Proceedings at a magistrate court sitting in Okpoko, Ogbaru Local Government Area near Onitsha, Anambra State, were forced to an immediate halt on Thursday as an Onitsha-based lawyer, Ogbachalu Abuchi Goshen, appeared in a matter dressed in full clerical robes as an ordained Reverend.
The court presided by Her Worship CB Mbaegbu was progressing smoothly until a matter was called up and Barr Abuchi announced his appearance as a defence counsel fully kitted in clerical robes, roman collar, long cross and a stole around his neck.
When the Magistrate said he cannot appear and address the court in that regalia, he objected citing the recent Supreme Court judgement that gave female students backing to wear hijab to public schools as his authority.
As the Magistrate stood her ground that he cannot appear in her court in that mode of dressing, Abuchi also insisted that it was his right and that the objection by the Magistrate was an infringement on his fundamental rights as enshrined in section 38 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
As the arguments continued with both the Magistrate and the lawyer refusing to shift ground, the atmosphere in the court became charged and the Magistrate rose abruptly forcing the court to dismiss immediately.
Various lawyers and people who came for different matters filed outside as the Magistrate immediately entered her car and drove off.
Residents and landlords of Okpoko who had converged at the court in their numbers for a hearing over a case of assault, conduct likely to cause a breach of peace and malicious damage slammed against them by the police at the instance of Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) over their agitation for the discontinuation of estimated high billings were disappointed as the matter was the next in the schedule before the disruption.
Lawyer to the residents Emmanuel Nzekwe, who counselled the defendants, Samuel Aballa and Obumneke Ohiagu, to prevail on their teeming members in court to remain law-abiding and wait till the next court sitting for a new date, described lawyer Abuchi’s action as unnecessary. He said the Supreme Court decision is about hijab for ladies and not an invitation for lawyers to appear in court in their religious denominational robes.
But in an interview, Abuchi justified his actions and said that the incident has already become a constitutional matter since the Supreme Court made such a ruling. He said the court should also answer what will happen when a female Muslim lawyer enters the court in her hijab. He said that he is an ordained minister of the church and should also be allowed to appear that way in court since the Supreme Court has decided.
Asked whether the ruling is in the best interest of the judiciary, he said that for now, it remains a precedent that must be obeyed unless there is a judicial review.