Sharia: NSCIA Knocks CAN over Attack on CJN’s Call for Constitutional Amendment

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Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja

The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) has criticized the reaction of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), to the statement by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Muhammad Tanko, where the latter advocated for a constitutional amendment to address contemporary Muslim concerns to the application of Sharia.

Justice Tanko had incurred the wrath of CAN via a statement by its National Director of Legal and Public Affairs, Samuel Kwamkur, who considered the remarks contained in an address read by the Grand Khadi of Niger State, Justice Muhammad Danjuma, at the Judges Conference at Ahmadu Bello University, as an attempt to Islamise Nigeria.

The CJN’s address had pointed out a constitutional lacuna on the application of Sharia, which he said should be amended by the National Assembly

In a statement on Tuesday by its spokesman, Aselemi Ibrahim, NSCIA said the CJN’s remarks were within his constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression.

It said it supported the idea to amend the Constitution to address current challenges faced by Muslims in the application of the principles of Sharia as contained in the Constitution, saying it will grant every Nigerian the unfettered right to practise his/her religion without any encumbrances.

The Nigerian supreme Islamic council insists that Section 237 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution provides for 21 judges for the Appellate Court, out of which three must be experts in Islamic Jurisprudence.

It, however, wondered that although the number of the judges had since been increased from 21 to 49, but without a corresponding increase in the number of judges with expertise in Islamic Jurisprudence.

It said this was an imbalance that could only be addressed through a constitutional amendment, and was one of the many issues that the CJN was trying to bring to the fore.

“To begin with, it does not take rocket science for the discerning to understand the position of the Constitution on Sharia, putting into consideration the comments of the CJN. It does not require any recondite or esoteric knowledge to understand that our statute is completely in agreement with Sharia, especially in matters of Personal Law. The Nigerian Constitution is already “religiously inclined.” That is why it grants freedom of worship to every Nigerian. It is this religious inclination that gives Christians in the country Saturdays and Sundays as work-free days to attend their Synagogues and Churches.

“Our Constitution already recognises and accommodates Sharia as contained in Section 275 which addresses the Sharia

Courts of Appeal. Similarly, Sections 262 and 277 of the Constitution restrict the application of Sharia to Personal Law such as marriage, inheritance, divorce, etc. So, contrary to the impression being made, the issue of Sharia is not alien to the Constitution,” NSCIA said.

It accused the Christian body of Islamophobia, saying that its argument that the remarks of the CJN amounted to a plot to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state is hollow, hackneyed and an attempt to divert attention from the several imbalances in the Constitution, which are substantially Christian in content and orientation.

The Council accused CAN of double standard by maintaining a muted stance, when the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, openly declared Christianity a state religion in Rivers State in flagrant disregard of the extant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as contained in Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which abhors state religion.

“The conclusion by CAN that the comment of the CJN is an attempt to Islamise Nigeria is baseless, misinformed, subjective and parochial. For the fair-minded, is it obvious that the CJN was not calling for the enthronement of a state religion rather, he was merely drawing our attention to a constitutional lacuna in the area of Sharia implementation for which he believes an amendment is required.

“For the records, Israel and Britain are among many advanced democracies that have incorporated Sharia into their statutes. In fact, in a research carried out in 2012 by Dr. Samia Bano of the University of Reading UK, it is revealed that no fewer than 30 Councils have adopted Sharia law alongside civil law in the UK,” NSCIA said.

It also accused the Christian body of politicising a matter of a global appeal and for which the Constitution acknowledges, describing CAN’s narrative of an Islamisation agenda in Nigeria as absurd and an attempt to get the sympathy and curry the favours of its foreign collaborators.

It lashed CAN of sacrificing and defiling national interest, cohesion and integration. It also said the Christian umbrella body is working with foreign interests to undermine the unity of the country and stoke the fire of instability.

NSCIA expressed apprehension that CAN had been peddling a lot of conspiracy theories to the United States and other foreign countries, noting those countries have accepted those hues without regard to the rules of evidence and investigation.

The Council also said it viewed the US government listing of Nigeria on the watch list of countries with religious rights violations as misinformed and biased, simply because a Muslim is the leader of the country.

“If CAN is sincere on her claims of religious oppression against Christians in Nigeria, let it produce one such case for which it has challenged in the court of law. On the contrary, Muslims in Nigeria are the ones that have come under untold persecution on account of their faith. That their persecution is not reported by the Christian-dominated media does not reduce the authenticity of this assertion. Even though the Muslims have borne these assaults with philosophical calmness and equanimity, our courts are saturated with litigations ranging from Mosque demolitions to attacks on the Muslim Hijab.

“On former CJN Walter Onneghen, everything that CAN has alleged is only based on conspiracy theory. The suspension of the immediate past CJN by President Buhari was ordered by the Code of Conduct Bureau, based on an allegation of false declaration of assets, which the then CJN owned up to though he said that he forgot. While the suspension was on, the National Judicial Commission recommended the compulsory retirement of the CJN. However, on Thursday, the 4th of April 2019, he tendered his resignation. Not all Nigerians are suffering from amnesia and the trajectory of the event is still fresh in our memory.

“It is therefore worrisome and disingenuous that CAN would descend to the level of political irritants who would read meanings to a matter that followed due process and for which Justice Onneghen voluntarily resigned. But perhaps most disappointing is CAN’s open and implied aversion to President Muhammad Buhari’s current fight against corruption.

“We call on the Nigerians not to be swayed by the antics of CAN because the survival of this country is to a large extent a function of the eternal vigilance of the people. CAN got it wrong when it decided to allow religious bigotry blind her to issues that are quite within the ambit of free speech and the law. We warn that CAN desist from playing to the gallery and know that the drumbeats of war and disaffection she is always dancing to is a whirlwind that would blow off everyone regardless of religious persuasion,” NSCIA said.