not making walls in the names of religions and prophets but to make
more roads and bridges to reconnect with humanity.”

Therefore, if we are to become true global citizens, we all
must (as suggested by Suzy Kassem) individually
and collectively abandon all notions of “otherness” and instead
embrace “togetherness” and “oneness.” This is chiefly because “in
the future, after all is said and done, all these religions will
sink and be forgotten; only God will then remain stand-still and
unshakeable! (apologies to Mehmet Murat
ildan
).

This is purely a PERSONAL LEGAL OPINION, respectfully and
disinterestedly offered by me:

Sylvester Udemezue.

(03/01/2018)

SECTION TWO:

STILL ON NEW YORK BAR VERSUS NIGERIAN BAR:

I again reproduce my comments in PART C, SECTION ONE,
paragraph 4 (e) above/herein
.

Kindly permit me to also quickly bring in a comment made by a
very respected Legal Practitioner in New York City,
USA
, Babatunde Bolaji Esq., CAMS made in
response to a statement credited to the president of the Nigerian
Bar Association to the effect that the New York Bar allows wearing
of hijab for call to car.  Mr Bolaji writes:

“HERE IS MY RESPONSE TO THE ATTEMPT MADE BY THE NBA
PRESIDENT TO THROW CONFUSION ON THE ISSUE OF DRESSING:

United States has got a totally different legal practice and
system. I appeared last week before a Nassau county Supreme Court
in Mineola, NY. Guess what, the judge didn’t even put on a suit. He
sat on the bench appearing in his Purple well ironed shirt, nice
tie and of course, a pair of well-tailored dress pants. Period. No
suits. Also, the way they conducted Bar admission in New York State
is way different. No glamour, no drama and nobody cares about your
dressings. A decade plus ago when I got admitted to N.Y. Bar, I
actually went from work, to the admission venue, during my lunch
break. No special ceremony.

Therefore, wearing Hijab wouldn’t be a problem at this
point. Why? There were no dressing requirements anyway. However,
you may not be able to cover your face or head if you went for
immigration matter. So, different strokes for different folks. If
people wanted to compare America with Nigeria, they ought to do it
wholesale with all sincerity, for I doubt, if most NBA Presidents
(past and current) wouldn’t be in American prisons now, judging
from the way and manner they govern or lead the BAR. Some of their
actions would also be illegal. So, Nigeria has got rules,
regulations and procedures for her legal practice, we should
thereby abide. QED”

PART D:

PLEASE, LEAVE RELIGION OUT OF THE FIRDAUS CONTROVERSY;
FIRDAUS IS NOT THE ONLY HIJAB-WEARING MUSLIM LADY THAT HAS PASSED
THROUGH THE NIGERIAN LAW SCHOOL OR THAT HAS ASPIRED TO BE CALLED TO
THE BAR

In response to a comment on a WhatsApp platform, which read
thus: “Muslim Barristers in the UK wear hijab with or
without the wig in court, without disturbance or victimization. The
UK is the cradle of our legal system and legal
ethics
,” I had made the following comment:

“That lady deliberately, unwisely flouted BOB/NLS’ official
rules, regulations and was appropriately sanctioned. The issue is
not debatable and it’s not about religion; it has NOTHING to do
with her religion. That she is now trying to evoke religious
sentiments to support her unwise decision to comply with simple
rules from a lawfully constituted authority is unfortunate. That
she has launched a needless, unjustified campaign of calumny
against her alma mater (instead of going to court to enforce her
right if she thinks it is violated) is more unfortunate. But what’s
most unfortunate is that some people (learned friends) who
themselves are committed Muslims, and who while there were at the
NLS, had WISELY observed all rules, including those relating to
conduct and dress code at call-to-bar ceremonies, and so were sworn
in as Barristers and Solicitors of the Supreme Court, could now
rise in defence of a lady who deliberately chose to not be called
to the bar with her mates by refusing to comply with the approved
dress code.

