GUEST Columnist by Abubakar A. Bukar
The story of Amasa Firdausa is a story of resistance, travail and triumph against the tides of colonial vestige bequeathed to the legal profession, nay many disciplinary formations in our education the implication of which deserves due reflection. The controversy was heralded when on 12th June 2017 the youthful UniIlorin/Abuja Law School graduate was debarred from entry into the International Conference Center in Lagos where she was to be inducted along hundreds others into the world of legal practice by the Body of Benchers. Reason? Her headscarf underneath her wig – arguably inconsistent with professional dress code. So she was ruled out of the ceremony. Clad in her hijab, she stood her ground. I can imagine her pose: sullen face, arms crossed and a little puzzled, silently asking, ‘what has my veil got to do with this? How does it harm you – in anyway?’ She reminds me of Leah. She reminds me of Malala. Love and respect even though some would consider your courage foolhardy. That’s freedom of expression. Just as you exercised your freedom of religion.
On a more serious note, the implication of her resoluteness is that without being inducted, she will not be licensed to practice – thereby staking not only a promising career but one’s means of livelihood, as the case may be. But her heroic doggedness has proven a point: that we do not live by bread alone. We can actually starve ourselves and risk our lives for others to survive. That’s principle. Principle on account of identity (not necessarily religiousity). And denial of identity, as scholars of conflict told us, has been one of the major sources of tension globally. So Firdausa’s victory is a victory not only of principle, but of peace and tolerance, of freedom, of pluralism, of girl-child education.
I hope one day we will collectively and voluntarily ward off all colonial leftovers such as the wig, the tradition of eating with the left hand during law dinner, prostration before a judge and calling him lord, the slave-master mode of greeting in our primary and secondary schools, and so on – leveling all inequalities in the spirit of ‘all men are created equal’. (I remember my Professor telling us that in the US where he studied, one can conveniently call his thesis supervisor by his first name, as: ‘Mark, can we talk out the issues you raised over coffee?’. Then one of us murmured a retort, ‘You’ll be digging your burial ditch here’. By the way.) Even in my jurisdiction, not quite a few scholars who researched on Journalism Education in Nigeria have raised alarm about the Eurocentrism of our curriculum and Americacentrism of our media industry in which market-driven policies are glaring markers.
As the controversy was raging and celebration was going on, I was transported down memory lane where similar incidents kept on flashing and jostling for my attention and reconsideration. First, it was the NBA President, A. B. Mahmoud, foremostly arousing my curiousity, who according to Aljazeera tweeted ‘a photo of his daughter Zubaida, who also wears hijab, being admitted to the New York Bar earlier this year’. Then flashes of Sardauna and other notable Northern leaders pictures I once stumbled in Paden’s …Values and Leadership in Nigeria sauntered into my mind. Adorned in their usual turban and gown as if heading for the pulpit, they seemed at ease during their numerous official visits to the United Kingdom. On reaching the Adelphi Hotel where we were to put up reporters thronged the place. I was in my usual flowing robes and all the other seven in European suits. So a reporter, an Englishman, who probably wanted to show that he knew a lot of everything approached Dr. Azikiwe, and pointing a finger towards me, he asked, ‘Which Maharaja is this?’ Dr. Azikiwe replied, ‘It is His Highness the Maharaja of Poona Poona!’ The reporter put that down. Next morning our photograph appeared with the title of ‘His Highness The Maharaja of Poona Poona arrived yesterday together with seven of his followers!’ We all laughed. I asked Dr. Azikiwe, “Please where is Poona Poona?” He said, “Who knows?”
Dear reader, this is not the only instance where this piece of cloth and other religious symbols worn by women attracted controversy. Spurring furor recently was Boko Haram, then parents and their children in Osun state. Using hijab-clad teenage girls to hide and detonate explosives, Boko Haram’s notoriety for killing and destruction increased exponentially in late 2015 and early 2016.
Similarly, throughout June 2016 readers of our national dailies were inundated with rancorous dispute which appeared like tug of war between the Muslims and Christians of Osun state. It all started when in February 2013, the Osun Muslim Community filed a legal suit against the state government and the commissioner for education protesting the molestation of their female children in public schools over the wearing of hijab. On 3rd June 2016, Justice Jide Falola of the Osun state High Court, ruled in favour of the plaintiff – ‘that Muslim students should be allowed to wear hijab to school because it was part of their fundamental rights’.
On 15 June 2016, The Punch newspaper headlined that “Christian pupils wear church garments to schools” and “dares Aregbesola” to implement the court ruling. Punch’s June 18th interviews with the Osun CAN chair was titled “OUR CHILDREN’LL STOP WEARING CHOIR ROBES TO SCHOOL WHEN AREGBESOLA REVERSES HIJAB WEARING” (emphasis original). Later on, Daily Trust’s editorial of 20th June revealed that the state’s CAN and its chairman had joined the case voluntarily as respondents. “In his judgement, Justice Falola said religion was introduced when CAN joined in the suit. He said he went ahead to deliver the judgement after all pleas to settle the matter amicably failed”. The body raised eyebrow over the issue as a result of what it called “creeping Islamization of the state” orchestrated, allegedly, by Arebegsola, the state governor. While on the other hand the Muslim community accused the schools in question of de-Islamising their children in the process.
Internationally, in March 2007, Egyptian Muslim women flooded the streets of Cairo in their multitude protesting against the unfavourable remark made by their minister of culture that hijab is a ‘regressive trend’. A similar outrage was expressed recently by Muslim populace in Cameroon when policemen were seen pulling hijabs off the heads of women on the street, according to The Economist.
Furthermore, since the aftermath of 9/11, the British scholar of Islamophia, Christopher Allen, has been consistently writing, detailing the predicament of Muslims in European public life – how specifically the women were occasionally being thrown off moving bus or denied boarding; spat on and their hijabs torn publicly, or verbally assaulted on account of their faith in such countries as Germany, Italy, Denmark and Britain, the role of media thereof, and many more. American version of such agony can be found in the Same Hate, New Target, a document co-authored by the University of California, Berkeley Center for Race & Gender and Council on American-Islamic Relation.
Sometimes last year, four French policemen were pictured at seaside forcing a Muslim woman to take off her swimming cloth in line with the state ban on all religious symbols in commitment to secularism. Writing on the incident, Alona Ferber, the managing editor of Blair Institute for Global Change, referred to the move as not only hysteric and ill-advised, but can play to the hands of terrorists’ propaganda that the West is indicatively at war with Islam. Matthew Weaver of The Guardian has equally chronicled how European countries have been making orchestrated moves since the previous decade to restrict the use of headscarf, niqab and burqa in public places as ‘security caution’. A line toed by African countries like Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic recently.
Due to current global hysteria over manifestations of terrorism and extremism, Firdausa might not have scaled through if it were burqa or niqab, because our legal system also panders to Western sensibility, just as the proof from the NBA President showcases. But headscarf, especially that short one as Amasa’s, seems pretty cool as a marker of identity. That was why in June 2015, US Supreme Court ruled in favour of wearing it in Abercrombie v. Samantha Elauf – a verdict which Barack Obama bragged about in his Cairo speech, and which many Christian groups in the State backed, in contrast to Nigeria’s case. On a personal note, my three year daughter also wears it. And often resists my objection on account of our weather. It is her choice. I let her go. Welcome another Firdausa.
Bukar wrote in from Yobe State, and can be reached at email@example.com or 0909 972 2113