John Shiklam writes on the recent roundtable held by stakeholders in Kaduna on the controversial Religious Preaching Bill being promoted by the Kaduna State Government
The controversial Religious Preaching Bill before the Kaduna State House of Assembly, was the topic for discussion at a roundtable organised by Carefronting Nigeria, a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) based in Kaduna.
Tagged: ‘The Kaduna State Religious Preaching Bill; Intentions, Fears and Perceptions’, stakeholders, including Christians and Muslims leaders, lawyers, government officials and some civil society organisations engaged in discussions on the bill which has attracted criticisms, condemnation as well as applause and commendations within and outside Kaduna State.
The bill, in a nutshell seeks to regulate the activities of Muslim and Christian preachers by issuing licenses to Kaduna State-based preachers while visiting preachers are to be given permits.
The bill also prohibits the use of loud speakers in churches and mosques after 8:00 pm.
Coordinator of the NGO, Mr. Maji Peterx, in his opening remarks explained that the meeting was aimed at providing a forum for stakeholders to discuss issues and challenges arising from the bill.
Moderator of the roundtable, Mr. Emmanuel Zwahu, while setting the tone for deliberations, threw some posers: “If indeed this is a democracy, is the bill a democratic one? Whatever the actions of the government, is it not to serve the people that elected them into office? Why has the government not address the fears of the people as regards the bill by putting together a forum for the people to discuss? What is government intention on the bill?” This was the question thrown to the spokesman of Governor Nasir el-Rufai, Mr. Samuel Aruwan who was among four government officials that attended the programme.
According to Aruwan, the bill was aimed at ensuring peaceful coexistence in Kaduba State, adding that the governor has no intention of stopping people from practicing their religion.
The bill, according to Aruwan, is an amendment of an edict enacted during the military since 1984 which was later amended in 1986 with the aim of checking religious extremism.
Aruwan explained further that what the government is trying to do, is to substitute the edict by amending some provisions.
He said one of the priorities of the state government is security, pointing out that Kaduna residents are divided along religious lines as a result of religious conflicts in the past.
“There is nothing in the bill that stops Christians and Muslims from practicing their religions. The intention of government is to prevent religious extremism, hate speech and promote tolerance, peace and stability”.
He said government was taking note of observations and criticisms of the bill.
Aruwan, however, regretted that there are political manipulations and exaggerations on the issues in the bill, stressing that the governor means well with the bill.
Giving an insight on how the bill came about, the Director General, Kaduna State Interfaith agency, Alhaji Namadi Musa, painted two scenarios which are prevalent in the state.
He narrated the story of a church in Mando area of Kaduna where its activities were becoming a nuisance to some residents as well as a mosque in Zaria which some residents complained about.
“The owner of the church operates the way he wants, by beating his drums both day and night, preventing people from sleeping at night.”
Musa said the matter became serious and the police had to be invited along with community leaders in the area to settle the issue.
“During our meeting with them, all other residents of the area believe that the pastor was doing the right thing because he has been doing it for 20 years and nobody complained and wondered why somebody just coming to the community would complain.
He stated further that “In Gyellesu, Zaria there is one mosque behind the Federal College of Education (FCE) Zaria, whereby one Mallam will open the mosque at 12 midnight and put a cassette and increased the volume very loud and close the mosque and go to sleep.
“He has been doing that for a long time. One Benjamin Katuka, a lecturer in the FCE who lives close to the mosque called me and pleaded with me to help him get a house to relocate from that area as a result of the constant noise.
“How can you come and put a cassette in the mosque, close the place and go to sleep? Who are you preaching to? I personally went and met the person doing that.
“The man said he has been playing the cassette in the mosque for years and the lecturer who just came recently to the area has no right to stop him.
“I told him that where his right ends, is where another person’s right starts. I told him that the man has right not to be disturbed too. These are some of the few cases that came to the state government.
“The governor asked us whether there is no law stopping such practices. We told him that there is a law, but it was enacted by the military which prescribed five years imprisonment without option of fine.