It’s most unfortunate! And it shows to what extent our
inappropriate attitude to region has so devastated our country and
its psyche. If I may ask, is the lady in question the only
Muslim lady that has passed through the Law School since the school
was established? Is she the only Muslim lady that was to be called
to the bar in Abuja on December 12 and 13, 2017?
Why did
others observe the rules and she didn’t? Or, is she more devoted to
Islam than the others? Or, are we saying that the tens of thousands
of Muslim ladies that have passed through the law school in the
past, who observed the rules and got called to bar and now doing
well, are not true Muslims? Does one’s obligations towards
a particular region preclude one from observing simple rules that
do not diminish one’s faith?
I ask again, are the numerous
Muslim ladies that have observed the rule on dress code at the
Nigerian Law School not true Muslims? I will answer:  they’re
indeed wise, devoted and faithful Muslims! Yes, they’re because
they know that there’s nowhere that Bible or Quran encourages or
commands us to disobey civil authorities who have done nothing to
deny our faith! The NLS is first among institutions in Nigeria that
recognize and respect students’ right to religious freedom —- I can
give 100 examples in one breathe to illustrate this! Meanwhile, let
me point out that what constitutes regulation dress or dress code
at the Nigerian Law School and for purposes of Call-to-bar has been
well-defined since the inception of the institution. It is not a
matter of opinion; it doesn’t depend on individual subjective whims
or predilections! Everyone knows it and everyone has been abiding
by it without any friction. This is why TENS OF THOUSANDS of
Moslems and faithful adherents of Islam have successfully passed
through the Law School without having any issues and without
raising unnecessary, most unnecessary, dusts such as the one under
consideration.

 So, in summary, we need to call a spade by
its true name; the affected lady is taking religion too far—- to a
point not contemplated nor supported by even the Holy Quran. How on
earth can someone bring religion into a case of pure disobedience
of civil authorities. Do the holy books (Bible and Quran) not
support and direct that we give to Caesar that which is
Caesar’s?  Where are we headed for in this country? This
student is deserving of a reorientation! She is no better, not
holier nor more committed to region than millions of other Muslims
in Nigeria who accept and respect the need to obey lawfully
constituted authorities. A notable pope, Italian writer and scholar
of old, Pope Pius XI (1857 – 1939), captures this
in few words, and I agree: “justice requires that to lawfully
constituted Authority, there must be given that respect and
obedience which is its due…” Meanwhile, as Reinhold
Niebuhr
once said “the false tendency to claim God as an
ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all religious
fanaticism.”

 In reaction to my comment above, one Mr
Adeniyi Adgbonmire
(a lawyer of over 30-year post call in
Nigeria) had written as follows;

This is the best piece I have read on this issue
on this platform. I feel pained that an otherwise simple issue of
deliberate disregard for rules has been turned into a religious
issue. Before the lady enrolled for the NLS I am sure she had an
idea of what the dress code for call to bar is and must have been
told whilst at the NLS. So, she enrolled and also went to the venue
of the call to bar, aware that she wasn’t properly dressed.
When you decide voluntarily to join any group, the first
thing is you must be sure all rules and regulations guiding such a
group is acceptable to you.
You don’t even join a social
club and decide that you would disregard the rules and
regulations.
We must rise above religious
sentiments and protect our
profession
.
Until the dress code is changed, it’s our duty to
condemn whoever fails to adhere to it
.
This goes beyond new wigs and applies to us all. Lawyers appear
in court in all shades of colours. Ladies have so much jewelry and
makeup on that you begin to think they are attending a social
event, with braids as long as their waist. Men wear all sorts of
colours, putting on sandals and slippers; with rings and all sorts
of jewelry on their fingers and wrists. I was taught about 30 years
ago at the NLS that the law profession is a conservative and noble
one. Please, let’s protect our profession. I am extremely worried
because the discourse has been more or less divided along religious
lines; very unfortunate on a forum like this. If we can speak the
way we have spoken, then, Nigeria is a lost case. Like I said some
months ago, when that fellow (Kayode Bello) decided to disobey the
rules and regulations of the Nigerian Law School (NLS) and
subsequently was not allowed to sit for his exams, courage
without wisdom equals to stupidity.
I had Muslim women in
my class at the NLS, 30 years ago, they adhered to
the dress code. So, what’s so special about this lady
(Firdaus)??

The more I think about this, the more I feel like weeping!!
What have we become??!! Will a day of adhering to the dress code
for the call to bar, send her (Firdaus) to hell?? That’s the same
way Christian lawyers would say all sorts of unintelligent things,
all in the name of religion!!! Elections to offices within the NBA
is now fought on the basis of ethnicity and religion and people
think this is the right thing to do and promote. I am personally
sick of all these religious tirades!! I am a Christian and proudly
so, but what does that have to do with adhering to the tenets of
the law profession?!! Please let’s rise above all these and focus
on things that make our profession and country better.”

