The supreme court has affirmed the rights of Muslim female students in Lagos state to wear hijab to school.
In October 2014, a Lagos high court ruled against the wearing of hijab in schools, a decision that was overturned by an appellate court in July 2016.
Delivering judgment on Friday, five out of a seven-member panel of the apex court held that banning the use of hijab is discriminatory.
The Lagos state government had banned the use of hijab on the premise that it was not part of the approved school uniform for students.
Consequently, Muslim students filed a suit on May 27, 2015, asking the court to declare the ban as a violation of their rights to freedom of thought, religion and education.
The suit marked CA/L/135/15, was filed by one Asiyat AbdulKareem (through her father), Moriam Oyeniyi and the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria against the Lagos state government.
Modupe Onyeabor, judge of an Ikeja high court, had on October 17, 2014, dismissed the suit.
Onyeabor held that the prohibition of the wearing of hijab over school uniforms within and outside the premises of public schools was not discriminatory.
However, her decision was overturned by a five-member panel of the court of appeal on July 21, 2016.
The panel upheld the Muslim students’ contention that the ban violated their rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, dignity of human persons and freedom from discrimination guaranteed by the 1999 constitution.
Dissatisfied with the verdict, Lagos state had appealed to the supreme court.
Pending the outcome of the apex court’s intervention, in November 2018, the state government issued a circular backing the use of the hijab for Muslim female students in public schools.
But it said the hijab must be “short, smart, neat and in the same colour of the uniform (skirt)”.
“Since the case of the use of Hijab in Lagos State is still pending in the Supreme court of Nigeria, status quo be maintained, to avoid contempt of the court, that is students be allowed to wear Hijabs on school uniforms but same must be short, smart, neat and in the same colour of the uniform (skirt),” the circular read.
“Furthermore, schools management are advised to downplay comments and disciplinary actions on the use of smart Hijabs until the final determination of the case by supreme court.
“No student should be discriminated against in any form on the basis of religion.”
In the majority judgment, the supreme court dismissed Lagos state’s appeal.
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