By Chris Akiri
THAT the said Bill is aimed at the growth or spread of Christianity cannot be gainsaid, the mention of Jama’atu Nasril Islam and mosques in it, notwithstanding. In order words, the inclusion of those names—JNI and mosques—are a mere fig leaf, a veneer, to cover the real intention of the Bill, designed, doubtless, to stop the growth of Christianity. Or how can Governor el-Rufai seriously intend to stop Moslems from observing their salat al-jumah (jumat prayers) in “public places” every Friday?
It should be clear to the draftsmen of this Religious Preaching Bill that its 1984 counterpart, the Kaduna State Religious Preaching Edict No. 7, pre-dated the current Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), which, in its section 38 (1) provides, for good measure, inter alia, as follows:
“(1) 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” (emphasis added).
The foregoing provisions of this section put an accent on freedom of worship anywhere in Nigeria; they do not restrict anybody to an individual’s house or to any particular corner of a town or State. And section 1 (1) of the 1999 Constitution provides that “This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Subsection (3) thereof further provides that “If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.”The motto of Nigeria, in terms of section 15 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, is Faith, Peace and Progress. Ipso facto, subsection (2) thereof orders that “…national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.”
That being so, for a State Law to require a Nigerian from another State of Nigeria to obtain a permit before he/she can preach in a church/mosque in Kaduna State, is not only an arrant violation of the relevant provisions of the Constitution but a flagrant breach of his/her fundamental human rights.
The point should also be made that it would be ultra vires the Kaduna State House of Assembly to enact a Law requiring a Nigerian who wishes to “manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance” in Kaduna State to obtain a licence, renewable every year, for him/her to establish or sustain a place of worship.
In all egalitarian and democratic societies, the separation of state and religion is the beginning of wisdom. The cornerstone of the American notion of separation of church and state and the guarantee of free exercise of religion, for example, is encapsulated in the very first Amendment of the 1787 Constitution of the United States of America in 1791. According to the said First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The free exercise of religion is the very anchor-sheet of civil liberty and any attempt to abrogate that freedom will equate with the Nigerian aphorism, “trouble dey sleep, yanga come wake am”! When the Kaduna State Government begins to enforce the unconstitutional Law, with all is asperities, it may create, in the North-West, a situation that is akin to the internecine war in the North-East!
Verbum sat sapienti est!
The Constitution exists for Nigerians who are just having an experiment in democracy. A constitution is not an academic document meant for abstract consideration. It is a revelation of the social contract made by the people of a particular nation for those people with full realization of the peculiar background of the people.” (Per Kayode Eso, JSC (as he then was) in Fawehinmi vs. Akilu (1987) 4 NWLR (Pt. 67) 797 @848. El-Rufai should realize that Nigeria comprises a disparate congeries of ethnic nationalities, with plural cultures, including religious persuasions.
.Akiri writes from Lagos