THE POSITION OF CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (CAN) ON THE BILL FOR AN ACT TO ALTER THE PROVISIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA 1999; AND FOR RELATED MATTERS COMMONLY KNOWN AS THE SHARIA LAW AMENDMENT BILL
The attention of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has been drawn to the Bill for An Act to Alter the Provisions Of The Constitution of the Federal Republic Of Nigeria 1999; And For Related Matters commonly known as The Sharia Law Amendment Bill which is before the National Assembly.
Concerning the said Bill, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) wish to clearly state thus:
- We condemn in its entirety any attempt by any section of this Country or the Muslims to impose on the Nation any system or corpus of laws that is based on the Islamic religion, through the proposed Bill in the House of Representative to amend Sections 262 and 277 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) by expanding the jurisdiction of the Sharia Court of Appeal to make room for full-scale application of the Sharia law in its full civil and criminal jurisdiction.
- Pursuant to Section 10 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended), the Christian Association of Nigeria recognizes that Nigeria is a secular State. Impliedly, it is contrary to the spirit and intendment of the Constitution for Nigeria to grant legal space in the Constitution or any statutory enactment whatsoever to the Sharia Legal System which is founded on the Islamic Religion or for the Federal or State Government to recognize Sharia law or any other religious/faith based law, as of general application to the Nation.
- Nigeria is a nation of multi-cultural and multi-religious communities, tribes, ethnic nationalities hence the wisdom of our founding fathers in restricting the application and/or operation of religious-based or faith-based laws to the personal affairs of adherents which should not be the subject of any provision of the Constitution of Nigeria or any federal statutory enactment whatsoever. Recognizing the diverse religious persuasions of the more than 400 ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, the 1963 Republican Constitution had no provision for any religious or faith-based legal system. Even the regional constitutions, did not provide for any such legal system.
- The controversial Sharia personal law in the present Constitution of 1999 (As amended) was smuggled into the Constitution by the Military Government of General Sani Abacha that promulgated it, despite the fact that it was neither considered nor part of the resolutions of the Constitutional Conference convened by the Military to fashion out a constitution for the Nation. The provision of the Sharia’h in the current Constitution is an act of bad faith, a fundamental breach of the intent and spirit of the 1963 Republican Constitution, other provisions of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) and a disservice to the spirit of true brotherhood without which true nationalism cannot be achieved.
- While Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution, (As Amended) provides that no Federal or State Government shall adopt any religion as a State religion, Section 38 allows every citizen the liberty to propagate his or her religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance. The amendment of the Constitution to allow full operation and application of Sharia law in Nigeria negates these fundamental pillars of our Constitution. The Christian Association of Nigeria condemns any such amendment which is not only a constitutional aberration but in conflict with Sections 10 and 38 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended).
- The Christian Association of Nigeria hereby submits that any such amendment will mean the operation of two conflicting legal systems in the same Nation; and the subjection of all civil laws and the Constitution to Sharia law which Muslim adherents are enjoined to obey as the supreme law over and above man-made laws. This, by implication means the institutionalization of the Sharia legal system as the primary legal system in Nigeria with all its destructive implications to the unity and security of the The inevitable consequence is the disunity of the nation and the imminent fractionalization of the ethnic nationalities in the Nation along religious lines. We hold the view, quite strongly, that if this is allowed to happen, it will spell doom to this nation.
- The murderous activities of one of the most dreaded terrorist groups in sub-Saharan Africa, the Boko Haram, in religious harmonious communities in the North-East; and unchecked genocidal activities of Fulani Herdsmen in the Christianity predominant North-Central/Middle-Belt regions are fueled and driven by morbid obsession by many Muslim adherents who are drawn to these groups to impose a caliphate over this Nation where the Sharia law would be practiced unrestrained not minding the multi-religious nature of the multi-ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria.
- The ISIS-styled genocidal campaigns of these two sister organizations, designated internationally as the first and fourth worst global terrorist organizations, respectively, have as their objectives the annihilation of Christian and liberal Muslim communities and the establishment of Islamic system in Nigeria. The Christian Association of Nigeria has reasons to believe that the said Sharia Law Amendment Bill is one of the several surreptitious efforts to give vent and legitimacy to the objectives of these terrorist groups, using the instrumentalities of the law.
- The full-scale application of the Sharia Criminal law is in conflict with Section 36(12) of the Constitution 1999 (As Amended) which stipulates inter alia that “a person shall not be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty therefore is prescribed in a written law; and a written law refers to the Act of the National Assembly or a law of a State, any subsidiary legislation or instrument under the provisions of the law.”
- The Christian Association of Nigeria wishes to note that Islamic laws like customary and other religious or faith-based laws, are largely unwritten, unsettled and subject to debates. Even among Muslim adherents, there are divergent views as to the real content of the Sharia law. There are as many variant of Sharia law as there are Islamic Schools of jurisprudence, out of which the following stand out: the Maliki, Sharfi and Hambali Schools.