“We told him the first of such law by the military which was in 1984 prescribed two years imprisonment with an option of N1000. He said there is the need to amend.
“I went to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Jama’atu Nasril Islam and got copies of the edicts. The governor sent it to the ministry of justice and propose areas for amendment. I even thought that before the bill gets to the House of Assembly, it was going to come to my office for me to go round and solicit and consult. I just saw a written invitation from the house for a discussion on the bill.
“I informed the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) about the development. I told him that there was the need for us to go round the state to talk to people, intimate the clerics and Ulamas about the bill so that they can make an input. I said the bill is supposed to have public hearing”.
According to him, there was consultations with the Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Jama’atu Nasril Ismam (JNI ).
“We went round the three senatorial zones with the secretary of CAN and that of JNI.
“We went to Kafanchan, Zaria and Kaduna and met with both Islamic and Christian clerics to intimate them about the bill which require inputs and there was the need for them to get prepared. I had to use my office to translate it in Hausa language” the Interfaith DG said, pointing out that it was during the tour that people got to know about the bill.
He regretted that some people were very ignorant about the bill, stressing that stakeholders should either help in correcting or repeal it.
“If we are not able to correct the bill, the state government will have no option than to use the old existing law. There is complete ignorance of how the bill is going to be operated. Government intension is to ensure peace and stability across the state and promote harmonious relationship among all religious groups.
So I am appealing to people to look at the bill critically, remove anything portion they don’t want and add anything they want to add so that at the end of the day, the bill will be ours. We are very happy about the agitation. We are happy that everybody is aware of the bill. We want to have peoples’ bill and peoples’ law,” Musa said.
However, in his submission, the Kaduna State CAN secretary, Rev. Sunday Ibrahim faulted the Musa on the issue of consultations with stakeholders maintaining that the issue of the bill was not brought for discussion during the meetings in the senatorial zones as claimed by the DG.
“Let me ask these questions: Was there any time the 1984 laws were enforced? Is it true that during the campaign of the Governor of Kaduna State, he told the people at different fora that he had nothing to do with religion?
“To the best of my knowledge, democracy is government of the people by the people. If the people that you are governing, both Muslims and Christians are saying no to this bill, is it not good enough for the governor or whoever that is concerned to sit back and think over the bill.”
Ibrahim said further that as far as CAN was concerned, for every church or ministry that exist, has been registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
“We license our ministers by ordaining them, why will the state government license some one that has been license by the federal government?
He noted that the way the bill defines a preacher, is not correct from a Christian perspective.
“You are saying a preacher is someone duly license by JNI or CAN. Jesus clearly told us to go into the world and preach the gospel. You saying that whosoever violates the law if the bill is passed, will be summarily prosecuted. You did not define which court will prosecute Christians. You are talking of religious bodies and you are bringing DSS and police,” he noted.
Also looking at the bill from a legal perspective, the secretary of the Kaduna State chapter of Christian Lawyers Fellowship of Nigeria (CLASFON), Mr. Kalu Paul Ifeanyichikwu, said most sections of the bill are unconstitutional.
“We are not looking at it from the position of the Bible, what we are saying is that sections 2, 3 and 5 of the bill are unconstitutional. Those provisions are talking about regulating association of bodies that are already registered”.
According to him, CAN and JNI are associations registered under the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) and therefore cannot regulate religious activities. There is nothing in their constitutions that says they can regulate religious preaching.
Ifeanyichikwu maintained further that the constitution provides that no Nigerian of any community should be discriminated against by reason of belonging to a religion, a society or his birth or whatever.
He said “Any law by any state or anybody, claiming to regulate or be enforced upon a section of Nigerians that is not applicable to the generality of Nigerians is null and void.
“The Supreme Court has made a pronouncement on it. In Lagos state, the state government was purported to have a law that will regulate the people of Lagos by restricting their movements, the Supreme Court said it is wrong because it does not apply to the generality of Nigerians.
