Catholic Bishops Insist on Restoring Nigeria to Secular State
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Leadership of the Catholic Church in Nigeria (CCN), under the auspices of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), has asked the National Assembly to expunge all sections of the Nigerian constitution that made references to Sharia or any other discriminatory or divisive law.
The CCN said that there must be an end to the practically established status that Islam enjoyed in the constitution in order to maintain the peace and unity of the nation.
“We note in this regard that while Islam is mentioned very many times in the constitution, there is not a single mention of Christianity or any other religion in the constitution. This should be redressed,” it said.
In a position paper submitted to the National Assembly Commitee on Constitutional Amendment, which was signed by the President of CBCN and the Archbishop of Benin City, His Lordship Augustine Akabueze, said there is an inherent contradictions in the present constitution that had not augured well for the unity and progress of the country.
Akabueze listed Sections 260 to 264, Sections 265 to 269, Sections 275 to 279, as well as Sections 280 to 284 of the 1999 Constitution as some of the examples of contradictions in the legislations that needed to be corrected.
He said that Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution provided that “the Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion. And that Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution, among other things, provides that ‘every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.’
“Contrary to the above provisions, the 1999 Constitution, as entirely composed, is evidently inflicted with inherent fundamental contradictions. These inherent fundamental contradictions entrenched the operation of diverse legal systems and regimes in the one nation that is Nigeria.”
The Catholic Church said that the operation of diverse legal systems and regimes have resulted in the current situation of not having one law as one people in one nation. Rather, “what we have is ‘one nation, different laws for different peoples.’”
It further elaborated that under Sections 260 to 264 and Sections 275 to 279 of the 1999 Constitution, all Nigerians, by implication, were practically compelled to fund the payment of the salaries and emoluments of the therein mentioned judicial officers of the respective Sharia Courts of Appeal adjudicating upon and administering the laws of a particular religion (Islam), which is not subscribed to by all Nigerians.
“Also, by Sections 265 to 269 and Sections 280 to 284 of the 1999 Constitution, the generality of Nigerians, by implication, are also practically compelled to fund the salaries and emoluments of the therein mentioned judicial officers of the respective Customary Courts of Appeal adjudicating upon and administering the laws of particular custom(s) not shared by all Nigerians,” it said.
The bishops said that the recognition and prominence accorded to Islam in the constitution of this nation has put Christians and adherents of other religions at a disadvantage in the affairs of the country.
“To ensure peace and unity of the nation, there must be an end to the practically established status that Islam enjoys in our constitution,” the CCN said.
The church further stated that for the sustenance unity and fairness in this country, the Senate has to take seriously the position of the CBCN and ensure that it listens to all the positions canvassed by Nigerians so that the amended constitution could reflect the yearnings and visions of Nigeria’s citizens.