Ikeja High Court in Lagos on Friday upheld the ban on the wearing of Hijab (Muslim head scarf) in public primary and secondary schools in Lagos State. Justice Modupe Onyeabor dismissed the suit instituted against the Lagos State Government by two 12-year-old girls under the aegis of the Muslim Students of Nigeria, 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 27 May, 2013, seeking redress and asking 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 Lagos State Solicitor-General, 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, however, 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. Justice Onyeabor added, “The non-Hijab wearing students will feel inferior to those who are putting on Hijab.
“The values of plurality and the respect for the rights of others who have subscribed to a non-faith based educational system cannot be breached. In that effect, the issue is resolved in favour of the respondents and the suit is accordingly dismissed.” Reacting to the judgment, the plaintiffs’ counsel, Gani Adetola-Kazeem, said his clients would file an appeal against the judgment.