From Archive: Appeal court upholds students’ rights to use Niqob (Download full Judgement)

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In a legal decision handed down by the Court of Appeal sitting in Ilorin, Nigeria, students’ rights have been upheld in a dispute over a college’s dress code banning the use of Niqob (Veil)

The judgment, delivered by Justice Hussein Mukhtar, addressed key issues regarding the constitutionality of the dress code and whether students had waived their rights by signing a matriculation oath.

The case revolved around the Provost and Registrar of the Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin (the appellants), and three students (the respondents). At the center of the dispute was “article J” of the college’s dress code, which prohibited students from wearing attire covering their entire faces. The respondents argued that this dress code violated their constitutional rights, specifically their right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion as guaranteed under section 38 of the Nigerian Constitution.

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The lower court had previously ruled in favor of the respondents, declaring “article J” unconstitutional. Dissatisfied with this decision, the appellants filed an appeal with six grounds of contention.

The judgment first addressed whether section 45 of the Constitution could be applied to support the validity of “article J.” It clarified that “article J” was an internal regulation of the college and not a law. Therefore, section 45, which applies to laws, could not be used to validate the dress code. The judgment set aside part of the lower court’s finding that declared “article J” unconstitutional.

The second issue concerned whether the students had waived their rights by signing the college’s matriculation oath. The appellants argued that by signing the oath, the students had waived their right to freedom of religion under section 38 of the Constitution. However, the judgment agreed with the respondents’ counsel, citing Supreme Court decisions that fundamental rights, including freedom of religion, cannot be waived by individuals. It concluded that the signing of the matriculation oath did not constitute a waiver of their fundamental rights and resolved the issue in favor of the students.

In summary, the Court of Appeal’s judgment reaffirmed the students’ rights to practice their religion and upheld their objection to the college’s dress code. It clarified that the dress code was an internal regulation, not a law, and that fundamental rights could not be waived by signing a matriculation oath. This ruling has significant implications for the protection of constitutional rights in educational institutions.

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