John Shiklam in Kaduna
A Kaduna State High Court presided over by Justice Hajaratu Gwadah wednesday declared that the state government has no power to screen or issue licences to religious preachers in the state.
Delivering the judgment in a suit by the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) challenging the constitutionality of the bill on the regulation of religious preaching in the state, the judge maintained that although government has the right to regulate religious activities in the state, screening and issuing of licence to religious preachers is unconstitutional.
The PFN had in 2016 challenged the constitutionality of the bill, describing it is an infringement on fundamental human right.
The Christian body had among other prayers, asked the court for a declaration that setting up a committee for the screening and licencing preachers as provided in the bill is a violation of their rights.
The judge, however, said the bill does not seek to abolish the rights of applicants as fundamental human rights is not absolute.
She noted however that sections 6 and 9 of the bill which seek to screen and licence preachers, violate the constitutional rights of the applicant.
Reacting to the judgment, counsel to the PFN, Sunny Akanni, said he was satisfied with the judgment, adding: “Our argument is that you cannot licence pastors because they are already licence.
“In Christianity, not only ordained pastors preach. Every Christian is commanded ‘to go ye unto the world and preach the gospel.”
According to him, “Section 38 subsection 1 of the Nigerian Constitution allows everybody to propagate his religion in teaching, in observance and in action.
“So when you now say pastors should be licensed, you have infringed on their right. That is why the court agreed with us that section 6 of the bill is against the constitutional right of PFN.
“Even though the court said the government can regulate religion, screening and issuing licence to pastors offend the constitutional rights of pastors (preachers).”
Counsel to the state governor, who is one of the respondents in the case, Sanusi Usman, however, expressed dissatisfaction with the judgment.
Usman, who is the Director of Civil Litigation in the state Ministry of Justice, said he would appeal the judgment.
The state House of Assembly recently passed the controversial executive bill despite a court order asking it not to take action on the bill pending the determination of the substantive suit.
The passage of the bill was greeted with mix reactions among Muslims and Christians with some kicking against it while others expressed support for it.
The PFN had already initiated a contempt proceeding against the state assembly for violating the court order by passing the bill.