Re: THE NEED FOR FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION IN KADUNA STATE

April 19, 2016

By    Bitrus E Gwadah

Brothers, 

              I found in my inbox the above – stated article, and want to sincerely thank you for sharing your views on this very important topic. I commend your observations on the proposed “BILL FOR A LAW TO SUBSTITUTE THE KADUNA STATE RELIGIOUS PREACHING LAW, 1984….”

Permit me to comment without any reference to the statement credited to His Excellency the Governor concerning Muslim/Christian population. I would also not make any references to comments already being made by other participants, for personal reasons.

Because matters of faith and belief tend to appeal first to emotion, I will appeal that you go through my observations with a huge dose of unusual patience.

Here are my comments, observations and views: 

1. It is helpful, as a Christian, to ask this question, which I also humbly recommend to you too: if Christ was here on the same table participating in this discussion on this topic, what would have been His view, or views?

2. It is not helpful to always label any issue as one between THEM and US. I believe that the elite of every community have a duty and a responsibility to offer criticism and advice in a manner that will build society, not destroy it, irrespective of the “provocation” offered.

3. Human Rights and Democracy are not absolute terms. Your (human) rights and that of others rest always on shared grounds, hence the saying “your rights end where my nose begin”. 

4. It is true that the 1984 edict as amended in 1987 were military legislations, however, upon the return of civilian administration, all legislation initiated by the military while in power, whether decrees or edicts, become Acts and Laws of the Federal/State governments and remain in force until properly repealed. The applicability of the 1984 and 1987 laws subsist, and are not unconstitutional. The Kaduna state government effort to substitute this law is therefore legal and does not offend the constitution of Nigeria.

6. In your first paragraph, you condemned the 1984 law as military and unconstitutional, but in your last paragraph you said “what is needed is to enforce the existing law. There is no need for a new one.” I do not understand how you could condemn a law for being unconstitutional and then turn right round to advocate for its enforcement? But to give you the benefit of doubt, I can only assume, in essence, that you agree with the need for a law, that is, the intent of the law, but disagree with its content? If that is the case, then here we share some common ground, and here is my explanation: 

a. The regulation of religious preaching in Kaduna is absolutely advisable. This need is of great antiquity. It even predates the birth of Mallam Nasir. Back in 1958, the legislature of the northern region empaneled jurists, to examined the need for a law to regulate religious preaching in a pluralistic and largely illiterate society such as Northern Nigeria. The Jurists used drafts of similar codes used in India, Pakistan and the Sudan and eventually recommended the one for Northern Nigeria, named the NORTHERN NIGERIA PENAL CODE LAW, which was then adopted as law in 1959. On the attainment of Nigeria’s independence, the Penal Code Law became operative throughout the North in 1960. Chapter XVI of the Penal, containing four sections, is perhaps the earliest post independence law in the North on OFFENSES RELATING TO RELIGION.

b. In February, 2012, the late Governor Yakowa inaugurated the Kaduna State Peace and Reconciliation Committee (KSPRC), co-chaired by elder Abbas Dabo Sambo and AVM Ishaya Aboi Shekari (rtd). The KSPRC name is sufficient explanation of its objectives. There were 70 members, one later withdrew. A the end of deliberations, the KSPRC made far reaching recommendations on matters of peaceful co-existence. More specifically, the KSPRC recommended as follows: 

                           

                         ”  i. Government should regulate religious activities in the state BY ENFORCING 

                              EXISTING LAWS ON RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES.

                            ii. Government should legislate against stereotyping and hate preaching penalty     

                                should be imposed on any person or group of persons involved in 

                                stereotyping and hate preaching.”

7. As a member of the KSPRC, I can testify that the above quoted recommendations were some of the very few that received unanimous approval. This recommendation was reached after a thorough review of existing legislation on the subject.  Although the final decision would ultimately be that of the Governor, members voted to clarify that EXISTING LAWS meant Chapter XVI, Sections 210, 211, 212 and 213 of the Penal Code, and no other.

Here, my brothers, I suggest that you adopt the KSPRC definition of EXISTING LAWS, since you agree that “there is no need for a new one.”

The problem, my brothers, is not the laws or the lack of them. Nigeria can boast of one of the most comprehensive system of laws on the continent. WHAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN LACKING IS EXECUTIVE COURAGE TO ENFORCE LAWS. 

8. Consider for a moment, just as a quick example: the Government of Kaduna State pays for the cleaning of township streets daily, including weekends. Each morning the sweepers do their job thoroughly. But, as soon as they are done, herdsmen bring their cows onto the tarred city streets for “grazing”. The cows drop their dung all over the streets. Vehicles drive over and splash the dung on other vehicles and pedestrians. Day in, day out. Then you ask, why does govt waste so much money to clean streets just so cows can do their thing on it? Simple. Government does not have the will, the courage to control a few cows because they are owned by powerful men the govt would rat her avoid a confrontation with. Try driving without your seat belt in Kaduna. The FRSC will give you a ticket, but not the herdsmen, who violate Sec 197 of the Penal Code daily.

The only reason people get away with crime is Govt’s lack of will to enforce laws.

9. Before I end, permit me to share with you some of my views about the proposed legislation.

a.the new law is unnecessary, reasons aforementioned. The Penal Code sections quoted cover the mischief without incensing the passion.

b. the recognition of two religions for the purpose of the proposed law is unconstitutional.

c. The use CAN and JNI as intervention agents is not proper. These are mere NGOs, whose constitutions don’t even bind all of their assumed members. So who will hold them accountable for the role given? Besides, of late it has been publicly proven that both JNI and CAN are both susceptible to political manipulation and control by politicians. These are not the best NGOs to be assigned a role on the enforcement of public laws.  I have no objection to the use of individuals in committees that can be held accountable. 

d. I disagree with the proposal that Muslim suspects would be tried in sharia courts and Christian suspects be tried in customary courts. These two courts are part of our justice system and are presided over by qualified members of the legal profession. NEVERTHELESS, this provision will introduce an unhelpful EMOTION into the process. Let all suspects, Muslim or Christian, be arraigned in the Magistrate or High Courts of the State.

10. As the KSPRC found out, in spite of the existence of the 1984/1987 laws and the Penal Code, no one has ever been prosecuted or jailed for participating in ANY religious conflict in the whole of Kaduna State, all these years.  Our problem is not a dearth of laws, it is the lack of executive will to enforce laws. What we have in Nigeria are weak systems, weak institutions, and strong individuals who live above the law.

11. Finally, law making necessarily demands a lot of consultations each ad every way. This should be encouraged, but it should be undertaken in a manner that seeks to establish truth, for the enthronement of peace, good governance and progress.

Thank you for your time.

Bitrusgwadah.