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

FOR THE RECORDS:

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)

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.”

  • Martin Luther King Jnr

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 mediaOn 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).

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/). 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/).

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 (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.”

  • Bayo Akinlade

(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 https://thenigerialawyer.com/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 https://thenigerialawyer.com/my-personal-opinion-on-the-ultimatum-issued-to-the-nigerian-law-school-by-speaker-of-the-kwara-state-house-of-assembly-by-sylvester-udemezue/ 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).

(See also http://aliahmad.com.ng/2017/12/31/firdaus-law-school-saga-kwara-speaker-challenges-law-school-to-end-silence). 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, USABabatunde 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 itThis 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 Ministrymembers 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). 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 Brookshas 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 banningwearing 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 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.”

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

 

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