MPAC Expresses Dismay Over Hijab Case Ruling
(Lagos, 26/09/2014) MPAC is utterly dismayed by Justice Grace Onyeabo's discretion today to terminate the legal proceeding against the Lagos State Government in a suit filed by the Muslim Student Association of Nigeria over the use of the hijab in public schools in Lagos State. Delivering her judgement earlier this morning, Justice Grace Onyeabo at the Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja, Lagos, held that the restriction placed on the use of the hijab in primary and secondary public schools in the state was not discriminatory and did not breach Sections 38 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution as claimed by the students. In her judgment, Justice Grace Onyeabo declared that Nigeria is a secular (a word, or any of its derivatives, which does not appear anywhere in the 1999 Constitution) country, and that "the government must strive to preserve that secular nature."
Had the Justice supported civil and religious of the claimants in her judgment, she would have sent a powerful and clear message to the Lagos State government that its discriminatory policy cannot supersede the Nigerian constitution which recognises the right of individual to practice his religion freely without any hindrance. Rather she made a difference choice.
Yet, this judgment is an important reminder that the Constitution is still the last line of defense against a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in our society, and as such we pray that the appeals court will recognize this fact when the case is eventually taken there.
Most significantly, the Babatunde Raji Fashola administration's policy of discriminating against school girls in hijab (something that is given in other parts of the same "secular" country) has interfered with the basic and religious rights of the claimants (and others in their shoes) to practice their faith. It is the simple fact that this administration failed an affirmative duty to accommodate, among other things, the religious needs of those put under its care that warrants a Federal human/religious rights legislation that will impose heavy penalties on those bent on seeing that the secular and sacred cannot coexist.
Today's ruling should be seen for what it is: a resounding victory for those bent on trashing the Constitution which guarantees rights for all Nigerians to freely practice their faith.
By dismissing this case, Justice Grace Onyeabo has given the clearest indication yet as to who she listened to during many months of argument in her court. This is a missed opportunity for the Lagos High Court, plain and simple, to defend our constitution and speak powerfully and courageously in defense of freedom of expression of religion and basic rights. This ruling will only strengthen the Muslim community's commitment and resolve to further pursue this case all the more vigorously.
Once again, MPAC reaffirms its total supports for the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, the individual claimants and others like them. We stand shoulder to shoulder with all people of conscience to amplify a common voice that religious right and freedom should carry no price tag. Observant Muslims take seriously their duty to keep within the prescribed guidelines of our faith. We also take seriously our duty as Nigerian citizens. We do these knowing full well that there is no reason these two values cannot coexist.