 PART E:

 RELEVANT QUESTIONS AND ISSUES;
ANSWERS THAT WORK

SECTION ONE:  

 VOLENTI NO FIT
INJURIA

The issues decided upon by the Court of Appeal in the case I
cited above (The provost, Kwara State College of Education
v. Bashirat Saliu
) are different from those in the Firdaus
scenario. I therefore respectfully do not think the decision would
guide the present instance. Miss Firdaus` professed “right” to wear
hijab for call to bar is not an absolute right. Besides, 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
happened 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. A respected Nigerian Lawyer,
OLUWASEUN ‘DAYO OMOTOSO, had this to add:

“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”

May I at this juncture refer to a comment by Sir Dele Oloko, a
legal practitioner in Nigeria:

“It’s either the rules of Body Of Benchers is obeyed or
nothing. … Whoever promised the Ilorin girl or Amosa an Islamic Law
School where she can wear whatever she like, has got it wrong.
Adherent of other religions in Nigeria are watching….  Anybody
who voluntarily studied borrowed or received English Law should be
prepared to wear borrowed English dress. She (Miss Firdaus) ought
to have studied Arab Islamic law and turned to a Khadi or whatever
name they want to bear. Then, she would have unfettered right to
cover herself in purdah during the Islamic
graduation. Have you ever seen anyone quarrel with the mode of
dressing at Wolimat ceremony. No!!!. Call to the Nigerian bar is
not a Wolimat ceremony!”

Inibehe Effiong, fiery lawyer, human rights
activist and public commentator summarized part of the problems
that led to and prolonged the entire hijab controversy as
follows;

“My problem with the pro-hijab is that they are arguing from
a very conservative, exclusive and narrow compass. That cannot be
tolerated in a pluralistic society like ours

TWO:

WHAT IS SAUCE FOR THE GOOSE IS ALSO SAUCE FOR THE
GANDER

Let me respectfully also state that neither the Nigerian Law
School nor the Body of Benchers is a religious organization;
neither would 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 apply
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 then be 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 Chosen
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 would be total CHAOS and
disorderliness, which 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.

SECTION THREE: 

 THE NEED TO RESPECT CONSTITUTED
AUTHORITY

The need for respect for lawfully constituted authority is not
yet dead. Permit me to again refer to the Italian writer and
scholar, Pope Pius XI (1857–1939), who once said
that “justice requires that to lawfully constituted Authority,
there must be given that respect and obedience which is its
due…”
An American theologian, ethicist,
commentator and professor, 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

SECTION FOUR: 

 THE KENYAN & NEW YORK BAR
ALLOW THE WEARING OF HIJAB FOR CALL-TO-BAR. SO, WHY DOES THE
NIGERIAN BAR NOT FOLLOW SUIT?

Some lawyers have referred to the rule in far-away Kenya and
expressed optimism that Nigerian Courts should 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, hitherto
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.  

 SECTION FIVE: 

THE REASON FOR THE FIRDAUS` HIJAB
CONTROVERSY

The lady (Firdaus) had refused to remove her hijab and the BOB
had thereupon refused to admit her to the Nigerian Bar. If both
parties had 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 Miss Firdaus 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! Another respected Senior Lawyer has described this whole
matter as a pure “conduct issue,” and not at all a
“religious issue.”

SECTION SIX:

Breach of rule is breach of rule, irrespective of how it
occurs and notwithstanding the reasons given for such violation of
rules

Seeking to be excused from wearing the lawyer`s wig on grounds
of one`s religious beliefs is NO different from one wearing the wig
PLUS other things (i.e., hijab, scarf, etc) 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. EXAMPLES:

  • 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 to such irrational request, since
    such a student has a religious right!

SECTION SEVEN:

IS NIGERIA A SECULAR STATE OR A “MULTI-RELIGOIOUS”
STATE

 Some lawyers advocate support for Miss
Amasa Firdaus on grounds that the Nigerian Court of Appeal has
decided that Nigeria is a “multi-religious state.” I
agree. But, with due respect to them, 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 truly 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[8]). 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 we
have accepted that Nigeria is a multi-religious country, with each
religion trying to lord it over the other, then I earnestly beg us
to also accept 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!

SECTION EIGHT: 

CALL TO BAR IS AN INDUCTION CEREMONY, NOT A CLASSROOM
LECTURE; BODY OF BENCHERS IS A REGULATORY PUBLIC INSTITUTION, NOT A
PUBLIC SCHOOL

Miss Amasa Firdaus and all other Muslim aspirants to the bar
were allowed to wear hijab (a particular type and length 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, in the case of call-to-bar, 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 Firdaus controversy 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, as I have earlier pointed
out, 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.

