An appeal challenging the decision of a Lagos High Court, Ikeja, upholding the ban on the wearing of Hijab (Muslim head scarf) in public primary and secondary schools in Lagos State, was adjourned by the Court of Appeal, Lagos division.
A three-man panel led by Justice Amina Augie informed the applicants that there’s a need for adjournment to enable its full panel hear the matter.
The applicants, two 15-year- olds and the Registered Trustees of the Muslim Society of Nigeria (MSSN), were told by Justice Augie that the matter was sensitive since all three Justices were Muslims.
She said: “The appeal is very sensitive since it involves the right of the applicants, who are Muslims, to wear the hijab over their school uniform in accordance with Koranic injunction.
“We are a three-man panel, and more importantly, an all Muslim panel.”
She added that if the three justices went ahead to hear the appeal, it could raise issues of bias.
Responding to an observation by applicant’s counsel, Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem, Justice Augie said: “Any way the decision goes, we would be under fire. We’re protecting ourselves as much as we’re protecting you.
“It’s a very sensitive matter that will most likely still get to the Supreme Court.”
The court ruled that the suit was a constitutional one and a five-man panel was required to hear it.
It directed the applicants to apply in writing to the President of the Court of Appeal for a five-man panel to be appointed to hear it.
On October 17, 2014, Justice Modupe Onyeabor of an Ikeja High Court, dismissed the suit instituted against the Lagos State government by then two 12-year-old girls under the aegis of the MSSN, Lagos State Area Unit.
The government had banned the use of Hijab on the argument that it was not part of the approved school uniform for pupils.
Following the ban, the students filed the suit on May 27, 2013, seeking redress and asked the court to declare the ban as a violation of their rights to freedom of thought, religion and education.
In her judgement, Onyeabor held that the prohibition of the wearing of Hijab over school uniforms within and outside the premises of public schools was not discriminatory.
According to her, the ban does not violate sections 38 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution as claimed by the plaintiffs.
The judge said Section 10 of the Constitution made Nigeria a secular state and that government must maintain neutrality at all times.
Onyeabor said the government therefore had a duty to preserve the secular nature of the institutions concerned as argued by the Lagos State Solicitor-General, Mr Lawal Pedro (SAN).
She noted that since the public schools were being funded by the government, it was therefore competent to issue dress codes and other guidelines to the students.
According to her, the use of uniforms engenders uniformity and encourages students to pursue their mutual academic aspirations without recourse to religious or any other affiliations.
The judge observed that the uniformity sought by the government in the issuance of the dress code would be destroyed, should the prayers of the plaintiffs be granted.