“We dare to say that in South Africa, the United States of America, even in Egypt where religion is regulated, it is a federal natter, so that it will be upon each and every member,” he argued.
“As a body, the Christian lawyers oppose this bill, not for anything but for the fact that the letters and intent are contrary to the 1999 Constitution as amended. We dare say if it is passed, it is liable to be struck down by a court of law,” he said.
However, in his contribution a representative of the Global Council Trustees of the United Religions Initiative, Mr. Elisha Buba Yero, said that religious leaders were in a better position to handle issues about peace.
“It is better to leave things pertaining to peace and harmony to stakeholders, they will give government relevant guidance as to what to do” he said.
While applauding the government’s concern for peace and stability, Yero recalled that the 2002 Kaduna peace accord was worked out by both Christians and Muslims religious leaders, stressing government ought to have allowed stakeholders to find solutions to peace rather than coming with a law.
“After signing that peace accord, we didn’t have any crisis in Kaduna until 2011. It was not the governor that said this is the law, it was stakeholders that were given the chance to sit down and work out how peace and harmony could be maintained.
“Therefore, it is significant to me in my opinion, that as good as government’s intention of maintaining peace and religious harmony, you get better result when government does not involve itself directly or too personal.
“Today we should be thinking of global good practices, the global good practices are encouraging more dialogue than laws. Laws will break you, laws will make you go home sad, but if you go through dialogue, you are going to be a happy person.
“If you put the governor to do this, you are going to make the implementation problematic. Who are the executors of the laws? The stakeholders are in the best position to implement the law,” Yero argued.
Sani Mohammed, from Interfaith Mediation Centre, Kaduna noted that the bill there was a lot of misgivings about the bill within and outside Kaduna, saying that it was good that people meet and discuss it.
“I think that the government got it wrong. Even though the bill has good intention but the process that was involved in developing it is really problematic. I don’t want to dwell on the legality of the bill, we should look at the morality of the bill. Will this bill bring about peace and harmony in Kaduna? That should be our focus.
The government must not rush to pass this bill. It should reach out to the people to make input,” he said.
Also commenting, Hassan Abubakar Alfa, from Alfa Care organisation noted that many people don’t understand the content of the bill because of lack of awareness.
“Some people think that it is already a law. Whether the state government like it or not, there was no wide consultation that is why people are reacting the way they are doing. The bill should have come from the people, not from executive bill. People see bills by government as imposition,” he said.
In its submission, the JIN declared for bill, insisting that there is no religion that has no regulation.
Represented by Mohammed Abubakar Gafai, the JNI said bill can be amended to suit the present condition and control quack preachers in Islam and Christianity.
“For the information of all and sundry, the particular clause that everybody is afraid of, JNI is the pioneer in licensing Muslim preachers since 1950s. These licenses are in categories. When previous governments and recent ones that did not adopt that system, it brought about quack and illegal Umma that are causing all the crises. The JNI is in support of all laws that will guide against inhuman activities,” he said.
In his concluding remarks, the DG Interfaith assured that stakeholders would be consulted with a view to providing them the opportunity to make input on the bill.
“If consultation is the problem, we will make consultations so much that people will believe that we have consulted. If after consultations, some reasons are brought that this bill should not pass, we will pray that God in his ultimate mercy others ways that will ensure peace in Kaduna State,” Musa said
In a communique issued at the end of the discussions, participants accused the state government of not consulting them before presenting the bill to the State House of Assembly.
It noted further that the bill was built on a faulty foundations having been enacted by a previous military regime and so cannot be considered an Executive Bill.
According to the communique if the bill is passed into law will, it will infringe on the fundamental rights of Nigerians as enshrined in the constitution.
Many of the stakeholders, according to the communique, doubted the practicability of the implementation of the law bearing in mind the very volatile nature of religion in the state, adding that the state government has not done enough to clear the doubts and misgivings about the bill.
The communique called on the government to embark on more sensitisation of people about the bill in order to create awareness on government’s real intention.