SECTION TEN:

LEGAL IMPLICATION OF ONE SUBSCRIBING TO MEMBERSHIP OF AN
ASSOCIATION OR ORGANIZATION.

If one desires to belong to an association, is one not expected
to either COMPLY with the 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 we would answer in this very instance. 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, in the case of CHINWO v OWHONDA 
(2008) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1074) 341, 361Dongban-Mensem, Justice of
the Nigerian Court of Appeal
, 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).

 What happened in Abuja, at the ICC, venue of the
2017 swearing-in or call to bar ceremony, on December 13, 2017, 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.

SECTION ELEVEN:

 RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION IS
NOT ABSOLUTE

 My humble submission is that one`s rights
to freedom of religion, 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!! Let me at this point
bring in a short comment by a legal practitioner in Nigeria,
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.”

Also, contributing to the controversy, OTUNBA OLAYINKA
BOLANLE ( a senior lawyer)
stated as follows:

 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.’

SECTION TWELVE:

 WEARING OF SCARF (INCLUDING
HIJAB) IS ABSOLUTELY PROHIBITED FOR CALL TO BAR

 Below is my humble response to the
suggestion in some quarters that wearing of hijab is not totally
prohibited for call to bar ceremonies:

“With due respect, 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? IT WOULD BE RECALLED THAT
PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI`S DAUGHTER WAS CALLED TO BAR EARLIER.
SHE HAD OBEYED THE SAME RULE.
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, the first Prime Minister of India,
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!!
Mahātmā[9] Mohandas
Karamchand Gandhi (1869—1948)
, the father of the Indian
independence movement, put it more succinctly: “rights
that do not flow from duty well performed are not worth
having.”
Finally, just as George
Washington
once declared that “the government of the
United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian
religion,
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.

SECTION THIRTEEN: 

CALL TO BAR IS A PRIVILEGE, NOT A RIGHT

Regarding the hijab-for-call-to-bar controversy, it is rather
unfortunate that some people are now fighting hard to evoke
religious sentiments in support of a pure disrespectful behavior
towards a lawfully constituted civil authority. I have said and
explained several times that this matter has nothing to do with
religion. Meanwhile, it is my respectful opinion that being called
to the Nigerian Bar is not anyone’s right. So, denial of call to
bar is not a violation of anyone’s right. Admission into the
Nigerian Bar is just a PRIVILEGE accorded to only people who have
fulfilled the conditions precedent. Both the Longman English
Dictionary and the MacMillan English Dictionary define “privilege”
as “a special benefit or advantage that is available only to a
particular person or group.” This benefit or advantage, etc., is
granted on fulfillment of certain set conditions (see
https://www.thefreedictionary.com/privilege). On the other hand,
one is said to have a “right” to something when that one has an
automatic entitlement to enjoy that thing. Right is a legally
enforceable claim or entitlement to take some action or to refrain
from acting at the sole discretion of the person having the
right.

Further, being a member of the bar is not mandatory. It is
voluntary, just like the right to freedom to associate. The
Nigerian bar is an organization. Once you have chosen to belong to
the organization, you must be prepared to observe the rules of the
society, else you won’t be admitted. What happened in this scenario
is that the lady had failed to meet the condition precedent and was
as a result denied an admission into the bar. The NLS and BOB have
no right to force the lady to remove her hijab. But the lady has no
right to force the NLS and BOB to bend or break their rules to
accommodate her when she is in violation of the NLS/BOB rules. She
keeps her right to have her hijab on her head without anyone
disturbing her; the NLS and the BOB also decide to keep their own
right to not admit her to the bar, which right they have rightfully
exercised. She has the option of removing her hijab and putting on
the wig to get called to the bar. But she voluntarily elected to
have her hijab on in violation of BOB rules rather getting
admitted. It’s a matter of choice. She has made her choice to not
become a lawyer. NLS/BOB has made its choice to not call her to
bar. There is no religion inside it. It is a mere of clash of
choices. Let us leave religion out of it.

