PRESS CONFERENCE ON DENIAL OF CALL TO BAR OF FIRDAUS AMASA ABDUL SALAAM HELD AT THE TEMPORARY HEADQUARTERS OF THE MUSLIM RIGHTS CONCERN (MURIC), ZONE ‘E’, GRA, IBA ESTATE, IBA LAGOS STATE.
Leaders of Islamic organizations, Muslim leaders here present, Leaders of Human Rights Organizations, Human rights activists, Brothers and Sisters in Islam, Distinguished Gentlemen of the press, As-Salaam Alaykunm wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu,
We welcome you to this press conference. Today’s gathering was necessitated by a story that has been making waves in the media for about a week. AbdulSalaam Firdaus Amasa, a Muslim lady who graduated from the University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Kwara State, was denied call to bar by the Nigerian Law School at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, on Wednesday, 13th December, 2017 on account of her wearing an hijab which she refused to remove.
The Nigerian Law School’s action is deplorable, reprehensible and preposterous. The very school where human rights lawyers are trained to respect human dignity is not expected to be the very first institution to dehumanize Nigerian citizens. There is no hope for the rule of law in Nigeria if the Law School’s decision is allowed to stand.
Just like a scene from apartheid South Africa when blacks were derided and disallowed from entering restaurants, swimming pools used by whites or to attend social events, Muslims are being targeted for discriminatory practices in Nigerian institutions. Stigmatisation of the adherents of Islam is the order of the day. Muslims cannot get international travel documents without being humiliated. They cannot obtain driving licences without being profiled.
For the benefit of those who assume that Muslims have no basis for using the hijab, we provide the scriptural basis from Quran 24:31 which says inter alia:
وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَىٰ جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty…
It is clear from the above verse that Firdaus was not dancing to her whims and caprices by using the hijab but simply obeying her Creator. The Law School’s ill-treatment of Muslims would not have been exposed if Firdaus Amasa had succumbed to intimidation like other Muslims had done in the past because it has now come to public knowledge that this has always been the practice in the Law School every year.
In actual fact, two other Muslim sisters who wore hijab under their wigs on that day would also have been denied call to bar had they refused to remove their hijabs when ordered to do so. An official seized one of the hijabs after the Muslim lady (not Firdaus, but name withheld) had removed it, threw it on the floor in the presence of guests and trampled upon it! What level of hatred could have caused this? It is not only disgraceful but highly abominable. The Nigerian Law School has become a den of Muslim-haters. An institution that is expected to train minds in revolutionary reforms is the same championing segregation among citizens. It is archaic, parochial and reactionary.
While the whole world is focusing attention on reducing illiteracy particularly among women, the Nigerian Law School revels in denying Firdaus, a microcosm of the girl-child, her hard earned access to call to bar. It is irrational, illogical and incomprehensible. We strongly condemn this discriminatory action.
We call on feminine liberation groups in the country like Women Arise and Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) to rise to the occasion. We invite the National Assembly (NASS) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the dehumanization of female Muslim hijabites at the event on Wednesday. This is one ugly incident that should not be allowed to occur again.
There are claims that the Law School has certain set of rules and dress codes. We are aware that every institution tries to moderate the behavioural pattern of its staff or students within its four walls by setting up its own rules and regulations and this should not exclude the Law School. But such rules become null and void and of no effect whatsoever the moment it contradicts any section of the Nigerian constitution.
The Law School would have acted ultra vires, therefore, if its rule forbids the use of hijab in the Law School or during call to bar because Section 38 (i) & (ii) of the 2011 (as amended) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria expressly forbids denial of freedom of religion when it says, “every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance”
Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution also provides:
(1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government (or its agencies-addition ours), to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions are not made subject.
Whereas Section 13 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act (1991) provides “a public officer shall not do or direct to be done, in abuse of his office, any act prejudicial to the rights of any person knowing that such act is unlawful or contrary to any government policy”, authorities of the Law School have taken impunity to the clouds by denying Firdaus Amasa access to call to bar. Are we going to remain silent over this illegal action?
And whereas the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Article 4, Clause 1 & 2 stipulates, “Human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person”, an official of the Law School at the call to bar event had the temerity to seize the hijab of a female Muslim graduate, threw it on the floor and viciously trampled on it.
In the victim’s own words (the other lady, not Firdaus), “They barged to my seat, demanded I remove the Hijab, stepped on it several times, kicked it around even more times then asked a guard to stand by it so I couldn’t retrieve it. Then they demanded for my certificate and seized it. I had to go beg after the ceremony for it”. Is this how the Law School encourages girl-child education?
The action of this official contravenes Section 34 (i) (a) of the Nigerian Constitution which says, “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly, no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.”
We are now in the court of public opinion and I am going to ask you all, has the official who seized our sister’s hijab and trampled upon it violated Section 34 (i) (a) or not? Has he subjected this sister to inhuman and degrading treatment or not? Have Law School Officials subjected Firdaus to untold suffering, monumental torture and psychological trauma or not?
