The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa is to set up a five-man panel of the court to hear the appeal against the ban of Hijab (veil worn by Muslim women) in public primary and secondary schools in Lagos State.
The appeal, which was slated for hearing Tuesday could not proceed as Justice Amina Augie (presiding) held that the matter is a constitutional matter, which required a full panel of the court to adjudicate on it.
Justice Modupe Onyeabor of an Ikeja High Court had on October 17, 2014, dismissed the suit instituted against the Lagos State Government by two 12-year-old girls under the aegis of Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria, MSSN, Lagos State Area Unit.
Dissatisfied, the appellant urged the appellate court to set aside the judgement and protect their constitutional rights.
When the matter came up today, Justice Augie stated that the appeal was on the rights of the appellants to wear hijab to school in line with Quranic injunction but because it was a constitutional matter it must be heard by a five-man panel of the court.
Justice Augie stated that because of the constitutional nature of the appeal and in the interest of Justice, hearing of the appeal will be adjourned to enable counsel to the appellant apply to the President of the Court Appeal to constitute a full panel of the court.
Justice Augie said, “the appeal is very sensitive since it involves the right of the applicants, who are Muslims, to wear the hijab over their school uniform in accordance with their religious beliefs. We are a three-man panel, and more importantly, we are all Muslim panel.”
Responding appellants’ counsel, Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem (SAN) acknowledged that the appeal was sensitive in nature and would most likely get to the Supreme Court.
Adetola-Kazeem urged the court to make the record of proceedings available to enable him write to the President of the Court of Appeal.
On October 17, 2014, Justice Modupe Onyeabor of an Ikeja High Court dismissed the suit instituted against the Lagos State Government by two then 12-year-old girls under the aegis of the MSSN, Lagos State Area Unit.
The government had banned the use of Hijab on the argument that it was not part of the approved school uniform for pupils.
Following the ban, the students filed the suit on May 27, 2013, seeking redress and asked the court to declare the ban as a violation of their rights to freedom of thought, religion and education.
In her judgment, Onyeabor held that the prohibition of the wearing of Hijab over school uniforms within and outside the premises of public schools was not discriminatory.
According to her, the ban does not violate sections 38 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution as claimed by the plaintiffs.
The judge said Section 10 of the Constitution made Nigeria a secular state and that government must maintain neutrality at all times.
Onyeabor said the government therefore had a duty to preserve the secular nature of the institutions concerned as argued by the then Lagos State Solicitor-General, Mr Lawal Pedro (SAN).
She noted that since the public schools were being funded by the government, it was therefore competent to issue dress codes and other guidelines to the students.
According to her, the use of uniforms engenders uniformity and encourages students to pursue their mutual academic aspirations without recourse to religious or any other affiliations.
The judge observed that the uniformity sought by the government in the issuance of the dress code would be destroyed, should the prayers of the plaintiffs be granted.