Finally, let me humbly draw some homology that I believe would
help us understand the Firdaus Case:

  • SYLVESTER is not a member of the CELESTIAL CHURCH OF CHRIST
    (CCC). One major rule in CCC that everyone knows about is that no
    man or woman is permitted to enter the church building with any
    shoes, slippers of footwear on. Now, Mr. Sylvester has a pair of
    shoes on and visits the a CCC church branch. On getting to the door
    that leads into the church, members of the church warden at the
    entrance door stop Sylvester and announce to him that the church’s
    code of conduct forbids anyone entering the church with footwear
    on. Sylvester reminds the church wardens that the he (Sylvester)
    has a right to have his shoes on always. The church wardens remind
    Sylvester that the church has a right to NOT grant entrance into
    the church to anyone who fails to remove his or her footwear. At
    this point, if you were called as a judge, how would you resolve
    the matter. Would you rule that Sylvester, with his shoes on, must
    be allowed into the CCC church on grounds that Sylvester has a
    right to have his shoes on always and that no one is entitled to
    force him to remove it under any circumstances? Or, would you,
    while acknowledging the right of Sylvester to have his shoes on,
    rule that he (Sylvester) should remove his shoes if he desires to
    be admitted into the CCC Church since CCC rules prohibit wearing of
    shoes into the church?
  • Similarly, the same Sylvester, not a Muslim but now desirous of
    joining Muslims in worshipping in a mosque, goes to a mosque with
    his shoes on, but is stopped at the entrance door of the mosque by
    mosque security men who promptly remind him of a rule in the mosque
    that no one enters the mosque with his footwear on; Sylvester
    refuses, maintaining his right to have his shoes on at all times
    and in all places, including even inside a Mosque where such is
    forbidden as part of the rules of practice in the mosque. Again, if
    you’re the judge, please pass your ruling on the matter. In dealing
    with this homology, let me pose some issues. Is Islam not a
    voluntary organization, membership of which anyone may subscribe
    to? Is a non-Muslim not at liberty to decide to become a Muslim,
    and accordingly to join Islam and start worshipping in the Mosque?
    If we agree that I, a non-Muslim, can decide to convert and join
    Islam, then we must agree that I must comply with their rule or
    practice that says a worshipper must use MATS, not chairs in
    violation of such a rule. Accordingly, I cannot insist on taking a
    CHAIR into the mosque on the ground that it’s my right to so do?
    Similarly, would I (as a new comer, a new member of the Islamic
    religion) insist on wearing my shoes into the mosque, against
    Islamic rules, because I believe it is my right to be on/in my
    shoes always? If I so insist and the Muslim security guards at the
    gate of the mosque refuse to allow me to enter the mosque and to
    worship therein, are they in breach of my
    rights?

I love both Islam and Christianity equally. And I’ve read a lot
about Quran and Islam as well as of the Bible and Christianity. I
believe in the good side of both religions. I promote and encourage
all. I love Christians as much as I love Muslims. However,
Islam and Christianity as presently constituted have
instead of uniting us and prospering us, created more walls and
divisions among us, and caused us more problems than any solutions
they’ve offered to our problems
. They have done us more
harm than good! Quote me!!!! I leave those matters for another day.
Meanwhile, let someone show me anywhere the Bible or Quran writes
that a Christian or Muslim is at liberty to stoke the embers of
religion to justify such member`s deliberate, unjustifiable
disobedience to civil authorities. Are these civil authorities not
set up by Allah/God? Is disobedience to civil authorities not an
outright disobedience to God/Allah?” Let me conclude this section
with a statement by a respected lawyer and
Lecturer at Lead City University,
Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria, Mrs Aderonke
Adegbite
:

“I wish people will leave the Nigerian Constitution out of
the struggle for the acceptance of Hijab in public institutions.
The ability to restrict or expand the applicable dress code in any
learning environment, lies in the respective school’s
administration. The Nigerian Constitution is intentionally drafted
in a circular manner and this fact makes it incapable of
sanctioning all forms of thoughts, conscience, religions etc
without any limitation or restrictions. Even the Core Right to life
as guaranteed by the grundnorm may be revoked under specific
circumstances. So why project the National Constitution as your
basis for violating an express School Code? If an institutional
outlook appears too restrictive, then applicable regulators may be
lobbied, persuaded to expand such rules in order to accommodate
some persons’ peculiarities. But this method of using a Gun (the
Constitution) to kill an ant (Schools omission/commission), seems
to be the main reason why very minor issues must always escalate to
the national level, then become critical. If Muslims want an
amendment of the Nigerian Law Schools dress code, let the
appropriate personnel proceed and act. Leave the 1999 Constitution
out of it. No one’s right is more exigent than others. If all
persons decide to quote the Constitution as their rationale for
behaving the way they think, believe, feel, who will stay? More
importantly, please let’s note that this revered Constitution
provides for “Nigerians as a people”. So if “push comes to shove,”
it must be interpreted on the side of unity & peace and not for
the purpose of propagating, division, biogtism and
ethnicism.

