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Hijabite lawyer: Let the court bail us out

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A colleague had asked me whether or not I would be contributing to the ongoing debate through my column on the Hijab crisis at the Nigerian Law School. Firdaus Amasa had refused to remove her hijab during the call to Bar of new wigs at the Nigerian Law School on December 13 and was thus denied the call to Bar, a precondition for her to be eligible to practice law.

I told him I am not interested for now but did not rule it out outright even though I am not usually keen on writing on religious issues. I chose this approach having realised that emotions rather than reasoning and sound judgement devoid of bias mostly determine people’s position on religious issues.

It is for this reason and out of respect for other people’s faiths that I never wrote a line when the debate was ongoing on social media on tithes. But I have observed over time that everybody becomes experts whenever Islam is involved with some commentators talking from an uninformed point of view or displaying complete ignorance in a matter they know nothing about.

Some have even taken a ludicrous position that Amasa’s defiance was emboldened because a Muslim is now the president. She has been vilified with a barrage of back-handed remarks and unsubstantiated claims just to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it.

She is being called “attention seeker”, a “religious bigot” among other disparaging names. I have also heard stories of how her parents and two former Chief Justices of Nigeria begged her. I have heard people talked about it as if they were at the convocation arena and actually saw how she “snubbed” her parents and the former CJN.

As far as some are concerned, this lady should be thrown under a fast moving bus for her obduracy. Although I have my reservations about the postulations of Karl Marx that religion is the opium of the masses, it is difficult to dismiss it in its entirety. His position that religion is the opium of the masses has some element of truth. From tithe debate to the Hijab matter, emotions ran high. Legal profession remains one of the most conservative professions in the world. And a lot of countries are moving away from the age-long conservative practices associated with the legal profession particularly those that have nothing to do with fundamentals in law.

As a rookie in year 2000 covering the judiciary, precisely the Lagos High Court, Igbosere, on Lagos Island, I witnessed a drama at the court of Justice Hoponu Wusu that bordered on dress code in the legal profession. A senior lawyer had appeared before the judge in an awkward suit, which did not conform with the colour of suits that lawyers are expected to put on when-ever they appear in court.

The colour of the lawyer’s suit was grey but the rule allows either black or deep blue. The lawyer was conversant with the rule but chose to wear the awkward colour. He had relied on his black gown to cover the suit. But the judge had seen the colour and asked him to stand up.

The judge did this in the middle of a matter that was ongoing. The lawyer seemed to have the premonition and had an idea why he was asked to stand up. Justice Wusu threw the bomb in his baritone voice, one of the reasons I frequently attended his court: “Mr. XYZ, what is the colour of your suit?” “Grey, my Lord!” the lawyer replied. “Is that the appropriate colour?” Justice Wusu asked. The lawyer admitted that he ran foul of the rule. He went ahead to tell the judge how his black suit was soaked by the rain, which fell overnight.

The judge refused to buy the lawyer’s feeble and flimsy excuse. He said he would have overlooked the infraction if the lawyer were to be a young wig who is less than five years at the Bar. The errant lawyer was more than 10 years at the Bar then. It was the day knew that a lawyer that is 10 years at the Bar is qualified to be a judge once he meets other requirements. Justice Wusu slammed him with N10,000 fine. Attempts by other senior lawyers to intervene and change his stand on the penalty were rebuffed by the judge. He dismissed in its entirety the allocution brought by some of the lawyers who intervened with a succinct and brief sentence that ‘law is what it is and not what it ought to be’.

This forms part of the rules set up by the Body of Benchers and the Council of Legal Education. Part of the rules also regulate attendance of the Nigerian Law School and the call to Bar ceremony at the end of training for aspiring lawyers as it concerns dress code for the call to Bar ceremony.

Concerning the dress code for the call to Bar ceremony, the rule states in part that Muslim ladies who may wish to wear Hijab should ensure that their faces, including their ears are not covered. “During the exercise, all your facial features including your ears must be exposed for capturing. This is also applicable to all our Muslim students wearing Hijab,” the rule states in part.