All these in spite of previous court judgements which guarantee the right of female Muslims to use hijab. This includes the Court of Appeal’s decisions in Provost, Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin and two (2) ors vs Bashirat Saliu and ors (Suit No. CA/IL/49/2009) where the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Judicial Division held that: “The use of veil (Hijab) by female Muslims qualifies as a fundamental right under section 38 of the Constitution”.
This is aside another legal victory recorded at the Lagos High Court and the Appeal Court of Lagos AbdulKareem v Lagos State Govt (2016) (CA/L/135/15) where the court declared that 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. In addition, Osun State High Court also delivered a judgement on 3rd June, 2016 in a case between Sheikh Olayiwola and ors Vs Osun State Government and ors.
If, indeed, the Law School has rules which make the wearing of hijab an offence for a female Muslim graduate of law to be called to bar, then the Law School has erred. It has targeted Muslims for victimization. It has made it impossible for female Muslims to ‘practice’ and to ‘manifest’ their faith. The Law School has infringed upon Allah-given fundamental human rights of Muslim female students. Our stand here is that whoever persecutes one Nigerian Muslim, whether male or female, has persecuted all Nigerian Muslims.
The Nigerian Law School has disappointed millions of Nigerians by its handling of the Firdaus hijab imbroglio. It has exposed its underbelly with this ugly incident. This is an institution that should be fighting for the rights of the oppressed, promoting equal rights and justice and charting new directions in the pursuit of the legal profession. It should be the one giving Nigeria’s young lawyers the skills to fight inadequacies in our society. But the institution failed woefully in this regard. As a result of this failure, members of the public are now the ones doing what the Law School should have done. This can be compared to civilians arresting policemen.
This is where people of good conscience must also come in. Patriotic Nigerians and progressive groups
must step into this matter before we are all enslaved in our own land. It was Martin Niemoller who
warned, “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then
they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no
one left to speak for me.”
The Law School has come for the Muslims today. We urge Nigerians to stand up for justice regardless of ethnic or religious background. It may not necessarily be a matter for religious consideration. Rights are rights everywhere under the sun. Rights are colour-blind. Rights know no religion. We must therefore be prepared to break down the barriers of rights and freedoms.
This hijab saga must be seen beyond religion. It is about human rights. A helpless lady has stood her ground to protect her dignity and for this bold action she has been denied her right to be called to bar. This is what she has toiled for all her life. Her university found her worthy in learning and in character only for the Law School to adopt a yardstick unknown to law to deny her call to bar. It is therefore a battle between convention and constitutionalism. The latter cannot win by any standard. Not when men of conscience and principles still exist in this country. If it is tradition, it must first bow to the course of law.
Unfortunately today, the Law School appears to be telling us that we should put the law aside. We say baldadash! Any institutional tradition which contradicts the constitution must go. It is illegal, illegitimate and unconstitutional to make rules which make it impossible for any citizen to practice or manifest his or her faith or to publicly undress our girls and trample upon their headgears. It is the height of lawlessness and bestiality.
No human rights group worth its salt will see this matter as purely religious. Nay, it is about freedom and liberty. We therefore invite the Nigerian civil society to take a dispassionate look at this matter and take a honourable stand. We need to adopt the right perspective and a purely ideological drive to analyse issues of rights, not primordial sentiments.
It is about raising the Nigerian narrative above pedestrian level. We must come together to emancipate vulnerable women and children who are tied to the shackles of conventions and traditions that are unknown to the constitution. One such tradition is this undue phobia for hijab. We must break the barriers of this allergy for women in hijab. It is only cowards who assault women. Real men honour women. Every woman is either somebody’s mother, sister or daughter. We all have a duty to protect our mothers, sisters and daughters. Let my mothers go. Set my sisters free.
Muslims do not deserve to be treated like underdogs of the Nigerian society having preceded Christianity in the country by 800 years. The British did not deem it fit to observe the rules of natural justice when they colonized the country as all Islamic landmarks were eliminated and supplanted with a system that is not only colonial in blood but also Christian in DNA.
Colonial administration was grossly unfair to Muslims. Nigeria was Christianised by Britain and Muslims bore the brunt. We suffered forceful conversion, denial of rightful employment and even worse forms of persecution. But what is most disappointing is the policy of exclusion adopted by post-independence governments. It is just sad that the Law School, a legal educational institution, is allowing itself to be used as a tool for oppressing and marginalizing Muslims.
Despite the fact that Western countries like Britain, Canada and the United States have designed uniforms with hijab for their female Muslim police, soldiers, students, etc, Nigeria has failed to borrow a leaf from those advanced countries on a matter which does not cost one kobo, neither does it require technology. All it needs is the will to live together, to tolerate, to accommodate. All we have been asking for is that Muslims should be fully integrated into the Nigerian society. No more, no less. Allow Muslims to be complete and free human beings like Christians. But successive regimes ignore the cries of Muslims and the Law School which should lead the way to freedom has opted to dance to the gallery. This is very disappointing.
Muslims are in bondage in this country. This is why we agree with those agitating for restructuring that certain areas need reform in Nigeria. However, our own concept of restructuring involves good, purposeful and visionary governance capable of emancipating people where they are enslaved. Let restructuring start with our institutions. The Nigerian Law School must be restructured. Nigerians who know the value of peace are calling for urgent reform in the Law School. The encroachment on Allah-given fundamental rights of Muslims in that institution is inconsistent with the principles of fairness, equity and natural justice.
