Odds against El-Rufai’s legislation of religion

El Rufai

El Rufai

I have always sided with His Excellency, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State, in private and in public, even if it meant standing alone (see, for example, ‘Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and the Template for Change’, The Guardian, July 26, 2015, page 19) because I am inclined to men of intellect, action and tenacity and have followed his doggedness from his days of service in the Federal Government. However, with all due respect, I disagree with him on the bill to regulate the practice of religion in Kaduna State – from the sociological point of view more than the legal or constitutional that has been extensively analysed in many published opinions. It does not mean that I have ceased to be a follower.

Given our predatory mentality, a religious law (distinct from extant criminal laws) processed and promulgated between an executive and a legislature dominated by members of one of the competing religions or sects in the state, can hardly be equitable and will be subject to mistrust and abuse by one or the other ethnic or religious group. The strain of opposition – by both Moslem and Christian sects – to the bill is indicative of the mistrust and abuse that will befall the proposed law. For example, since broadcasting tapes and loudspeakers, among others, would be proscribed at certain hours and places, some sects have seen the bill as antithetical to their prevalent outdoor mode of evangelism, a gag to their mission and a breach of their fundamental right to propagate their faith as best deemed fit – the nuisance value of which can be addressed under existing laws of the Nigerian State, where indicted.

Perhaps, the worst forms of repression would creep in through the window of accreditation. There is a multitude of sects and doctrines among the religions, with varying procedures for grooming clerics and for generating and disseminating messages. Also, the Word of God could be inspired as much as it could be acquired by training. Thus, both the cleric and the message are not exactly measurable by paper qualification. How would the licensing authorities, circumscribed in the bill within the hierarchies of a limited range of Islamic and Christian sects, arrive at a universally acceptable accreditation template, without gagging any messenger, religion, sect or denomination? Or, would it be sagacious to have all sects and denominations represented in the ‘jury’, with veto powers, to avoid marginalisation? In other words, even if that law is well meant, can the subversion of its provisions by third parties be avoided?

State and Religion are meant for the same objective of improving the condition of man. We can simplify it that the State controls the physical while Religion controls the spiritual needs of man, the common object. Be it known, however, that the allegiance of man will always tilt towards the party of greater proximity to him at any time. Nature abhors a vacuum. Religious fervour proliferates where the State abdicates from its basic responsibilities of galvanizing the economy towards inclusive growth and development; nurturing the mind and talent of the citizen through constructive basic and skill education for a role in the society in which he can find fulfillment; minimising unemployment; protecting the weak through accessible healthcare, security and social welfare schemes; equal opportunity/treatment for all citizens at all stations of life and the rule of law, among others. It is by delivering needed services that the State gets closer to man and overcomes fundamentalism – the seen target of the proposed law.

Indeed, properly examined, every act of religious extremism and uprising (as are all other forms of social upheaval) is, fundamentally, a resistance to an unjust order of things/failure of State to deliver needed services, which is the main reason fundamentalists easily recruit from the ranks of the marginalised, deprived and oppressed and their sympathisers who see the movement as a form of alternative advocacy or resolution for their plight. The mantra of the fundamentalist is that man has turned out hopelessly selfish, mercantile and predatory to fellow men (at both the corporate level of State and the interpersonal level) by depending too much on acquired (worldly) knowledge, to the subordination of revealed knowledge and the mind of God recorded in the Holy Books, by which the world can go round – an unjust order that must be substituted with the Divine order, as they see it, even at the cost of life. By the outbreak of unrest, the State has lost the initiative. Anything it does will be ‘medicine-after-death’ and at a great – if not unquantifiable – cost, such as we have seen with the Boko Haram debacle.

Yet, the ultimate purpose of Religion (which is to live by the mind of God so that the world goes round) converges with the dividends of good governance by the State, leading to peaceful coexistence in many parts of the world.

Northern Nigeria is relatively more impoverished and fundamentalist than Southern Nigeria because of the failure of basic education and the closed system of both native authority and State authority which empowers the minority while condemning the majority to destitution. In particular, the predominantly insular cultures of the North (including Kaduna State) with highly circumscribed and largely pre-determined social strata, foisted on the people by the leadership recruited largely from those whose forefathers conquered the larger part of that region and imposed Islam and the emirate system of government, in which kith and kin are the emirs, district heads and administrators, to the exclusion of other citizens who must either become proselytes or be completely marginalised, have to be reformed. The government must also deliver competitively on the other basic responsibilities already highlighted. Conversely, fundamentalism can hardly find a place in Southern Nigeria largely because of the high penetration of formal education and skills as well as the significantly egalitarian, assimilative cultures.

Mallam El-Rufai should allow his programmes in this regard to mature before introducing religious legislation, if still found necessary. But he can mobilise the judiciary and the police to expedite the stringent enforcement of existing criminal laws that can equally punish all deviants. The proposed religious law will be too divisive, even to an international dimension. And, in any case, just as draconian laws have not curbed armed robbery, kidnapping and militancy, et cetera, there can be no end to fundamentalism and other social upheavals until the dawn of just, people-centred government that can galvanise social justice, functional education and economic development for the benefit of every citizen!

• Emma Nwosu, a business, training and research consultant, lives in Lagos

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