SECTION FOURTEEN:

ARE MUSLIM WOMEN THE ONLY ONES WHO WEAR SCARF OR OTHER
APPAREL AS A RELIGIOUS OBLIGATION?

 I think I have answered this question
above. But repetition from another angle, to emphasize the point,
is not harmful. Nigerian Law School or the Body of Benchers (BOB)
may choose to change their rules and allow wearing of scarf or
hijab. I’m not against change, achieved through due
process. But until the rules are amended or changed to allow it,
the current rules must be obeyed.
Failure to obey attracts
relevant consequences, as Miss Firdaus has discovered unfortunately
by experience. Some people have argued that “there’s no
other faith which prescribed the mode of dressing for its adherents
to be in a particular dress every time like hijab.”

That’s such an incorrect, false statement to make —- irredeemably
false. I refer us to the Catholic Rev. Sisters who as a matter of
COMPULSION must be on a particular dress and wear scarf (veil) all
through their lives. Also, Catholic Rev Fathers have an obligation
to wear the white cassock all through their lives, the Celestial
Church of Christ (CCC), the Cherubim and Seraphim (C & S)
adherents are mandated to move about in barefoot.
The list is endless. Yet, all these people, when they are to be
called to the Nigerian Bar, abandon or suspend all these mandatory
rules or practices of their religious groups and wisely comply with
the rules for call to bar. Some lawyers argue that “if a Muslim
woman who doesn’t wear hijab, she is not a not a moslem.” This is
another incorrect statement, with due respect. Now, if the
statement is true, why is it that many Muslim ladies in Nigeria do
not wear hijab? ARE WE SAYING THAT ALL THOSE LADIES WHO DO NOT WEAR
HIJAB ARE NOT MUSLIMS? Meanwhile, the Holy Quran enjoins ladies to
wear hijab but does not say that if they fail to, they’d cease to
be true Muslims. However, one is entitled to wear one`s hijab
without any interference. But one must not use the practice of
wearing hijab to interfere with the rules or practice of another
(public) organisation to which one voluntarily aspires to belong.
While Miss Amasa Firdaus has her right to wear her hijab. The Body
of Benchers (BOB) has its right to deny her the privilege of call
to bar for flagrantly flouting its rules forbidding wearing of any
form of scarf, including the hijab. The BOB was therefore perfectly
right in this case. I am not against sharia law. But we must note
that sharia is not the grund norm in Nigeria. Sharia is only a part
of the legal system. And note that it’s classified as customary
law, so where any provision of sharia conflicts with any secular
law (statutes and delegated legislation) or regulations, or rules
made under powers given by a secular law, the latter (secular law)
prevails. It is obvious that the practice of wearing hijab is
undertaken by section of Muslims – a religious sect within Islam.
There is no difference between a denomination and a religious
organization. A denomination within a region is a religious group.
Every practice of every denomination within a religion is a
religious practice representative of that religion. So, every such
member is entitled, like Miss Firdaus, to claim that he or she must
assert his own right at call to bar— masquerades, traditionalists,
Celestial Church of Christ (CCC) members, Catholic Rev Sisters,
Catholic Rev Fathers, etc. Finally, wearing of hijab is itself is a
practice that’s assumed mandatory by a particular sect in Islam—
not by all Muslims. So it is mandatory for a particular adherent of
Islam only because that individual choses to submit to wearing it.
It is not mandatory in the sense that if you remove it on any
occasion, any sanctions would be meted out to you. Hence it’s not
every Muslim that thinks it’s necessary to wear hijab. Why then
should we allow the peculiar practice of a sect in Islam but should
not allow the practices of other sects in both Islam or other
religions? Is what’s sauce for the goose not sauce for the gander?
No particular sect or religion owns Nigeria; that’s the
meaning of secularism
. A secular state is a state with
many religions and which treats all religions equally and does not
allow anyone to control the State or its agencies. Miss Firdaus
clearly broke unambiguous rules of a lawfully constituted authority
and was appropriately sanctioned. If she wants to become a lawyer,
she must be of good conduct and comply with all rules which apply
to everyone without preference or discrimination.

