The Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, of the Body of Benchers, has given a Lagos-based lawyer and a human rights activist, Malcolm Omirhobo 24 days to respond to the petition filed against him by Muslim Rights Concern for appearing in a native doctor’s attire to the Supreme Court and the Federal High Court.
The 24 days notice given to Omirhobo by the LPDC was contained in a letter dated October 7, 2022.
Omirhobo had in reaction to the judgment of the Apex Court on the wearing of hijab by Muslim women, on June 27, 2022, dressed in his native doctor attire over his wig to the court.
However, in a letter dated October 7, 2022, and signed by the Secretary of LPDC, Mr Daniel Tela, asked Omirhobo to respond to a petition filed against him by MURIC over the way he dressed to the Supreme Court.
Omirhobo was directed to submit affidavits disclosing his defence to the Originating Application filed by MURIC in Suit No. BB/LPDC/896/2022.
In a judgment delivered on June 17, 2022, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of a Court of Appeal Lagos, which removed the ban on the use of hijab in public schools in Lagos State.
The apex court in a split judgment of five-to-two, held that the appellate court was right in its verdict nullifying and setting aside the judgment of a Lagos High Court that banned female Muslim students from wearing the hijab (head covering veil) with their school uniforms.
It subsequently dismissed the appeal brought by Lagos State for lacking in merit.
On Thursday, June 23, 2022, Omirhobo in protest of the judgment was seen on the premises of the Supreme Court wearing his native doctor attire on his wig and gown. He also wore the same dress to the Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday, June 27.
The human right lawyer, who appeared before Justice Tijiani Ringim, barefooted with cowries tied on his two legs, and his wig had two long feathers, with cowries in his two hands and tied a red wrapper, while he wore his lawyer’s gown over it, was greeted with resistance by some lawyers who disagreed with his appearance before the court in such dressing; arguing that he could not be heard as he was not properly dressed as a lawyer before the court.
When his case was called, he announced his appearance as the applicant and some lawyers, Abdullah Dania, Mohammed Adamu and one Festus Afeyodion, told the court that he should not be heard as he was not properly robbed.
Dania said, “I am a lawyer, my Lord can imagine the way my learned friend appears before the court as a professional. The rules that govern us as a lawyer do not allow improper dressing.”
Adamu told the court that he would like to furnish the court with his written submission in line with the direction of the court.
The Punch had reported that Omirhobo appeared at the Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday, morning on June 29, 2022, in a full wig, gown, black trousers, and shoes.
He said “the spirit,” asked him to “go normal,” adding that he would revert to his religious garb again if directed.
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Omirhobo claimed he is a traditionalist and argued that his decision was based on the Supreme Court’s judgment that ruled in favour of Muslim students wearing hijab in Lagos schools.
Omirhobo’s move, however, appeared, to have emboldened other lawyers.
As if that was all there is to protest the Supreme Court decision on the wearing of a Hijab, another lawyer, Dennis Ezekiel, appeared at the Federal High Court in Lagos, wearing a rosary on his barrister’s attire.
He explained that he was exercising his right to religious freedom following the hijab ruling.
Ezekiel said, “My name is Dennis Ezekiel. I’m a Christian, a Catholic, and I’m professing my religion by appearing like this in court. It is my right, enshrined in Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution and laid down, enunciated by the Supreme Court (in its) judgment (on hijab). So, we have that constitutional right to profess our religion without hindrance.”
In reaction to the dressing of Omirhobo, a popular socio-political activist, Aisha Yesufu described the Omirhobo’s outfit as a ‘juju’ priest.
Yesufu did not condemn Omirhobo’s dress but told the lawyer that it was not just enough to dress like that to the Court, adding that he should also be in such attire to marketplaces, offices, and other public functions.
According to her, Muslim women do not just wear the hijab to a particular place or function but as an obligation, they observe and use it all the time.
She said: “Way to go! He should dress like this not just to court sittings but to his office, market, public gatherings etc. We do not wear the hijab occasionally or ceremoniously.
“It is an obligation that we observe and use all the time and that is why the Supreme Court gave that ruling!”
Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, had earlier condemned the lawyer’s behaviour, saying it is not only contemptuous of the Supreme Court pronouncement but also provocative, condescending, and irreconcilable with the noble profession of law.
Confirming the 24 days notice, Omirhobo wrote on his social media handle; “I have just received a frivolous and vexatious originating application in respect of the allegation of misconduct against me for dressing as prescribed by my religion in the exercise of my fundamental right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion by Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) from the Body of Benchers, Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. I am to file my defence within 24 days. – Malcolm Omirhobo.”
In the originating application marked BB/LPDC/896/2022, sent to LPDC, by MURIC over allegations of professional misconduct MURIC’s lawyer, Muhammad Aliyu, stated that Omirhobo, conducted himself in a manner that is unbecoming for a legal practitioner which caused disrepute and mockery to the legal profession and embarrassment to MURIC.
He said “Therefore, he (Omirhobo) shall be required to answer allegations contained in the Statement/Affidavit which accompanies this application and such order be made as the Committee shall think right.’’
Sokoto Chapter of MURIC, on July 13, 2022, filed a suit against Omirhobo before the Sokoto High Court over professional misconduct.