We call attention to what is happening in Kenya, a fellow African country. Code 8 of the Law Society of Kenya’s Advocates Dress Code states:
“Advocates (i.e. lawyers) whose faith requires them to wear head gear may wear the same so long as the colour of the head gear is charcoal, black, white, grey, navy blue and other darkish colours.”
That is the situation in Kenya. They are very liberal and accommodating with Muslims. Yet Kenya, like Nigeria, is a former British colony. They inherited the same British legal system like us. But the big news is that Muslims are only 11.2% in Kenya while Christians have 83% of the population.
Just recently, a ‘call to bar’ picture of the Chief Justice of Kenya flanked on either side by two female Muslims wearing hijab with the wig on top of their hijab went viral on social media. If this can be done in Kenya, we believe that it is possible in Nigeria.
Paradoxically, Nigerian Muslims who are in the majority (Nigeria has 52% Muslim majority according to Pew survey, or 53% according to DHS survey) are not allowed to practice their religion in this comprehensive form like their Kenyan counterparts due to questionable gymnastic manipulations arising from acrobatic religiousity. We are asking the Law School, “Who did this to Nigeria?
It is sheer colonial mentality to insist on using garments and dress codes that are totally alien to our culture and if at all Law School must use Christo-Western dresses (which is acceptable to Christian students anyway), female Muslim students who prefer to use hijab must be accommodated in the name of equity. Or is it too much to demand equity from teachers of equity?
We demand full integration and full recognition as bona fide citizens of Nigeria, not second or third class citizens. We are the aggrieved party. The British most brutally and most unjustly took all we had from us, giving us nothing in return and offering no relief. It has continued to give us a feeling of rejection, marginalization, denial of the dividends of democracy and lack of a sense of belonging. The time for redress is now.
Although the Nigerian Law School has provoked us, we are making our demands peacefully now without issuing threats. These are dividends of democracy that have not been allowed to reach Muslims. The time to give them is now. Boko Haram militants may have adopted the wrong method but we believe these grievances are nursed by all Muslims. We must avoid another pogrom.
Muslims are generally law abiding. We are not terrorists. Terrorism is mere smoke and there is no smoke without fire. Any good fire-fighter will not direct his hose at the smoke. It is the fire which caused the smoke that must be extinguished. By the same token, we assert that the fire which causes the ‘smoke’ of terrorism is injustice and provocation, just like the unjust manner Firdaus has been treated by the Law School. We affirm that those who want peace must pursue justice and fairness because justice is the soul of peace. No one can deny one and still enjoy the other.
The Law School and other Nigerian institutions should desist from actions capable of militarising religious and ethnic groups. Some people may seek the militancy option when all else fails. As for us in MURIC, we are committed to peace. Our motto is ‘Dialogue, Not Violence’. We condemn terrorism and all forms of violence.
We are middle-roaders and socio-intellectual jihadists seeking freedom for the oppressed, food for the hungry, healing for the sick, clothing apparels for the naked and shelter for the homeless. We remain oppressed until the hungry are fed, the sick healed, the naked clothed and the homeless sheltered. We will not let up in this jihad until these laudable goals are achieved.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we are asking Nigerians, should we just keep quiet and allow Firdaus to suffer after six rigorous years of academic activities? Or should we demand that the Law School must call Firdaus to bar?
We appeal to the Body of Benchers and the Council of Legal Education to learn from Kenya and do the needful if the law profession is not meant for Christians alone and if the Nigerian Law School is not a proxy for Christian Law School. We also appeal to other stakeholders to find a peaceful solution to this hijab imbroglio before the struggle is hijacked by violent elements in society.
In summary, Nigerian Muslims demand the following from both the Nigerian Law School and the Nigerian authorities:
- immediate ‘call to bar’ for AbdulSalaam Firdaus Amasa;
- a judicial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the molestation of Muslim students who were forced to remove their hijab on that fateful day;
- a review of the code of dressing in the Nigerian Law School as it affects the ‘manifestation’ of religious beliefs;
- the intervention of the Nigerian National Assembly in the matter at hand;
- an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) into allegations of religious stigmatization in the Nigerian Law School;
- a general reform of the Nigerian Law School;
Not too long ago, some self-acclaimed human rights activists under the guise of protecting the girl-child rose to condemn the alleged marriages of underaged girls by Muslims. Where are they today? I ask you, where are they today? Why are they not standing up for Firdaus. Firdaus is a typical girl-child. Without scratching anyone, without using knives, without biting anybody, she fought her oppressors all alone by refusing to be intimidated, by refusing to remove her hijab. It is uncommon manifestation of courage. Firdaus is an agent of peaceful change. We salute Firdaus. We identify with her.
Long live Firdaus! Long Live Firdaus Amasa!! Long live Abdul Salaam Firdaus Amasa!!!
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
There is victory for us…
There is victory for us…
In the struggle for our rights
There is victory for us