A Nigerian lawyer, Franc Utoo, has weighed in on the trending Hijab controversy after Firdaus Amasa was denied being called to Bar in Abuja recently after she refused to remove her Hijab. Franc Utoo who once posed with Halima Buhari, the president’s daughter in Hijab during their Bar programme in 2012 has shared his own take on the issue.
Read what he shared below;
CALL TO BAR:
Firdaus Amasa Up To A Veiled Mischief.
I have refrained from commenting on the trending controversy surrounding the defiance of one Firdaus Amasa (an Ilorin Muslim lady) to adhere to the hallowed Regulation of appropriate dressing for Call to the Nigerian Bar. This is because most commentators supportive of her infractions have added the delicate colours of religion to the topic. Sadly, I have observed many Lawyers here and many of my Law School mates, who obeyed the Rules themselves, but now chose to give credence to the lady’s improper conduct. Unfortunately, we have chosen to elevate mundane issues above more important matters that will prosper and progress our country.
For a start, I am a ‘small authority’ on matters of students discipline, regulation and conduct in the Nigerian Law School, having been the Head of Bar part 1 (Foreign Students) programme and the first Bar 1 student to be voted President of the Students Representatives Council (SRC) during the Bar part 2 programme, and thus becoming the longest serving President of Law School students. I have intervened on countless occasions to retrieve seized jewelleries of ladies and ‘inappropriate’ ties and other attires of male students from the Students Affairs office. I intervened on students campus postings. I was awarded the “Face of Nigerian Law School” and “Most Influential Student” during our time and up to this day I maintain a great amount of influence in that noble ground. Even as President then, I was kindly turned back twice for wearing simple skin slippers on Kaftan instead of sandals, on Friday. I was once reprimanded for wearing black tie with touches of red. I operated under a Muslim DG of the Nigerian Law School, my boss – the amiable Prof. Tahir Mamman (SAN), who made sure the Regulations were applied strictly. On two occasions I was invited to the Students Disciplinary Committee to be informed of the expulsion of students. One that hurts me deeply was the case of a fellow Bar 1 students (the Secretary of our Bar 1 Electoral Committee) who was expelled with just a week to the Bar finals. Reason: the School received a petition from his wife in the UK (where he schooled and was resident)on some flimsy grounds spurred by the allegations that he married another wife in Nigeria, on coming for his Law School. Thomas Ogwumba later died after some of us were Called to Bar.
The Council of Legal Education regulates the affairs of the Nigerian Law School up to the time of Call to Bar. The Body of Benchers is responsible for the formal Call to the Bar. It was established under the Legal Practitioners Act (LPA), now CAP L11, LFN 2004. Both of these bodies make certain regulations towards upholding the core values of the legal profession and issues of discipline. On admission to the Law School, students are made to sign forms that bind them to the Rules and Regulations of the School, and towards the end of the programme students are again made to sign the Benchers form and deposed to a jurat indicating that they have CONSENTED to abide by the Rules and Regulations and all other instructions necessarily incidental.
The Law School dressing code sometimes have little variations on subjects relating to Hijab, but it has always been static for Call to Bar: no Hijab, no weave-on, no jewelleries, etc. Presently, the Kano campus of the Law School located in a strict Muslim state, does NOT allow the use of Hijab! The Abuja campus allows for a black, light Hijab but only a head scarf at best for Dinners.
In the attached pictures, 1 is me and Halima Mohammadu Buhari, the daughter of the President Buhari of Nigeria, during our Bar 1 programme in July 2012. Such Hijab was permissible then. Picture 2 was Dinner dressing with head scarf for ladies. Pictures 3 &4 are those of the same Halima Buhari during her Call to Bar. No scarf, no Hijab, only compliance (for a 2 hour programme). She consented for her ‘rights’ to be curtailed. I used the analogy of the President’s daughter because it is a well known fact that she comes from a strictly devout Muslim family. All religious scriptures admonish us to obey God (Allah) while also respecting earthly authorities (Caesar) – see Quran 4:59.
In the Law School, those who live in the hostels consented to their freedom of movement to be ‘breached.’ Abuja headquarters campus hostels are locked with chains and locks every midnight. No one comes out nor goes in. That is the Rule. There was a night I was woken up by a group led by the current Team Manager of Rangers FC of Enugu, Amobi Ezeaku, to the effect that a thief just burgled a student’s room on the first floor via the balcony and I had to reach out to the Hostel Porter to open the Hostel gate to enable us be in pursuit of the felon. The delay in opening the gate enabled the thief escape.
Nigerian legal system differs from those of other jurisdictions to some extent. This is why I fault the unfortunate statement allegedly made by the NBA President in his comparison of our Bar to that of New York. Some British Inns, for instance, allow for the wearing of Hijab. My classmate (an Indian Sikh), Kernail Singh, was Called dressed in his turban. I know as a fact that Black and White is a strict dress code for Nigerian University and Law School students, but in England where I studied for my undergraduate Degree in Law, no one cares if you come to the class wearing football shorts and basketball vest with ‘unity’ cap. There were times my Jurisprudence module lecturer would appear in a tight T-shirt exposing his cute biceps and crazy tattoos, and my mind would whisper to itsel, “this won’t happen in Naija!” In the BPTC programme, students appear in various colours of suits and shirts.
Back to Firdaus Amasa, her defiance was clearly premeditated and designed for a veiled mischief. On the said day of her Call, after rudely standing against the traditional dress code, she was invited to the Benchers Room behind the stage at the International Conference Centre to meet with a Life Bencher and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Alfa Belgore (himself a STRICT Muslim/Ilorin elder) who told her to remove the veil and join her colleagues in the hall. She refused. The Secretary of the Body of Benchers (a devout Muslim woman), Mrs Turaki, also joined in instructing her to do the needful. She refused again. Incidentally, Statutorily, the Body of Benchers Secretary is vested with the responsibility to ensure that Rules, Regulations and Procedures of the Body are adhered to according to stipulated law.
In the end, by opting for the legal profession in Nigeria and by agreeing to come to the Law School and accepting to sign all the forms with attendant jurats, one has unambiguously concur to abide by the Rules, Regulations and Procedures of the Council of Legal Education and Body of Benchers. The whole gist points out to one thing: Volenti non fit injuria, put in other words, CONSENT! Therefore, no Firdaus Amasa, her instigators and supporters are potent enough to alter this time hallowed procedure deeply steeped in tradition and conservatism. I bet that the conservative nature of the Benchers may lead them to applying more sanctions against the lady for even claiming she acted on purpose.
As a country, the challenges we face are real and deep. We can only surmount them if we concentrate on things that unite us rather on such things as the menace of sentimentalism that seek to further divide us.
Yours In Service,
Franc Fagah Utoo, Esq. LQC (Malaysia); LL.B Hons (Newcastle, UK ); BL (Abuja)
*Former President of the Students Representative Council (SRC), Nigerian Law School, Abuja.