SECTION FIFTEEN:

 APPROBATING & REPROBATING ON
THE HIJAB CONTROVERSY. What exactly is the contention of Miss Amasa
Firdaus?

Some people have argued that there is no rule specifically
prohibiting the wearing of hijab or other scarf (by ladies) for
call to bar. In response, I have made the following comment:

“Please, what is all this later-day, afterthought arguments that
“the Body of Benchers (BOB) has no rules banning wearing of scarf
or hijab during Call to bar?” What does anyone wish to achieve with
such propagandist, ridiculous, and fallacious assumptions? Please,
I ask again, how did one come to the very mistaken conclusion that
BOB does not have any rule banning wearing of hijab for Call to
bar?  Anyway, let me ask us, assuming (only for argument`s
sake) but not conceding that Miss Firdaus knew that there is an
express rule banning wearing of hijab for such ceremony, would she
have removed her hijab in compliance with the rules? From her own
response, the answer is NO. And did she refuse to remove her hijab
at the ICC because she believed there was no rule banning its use?
Again, the answer, from all indications, is NO!  But let me
ask further, is Miss Firdaus’ “crusade” no longer about her
asserting her “religious right” as “guaranteed” by the
Constitution? Is the argument now going away from standing on her
religious “right” to non-existence of rules banning hijab? Is she
now (or, are her supporters now) saying that wearing of hijab isn’t
mandatory for Muslim ladies, after all, and that she would readily
have removed her hijab if she knew of any express rules banning its
use? How can one be heard to claim in one breathe that one has
right to wear hijab for Call to bar even in violation of extant
rules because it is one’s constitutional right and then in another
breathe that one refused to remove hijab, not to assert one’s
religious rights, but only because one believes there’s no rule
banning its use?  Would that not be a clear case of
*approbating and reprobating, * if she should now shift towards
this ridiculous angle?

Miss Firdaus’s complaint is not that there is no rule banning
hijab (of course, she knew and agreed there is), but that even if
there is one (and of course there’s), she would still wear hijab
into the call to bar venue because, according to her, she has a
fundamental human right to so do. Hmmm! In other words, as she
thinks, her personal or religious predilection or precepts
supersede the rules of an organization to whose membership she has
voluntarily subscribed.

Therefore, truth be told, the real hypocrisy I see here is for
some lawyers who themselves had obeyed the rules and were duly
called to the bar, to now turn around and start praising and
cheering another person who has done nothing other than to
flagrantly flout extant rules of a lawfully constituted authority.
I wonder how one who can’t obey simple entrant rules of the bar
would be able to abide by provisions of the Rules of Professional
 Conduct (RPC) if she is ultimately admitted into the
rule-filled Nigerian Bar —- not the rules-free New York or Kenyan
bar. I wonder. I am wondering aloud. Honestly, this raises a big
question—- is she “fit and proper” for Call to bar? But that is not
the issue here. SO, I leave it.

PART E

 At this juncture, I would like to import
another comment by Mr INIBEHE EFFIONG, a lawyer
and human rights activist. Hear him:

On the issue of hijab at Call to Bar

Section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of
Nigeria (1999) as amended guarantees the fundamental right to
freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The case of the female
aspirant to the Bar who flouted the age-long rule of the legal
profession in Nigeria by wearing hijab to the last Call to Bar
ceremony and was denied entry following her refusal to remove the
hijab has further brought the issue of religion to the fore. People
are entitled to their views. But let us get certain facts
clear.

One, there is no compulsion in joining the noble, legal
profession. If we say that the Body of Benchers was wrong to have
refused this lady access into the auditorium for the Call to Bar,
we are simply saying that the Rule should have been bent to
accommodate her interpretation of fidelity to Islam.

No one forced her to read law. No one forced her to go to
the Law School. No one forced her to become a lawyer. She elected
of her own volition to be part of the profession having known the
strict rules, including the dress code for the Call to Bar
ceremony. Let it not be said that she was ignorant of what she was
not expected to wear.

Two, religion should be personal. To that extent, people
should realise that in a multi-religious and supposedly secular
society like ours, individual religious beliefs have to be
sacrificed in certain circumstances for the overall benefit of all.
In this context, there can be no distinction between Christianity,
Islam, Traditional Worship and other religions. None is superior to
the other.