The law school seems to have taken into cognisance that some female students may want to wear Hijab based on their religious convictions and faith and thus makes provision for that. I have seen the photograph of Amasa and the bone of contention for me is that her Hijab covered her ears.

There is no way Hijab could be worn without covering the ears and there is a rule, which says the face and ears of the wearer must be shown. So, for the young lawyer the rule doesn’t take care of what she is expected to do as a Muslim who believes her opinion doesn’t count in a matter commanded by her creator as stated in the Glorious Quran.

This is just as my opinion will not count if a member of Jehovah’s Witness insists that he will not do blood transfusion even if that is the only alternative to save his life. The issue of dress code and controversies is not new. I remember that as a corps member at the camp in Issele Ukwu, Delta State, about 20 years ago, some female Christian corps members had on their own turned the khaki trousers provided by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) into skirts after employing the service of a tailor. Their position was based on their conviction that females are not supposed to wear trousers.

They were entitled to a pair of trousers, which they had converted into skirts. It was later resolved after they had apologised and female corps members were advised to desist from such act. And in April, Mr. Andrew Kumapayi, a former sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Rivers State Command, had his fingers burnt while trying to enforce the dress code of the commission. He had paid particular attention to the hairstyles and nails of his female officers. Those whose hairstyles did not conform with the corps’ code had their long and fanciful hairstyles cut with a pair of scissors at the parade ground by the officer-turned barber.

The errant women appeared in their uniforms as if they were doing high street fashion and ready to do sashay on the runway. It was incontrovertible that the female officers erred for breaching the dress code but the pendulum of public opinion swung in their favour and Kumapayi, the hunter, became the hunted and was made a scapegoat. But this will not apply in the case of the hijabite lawyer just because some people have made up their minds to be biased. It is a misconception to assume that wearing of Hijab is a cultural thing. It is a religious duty and is not meant to enslave women as being deliberately misconstrued.

While I will not foist my religious belief on others, how do we resolve Section 38 of the Constitution, which emphasises right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion? I may not be learned enough to understand its interpretation but I have heard some learned men argue that based on the provision of the Constitution, Amasa ought to have been called to the Bar. Such lawyers were of the view that that section of the Constitution is superior to the law school dress code rule. Some others had disagreed that the argument won’t apply in this case.

However, I agreed with a part of Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Jiti Ogunye’s submission, that Amasa should have preempted the law school by approaching the court to stop the school from preventing her call to Bar if she passed having been prevented from the compulsory Bar dinner on account of her wearing Hijab. The going back and forth will be regarded as the dynamism in law by the learned men.

But for me and perhaps some ‘unlearned’ men, it is confusing. Since law is what it is and not what it ought to be, going to court is the best way to resolve the matter. And I think Amasa should explore this option.

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Perspectives

Group lauds Army board of inquiry over report

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A pressure group of middle belt extraction, the Middle Belt Conscience Guard (MBCG) has commended the report recently released by the army board of enquiry set up to look into the allegation by Gen. TY Danjuma’s of soldiers collusion with armed militia in Taraba State.

The group said the report of the panel which exonerated the army is in tandem with the widely held position of many other groups who carried out independent assessment of the situation.

Addressing journalists in Abuja, national coordinator of MBCG, Prince Raymond Enero said to this end, Gen. TY Danjuma (rtd) should immediately re-secure his reputation by a remorseful retraction of the statements, with an apology to the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Nigerian Army and the good people of Nigeria over his unjustifiable utterances.

According to him it is clear that the cause of the vilification of the Nigerian Army and the attempt to taint its reputation by some stakeholders in Taraba state stemmed from the refusal of the Commanding Officer 93 Battalion, Lt. Col. Gambari to be dragged into the complex political and ethnic mix in the state by some powerful politicians, in apparent abuse and violation of his professional duties or code of ethical conduct.

He said, “it is our firm conviction that all stakeholders in Taraba State should be cautioned against making inflammatory statements, which have the potency to undermine, jeopardize or scuttle the efforts at peace and security to bring the communal clashes to a halt, with the intervention of the Army.”

