Friday, 15 December 2017

Opinion: Caught between the hijab and the Bar

Where religion should belong
Readers of my blog would be well aware of my many writings about religious expression and even more stridently of the need to send religion back to where it belongs from its intrusive and overbearing cacophonous disturbance in the public spaces to the private contemplation of the individual, to the heart and the conscience of the adherent and to the sequestration of the temples where people of similar beliefs can fellowship without encumbrance.
I feel strongly about the need for the separation of the state and religion, that it is our humanity in the expression of kindness, understanding, empathy and compassion that should reflect the consequence of having adopted any belief system as a religion.
Understanding constitutional protections
In many countries, the constitution protects religious expression and rarely dictates how adherents should choose to practice their religion, it, however, does not give untrammelled licence to any adherent to foist their belief system on another, even if the religion so adjures its adherents to proselytise and win converts.
My concern about religious expression in the public space is deep, the reason being when tenet is taken out of the ambit of society and given to a figure representing a deity, that construct makes the tenet unquestionable, unchallengeable and unaccountable. To the extent that the adherent might believe that their interpretation of their perspective of their deity figure is subject to no temporal scrutiny with the danger that zealotry leads to extremism and worse.
Why civil law must reign supreme
As I have said before, even between adherents of the same belief system, they cannot believe to the same intensity, be persuaded to the same duty of devotion and be equally compelled to act on unction without the prism of reason. It is important that this difference in religious perspectives is accounted for in civil society and also as long as we do not live in a theocracy, civil law must reign supreme in the public space.
It is with these foregoing arguments made that I categorically state that I have no sympathy for the principal whose call to the Nigerian Bar was deferred because she chose a form of religious dress over the formal and formally prescribed dress code for the ceremony of being called to the bar.
The Samaritan’s example was hardly religious
I do not believe that the choice of apparel is necessarily the deepest expression of religion or that it overrides our core humanity which when laid bare is nothing about beliefs but that we are just human. This is the standard set by the Samaritan who saw a fellow human being in distress having been robbed, beaten and wounded by the wayside.
The Samaritan made no enquiry of the victim’s beliefs before he tended to the victim and took the victim to an inn to be cared for, paying in advance for the treatment of the stranger. It was after the story was told that the Samaritan became the Good Samaritan until then he was just an ordinary, if not bloody Samaritan.
Fighting a cause rightly
Now, the principal on the matter of being called to the Nigerian Bar had opportunity and privilege that could have been better deployed, managed towards a reasonable goal, but we must look at the landscape in question.
The Body of Benches is the association legally constituted to call qualified people to the Bar, it is their sole responsibility and it is in no way delegated. They make the rules and have both the power to honour, to sanction and to discipline those to whom they have granted to become Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
There are a set of requirements in terms of qualifications and presentation that need to be met to be called to the Bar and in the ensuing ceremony, there are standards required of those so called to meet and respect. In those standards are explicitly listed dress codes that are formal, austere and broadly secular in nature. Being called to the Bar is no opportunity for conspicuous self-expression when formality and uniformity is the code.
Obviously, if any part of the code needs to be challenged, there are means by which the people concerned can bring their considerations to the organisation to which they are affiliated and through persuasion and discourse come to some agreement as to whether a change is necessary, or things should remain as they are.
Use your brains, not your brawn
In my view, the principal is schooled in the art of legal advocacy and persuasion, that skill could have been brought to bear on the matter of altering the dress code to accommodate different inclination from the norm, what an organisation like the Body of Benchers must not entertain is the precedence of people having licence without consequence to bend or break the rules because they feel so persuaded.
It would be uncharitable to opine that the principal is suddenly the most devoted of her belief system who has now received such compellingly new revelation that serves as a compulsory requirement for the Body of Benchers to supinely bow to, but that is the elephant in the room, the situation where someone has decided to challenge order with their interpretation of an unrelated belief system.
A perspective of equality before the law
If the Body of Benchers were to submit to this kind of expression without legal argument properly presented in a learned rather than in an activist zealot manner, it would create a recipe for chaos with no inclinations of what new demands might be chanced by others to put before the Body of Benchers.
Equality before the law has to mean something, just as the respect of the rules promotes that same equality. Once religious apparel is excused, what is to say the principal would not subject clients to extraneous hurdles of zealotry before representation?
There are many arguments to be made for and against this subject, a lawyer by training should make the right argument with case law, the principal was called to the Bar, but called to incite religious animus and be found at the front of a mob.
No one is stopping the principal from choosing what to wear, but when there is a dress code, that is the dress code.


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