Much ado about Kaduna’s religious preaching bill
The proposed executive bill seeking to make illegal and regulate certain religious activities in Kaduna State has continued to generate controversy nationwide. SAXONE AKHAINE, Northern Bureau Chief, examines the issue as viewed by different interest groups.
Apostle Johnson Sulaiman the Founder of Omega Fire Ministries, Auchi, Edo State, was visibly angry on a Sunday morning while preaching before the congregation in his church.
The pastor had recently got a copy of the memo about the Religious Preaching Bill in Kaduna State proposed by the state governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.
The bill, among others, requires religious preachers, including visiting preachers, in the state to obtain a license before they can preach in the State, and the license must be renewed each year.
The bill also prohibits the playing of inciting religious media messages in the public except inside the individual’s house, church, mosque or any other place of worship.
The violation of these provisions, according to the bill, will attract two years imprison or a fine of N200, 000 or both, and a convicted preacher will have his license revoked.
For daring to propose such “anti-Christ” bill, Pastor Johnson believes that Governor El- Rufai is on a suicidal mission.
“Revoke the law or die,” the clergy declared in the presence of the cheering congregation.
Apostle Sulaiman was not the only cleric that rebuked governor El-Rufai.
Rev. Fr Evaristus Bassey, Director of Caritas International, a department under the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in Abuja reportedly cautioned El Rufai from behaving like an emperor.
Bassey said the content of the bill appears to be quite overbearing and will hamper the constitutional rights of Kaduna residents to freedom of religion.
“The fear is that even if the proposed bill contains good aims, the proposed restrictions would play into the hands of officials of state who have a hegemonic mentality and would allow them the freedom to persecute one religion in favour of another.”
The Guardian has gathered that a group of the Muslim community has indeed taken the state government to court over the bill.
Senator Shehu Sani, a member of APC representing Kaduna Central Senatorial Zone described the bill as a violation of the right to worship which is guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution.
“Not only do the state assembly has no right to pass a law that contravenes the fundamental human right of the people that is in the Nigeria Constitution, even Senate do not pass laws that conflict with the fundamental right of the people as enshrined in the constitution,” he said.
The Senator maintained that there is already a law that restricts incitement.
“But this bill is contrary to the freedom of speech. Kaduna is a fragile society. We must protect the people’s right to worship.”
He assured the people of the state that, “No government can take away your fundamental human right. We are signatories to the United National charter on human right. Dictatorship begins from regulations”.
Notwithstanding, governor El-Rufai has put up a spirited defence to justify the need to regulate religious practices by both Christians and Muslims in the State.
El-Rufai told journalists that Kaduna State mostly suffered death and destruction of property, due to misuse and abuse of religion, with the exception of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa that suffered from Boko Haram insurgency, which is a different case.
According to him, more people have been killed in Kaduna from the various religious crises that occurred.
“I was there when Maitasine happened. He is a Cameroonian that came to Nigeria to preach. The Emir of Kano, the grandfather of the current Emir, had him deported back to Cameroon.
After then, he smuggled himself back again and continued preaching. He was preaching a version of Islam that was intolerant, calling other Muslims pagans and so on and so forth. In spite of what he was preaching, he began to acquire followers and we all know what happened. A military operation needed to be mounted to flush them out. Those that escaped from the Maitasine relocated to Borno State and started the Kalakato sects which again led to many death and destruction in the early 90s. All these came from people that are not trained in religious matters, people that woke up one day and started preaching and acquiring followers. Inevitably the free sects grew in large number to threaten communities and there was a clash”.
The governor said the evolution of Boko Haram took the same pattern. “Muhammed Yusuf started as a student of Sheik Jafar in Kano. They fell out because he felt that some of the views he was expressing were extreme and intolerant. He went and started his own sects and we know what happened and we are still dealing with it. So, when you have such kind of things happening in your country, I think as a leader we have to sit down and examine ourselves and the society and ask: ‘what can we do to prevent that?”.
El-Rufai believes that the lack of regulation of religion has led to the loss of life and properties at different times.
“Just recently we had the Shi’ite problem in Zaria, a similar pattern. I believe that before anyone starts preaching, such person should have gone through a system of education, training and some kind of certification. Even those that deal with the physical life get certified let alone those that deal with the spiritual life.”
The governor disclosed that the bill emanated from the discussion at the Kaduna State Security Council meeting, based on reports of the new sects emerging in Kaduna State.
“There is one around Makarfi called Dosiyya, they offer there- Zuhr prayer around 11am. They have different prayer times from other Muslims. This is how this thing starts and if you don’t resolve it quickly, they grow into something else. A woman in Makarfi said Prophet Muhammad is speaking to her and that she hears from the Prophet and sick people started coming to her for their healing; the husband of this woman is busy collecting N1, 000 as consultancy fee from people before they can see his wife”.
In order to take prompt action against such negative trend in the state, he said, “we had to take a step to end that movement because before you know it people would start coming from far and wide and this woman would become our next problem.”
El-Rufai noted that the bill is only a review of the old law on religion.
“There is a law since 1984 after the Maitasine problems that the past administration passed. It was subsequently amended several times to increase the fine and the imprisonment term. This is a living problem and we know it. Christian priests, the ones I know attend seminary and spend so many years there, study under a more experienced reverend to learn what to say and what not to say”.
El-Rufai noted: “Religious leaders don’t preach hatred; they preach peace, tolerance and love. But today in my religion in Islam, anybody can wake up today and start a sect, no control. In those days from Islamiyya School, if you choose that line, you need to study more books. After that, you go to the East for more study and training, from there you go to a Mosque and begin to call prayer before you become Imam in any mosque.
“A priest that has gone through thorough teachings and training would not go and ask people to cause trouble and kill each other. They are trained men of God.