Enero said the The Probe Panel was manned by credible serving and retired Army officers; representatives of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and scores of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).

He said further, “the Probe Panel did a wonderful and commendable job, as evidenced by its detailed findings, recommendations and the verdict extricating the Nigerian Army of any complicity, whether in whole or in part on any of the allegations raised by Gen. Danjuma or cohorts.

“The Panel’s report eloquently and articulately opined that there was no collusion with armed bandits by the Nigerian Army or any of its units operating in Taraba state, within the period covered by the allegations, as claimed by Gen. Danjuma (rtd). This is in tandem with the widely held position of many other groups who carried out independent assessment of the situation.”

Recall that the 10-Man Special Military Probe Panel constituted by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai was inaugurated on April 9, 2018, specifically to investigate and establish the veracity or otherwise of the allegations by the elder statesman against the Nigerian Army

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Perspectives

Olori Omobolawa: Remembering a Selfless Icon

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In a time like this, one would appreciate the reality of Bob Marley’s saying that: “Live for yourself and you will live in vain; live for others, and you will live again.” Sometimes last year December (13th Dec.2017) the world lost one of her rare gems in an unfortunate tragedy.

Birds refused to leave their nests, displaying muteness in unison and sorrow. The rivers of Osun charged at onlookers uncommonly and everyone close could see the river beds pouring out sands in grief. It was the day Olori Omobolawa Margaret Akinyemi departed this pain-filled world to the world of bliss.

Olori Omobolawa was a Rotarian, a selfless icon whose adventures in serving humanity were of great impacts on the lives of countless masses – women, children, aged and youths. Her contribution to the success of Osun Ambulance Agency cannot be over emphasis, she was accommodating to strangers and kind to kits and kin; with a generosity that competed with soothing breeze.

Her short sojourn on planet earth was purposeful and fixed on putting smiles on faces of the downtrodden and the depressed. Indeed, she exemplified the maxim that life is all about contribution not acquisition; that life is all about fulfilment not attainment.

In recognition of her noble sacrifices to make lives better for others, Rotary Club of Osogbo GRA which she was the president before her demise has decided to organize its Annual Medical Outreach in honour of the late selfless icon .

The medical outreach took place on Friday 18 May 2018 at the Alayegun Palace Ode-Omu, HRM Oba Lamidi Oke Ladowe 1 Osun State. The sole aim is to promote medical services and increase access to health for people whose happiness and well-being was the cardinal call of the late Olori Omobolawa.

The activities embedded in the medical outreach include checking of BP, eye tests and provision of free eye glasses, mental health counselling, and ear tests among others. Happily, the natives and residents of Ode-Omu have continued to troop out en masse as they know the unique saying that health is wealth. They cannot quantify their elation and appreciation.

As days go by, our memories continue to swing with thoughts about the loss of Olori Omobolawa – a priceless jewel. At times our hearts become filled with sorrow and our eyes, laden with tears. But we find solace in the fact she has indeed left indelible paths in the memories of many and remarkable feats that will continue to shine in the sands of time.

The honour by Rotary Club of Osogbo GRA today – a community she served whole-heartedly is one of the numerous manifestations that she was one of a kind. It clearly depicts that goodness outlives us all and we cannot but agree that: Olori Omobolawa lives on!

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Perspectives

APC: What goes round comes round

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About this same time three years ago, the shoes were on the other feet. The party in power then, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was often on the end of some highly sustained brutal and often acidic attacks from then opposition party – the All Progressives Congress (APC). APC’s attacks, which were often borderline outright propaganda, pointed to the many flaws they saw in the PDP.

It coined some of the insolent phrases of the time when APC dubbed the President Goodluck Jonathan a kindergarten president and his PDP government “clueless”.

In retrospect, let me quickly cite some of the examples of the attacks reeled out by the APC. For instance when the idea of postponing the 2015 general elections was being considered, the then APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Lai Mohammed fired: “The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is calling for the postponement of the general elections because it is not prepared for it”.