- Indeed, law and order cannot be maintained in a society which applies criminal laws on the basis of religious beliefs. Any such society would inevitably become a theatre of conflicts, chaos and lawlessness. The endemic conflicts in theocratic Asian and Middle-East States testify eloquently to this evil with its devastating effect on nationhood. It is therefore important, as much as practicable, to ensure that criminal laws are uniform in scope, operation and applicability, regardless of religious persuasions.
- The mischief sought to be cured by the proponent of the Bill already has a remedy in our laws. The High Court has the jurisdiction to deal with all criminal issues. The law is clear that there cannot be a crime except there is a breach of a codified law. The Muslims in Nigeria enjoy the rare privilege of having the Penal Code which is a body of Criminal laws specially adapted to suit Muslim adherents and at the same time ensure conformity with the Constitution, which is the grundnorm in Nigeria.
- The Christian Association of Nigeria therefore considers the proposal to amend the Constitution to allow a full scale application of the Sharia Legal System as stealth adoption by the Federal Government of Islam as State religion in Nigeria and this is not acceptable to the majority of the Nigerian people, which we represent.
- We consider the present moves as schemes to destabilize the nation’s constitutional order, unsettle our extant laws and instigate chaos and anarchy, in the unholy bid to consummate and perfect the islamization of Nigeria which has long been the silent and unofficial policy of the military governments of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, and its successor, Gen Sani Abacha. The present democratic government of President Muhammadu Buhari, has not given us cause to believe that such is not the official policy of his government.
CONSEQUENTLY, it is our position that the ‘Bill for an Act to Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999; and For Related Matters (a.k.a. Sharia Law Amendment Bill)’ is:
- A subversion of the foundational pillars of the Nigerian State and therefore a repudiation of the Nigerian nation as presently constituted;
- A breach of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of the 1999 Constitution, and therefore unconstitutional;
- An open romance with and implementation of the demands by Boko Haram campaigners for full scale Sharia’h implementation.
We of the Christian Association of Nigeria wish to note as follows:
- That the issue of the Sharia’h has been the main preoccupation of Muslim elites and a recurring distraction and cause for national discord;
- While we concede the right of any people to choose what suits them, in realization of their aspiration, we state without equivocation that it must not be pursued to the detriment of other ethnic nationalities or other religious groups.
- We doubt and question the capacity of an Islamic State based on Sharia law to meet the developmental aspirations of all citizens of this great Nation.
- The Christian faith is a transparent system that thrives on open discussions, reasoning and debates, unlike the Sharia’h Islamic order which is based on the acceptance of indefinite and uncertain religious norms.
- That there is a need by the State to end these unwholesome, unproductive debates which many Islamists of the Boko Haram and ISIL molds, have staked their lives to engage in; and which have left in their trail deaths, destructions, chaos and a divided polity.
In view of the foregoing and in the further interest of our Nation where all citizens shall be free to pursue their God-given destinies within the space allowed by law, we demand that:
a. Every form of debate on the said Sharia Amendment Bill in the National Assembly should be suspended.
b. The position of the Nigerian Bar Association, as contained in its Communiqué of August 2016, issued at the end of its annual conference at Port Harcourt demanding that all references to sharia be expunged from the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) be implemented;
c. The Federal Government and all States of the Federation should respect and maintain the sanctity of Section 10 of the Constitution on the secularity of the Nigerian Nation; and Section 38 (1) on the right of every Nigeria to freely propagate his religion without fear or intimidation;
d. The immediate and full implementation of the Report of the 2014 National Conference as the first step in building a true Federation.
e. The lop-sided appointments of persons of Northern extraction, and in particular, Muslims as heads of functional security agencies in Nigeria is unconstitutional and violates Section 14 (3) of the Constitution on Federal Character; and a breach of the constitutional ideals of Unity and Faith. We therefore call for the review of these appointments, with a view to restoring the confidence of Nigerians that our security agencies are constituted to serve national and not sectional or partisan interest.
f. All forms of security outfits based on religion existing anywhere in the nation should be disbanded, as Section 214 of the Constitution vests internal policing of the Nation on the Nigeria Police Force.
g. Given the multi-religious nature of our nation, we insist that all bilateral and multi-lateral trade agreements with Islamic and Arab States be subjected to debate by the National Assembly and its approval obtained before implementation.
h. The Federal Government to set up and submit to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to build trust, healing, and reconciliation to the Nation.
We hereby appeal to all men of goodwill and good conscience to contribute meaningfully to resolving the crisis initiated by Islamists in Nigeria and ensure that this great Nation is governed based on the constitutional democracy which we have all sworn to uphold and the extant laws put in place for the peace and good governance of our dear Nation.
As Christians, we support peaceful coexistence and harmony amongst all the divergent groups in the nation. The diversity in Nigeria is a blessing that should be encouraged to bloom and blossom. An ideology that favors discrimination and intolerance cannot sustain Nigeria and should be roundly condemned and jettisoned from our national life.
May the voice of reason prevail.
God bless Nigeria.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)