“In Christendom today, we all know that some people would drink something overnight and wake up the next day and claim he is an Apostle, God has spoken to him”.
“You cannot disproof that because you are not there with him and he begins to collect followers and when he begins to preach hatred what can you do? Is this the society we want? This is the question. The logic behind this law is to strengthen the 1984 laws so as to regulate and ensure that those that are given the opportunity to preach at least know what they are doing, they have a level of responsibility to develop society rather than divide it.
“This is our goal; we don’t have anything against any religion or anybody. Some people have argued that there is freedom of religion, of course; section 38 is very clear we must not have a state religion, every Nigerian is allowed to practice his faith or doesn’t even have faith at all”.
Governor El-Rufai continued: “In my speeches, I have made it clear that I am the Governor of Kaduna State and everybody that lives here whether he is a Muslim, Christian or pagan has a right over me as a Governor, to give him his right and also protect him and his religion and I would do that with the last drop of my blood.
“However, those that are quoting section 38 completely forgot section 45 which says that you can regulate any human rights if it would affect the rights of others. You can practice your religion but you can’t do it in a way that abuses the rights of another. So, there is nothing in this law that is not in conformity with the constitution, or there is nothing new about it other than expanding the scope and after we sent it, I saw an article that alerted us of what we did not include; blocking of federal highways, but that is in the Penal Code.”
El-Rufai believes that the Religious Preaching law is not only good for Kaduna but for every states within the Nigerian federation.
“I just came back from the National Executive Meeting, a handful of the governors have asked me to send them our own law because they think they also need it in their state.
“Everybody is watching to see how we will handle our own. We sent it to the state assembly in October 2015 because some people are saying we sent it because of the Shi’ite problem, No! It was the state assembly that kept on looking at it and saying this one ‘Na hot potato’ until now. But, on a very serious note, we don’t have any ulterior motive other than to put a framework that would ensure that Kaduna State people live in peace with everyone practicing his religion and disallowing every tom, dick and harry to come and say he can preach.
“We do not regulate as such, we have formed two committees that will issue this license. It is not the government that will issue the license. It is a committee of Christian’s umbrella body and Muslims umbrella body. We will just have an inter-ministerial committee to be checking once in a while and be keeping records because we want to know who is preaching here and who is doing what there.
“The reaction was just disproportionate and many of the people that are talking about the law have never even read it. If you read that law, it is very short, it is 16 sections. See, read it and tell me what you don’t like. Don’t tell me you don’t like the entire law because we know we have a problem and I am the Governor and I need a solution. Don’t say the solution is not to have the law; we need the law but tell me what you don’t like then we can discuss it.
“We want to find a solution that brings peace. We are not fixed in our position, what we are fixed about is that Kaduna State people must live in peace and everyone must be allowed to practice their religion without hindrance. We took an oath of office to do that. Apart from that, every other thing can be discussed.
“Are you telling me it is okay for someone to put speakers in the night and start blaring preaching be it Islam or Christian, disturbing people? Is that okay? Which chapter in the two holy books says that Jesus or Muhammad did that? Are we not trying to copy them? Are they not the perfections of our both religions? Jesus said, give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. The government is the Caesar. We have informed CAN and JNI if you have a problem with any section, if there is anything to be done, if you don’t want the government to be involved we will remove it, but regulate”.
Meanwhile, officials of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Jama’atu Nasril-Islam (JNI) in Kaduna said that the bill was sent to the house without consultation, adding that even though they have sent an input to the lawmakers as requested, there is a need for a public hearing.
“We have submitted our input but the mistake they made was that they did not consult the stakeholders. They should have called people together to discuss the bill before sending it to the house,” Kaduna State JNI Secretary, Ibrahim Kufena said.
He argued that many people have not gone through the bill but are making unfavorable comments.
“Unfortunately, the State Assembly would have told the people that they are going to amend the bill. But the impression they gave us was that the bill is seeking for a new law. But we have such since 1984.
“From 1984 when the law was enacted in 1987, during Dangiwa Umar, it was amended. In 1996, Col Hamid Ali also amended it. But people have to be sensitised and that is the mistake the government made. But we have written our comment to them,” Kufena added.
He said since 1984, the government did not implement the law and could not set up the committee, adding, “JNI is rejecting the 8pm time fixed for us not to undertake religious activities in the designated places.
“The State House of Assembly should call for a public hearing. And the state government should put that on hold all processes concerning the bill and organise a public hearing,” he added.
Also speaking in a telephone interview, Secretary, CAN, Kaduna State Chapter, Dr. Sunday Ibrahim said if the State House of Assembly did not call for public hearing, the bill if it becomes law, will not be acceptable.
The Catholic Archbishop of Kaduna Diocese, Most Reverend Matthew Ndagoso, has charged governor, El-Rufai to enact laws that combat hate speeches, incitement, crimes and noise pollution which infringes on the rights of others rather than trying to regulate religion.
The Catholic Priest gave the advice to El-Rufai at a Mass at Saint Pius Catholic Church, Angwan Romi, Kaduna.
According to Ndagoso, “government is dabbling into areas that do not concern it. There are things that government can do when people are using religion for ulterior motives; on things that do not concern religion the government has the authority to make laws that will treat those people as criminals.”
He added: “We view with serious concern an executive bill by the Kaduna State Government to regulate the pastoral and spiritual activities of the two major religions in the state. It is our considered opinion that we have more than enough laws in our existing statutes to deal with criminals in our country who use religion to achieve their selfish or even evil aims.”
Citing examples, Ndagoso said If a preacher of whatever religion uses the pulpit, religious premises or even the public space to cause the breakdown of law and order such a preacher regardless of his position should be treated as a lawbreaker or a common criminal as the case may be.
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