As a people, we need to first of all understand that no Fundamental Human Right is absolute, even the right to life. Exceptions exist for a reason.
Individuals are guaranteed their rights and organizations too. The Nigerian Law School (NLS) which in this instance can be viewed as a natural person has her own rights to accept or reject members as well as make rules and regulations for association.
First of all, Nigeria is a Secular state. This status is conferred by Section 10 of the Constitution. Religion as a right will be overridden in favour of the above. And especially, the law school is a secular institution, also respectful of personal religious affiliation while also stipulating her own rules.
Let us be clear on this. The Law school does not ban Hijab or coverings affiliated with religious institutions. It gives room for her students to express their religious freedom. The law school does not infringe upon anyone’s religious rights.
Importantly, why does the law school insist on a natural hair policy during her call? It is because the wig is already a covering for the hair, one symbolic with the legal profession. This symbolism is why the NLS insists that students be on their ‘most’ natural hair so as to be inducted to the revered profession. The exemption of a hijab or coverings for even nuns and other religious materials is just for a day, correction for just about 4-5 hours.
We need to be careful on our insistence of unchecked rights. This will breed havoc and disorder. Imagine the concunbility if we are all allowed to put our religious expression and insist on them just so our rights are not infringed upon. Professions have dress code for a reason. As a titled chief or traditional chief, maybe I should also insist to wear my ‘mmoyo’ for call to bar. The list is endless.
Question 1. Is the Law School stopping our sister in hijab from being a Muslim or punishing her for being one? The answer is No. Her rights stop where that of the NLS begins. Every association has its laid down rules and if you think you can’t keep to them, then you make an exit. She wasn’t asked to denounce her faith or deny it. For ceremonial and institutional reasons, one beneficial to her, she was asked to accommodate another’s rules. This is tolerance which she accepted to be a part of when she signed up for the programme. The history of a thing should be understood.
Question 2. Is she treated unfairly by being denied a call? The answer is No. For a year, she was taught and made aware of the regulations of this particular body. She is not taken unawares. From the day we step our feet into the law school, these rules are repeated over and over. While she has a case, I insist that her day of call is a wrong day to choose this particular fight. There are procedures and processes to advocacy and agitation.
Like many things, religion is something we inherit and it is artificial. Should we insist upon our rights at all times without the consideration of the rights of others? What happens if we all insist on our personal rules and expressions at all times?
To be a lawyer is not a right. To be affiliated with the Nigerian Law School is a privilege strictly, not a right. I see no injustice here. This is not a religious war. The hijab is not under attack. Let’s not fan embers of an unnecessary war. We have a handful of nuns and people from various religious groups who are also subjected to this exception and not just our Muslim sisters.
We can advocate for a change of the rules because honestly me too I’m tired of the black gown and wig too but until the rules change, it’ll be folly for me to be used by my village people to let something extraneous and feathery stand in my way of obeying set down rules. My right ends where theirs begin.
As written by Enwongo C. Cleopas
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