Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria to reflect its republicanism. Section 14(1) explains the meaning of the name Federal Republic of Nigeria to be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice. The indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria depend largely on whether Nigeria is able to operate based on the principles of democracy and social justice because this is the only assurance that the democracy dividends devolve down to the people. No two democracies are identical, not even two presidential systems of government. Founders of successful democracies took into account their peculiar circumstances and environment in the framing and formulation of their Constitutions, Nigeria inclusive.
Democracy dividends, strictly speaking, refer to those dividends peculiar to democracy to the exclusion of other systems of government. That a democratic government is not corrupt or provides infrastructures to the citizens do not really amount to democracy dividends, in the strictest sense of the words, because a lot of benevolent dictators are not corrupt and provide infrastructures to their people. However, in a democracy, the leaders are accountable to the people, through their representatives, on how they spend the money of the nation and the people are free to challenge and express their views on how the leaders conduct the affairs of the state without repercussions, which are not possible in a dictatorship. Accountability and transparency in an environment of social justice becomes the true dividends of democracy. The Constitution of Nigeria summarises this in Section 17(1), when it states, “The social order is founded on the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice”. These are the real dividends of democracy which are lacking in dictatorships. Freedom is exemplified in the observance and protection of the fundamental rights of Nigerians.
Nigeria is a diverse nation and although every fundamental human right and freedom of the citizen is important, there are some freedoms which when denied may lead to the collapse of the republic. Nigeria has provided enough safeguards against these pitfalls but the only obstacle is whether the practitioners will implement the lofty provisions in our Constitution. One of the greatest threats to democracy in a diverse nation is an infringement to the freedom of religion or the adoption of a religion as state religion. Section 38 (1) states, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance, while Section 10 states “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” It’s important to note that religion regulates the relationship between a person and his God. The Constitution regulates the relationship between the different arms of government, between the government and the citizens and between one citizen and another.
The difference between civil litigation and criminal litigation is that civil litigation regulates the disputes between one citizen and another while criminal litigation regulates the issues of crimes or offences against the State and aims to punish a citizen who commits crimes against the State. In civil litigation, it’s Okoro v. Lagbaja, in criminal litigation, it’s The State v. Yakubu. Attempt to criminalize activities that exclusively deal with one’s relationship with God amounts to religious justice which has no place in our constitution because you don’t fight for God. God is omnipotent and can fight for Himself. When you try to institutionalize religious justice, you codify religious laws into criminal laws and make the State to adopt it as the State religion because it’s the State that enforces criminal laws and whoever goes against such rules is punished.
Nigeria’s religious diversity was already established before the advent of Christianity or Islam. The country has over 250 ethnic groups, 521 languages and over 1150 dialects. Each has its unique approach to worshipping God. It’s important to note that even then, the office of the Chief Priest and the Traditional ruler was different and separated. Despite the opinion of the gods then through the Chief Priests, the traditional ruler’s orders were final. When Christianity and Islam landed on our shores, the average African man became imbibed with duality of religion trying to accommodate the foreign religion with his own religion. To compound the problem, the two religions did not land as one indivisible religion. They landed in many denominations that were sometimes very irreconcilable among themselves in beliefs and systems of worship. Christianity parades the orthodox, the apostolic, pentecostals et cetera, while Islam parades the sunnis, shiites, et cetera. The colonial masters and modern founders of republics were aware of these complications when they extricated the State from the complexities of religion. Republics were founded on secularity which entails freedom of the individual to worship God the way he chooses and forbids the State from interfering with his choice by punishing him if he refuses to observe ordinances, laws or rules based on religion.
Sudan was one of the richest and most powerful nations in Africa. It has land, human and material resources in abundance. The southern part of Sudan is blessed with immense deposit of crude oil. They lived in peace at independence. The Northern part has majority of Muslims, while the Southern part has majority of Christians. In 1989, Omar al-Bashir seized power in Sudan by force, through a coup d’etat, and implemented a hard-line interpretation of Islamic law that sought to make the country the vanguard of the Islamic world. His government adopted sharia law to guide the civil and criminal lives of the entire sudanese people. This led to the rebellion of the Southern Sudan which levied war against the central government and eventually led to the demise of Sudan as one indivisible and indissoluble country. The South broke away from the North and became a separate country supported by the whole world as most modern States are reluctant to tolerate any State run based on religion. They are aware that no State run on religion can guarantee the freedom, equality and justice of all its citizens or yield democracy dividends to its citizens because the human mind craves for freedom more than any possession. Even God created man a free moral agent and did not compel man to worship Him.
It is noteworthy that even the northern Sudan, which has majority of Muslims, after the secession of the predominantly christian South Sudan, still went to war against each other as a result of the implementation of sharia among themselves. The northwestern Darfur region of Sudan started fighting against the central government for freedom. At a point, the people got tired of their government and toppled the government of Omar al-Bashir, through revolution, after more than 30 years of his brutal dictatorship. Just recently, the majority muslim country, democratically decided to jettison religious laws in their public lives and separated their State from their religion. It is unfortunate that after all those losses and the dismemberment of their country they still reverted to a secular state. The Sudanese Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok and Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, a leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North rebel group, signed a declaration in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday, adopting the principle, “For Sudan to be a democratic country, where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the constitution should be based on the principle of separation of religion and state, in the absence of which the right to self-determination must be respected.” It is instructive to note that the leader of the largest rebel group, SPLM, in Sudan, who refused to sign any agreement that doesn’t ensure a secular system, is a Muslim. The reason is because the Darfur region is made up of Black Muslims while the ruling Sudanese class are made up of Arab Muslims and sharia laws were unequally meted out against them to dominate them. They decided to opt out of Sudan, unless Sudan commits to a secular state and it did.
Nigeria is more diverse than Sudan and will certainly be more volatile if any religious law, whether Christianity or Islam, is forcefully foisted on the citizens. You can imagine the furore and embarrassment the amputation of one Jengedi’s wrist, who stole a cow in Zamfara, caused Nigeria in the past. You can imagine the uproar among Muslims about the death sentence imposed on one musician for blasphemy. If these crises are found among Muslims in Nigeria because of their denominational differences, can you imagine if these laws are imposed on everybody in Nigeria. This may lead to the collapse of the republic. We must acknowledge, however, that Islam has lasted more than 1000 years in Africa and has become the traditional and customary way of life of many Muslims, just like many Christians. So traditionally, Sharia (or Islamic religious) law is a personal law for Muslims in matters of the family and succession to property. This subject matter can be extended to other civil, non-criminal, matters through parties’ choice of law. This is what our republican Constitution recognises and there’s no problem with this. However, the transition of Sharia law from personal law of Muslims, to the area of territorial criminal laws, which apply to all persons without distinction as to religion or ethnic community, raises the fundamental problems of democracy, secularism and human rights of all persons and portends grave danger to Nigeria’s unity and indissolubility and should be jettisoned. May we all learn to live together in peace and respect each other’s freedom of religion. May our State be permanently separated from our religions in accordance with the republican Constitution we inherited from our founding fathers because as in Sudan, those who make religious laws imperative on all citizens, make self determination inevitable for all citizens.