• Monday, June 24, 2024
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‘Nigeria may not survive another religious crisis’

Riots

Concerned Nigerians and prominent clergymen in the country have called on people in government to desist from promoting one religion over the other under any guise in order to avert unnecessary religious crisis.

In a country already polarised by ethnic and other primordial sentiments, they say that any attempts to further deepen the fissures along religious lines may spell doom for the country’s continued unity, warning government to avoid actions that are contrary to the letter and spirit of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which explicitly prohibits a state religion.

They are irked by the recent molestation of Christians in the North, the veiled attempt by the House of Representatives to give more powers to Sharia Courts, President Muhammadu Buhari’s inclusion of Nigeria in the Saudi-led ISMAT, an Islamic coalition against terrorism, among others that threaten the country’s secularism.

“It is bad enough that the country is divided along ethnic and other fault lines, to promote one religion over the other in an otherwise secular country would further deepen the fissures and simply catapult Nigeria to the point of breakup,” said Francis Udom, a Lagos-based public affairs commentator.

Recall that President Buhari had, not long ago, told Aljazeera in an interview that Nigeria would be joining ISMAT.

“We are part of it because we have got terrorists in Nigeria that everybody knows which claims that they are Islamic,” Buhari had said in an attempt to justify the move.

But John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, had lashed out against Buhari, saying the decision was not a wise one.

“Once you talk of an Islamic coalition and you are bringing Nigerian armed forces into it, my fear is that this is a dangerous step. We have been trying, and I think successfully, to keep religion out of our armed forces. Can you imagine what will happen if Nigerian armed forces were fighting in the North-West on the basis of religion? So I hope government will be better advised,” he said.

Contending that countries that joined the alliance before Nigeria were not faring well, Onaiyekan said, “Those who put the alliance together have not succeeded in putting their own houses in order. It’s not as if they have succeeded well in Iraq, Syria and other places. So whoever advised him (President Muhammadu Buhari) did not advice him well.”

He had also faulted the argument of Geoffrey Onyeama, minister of foreign affairs, that there was nothing religious about the coalition.
“I’m sorry that the minister of foreign affairs does not know how Nigerians behave and think. You cannot tell us that something is Islamic and at the same time say it is not religious. That is a contradiction. It’s like saying Islam is not a religion,” he said.

Ochereome Nnanna, a columnist with Sun Newspaper, had also warned that dragging Nigeria into ISMAT, a Saudi-led military coalition of Sunni Muslim countries fighting rival Muslim factions in the Middle East, was “capable of destabilising Nigeria and unsettling its already seriously challenged unity in diversity”.
“It is not only against the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but more than that, it is liable to reduce Northern Nigeria and the nation as a whole to a theatre of Muslim proxy wars as we see in Yemen, Syria, Libya and other countries,” Nnanna said.

In 2012, Mohammed Nurudeen, then minister of state for foreign affairs, had allegedly said that “Nigeria is one of the most Christian-populated Islamic nations in the world”, prompting CAN to urge President Goodluck Jonathan to sanction the minister for referring to Nigeria as an Islamic country.

Recall also that General Ibrahim Babangida, during his years as military head of state, had dragged Nigeria into the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Just recently, BDSUNDAY reported the vehemence with which various Christians had risen against the House of Representatives’ attempt, through a bill proposed by Abdullahi Salame (Gwadabawa/Illela federal constituency, Sokoto State), to amend sections of the constitution to give more powers to Sharia Courts to try criminal offences. The reactions heightened after it was reported that Yakubu Dogara, House speaker, allegedly advised that the bill be quietly speeded through second reading to avoid controversy.
“It is very unfortunate that Christians in Nigeria, particularly elected representatives in the National Assembly, should acquiesce to the inclusion of Sharia laws in the constitution of this country. What would happen should the Christians, African traditional worshippers, atheists, etc demand inclusion of their faith-based laws into the constitution? Would Nigeria survive the centrifugal tendencies that may arise?” queried Nnamdi Okosieme, a media leader and public affairs commentator.

“It was bad enough that Christians allowed that act of indiscretion to see the light of day at the time; it is even more revolting that they are indifferent to present attempts, as has been reported in the media, to enact a law that allows Sharia laws to be applicable in every part of the country. The implication of the horrendous act, of course, should not be lost on anyone,” he said.
Okosieme said if the law was allowed to pass, Christians should be ready to have themselves tried in court undergirded by the laws of a faith they do not subscribe to.
“Will Christians not arise and terminate this monstrosity before it decimates them? How long can they continue to be politically correct? How long will they continue to wring their hands in seeming hopelessness? Christians in Nigeria are not watching, not seeing and not praying. They must speak up, they must shout and they must go down on their knees and pray away the looming danger,” he said.

But perhaps emboldened by these clandestine moves by people in government circles, some religious fanatics in some states of the North have recently gone on rampage, meting out all manner of ill-treatment on Christians on flimsy excuses.