If we hold the wearing of hijab to Call to Bar as a
fundamental right and the denial of same as an infringement, it
means that members of the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star,
Celestial, Osu worshippers, Rosicrucian, Eckanka, Catholics and
other faiths also have the right to wear their peculiar apparel for
the Call to Bar. This is the natural and only plausible
implication.

The fundamental right to religion contemplated by the
Constitution does not inure to benefit of only Muslims or
Christians. Islam is not mentioned in Section 38 of the
Constitution neither is Christianity. The Constitution contemplates
ALL beliefs. The argument that Muslim women are commanded by the
Koran to wear hijab unlike the apparel of other faiths is only
tenable within the Islamic Jurisprudence and applicable strictly in
the Mosque or other places where secular or national laws do not
prescribe otherwise. There is a difference between Islamic
Jurisprudence and Nigerian Jurisprudence. Section 10 of the
Constitution makes Nigeria a secular state.

The point is that if everyone insist that they should be
allowed to wear their respective religious apparel for the Call to
Bar ceremony, anarchy will be the inevitable result.

Look at this photo shared by the NBA President. Her daughter
wore a trouser; look at the type and colour of her shoe; look the
size and colour of her hijab. No lawyer in Nigeria, not even in the
so-called Sharia States in the North, can appear before a Judge
with any of those. In Nigeria, female lawyers do not wear
trousers.

Those relying on the statement of the NBA President should
ask questions. It will be ridiculous for us to mend our Rules and
Conventions simply because of what is obtainable elsewhere. When
this lady (A B Mahmud`s daughter) applied for American visa, I will
like to know whether she had her hijab on while taking photographs
and during the screening?

Islam forbids women from touching men who are not their
husbands. But don’t we have female nurses and female security
personnel? Do they not interact with the opposite sex in the course
of their work?

Hijab as I understand, is only worn by female Muslims to
shield them from unnecessary attention. It is just a protective
apparel. The wig also serves same purpose. Hijab is just a piece of
fabric that is made and sold to those who want to wear it.

No woman was born with a hijab. If you want to join a
profession like law, you must be ready to abide by its tenets. You
cannot expect the profession to adjust its rules just to suit your
religious beliefs. I find this judgment of the Court of
Appeal  below very apt on this issue of hijab: Chinwo v
Owhonda (2008) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1074) 341, 361

In 2013, a certain Miss Tolulope Ekundayo, a corps member
who allegedly refused to wear trouser at the Sagamu Orientation
Camp in Ogun State was decamped and sent back to her father’s
house. The lady refused to wear trouser because it was offensive to
her faith and religion, being a member of the Deeper Life Church.
Heaven did not fall. National value took precedence over the
religious ideosyncracy of a devout conservative Christian. Social
media was not inflamed. Miss Ekundayo, just like the hijab wearing
aspirant to the Bar, also had the fundamental right to religion but
she would have realised by now that Nigeria is not a theocracy. We
are not a country governed by Pastors and Imams. The Quran and the
Bible are not the constitutional or legal foundation of our
institutions and system. Those talking about freedom of worship
should always bear in mind that no religion is superior to the
other. If you feel that belonging to a profession will offend your
religious inclination, the sensible option is to refuse to join
that profession. We have shown too much contempt for the Nigerian
state and its institutions.”

Now, as I had said sometime in 2017, during the Kayode Bello
controversy, “the concept of “Fit & Proper”
requires obedience to predetermined Code of Conduct, in line with
legal ethics. And as LORD DENNING MR declared in RONDEL v WORSLEY
[1967] 1 Q.B. 443 at 501, “the code which requires a barrister (and
by extension, an aspirant to the bar) to do all this is not a code
of law. It is a code of honour. If he breaks it, he is offending
against the rules of the profession, and is subject to its
discipline.”
(See kay-bello-versus-nls-why-lawyers-should-not-incite-or-support-conducts-calculated-to-destroy-the-noble-profession-of-law-in-nigeria/)[10].

My humbly suggestion, as the only reasonable way out of
this controversy:

Let Miss Amasa Firdaus go and comply with the rules and get
called to the bar, during the next call to bar ceremony. I plead
with the Body of Benchers to accept her and admit her to the Bar if
she complies with the rules as they are.

Thank you, Mr Chairman. Thank you, All.

God bless and preserve the legal profession in Nigeria, and
bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Respectfully,

SYLVESTER C. UDEMEZUE ESQ

08021365545

image

[email protected][11]

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