[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, submitted a Bill to his State Assembly on 22nd February, 2016 titled, “A BILL FOR A LAW TO SUBSTITUTE THE KADUNA STATE RELIGIOUS PREACHING LAW, 1984”. In this write up, I intend do a quick review of the proposed legislation. The spirit and letter of the bill, its constitutionality, its practicability and public opposition to it will be my main focus. In the end I will make suggestions as to the way forward.
Spirit and letter: Every law is enacted to achieve a purpose – this is the spirit of the law. The law itself is written out in appropriate language to convey its spirit – this is the letter of the law. Law drafters usually strive to capture the spirit in the letter. Unfortunately, this is not always successfully done. Interpreters are usually left to their wits to try and identify the spirit intended. They could apply the spirit of the law and deliver justice, or they could stick rigidly to the letter of the law and render the law an ass. The Holy Bible puts it this way; “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
On the surface of it, the spirit of El-rufai’s Religious Preaching Bill appears to be to curb the deployment of hate speech by religious preachers, which inflames and triggers clashes. But I am afraid; the words in which his Bill has been couched negate that spirit. The letter of his Bill has already aroused negative passions. The Governor is now the one being accused of stoking the embers of religious intolerance.
(1) Where has legislation ever redefined established religious doctrine? The faithful are under obligation to practice their faith in line with its laid down dogma no matter what. (2) Have the Kaduna hate preaching incidents been intra-faith or inter-faith? If they have been intra-faith, why subject others whose religious practices do not need such a law? (3) Is the bill fair to assume all Kaduna State indigenes, and indeed all Nigerians, are either Muslims or Christians and that they are members of Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) or Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)? Many Nigerians have nothing to do with these two religions and their umbrella bodies. The proposed legislation is discriminatory to such Nigerians. (4) In a country whose polity is deeply divided along religious lines, Christians will be justified to suspect ulterior motives in the Bill. After all, El Rufai is known to be a passionate Muslim? (5) Were JNI and CAN consulted first or was their compliance naively presumed? Will these bodies agree and can they cope if more States adopt the same law?
Constitutionality: S.10 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that, “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as state religion.” Kaduna State violated this provision when it adopted Sharia law as a State religion in 2001 amidst violent protests against it. The proposed law will infringe more sections of the Constitution, like S.38 and S.39 which states: S.38(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”(capitalisation mine); S.39(1) “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information WITHOUT INTERFERENCE” (capitalisation mine). Kaduna State will become the most blatant constitutional violator in the country. As the State’s legislators consider the Bill, they should think about this. Thisday newspaper reported Kaduna-based Director of Human Rights Monitor, Barr. Festus Okoye, as having said that the Bill was an affront on the Nigerian Constitution.
Practicability: A very similar legislation has been in existence in Kaduna State since 1984, that is, for thirty-two years, without ever having been used. It has been amended twice – in 1987 and 2003, yet it remained unusable. El-Rufai’s amendment will be the third and futile exercise. The proposed legislation is too sensitive for anyone to use. Any case instituted in court based on it will evoke a lot of religious sentiment. Why invite avoidable future trouble?
Christians regularly hold vigils which go on all night just to sing and praise God using loudspeakers, and NOT PREACHING. Can Kaduna State submit to a law that violates
God’s injunctions to them? Here is what the Bible says: “Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals” (Psalm 150:3,4,5). Again, note that this is normal Christian praise worship, NOT PREACHING. Christians cannot switch off their public address systems and loudspeakers in their large cathedrals just to please a man.
Preaching in Islam is totally different from preaching in Christianity. In Christianity, preaching means the gentle and persuasive sharing of God’s plan of salvation through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ ONLY. Hate speech has no place in Christian preaching because it would destroy the purpose of preaching. If Muslim preachers tend to use hate speech, then that should be address as an intra-faith issue and not a general religious thing for all faiths. Moreover, Christians MUST PREACH because they are commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ to, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). Again, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel.” (Luke 4:18). “And He sent them to preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:2). As earlier quoted, our Constitution permits preaching even in public places, The Bill is therefore anti-Christian unconstitutional and impracticable.