He went on to add that the government had four years to prepare for the elections and that the date of the election was given about a year earlier. Speaking as a guest on a Lagos-based television station, Mohammed questioned what the Federal Government had done to help in the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and ensuring that every registered Nigerian got his PVC to enable him participate in the elections.

Incidentally, although there are yet to be calls for a postponement of the February 2019 polls, the same PVC which the APC saw as a big issue then is still very much an issue now, three years down the line, with millions of Nigerians yet to receive theirs. Now fast forward to the present day and with the shoes on the other feet.

APC is the party in power and subsequently is the one open to the barbs being thrown at them by the party they bad-mouthed in 2015, the PDP And just like the APC did to them back in the day, the PDP is using every opportunity to blast the government in power.

Although, sadly in my view the PDP is not as good at getting their message across like the APC was then, it still appears that they are doing enough to lambast the ruling party with an official of the party urging them to be “constructive in their criticism to remain relevant”.

The National Vice-Chairman (South- South) of the APC, Hilliard Eta, who said this in January, was reacting to the PDP’s criticism of President Muhammadu Buhari’s New Year Day message to Nigerians.

The PDP had in their statement described the President’s speech as “depressing, annoying” and lacking in substance. Etta, however, expressed displeasure that the opposition PDP had so far failed to play the role of a constructive critic of government but had instead reduced itself to an attack dog of every government’s pronouncement.

The verbal jostling between the two is clearly heating up the closer we get to next year’s elections. Only a few weeks ago, the PDP even went as far taking their “fight” to the international stage when they wrote the United Nations to warn of the “threat to democracy” under the present dispensation.

In a petition to the UN against President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Chairman of PDP, Uche Secondus, told the world body that the Nigerian President has a predetermined plan to use federal agencies like the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the army and the Police to ‘truncate’ Nigeria’s democracy.

The PDP, in the letter, dated April 30, 2018, accused Buhari of violating the Nigerian constitution and persecuting members of the opposition, as well as attacking journalists and “well-meaning” Nigerians who hold different opinions from Buhari’s party, the APC. The British, German, French, Chinese, the U.S, and the Russian embassies in Nigeria, as well as the European Union secretariat in Abuja, were copied in the letter.

The PDP also said the Federal Government was behind the spate of violent killings between herdsmen and farmers in different parts of the country. Of course this brought an immediate response from the APC, which through the Presidency, said the letter written by Secondus, accusing Buhari of several allegations, confirmed the opposition party “as a bad loser, desperate for another chance after they were kicked out for failing the nation and its people.”

The statement, which was signed by Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, said in the letter “which is no less preposterous and comical, the opposition accused the Nigerian government of ‘destroying Nigeria’s democracy.’”

Very strong words from both parties as they raise the stakes in their quest to achieve their goals in 2019 – which for APC is to retain the keys to Aso Rock, while for PDP it is for them to reclaim the keys to the same office they lost in 2015.

But like I’ve pointed out in some of my previous write ups, while the two parties are jostling to capture the votes of the electorate next February, the very same electorate they are wooing have not really benefited from either party. For the average man in the country his situation now is even scarier than when PDP was in power.

In the current media war, neither party has come out to say concretely what they will do to improve the lot of the average Nigerian. Gloom that has been the fate of the so-called “common man” over the years – they get fed up of the government in power, it goes and replaced by another one; and yet by the time the new government leaves they are still living in abject poverty.

APC road to power on the back of their “change” mantra but I’m not sure there are many Nigerians who expected the change to be like this. Millions are still unemployed, infrastructure is poor, power supply has only marginally improved, while the citizens are yet to benefit from the economy the government claimed has improved.

The bottom line is that unless a miracle happens, the honest truth is that under the current crop of politicians, be it APC or PDP or whichever other party gets the keys to Aso Rock, nothing much will change for the citizens.

At the end of the day it is ‘they’ first and the rest of us second. If not, why is it that despite the hue and cry over the huge salaries and allowances being earned by the National Assembly members they have not deemed it fit to say they will reduce it in order to free up funds for the citizens?

They won’t do it because they know that at the end of the day we will still troop out in our millions to vote for them next year.

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