Bill to Establish Christian Courts Passes Second Reading


• House revisits bill to separate AGF’s office from Minister of Justice

Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
A bill seeking to create an equivalence of the Sharia Courts of Appeal for Christians, named Ecclesiastical Courts of Appeal yesterday passed second reading in the House of Representatives.

Sponsored by Hon. Istifanus Gyang (Plateau PDP) and eight others, it is named a bill for an act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004, to provide for the establishment of the Ecclesiastical Court  of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja and the Ecclesiastical Court of Appeal of the states, and for related matters.

According to its sponsors, the bill seeks to activate section 37(1) of the Constitution, which guarantees the right of every citizen to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including to propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

The judges to be called Cardinals, are expected to be drawn from those learned in law, who would be required to administer justice in accordance with Christian faith and the laws of the country. Their appointments would be done by the National Judicial Council (NJC).

Leading the debate, Gyang said the courts, when established, would compliment the regular courts in adjudicating in matters relating to the tenets of the Christian faith, between individuals and groups that yield and submit to its jurisdiction.

He added that the jurisdiction would include questions on Christian personal law regarding marriage concluded in accordance with that law, including questions relating to validity or dissolution of such marriage, regarding wills or succession, and questions regarding infants or maintenance or guardianship of a Christian of unsound mind.

“This amendment will no doubt widen the scope of jurisprudence, adjudication and legal practice in our nation, and bring to reality the administration of Ecclesiastical Christian tenets and law in adjudicating matters of personal Christian law and civil matters which shall be prescribed in the rules of practice and procedure of the courts,” Gyang added.

Speaking further with THISDAY on the bill, Gyang said it is not a reaction to another recent bill seeking the expansion of the jurisdiction of the Sharia Courts, and does not take into cognisance, the different denominations in Christiandom.
“The customary courts already take care of traditional worshippers…it would create new fields of study in law…” he said.

Being a matter of constitutional amendment, the bill was not subjected to debate, but passed through second reading to the special  ad hoc committee on constitutional review.

Similarly, a bill seeking to separate the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) from the position of the Minister of Justice, also passed through second reading.

The bill was sponsored by Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno (Borno APC) who harped on the need to separate the two offices due to the enormity of powers borne jointly.

“The constitution gives the AGF/Minister of Justice, the power to discontinue any criminal case in any part of the country, before its determination. The implication is therefore that his powers quasi-judicial office,” he said.

Monguno, who was a former Attorney General of Borno State, said the office of the AGF should be based on merit and competence, and the NJC should be involved.
“It should be shielded from the vicissitudes of political influence,” Monguno advised, adding that the position of Minister of Justice should be a political appointment.

The bill was referred to the Special Adhoc committee on constitutional review.
The same amendment was proposed in the sixth and seventh assemblies, but were not passed through.