By Paul Obi in Abuja
A coalition of over 14 Christian groups in Nigeria yesterday raised the alarm over alleged desperate plans by the Presidency to turn the country to an Islamic State, “through the backdoor”, citing the Bill before the National Assembly to expand the jurisdiction of Sharia law.
They warned that such action ran contrary to Nigeria’s secular status and therefore should be dropped immediately.
According to them, the Bill in the House of Representatives proposing amendment to Section 262(1) of the 1999 constitution with a view to expanding the existing jurisdiction of the Sharia Court of Appeal and the State by including criminal matters was insensitive and inconsistent with democratic and republican ideals of the constitution and the Nigerian State.
Members of the coalition include National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF); Nigerian Christian Graduate Fellowship (NCGF); Think Tank for the body of Christ (TTBC); Christian Lawyers Fellowship of Nigeria (CLASFON; Association of Christian Schools in Nigeria (ACSIN); Students Christian Movement (SCM); Christian Professionals Forum (CPF); Intercessors for Nigeria (IFN) and International Prophetic Ministerial Association (Inc. Worldwide College of Bishops and Ministers: Africa, UK and USA.)
They also have Intercessors without Walls (IWW); Wailing Women International (WWI); Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship (FGBF); Nigerian Fellowship of Christian Students (NFCS) and University Joint Campus Christian Fellowship (UJCCFF) as members.
Several calls to the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media and Publicity), Mallam Garba Shehu, were not taken.
The spokesperson of the coalition and National President of NCEF, Mr. Solomon Asemota (SAN); Prelate of Methodist Church/Head of Christian Council of Nigeria bloc in Christian Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Udofia and Leader of CPF, Prof. (Bishop) Funmi Adesanya-Davies, tabled these demands at a press conference on Friday in Abuja.
Asemota said, “The proposed amendment is a desecration of the sanctity of the FCT as a symbol of national unity, which should be preserved. Nigeria’s membership of religious organisations and associations, particularly the Organisation of Islamic Cooperating Countries and the Coalition of Islamic Nations against ISIS, is insensitive, against our best national security interest and democratic and democratic norms.
“To maintain the unity, faith, peace and corporate progress of Nigeria, we demand that Shariah should be expunged from the constitution and Shariah-based public institutions, agencies and practices in the states should be abolished. In this respect we demand the return to status quo as per the Republican Constitution of 1963”.
“In recognition of Nigeria’s multi-religious and democratic Status, section 10 of the 1999 Constitution prohibits the adoption by the Federal or State government of any State religion. Therefore, the adoption and implementation of the Shariah law and principles by some States in Nigeria is a clear and blatant violation of section 10 of the Constitution
“The deployment of the resources and institutions of the State for the promotion of Sharia is unconscionable and violation of the Constitution and offence against the sensibilities of the diverse Nigerian people.
“The current trend whereby States deploy public revenue to fund activities, functions and programs of Islam are discriminatory and a clear adoption of the Shariah as State religion to the detriment of non-Muslims. It is unjust and a violation of the ideals of sections 16(1) (a) (b) and 17 (1) (2) (a) (3) (a) Y (b) of the 1999 Constitution which provides equal status and opportunity for every citizen.
“The selective and discriminatory economic empowerment of Muslim clerics by some States in the North, in particular Kano State, by their placement on the government payroll is a clear violation of the ideals of democracy and social justice as entrenched in section 14(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
“The proposed Kaduna Religious law violates the Freedom of association, expression, Conscience and Right of worship as entrenched in section 15(3) (d), 38, 39 and 40 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution.
“There are adequate provisions in the Penal Code to curtail religious extremism, criminality and terrorism. The escalation of religious extremism, criminality and terrorism is due to the failure of leadership to enforce extant laws due to religious bigotry and discriminatory tendencies and sympathy for religious persecution, extremism and terrorism”.
He stated that “the proposed Kaduna Religious law is an attempt to adopt and institutionalise preferred religion by the State and religious practices acceptable to the government for the time being.”
According to Asemota, “Section 2 of the 1999 Constitution forbids the control and management of the Nigerian State by any person or group except in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
They further called for the “restructuring of the country in accordance with the recommendation of the 2014 National Conference which was duly constituted and inaugurated by a duly elected government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Asemota maintained that “it was funded by the hard earned tax payers’ money of Nigerians for the five months it was convened and headed by a well-respected jurist, Hon. Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi. The composition of the National Conference was made up of well-meaning citizens of this country.
“It is therefore impossible for any individual, or group of individuals or any government to wish away or pretend that the CONFAB 2014 never took place. The recent statement of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to jettison this document to the “archives” is very unfortunate and worrisome.
“The Honourable Nigerians that constituted the membership of the 2014 National Conference are responsible and valuable citizens of Nigeria, therefore they should not be treated as such by jettisoning their well-thought out recommendations which according to the Conference Honourable chairman were all ‘adopted by consensus and not once did we have to vote or come to division’.
“We strongly advocate that a report that made far reaching decisions on the need to restructure Nigeria and ensure that true Federalism is practiced in the nation should be accorded top priority for implementation in the overall quest for the peace, unity and progress of this great country –which we all desire. We call on our President to re-consider his position and direct relevant agencies to commence implementation,” the groups stressed.