Gani Adetola-Kazeem: The Hero Behind Hijab Victory
Jun 18, 2022
History will never forget the sacrifices of Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem SAN, a human rights lawyer as well as a devout Muslim, who never tolerated oppression from any quarters.
He used his legal training and resources to fight for the rights of Nigerians, especially the oppressed Muslims. Late Chief Gani, as he was fondly called by friends and admirers, fought and won numerous legal battles for the masses. One of such is the Hijab legal tussle between Asiyat AbdulKareem (then a minor in Junior Secondary School) and the Lagos State Government.
The legal tussle was between Asiyat and the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, MSSN, Lagos State Area Unit on one hand, and the Lagos State Government on the other.
Asiyat was a member of MSSN of her school, and by extension, a member of MSSN, Lagos State. And on May 27, 2013, Chief Gani led a team of Muslim lawyers, dragging the Lagos State Government before Justice Oyewole of the Ikeja High Court, Lagos over the ban of Hijab in public secondary schools in the State. The period also witnessed incessant assaults and molestations of Muslim students in Lagos.
Sadly, the then Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola and the lead counsel to the state government, Lawal Muhammad Pedro, are both Muslims.
Despite many strategies and tactics from the state government to frustrate the case, Chief Gani and his team, many of whom are members of the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN) were determined and kept pursuing the case against the almighty Lagos, led by Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria!
The case was severally adjourned. At a point, the Lagos State Government applied for out-of-court settlement to further frustrate the Hijab struggle.
The hope of MSSN was temporarily dashed and almost got frustrated when the case was transferred to another judge, Justice Grace Modupe Onyeabo on November 13, 2013. Yet, Chief Gani remained resolute, with his readiness to fight the battle to a logical conclusion.
In page 29 of his book, ‘Hijab and the Nigerian Press, Rasheed Abubakar, the publisher of Muslim News, chronicled how the late Chief Gani argued in favour of the students’ rights to use the Hijab. He described it as a compulsory religious obligation on Muslim ladies who have reached the stage of puberty.
Despite his explanation on the description of the type of Hijab the Muslims proposed before the Fashola-led government as entrenched in the Nigerian constitution, Justice Onyeabo dismissed the prayer of the aggrieved Muslim students and upheld the ban on Hijab in Lagos schools. Friday, September 17, 2014 was indeed a sad for Nigerian Muslims.
The then Amir of MSSN Lagos, Engr. Kaamil Kalejaiye, described the verdict as a “strange judgement”.
The judgement, though very disappointing, did not weaken the morale of our father, Chief Adetola-Kazeem, who was also a legal adviser to a number of Muslim communities and associations in Lagos and its environs.
On May 27, 2015, Muslim students under the leadership of Dr. Saheed Ashafa, on the advise of their legal team, led by its lead counsel, Chief Gani himself, proceeded to appeal the judgement, asking the Appeal Court to declare the ban as a violation of the rights to freedom of thought, religion and education of Muslim students.
Their prayer was answered a year later, exactly on Thursday, July 21, 2016, when the Federal Appeal Court, Lagos Division granted Muslim students the right to wear Hijab. In his lead judgement, Justice Gumel held that the use of Hijab doesn’t violate any known law and doesn’t infringe on the rights of other members of the society.
When the Muslim community in Lagos thought the battle was over, the State government under Governor Akinwunmi Ambode sought for a stay of execution at the Appeal Court, in a bid stop the students from implementing the Appeal Court judgment. They were, however, disappointed as the court struck out the application.
While the Hijab case was moved to the Supreme Court by the state government, the late Gani was fully involved, before his death in the early hours of Monday, January 8, 2018.
Despite his death, committed Muslim Lawyers, including the late Chief Gani’s son, Barrister Ahmad Adetola-Kazeem, a renowned lawyer and human rights advocate along with other human rights groups, continued with the battle.
Notable among the groups that fought the case to the end are: the Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative, HRAI, headed by another vibrant lawyer, Hajiya Mutiat Orolu-Balogun, MULAN, MSSN Lagos State Area Unit and the Muslim Rights Concern.
Barely two years after late Chief Gani’s death, the battle he started eight years ago was won at the apex court on Friday, June 17, 2022. The Supreme Court upheld the Appeal Court verdict and affirmed the rights of Muslim female students in Lagos state and by extension in the entire Nigeria, to wear hijab to and in schools.
While speaking with Muslim News, his son, Barrister Ahmad Adetola-Kazeem dedicated the victory to Islam and his father, who started the struggle.
He expressed unbounded joy on the judgement, saying, the victory is for all oppressed ladies who experience undue discrimination and undeserved punishments because of their use of the Hijab.
May Almighty Allah accept the struggle of Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem for the rights of the Muslims and humanity as an act of Ibadah. If the dead do smile in their graves, it is our belief at Muslim News, Nigeria’s most authoritative Islamic Newspaper, that late Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem will be exceptionally happy in his grave on this day.
Jazakumllahu Khayran, Sir. We’ll continue to appreciate and remember you.