A special constituted panel of the Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos on thursday gave approval to Muslim students to wear the hijab (veil for women) with their school uniforms.
In a unanimous decision, the court set aside the judgment of a Lagos High Court which banned students in public primary and secondary schools in the state from putting on the hijab with their school uniforms.
A special panel of the court presided over by Justice A.B. Gumel held that the appeal was meritorious and should be allowed.
In his lead judgment, Justice Gumel held that the use of the hijab was an Islamic injunction and also an act of worship hence it would constitute a violation of the appellants’ rights to stop them from wearing the hijab in public schools.
Resolving all the five issues raised in favour of the appellants, the appellate court held that the lower court erred in law when it held that the ban on hijabs was a policy of the Lagos State Government (respondent).
The court noted that no circular was presented before the lower court to show that it was a policy of Lagos State, adding that “he who asserts must prove”.
The court further held that if there was a policy, such policy ought to have emanated from the state House of Assembly and not the executive arm of government.
Consequently, the court held that the fundamental human rights of female Muslim students as enshrined in Section 38(1) of the 1999 Constitution was violated by the respondent.
It dismissed the argument of the Lagos State Government that it made exception by allowing female Muslim students to wear hijabs during prayers.
Other justices in the five-man panel were Justice M. Fasanmi, Justice A. Jauro, Justice J.S. Ikyegh and Justice I. Jombo Ofor.
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 the MSSN, Lagos State Area Unit.
Dissatisfied, the appellants urged the appellate court to set aside the judgment and protect their constitutional rights.
The government had banned the use of the hijab, arguing that it was not part of the approved school uniform for pupils.
Following the ban, the students filed the suit on May 27, 2015, 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 hijabs over school uniforms within and outside the premises of public schools was not discriminatory.
According to her, the ban did not violate Sections 38 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution as claimed by the plaintiffs.
She held that 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.