One Abdul Rahman Fridaus Amasa, an aspirant to the Bar, wear hijab to her call to Bar ceremony and was denied entry to the hall because of the hijab, even, having satisfied all the rigorous requirements set by the the Council of Legal Education and the Body of Benchers, She was denied call to bar for sticking to her religious tenet. This scenario has sprung up legal reactions and and counter reactions from different quarters.
To some the act amount to breaching of her fundamental right to freedom of religion enshrined under Section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria while to others, it is simply a case of ‘ Volunti non fit injuria’ which can be loosely interpreted to mean whoever consent to an act should not afterward be heard complaining of same. Thus, Fridaus who opt to study Nigerian law and become a legal practitioner in Nigeria, having signed the necessary forms containing code of conduct, cannot insist on practicing her religion as guaranteed by the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria.
My Take on the Issue
The law is settled that the provision of constitution is supreme and its binds all authorities and persons in Nigeria. For clarity purpose, I produce Section 1 of the 1999 Constitution :
” 1 (1) The Constitution is supreme and its provision shall have binding force on all authorities and persons through out the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
(3) If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this constitution, this constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.”
The above provision is unambiguously clear, thus, effect should be given to its ordinary meaning. See Ifezue v Mbadugha (1984) 1 SCNLR 427 or 5 SC 79 at 101 where the Supreme Court held:
” Where the words of any section are clear and unambiguous, they must be given their ordinary meaning unless this would lead to absurdity or be in conflict with the provisos of the constitution….”
Applying the spirit and intendment of the above provision, the nagging question that beg for answer is whether the act of depriving Fridaus to her call to bar for the sole reason of wearing hijab is consistent with the provision of Section 38 of Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The section provides:
” 38 (1) 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.”
This provision undoubtedly guaranteed every person to practice his/her religion and same has been severally interpreted by superior court of Record. In fact, the status of Hijab under the Nigerian law has been laid to rest in Lagos State v Aisha Abdulkareem ( Appeal No: CA/L/135/2015) Where Gumel JCA held:
” The use of 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 Hijab in public schools”
On issue of call to Bar
The body of Benchers who are responsible for calling qualified candidate to Nigerian bar are established and empowered by the law. The relevant provision here is Section 3 of Legal Practitioner Act which provides:
” 3 (1) There shall be a body of legal practitioners of the highest distinction in the legal Profession in Nigeria to be known as ‘the Body of Benchers’ which shall be responsible for the formal call to the Bar of persons seeking to become legal practitioners …..”
The Body of Benchers so created and empowered by the law is undoubtedly subject to the provision of the 19999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria and any rules, direction or practice emanating from it must be subject to the provision of the constitution ( Section 1(3) quoted above)
Furthermore, section 4 of the said Act, make provision for people who are entitled to be called to bar.
” 4 (1) Subject to the provision of this section, a person shall be entitled to be called to the Bar if –
he is a citizen of Nigeria; and
He produces a qualifying certificate to the Benchers; and
he satisfies the Benchers that he is of good character”
The above provisions are also clear and effect must be given to their natural and ordinary meaning.
It is worthy of note that the provision quoted above does not contemplate wearing or non-wearing of Hijab as a precondition for call to Bar. In fact, no mention as to the dressing code.
As earlier mentioned the justification for refusal to call Fridaus to bar for wearing Hijab was premised on code of dressing for call to bar. I wonder if there is any law that regulate dressing code for call to Bar !
The provision close to that is contained in Rule 45(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal practitioners, it provides :
” Except with the permission of the court, a lawyer appearing before a High Court, the Court of Appeal, or the Supreme Court shall do so in his robes”
It is pertinent to mention quickly that call to bar is not a court nor equal to any of the court mentioned in the above provision or any other court. Blacks Law Dictionary (8th Edition) define call to the bar as the admission of person to practice law. As such, the provision quoted above is not apposite to the issue under review.
Where, then, is the mandatory dressing code for call to Bar? If it exist ,at all, of what status is it? Is it Statutory Legislation, Rules, Direction or practice. I think it is a mere practice.
In any event such practice or rule, at best, cannot take away a constitutional guaranteed right. Put in other way, if the rule actually exist it is inconsistent with the provision of the 1999 Constitution and thereby rendered void.
Flowing from the legal analysis above, I make bold to say that the argument of ‘Volunti non fit injuria’ have no place to stand rather it demonstrate clear misapprehension of law on the issue. Put in other word, a candidate who opt to study law in Nigeria cannot, in law, be said to have waive or compromise his /her freedom to religion by any stress of argument.
Hence, the insistence of the candidate to stick to her religious instruction and obey her Lord is consistent and in line with the supreme law of Nigeria while the act of depriving her call to the bar, is illegal, void and inconsistent with the provision of Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution.
Note: constructive criticism devoid of sentiment is welcomed. Thanks for reading.