On June 2, 2016, for instance, 74-year-old Bridget Agbahime, a Christian trader at Kofar Wambai market, Kano, was attacked and killed by an irate mob over allegations of blaspheming Prophet Muhammad.
On June 8, another Christian, 41-year-old Francis Emmanuel, was attacked at a restaurant in Kakuri, Kaduna by a gang of six youths believed to be Muslims armed with daggers for not observing the Ramadan tradition of fasting.
“I went to buy wood to do some work. When I came back, I bought food to eat. As I was eating, about six Hausa boys came and asked me whether I was a Muslim or a Christian. I did not answer them. They asked me why I was not fasting. I told them that I am not a Muslim. As I stood up, the rest came and surrounded me and started attacking me,” narrated Emmanuel, who was at the time recuperating at St. Gerald Catholic Hospital in Kakuri.

“They used cutlasses, scissors and knives. I became unconscious; I don’t even know who brought me to the hospital,” he said.
Reacting to these incidents, Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, said the issues were serious, but regretted that government was not serious about what to do.
“Violence in the name of religion has not been addressed and when some of us call attention, the small-minded people say that we hate religion. But we cannot go on like this. We Christians continue to appeal for calm, but there is a limit to how much this can go on. Muslims may be majority in Kano, but they are not in Akwa Ibom. Christians may be majority in Onitsha, but they are not in Katsina. The real challenge is how a weak nation has refused to compel citizens to live under one single law,” Kukah said in a recent interview.
Pointing out that these things have been going on for a long time, he referred to such past cases as the beheading of Gideon Akaluka in Kano, the assault of a young lady in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, on grounds that she was having her bath outside during a blackout, the slaughter of a young man in Tafawa Balewa University by Muslim youths on the grounds that he blasphemed, and the physical assault of one of his parishioners on grounds that he was wearing a religious insignia.

“What is blasphemy and who gave anyone the right to be God’s judge? What law are we operating under? These are the larger questions that will not be addressed and we shall lie low, pretend that we have made peace and wait for the fire next time. The political class chooses political exigency instead of courage,” Kukah said.
Meanwhile, in Osun State, Southwest Nigeria, the dust raised by the needless religious tension between Muslims and Christians over wearing of religious robes to school is yet to settle.
Justice Jide Falola of the Osun State High Court had, in a case instituted by Osun State Muslim Community against the State Government, ruled that female Muslim students in public schools in the state had the right to use hijab on their school uniforms.

But the Osun State Christian Association of Nigeria (OSCAN) faulted the judgment, vowing to appeal the matter in the higher court. OSCAN also threatened that if Osun State government implements the judgment of Justice Falola, it would direct Christian students across the state to wear church garments to school to propagate their faith as well, a threat that was partially carried out, leading to a state of near anarchy in Osun.

Rev. James Pam, a Jos, Plateau State-based clergyman, puts the entire blame on the Nigerian constitution for its ambivalence in its provisions and pronouncements regarding the practice of religion in the country, adding that this is partly responsible for the religious wars that Nigeria continues to experience with escalating ferocity.
Highlighting this ambivalence, Pam said Section 10 of the constitution attempts to establish the secularity of the Nigerian state by providing that “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State religion”, while Section 38 in its 4 sub-sections also reinforces the rights of Nigerians to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Ironically, he notes, Sections 275 and 280 make a volte-face and contradict the two earlier quoted sections as Section 275 provides for the creation of states Sharia Courts of Appeal while Section 280 provides for the creation of states Customary Courts of Appeal.

“First, the provisions found in Sections 10 and 38 are completely negated and rendered void by the provisions found in Sections of 275 and 280. Second, the adherents of other religions apart from Islam have been relegated to an inferior status and discriminated against by the provisions in Section 275 because their religions have not been given equal recognition by the same constitution. Third, while these provisions recognize the important place of religion in our national life, they pretend that we can operate some modicum of secularism and not pluralism,” he said in a 2014 article.

Further buttressing the point, Pam referred to the submissions of Bishop Joseph Bagobiri of Kafanchan Catholic Diocese (Northern Central) and Pastor Bosun Emmanuel (South West), two Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) delegates at the 2014 National Conference 2014.

“Pastor Bosun Emmanuel submitted that the 1999 Constitution mentions ‘Shariah’ 73 times, ‘Grand Khadi’ 54 times, ‘Islam’ 28 times and ‘Muslims’ 10 times but does not mention the words ‘Christ’, ‘Christian’, ‘Christianity’ or ‘church’ even once. He concluded his submission very politely by saying, ‘Some mischievous elements are taking these lapses in the Constitution to come to the ungodly decision that probably the State is an Islamic State.’ The submissions of the two Christian delegates angered their Muslim counterparts who tried to shout them down,” he said.

 

CHUKS OLUIGBO