The Need for Free Exercise of Religion in Kaduna State
Southern Kaduna Diaspora (SOKAD)
Some of us have carefully studied the proposed religious preaching bill sent to the state legislature titled “A Bill for a Law to Substitute the Kaduna State Religious Preaching Law, 1984”. SOKAD is concerned and is asking the representatives of the people in the legislature to kill the bill if the Executive does not withdraw it. The fact that this bill is a modification of a 1984 military government degree is an indication of its unconstitutionality. Kaduna State is under a democratic government, and the laws should follow suit. True, in the separation of powers, the Governor may propose laws, but it is the State Assembly that enacts them.
The proposed bill that Governor El-Rufai has sent to the State Assembly is flawed in several areas, and with his recent unsubstantiated and politically charged claim that Muslims in the State outnumber Christians by 70 percent, supports the conspiracy theory that the Governor has a beef with Non-Muslims. First, it shouldn’t take a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to see that the provisions of the proposed law are in violation of the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion given to all Nigerians in the federal constitution: Section 38 (1) of the 1999 Federal Constitution explicitly states:
“Everyone person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his [her] or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his [her] religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
The proposed bill seeks to regulate the above constitutional rights, through the licensing and permit granting for preachers and preaching. SOKAD sees this as not only unconditional but also as too much state interference in religion. The level of political awareness in the state and country has grown in the last decades, hence the robust reaction seen in connection with this seriously flawed Governor’s idea.
Second, the Bill is skewed in favor of two religions: Christianity and Islam, which is another violation of the country’s constitution, which prohibits the government of the Federation or State from adopting “any religion as State religion”. The bill evidently empowered CAN and Islam with the authority to pick and choose who is qualified to preach. Kaduna State has more than Christian and Islam adherents. There are followers of other faiths: Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, and most importantly, many traditional religions in many villages of the State. They may be few in number, but their rights, too, should be respected and protected.
It is hard to imagine that in the 21st century, we are being told that a grossly unbalanced body called the Inter-Faith Ministerial Committee (a closer look at the proposed composition vis à vis the people who currently hold these positions in the state shows how unbalanced the apex body will be) will decide for citizens of the state who they will receive religious education, exhortation, and edifications from, is deeply disturbing.
Third, there is a serious flaw in the bill indicating that an individual can listen to his or her favorite “approved” preacher in an enclosed porch (zaure) and would be in compliance with the law while another person doing the same thing in an open porch would be in violation of the law. The latter would have to go inside his or her house to comply with the law since their house was not built with a zaure. The reality of the sociocultural difference in architecture would unavoidably criminalize some segments of the community.
Fourth, the question of established prayer times contained in the proposed bill would criminalize many who are required by their religion to pray at all times. An arbitrary “curfew” of 8 P. M. is terribly limiting to those who may choose to pray all night as is widely practiced by many people all over the state and country.
We have not heard or read from the Governor the compelling reasons for modifying the existing law of 1984. We respect the plurality of voices for and against the bill. Supporters have cited public safety, order, and morality as good reasons for restricting our religious freedom. Some have given examples of restrictions elsewhere around the globe. They have cited the Chinese example that has state-sanctioned congregations and state-sanctioned preachers; and in a monolithic Saudi Arabia and several Islamic nations, Islam is a state religion. Is that what we want in Kaduna State? We hope not. Ordinary Chinese citizens and many in Saudi Arabia yearn for religious freedom, and some have sacrificed their lives for it. In the US, the state is not vested in the practice of religion. While ministers may be licensed, that process is under the jurisdiction/authority of the different religions and denominations. No permit is required to preach, as congregations may invite whoever they want to provide spiritual nourishment congruent with their beliefs.
This debate is complicated by the fact that some people who may have no proverbial horse in the race are weighing in on one side or the other. The process would be helped and better served if these people cared less about the restriction of religious practice due to being non-believers or atheists. This too is a form of “belief” that is constitutionally protected.
It is true that the destruction of lives and property in the name of religion is affecting many Nigerians, especially those in the North, including in Kaduna State. If mitigating such barbaric behavior by people who have chosen to be stuck in the dark era in the evolution of human civilization, then, the approach should be a targeted regulation which can be done without casting a dragnet that pulls everyone in. The Christians have been relatively non-violent in Kaduna State. We are not at all aware of any mass disruption of public life, with wanton destruction of lives and property that originated from the church. It therefore is only fair to ask why the religious liberty of members of that community should be severely restricted with threats of punishment by imprisonment or huge fines for exercising a guaranteed right. We are not unmindful of the serious disruption of public order that occurred in Zaria involving the Army chief. It was following that, the proposed bill emerged into public discourse. As the Northern Governors stated in their communiqué following a meeting after this sad Zaria Shite incident, maintaining the rule of law and respecting our public places must be adhered to. If this is done, matters of public safety, order and morality can be handled by citizens who are smart enough to choose their men of God without the state dictating to them on such very personal matters.
We strongly feel that the bill is a drag net; it amounts to sanctioning state religion; it is a one-size-fits-all regulation that is fraught with human rights violations. If the government is concerned about the threat to security by ungodly preachers who spur out hate and incite followers to kill for God, it is already against the law to incite violence and engage in violence. What is needed, is to enforce the existing law. There is no need for a new one.
SOKAD advises that the bill be recalled, and on failure to do so, SOKAD advises that our State Assembly men and women, kill the bill.
Aminu Likita, Freeman Kamuru, & Ibrahim A. Maikori:
President, Secretary, and Financial Secretary, respectively, of Southern Kaduna Diaspora ( SOKAD), USA & Canada.