Christians usually play religious cassettes and compact discs in their cars while driving whether alone or with friends in the car. The messages they listen to could be in music form, poetry, direct Bible reading or simply inspirational messages they want to hear over and over. Does this qualify as public preaching? May be it does in Islam, but certainly not in Christianity. What will happen to the several calls to prayers from loudspeakers mounted on mosques between 8:00 pm and 6:00 am?
Christians meet and preach to to their own church members a lot. Members of the public or other churches don’t have to be invited. For example, the General Overseer of a church that has branches all over the country might visit Kaduna State once a year to address only his church Kaduna members. Asking him to obtain a license to work within his own church members and buildings is most ludicrous and absurd. Non-Kaduna State Nigerians will be rendered foreigners in their own country. Imagine the chaos if this law is replicated in all thirty-six States of Nigeria and the FCT with the 774 Local Governments as the points of filing applications for Preaching Licenses. El-Rufai himself has said that a few state governors have asked for copies of his Bill for their consideration and possible enactment.
The proposed legislation questions the very foundations of our peaceful co-existence in one country as a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural people. The Bill also does not recognise the existence of African Traditional Religionists (ATR) who abound in Kaduna State and other parts of Nigeria. It therefore discriminates against them.
The Bill provides that State Sharia and Customary courts shall entertain cases emanating from reported violations of the new law. However, it fails to elaborate on this. If Muslim witnesses a Christian violating the law, should the Muslim report the Christian to a Sharia court or a Customary court? Shall such cases terminate at the Sharia Appeal and Customary Appeal Courts or can they reach the Supreme Court of Nigeria? Finding qualified judges at all these levels will be herculean and impracticable. Everyone knows that the Sunnis (Darika in the Bill) and the Shiites (Izala in the Bill) do not see eye to eye on quite a few things. Were the two sects consulted and did they agree to cooperate in this matter?
Opposition: Opposition voices to the Bill from both Muslims and Christian clergy and ordinary Nigerian citizens are mounting. Governor El-rufai’s good friend and Senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani, is reported to have said that the Bill will lead to religious violence and that he advised the Governor to withdraw it.
The Kaduna State CAN Secretary, Rev. Sunday Ibrahim, is reported to have said that the Bill only attempts to unnecessarily duplicate extant laws which are in place to take care of the issues in question.
Vanguard reported that SA to former Kaduna Governor Yero, as having said that the Bill is unnecessary and would strip Muslims of their constitutional rights to practice their religion. He believes that in Islam, Allah has already licensed his preachers and no other licensing is required again.
Vanguard also reported that the Enugu State PFN Chairman, Dr. Godwin Madu, has written President Buhari asking him to caution El-Rufai as his bill was capable of throwing the country into chaos.
Prof. Femi Ehinmidu, Chairma, Kaduna State Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) said his organisation is opposed to the proposed legislation in its entirety and will do everything to protect the rights of Christians to preach.
The Catholic Archbishop of Kaduna, Most Reverend Dr. Matthew Man-Oso Ndagoso asserted that the proposed law as unnecessary and that there were already laws in place to handle religious affairs.
Rev. Chris Okotie, who is the chairman of Fresh Democratic Party, has also advised El-Rufai to backpedal on it because it could adversely affect the image of his (El-Rufai’s) political party, the APC, as it could cause an outrage.
The Northern Christian Elders’ Forum (NCEF) expressed shock at the bill as it violates Section 38(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
The Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), through their national officers, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and Zainab Yusuf, cautioned Governor El-Rufai to amend his leadership style because he could ignite socio-religious warfare in his State. They said his proposed preaching legislation was unconstitutional and a threat to democracy and asked his party, the APC, to call him to order.
Conclusion: From the foregoing, we can only conclude that the proposed legislation is unconstitutional, impracticable and obnoxious to majority of Nigerians.
Suggestions: I would like to urge all Nigerians not to shy away from expressing their opinions on the bill so that Kaduna State legislators may be guided in their decisions on it. CAN leadership has a major moral responsibility to articulate the feelings and opinions of its members and make these known to Kaduna State government. Best of all, His Excellency, Governor El-Rufai, should save all of us further anguish by withdrawing the Bill forthwith.
James Pam is an ordained minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is the senior pastor of Faith City Church in Jos. He is also activist for the protection of the ethnic minorities of the Jos Plateau. He runs a blog called Jos Plateau Affairs. You can email him HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.