Opposition To The Supreme Court Hijab Judgment: Genuine Cry For Secularism Or Crass Display Of Intolerance?

There have been a lot of outcry, theatrics and display of emotions since the Supreme Court delivered Judgment in the case of Lagos State Government V. Asiyat AbdulKareem, where the Court approved the use of the Hijab for school girls.

A twist to the event was added when a lawyer, decided to go to the Supreme Court dressed like a traditionalist with red rapper, painted face and traditional insignia on his legs whilst putting on his wig and gown. He did this in protest to the Supreme Court Judgment.

His argument and those of his ilks is that Nigeria is a Secular state based on the provisions of Section 10 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) and people should not be allowed to dress in their religious garb in public places.

First and foremost, section 10 of the Constitution provides that “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion”. The provision in itself is not an indication of secularity or an indication that the state will not recognise religion. Nigeria recognizes religion and there are copious references to religion in many of our laws, including the constitution, it has however not adopted any religion as a state religion.

As a matter of fact, the common law practiced in Nigeria today has its foundation in Christianity. Augusto Zimmerman, wrote in his article titled “Christianity and the Common Law: Rediscovering the Christian Roots of the English Legal System” that, “The history of English common law, from which the American, Australia and other common-law jurisdictions originated, owes much to the influence of Christianity in its origin and development. It is indeed not possible to grasp full development of the common law without first exploring its profound religious dimensions, its motivating faith.”

This view has earlier been expounded by the old English case of Bowman V. Secular Society Ltd.,(1917) AC 406 (HL) where the Court held that: “It has been repeatedly laid down by the courts that Christianity is part of the Law of the Land, and it is the fact that our civil polity is to a large extent based upon the Christian religion.” There are dozens of other cases with similar conclusions. The question is, how secular is the law we practice in Nigeria?

We inherited what we term formal education from England, just like we inherited its laws. Our school uniforms were fashioned in line with the English culture which has a strong Christian foundation. The reason why most schools use the beret just like members of the church choir.

It is clear that the cry for uniformity is a call to injustice. The Hijab for the Muslim female is a way of life and to deny her is manifest injustice.


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The argument about secularism by the agitators is hypocritical. Those who claim that Nigeria is secular and should have nothing to do with religion are happy observing religious public holidays like Easter breaks, Eid-Fitr/Kabir breaks, Christmas breaks etc., they approve starting official programmes with religious prayers just as legal year starts with Mosque and Church services. This is against the spirit of secularism which means the non-recognition of religion by the state.

What many Nigerians suffer from is intolerance and undue competition. They want everyone to look and act like them, they want others denied of what they don’t need. They are at daggers drawn at every given opportunity and unduly suspicious of one another. For instance, a Muslim has no business asking for a holiday on Friday just because other Seventh day Adventists have Saturdays and other Christians have Sundays, when Quran 62 verses 9 and 10 requires me to work on Fridays but must break for prayers and return to work afterwards. We all must learn to be reasonable and not be childishly competitive.

We do not have to feel jittery or suspicious when a religious group seeks to enforce its genuine rights. More secular countries and the countries we like to call saner climes e.g US and the UK, have normalized inclusion and specifically the use of the hijab in all spheres of their lives (School, Court, Police, Army etc).

What is apparent is that the theatrics we are seeing on display was intended to embarrass the courts because they held in favour of the Muslim female whose wearing of the hijab is a way of life for and who wears it at all times in the public. The lawyer in question criticised the Judgment immediately it was given even before seeing the content basing his arguments on wide assumptions. He has series of cases in court against anything he perceives is Islamic and has made wide statements in his recent interviews like linking lack of development in some states to their adoption of the Shariah. He also linked the hijab case to the Islamization agenda. When indeed, the ban on Hijab was placed on Muslim students in Lagos State in 2012 under a Muslim Governor, Muslim Attorney-General and a Muslim Solicitor General. In fact, the matter was argued at the High Court by the Muslim Solicitor General who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

Let whoever feels they should be accommodated approach the appropriate authorities to prove it, just like the female Muslim students in Lagos did, it helps our diversity outlook. In the UK, Muslim Lawyers and Judges are allowed to wear the hijab, Christians can wear their religious symbols, Jews can wear their Kippahs, while Sikh are allowed to wear their turbans- that is diversity and inclusion at play.

Lastly, the wearing of the hijab in public spaces has come to stay and no amount of hypocritical theatrics or public display of bigotry is going to change that.

Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem writes from Lagos, Nigeria. Ahmed is the Founder and Executive Director of Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative, an NGO advocating for the rights of prisoners and rehabilitating them. Contact: info@adetolakazeemlp.com.
27th June 2022.


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