Use of Hijab in Lagos state schools was not a subject of discourse until February 5, 2013, when Aisha Alabi, an 11-year-old student of Kadara Junior High School, Ebute Metta, was given 43 strokes of the cane on the assembly ground by her principal, Mrs. E.C. Ukpaka, for not removing her hijab after coming out of an Islamic Religious Knowledge class, where students are permitted to wear hijab. According to a Muslim rights group, MSSN-LSAU, on February 20, 2013, a similar drama played out in Mafoluku Senior Grammar School, Oshodi when Bareerah Tajudeen’s hijab was removed and trampled upon by her principal, Mrs. Elizabeth Omidele, outside the school premises.
The controversy went on and on until October 17, 2014, when a Lagos State High Court in Ikeja banned the use of hijab in Lagos State public primary and secondary schools. Asiyat Kareem and Mariam Oyeniyi, two 12-year-old students of Atunrase Junior High School in Surelere under the aegis of the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos State Area Unit filed the suit against the Lagos State Government on May 27, 2015, seeking redress and asked the court to declare the ban as a violation of their rights to freedom of thought, religion and education.
On Thursday, July 21, 2016, the controversy took another turn, this time to the favour and delight of Muslims as a special five man panel of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal in a unanimous judgment motioned that the ban was discriminatory against Muslim pupils in the state and granted the right to wear Hijab (Islamic headscarf) in public primary and secondary schools, thereby, overruling the October 2015 decision of the High Court using section 38 of Nigeria’s Constitution granting rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as a rationale.
Saheed Ashafa, President of Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria in Lagos State, was excited over the Appeal court’s decision. He said: “This is victory for Islam, victory to Muslims. The words of Allah have come to pass. We are glad that there are few judges whose neutrality has not been stained by sentiment.
“We wonder why we had to face so many challenges before our right is granted. This recognition and truthful interpretation on freedom of religion as enshrined in the Nigeria constitution (Section 36) and United Nations Charter will further strengthen public trust in the judiciary.
“Today will remain historic in the life of every Muslim in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole. We will remain law abiding and appeal to all and sundry not to act in ways and manners that are contrary to the judgment.”
However, this may not be the end of the controversy as the comment of the Commissioner for Information, Mr Steve Ayorinde, on Thursday (July 21, 2016) could stir up more controversies on the use of hijab in Lagos State schools. Mr. Ayorinde in a telephone interview mentioned that the appellate court acted based on its wisdom and being a secular state, the Lagos state government will have to critically study the matter. He said: “The position of the Lagos State government is that we have to study the judgment and the reason behind it. We are all aware that Lagos State and indeed the entire country is a secular state as prescribed by the Constitution and that issue of religion must always be approached with great caution, especially in multi-religious state like Lagos. So, we need to exercise restraint before our next line of action.”
Seyifunmi Adebote for encomium.ng