Silence, for God’s Sake, Silence!

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Lekan Fatodu
Governor of Kaduna State and the preeminent accidental public servant, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, is not a stranger to controversy. In the same way, he is someone very prone to public “accidents”.

If the governor is not bulldozing illegally erected buildings by some opportunistic public officials, as the claim was when he was the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), he will be up in arms about citizens who allegedly constructed houses on government restricted and dangerous spaces, as it happened between the Kaduna State government and some residents at the beginning of his term as governor.

Currently, the governor is in the news over “A Bill For A Law To Substitute The Kaduna State Religious Preaching Law, 1984”. On this, Governor el-Rufai has found himself on a collision course with some faith leaders in Kaduna State and across the country. While some Christian associations have termed el-Rufai “anti-Christ”, a few Muslim groups have dismissed him as a phony Islamic faithful over the bill. This seems to be the toughest battle el-Rufai has faced as a public official, and the reason is not far-fetched.

In Nigeria, religion is not just the hope of the masses; it has become the most dependable government of the citizens, because of the laxity of the constituted government, even though many of these religions have different variants and their activities are filled with evil deceits, and wicked manipulations.

But according to the bill, the same deceits and vices that the religions promote with impunity and preach so loudly are what the Kaduna State government seeks to ‘regulate’ and ‘silence’ in sustaining peace and safety of the general public.

Essentially, the proposed legislation is seeking to regulate religious preaching in Kaduna State in an effort to minimise the radicalisation of the impressionable citizenry, and proactively arrest the brainwashing and negative doctrines that gave birth to deadly sects like Boko Haram whose act of terrorism has claimed thousands of innocent souls in different parts of Nigeria lately.

In pursuit of the foregoing commendable reasons, the Kaduna State government included, as parts of the provisions of the controversial bill, the banning of the use of loudspeakers for religious purposes other than inside a mosque or church and the surrounding areas outside the stipulated prayer times.

It also recommended restrictions on the playing or circulating of all cassettes, CDs, flash drives or any other communication gadgets containing religious recordings from certified preachers other than inside one’s house, church, mosque and other designated places of worship, and the banning of religious recordings in which derogatory language is used against any person or religious organisation or religious leaders.

The bill also proposes rigid conditions for licensing or certification of preachers, with an Inter-faith Ministerial Committee to be set-up by the government and saddled with the responsibility of issuing or denying licences to religious bodies, even after Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the major umbrella organisations of the Muslim and Christian faiths may have certified and confirmed the eligibility of the religious body or preacher.

Literally, the power for the licensing lies with the government and without a valid licence, local preachers cannot preach and without a permit, external preachers cannot preach in the state.  The bill also provides for fine or two-year imprisonment for any violation of the law.
However the seemingly lack of wider stakeholders consultations, clarity and reasonable considerations in the details and the presentation of the document to the public has given reason for the wide-spread outrage that has trailed the otherwise proactive and vital legislation.

Truth is Kaduna State and Nigeria as a whole need well thought-out and active laws that will effectively curb the incitement to violence and extremism that is often promoted in the name of religion across the country; and the nuisance and public disturbance that has become the new normal for many religious leaders and their followers.

Therefore tougher decisions should be taken against religious activities that encourage civil agitation and pandemonium.
As such those in favour of the bill have cited some Western countries like the UK on how its government has stipulated seven years maximum prison for incitement to religious hatred and extremism. And the country has given legal backing to policy for the exclusion of foreign preachers whose teachings encourage hatred.

Meanwhile, those against it have argued that the propositions of the document are at variance with Sections 38 of and 39 the 1999 Constitution, which protect the rights of citizens to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This group is of the position that provisions of the bill will enable total clampdown on peaceful wider evangelism and fellowship.

They further stated that even in the UK which the supporters of the bill have referenced, there is no law that requires a “preaching permit or license” before a preacher living in the UK can preach at any place within the country.

Instructively, like many Nigerians, Governor el-Rufai is apparently exasperated on the absurdities that run unhindered in the name of religion and he doesn’t want its attendant consequences to derail his efforts at improving the socio-economic condition of Kaduna State and protecting its people. So he must put the religious recklessness in check or totally silence it where possible.

But the step must be taken with due considerations for extant laws and massive involvement of all stakeholders particularly in terms of ideas contributions and inputs before any meaningful achievement can be recorded on the policy.