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Tuesday, 21 May 2013

CAN ANYONE ISLAMIZE OR CHRISTIANIZE NIGERIA? - BY DR. CHUBA OKADIGBO (20TH MARCH 2003)


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An attempt is being made to frame General Muhammadu Buhari in the image of a 'religious bigot'. His political adversaries allege that he said that Muslims should not vote for non-moslems and that Buhari will use presidential power to islamize Nigeria. What Gen. Buhari said or did not say has been addressed elsewhere. The yet to be answered question is: Can anyone (not just Buhari) Islamize or Christianize Nigeria, by the fiat of presidential power? The categorical answer is NO and proof thereof are here under provided.

"Section 1 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 states that the Constitution is supreme and that its provisions have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federation. Subsection 2 thereof states that 'the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution."

To Islamize or Christianize our Federal Republic, there must be some amendment of the Constitution. Let it be known by all that in the first place, Section 10 proclaims that 'the Government of the Federation or of any State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.' To alter this provision, a person or group of persons must pass through a gamut of very dissuading, grilling and tedious processes and secure the cooperation of persons from differing religious and/or animist persuasions. In this country, as I see it, it should be easier for the head of camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for any person or group of persons to get the support of Christians and animists to Islamize Nigeria or to secure the cooperation of Moslem sand animists to Christianize Nigeria.

To Islamize or Christianize our Federal Republic, there must be some amendment of the Constitution. Let it be known by all that in the first place, Section 10 proclaims that 'the Government of the Federation or of any State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.' To alter this provision, a person or group of persons must pass through a gamut of very dissuading, grilling and tedious processes and secure the cooperation of persons from differing religious and/or animist persuasions. In this country, as I see it, it should be easier for the head of camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for any person or group of persons to get the support of Christians and animists to Islamize Nigeria or to secure the cooperation of Moslem sand animists to Christianize Nigeria.

For any amendment of the Constitution, one must comply with the rigorous provisions of Section 9. An Act for any alteration must NOT pass through either Houses of the National Assembly (the Senate and the Federal House of Representatives) unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of ALL members of either House, and is also approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of NOT less than two-thirds of ALL the States in the Federation. The reality on the ground is that neither the Christians nor the Moslems of Nigeria have the singular capacity to evolve the Christianization or Islamization of our Republic. To make Christianity or Islamism the 'State Religion' of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a task more herculean than climbing Mount Everest and near impossible as having an angels and saints to preside over our National and State Assemblies.

It is true that some States in Nigeria, beginning with Zamfara, have adopted Sharia as a legal instrument in that particular State, by resolution of a State Assembly and the assent of the State Governor. The Constitution allows the application of Sharia on matters pertaining to Islamic Personal Law, with particular attention to marriage and inheritance, in any State that so desires, provided that they apply ONLY to Moslems and others who freely elect to be bound by Sharia Law applications. Notably, a State Assembly and State Governor can also root for Canon or Customary law, though to the extent of compliance with the provisions of the Constitution.

Here, I must pause to issue a caveat. Unlike the PDP controlled States of Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, Nassarawa, and Plateau, there has been no religious riot in Zamfara. Remarkably, Nigerians of all religious persuasion that are resident in Zamfara live in peace and harmony. Curiously but certainly, there have been instances where and when Christians took Moslems to Sharia courts for settlements. To say the least, this is instructive. This can neither be compared or contrasted with the multiple occurrences of riots and crises that have taken place in Kaduna and Kano States in the name of Sharia.

Equally but painfully instructive is the truth that all sorts of riots and violent civic disturbances (wild border/boundary and ethnic clashes) have taken place in such PDP controlled States as Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Imo, Nassarawa, Plateau, and Rivers States, and the AD controlled States of Lagos, Ogun and Ondo, whereas there has been none in the ANPP controlled States of Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.

Furthermore, it should be pointed out that Section 5, especially subsection 8 thereof, stipulates that the legislative powers of the National and State Assemblies are subject to the jurisdictions of the courts of law. The courts hold the power to decide when any Act of the Legislature or deed of the Executive contravenes any section of the Constitution and the courts are empowered to specify any action necessary for remedy or reprimand. For instance, should any law (Sharia, Customary or Canon) run afoul the Constitution or the Fundamental Rights of Citizens, the Courts can intervene decisively.

The extent and limits of such applications in the affected States are yet to be determined by the Supreme Court of Nigeria. I recall that as President of the Senate, I advised President Olusegun Obasanjo on three separate occasions to order the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (at that time Chief Bola Ige) to go directly to the Supreme Court to secure the proper definition and context of Sharia Law applications in their relation to Common Law in the Federation. Due to his reluctance or timidity or reluctance to act on thereon, we caused a resolution that backed this advice to be passed in the Senate in year 2000. I am sad to note that the failure of Gen. Obasanjo to act on this Senate resolution accounts for some of the confusion, crises, conflicts and even riots that have disturbed and threatened peace, harmony, stability and the security of life and property in many parts of our Fatherland.

I also recall that I was a member of the Constituent Assembly 1977/78 that framed the 1979 Nigerian Presidential Constitution. Gen. Obasanjo was a) the Head of State that convened this Assembly, b) that intervened when it faced a crisis on the position of Sharia Law, and c) proclaimed this Constitution into law, after some arbitrary modifications at the purported instance of the Supreme Military Council. Experience also commands me to affirm that Gen. Obasanjo has been characteristically timid and vacillating on matters pertaining to Sharia, and that the attendant indecision and disability have always occasioned avoidable general confusion and public distress.

Gen. Obasanjo would rather leave the matter of legal determinations on crucial matters of urgent national interest to individuals or private concerns, knowing fully well that the distance between a State High Court or Federal High Court and the Supreme Court is long, tedious and expensive. When, for example, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, attempted to get some legal clarifications on Sharia Law, his suit was dismissed on ground of a lack of locus standi, whereas such dismissal cannot be pronounced had the same matter been taken up, at Supreme Court level, by the Attorney General of the Federation.

Significantly, President Obasanjo has been callously irresponsive to Supreme Court determinations, whenever his Government sought it pronounced relevant decisions. Regarding the littoral states and the application of the derivation principle, he has either denied the littoral States of a lot of money or has been unduly late in payments. He also refused to sign the dichotomy bill passed by the National Assembly. Rather, he substituted same with fuzzy (amendment) proposals that flout the due legislative process and the legitimate aspirations of the good people of Nigeria from the Delta region. All these have fueled the temper and tempo of restlessness, alienation and Angst in the Niger Delta region.

In the light of the foregoing, it is clearly preposterous and wicked for anyone, including Obasanjo, to resort to ad hominem (name calling) and ad baculum (appeal to fear) on matters of public interest. To tell the people of Nigeria in Bayelsa that they should not ask for their rights, since they should be grateful to have been liberated from BiAfra and their killing by Ndigbo is a naked depiction of the falsity of the ad baculum variant. Similar to such perversion is his claim that Gen. Buhari would jail them if they vote for him. And to call Gen. Buhari a 'religious bigot' by ascribing to him what he NEVER said, i.e., that Moslems should not vote for non-Moslems is a horrible appeal to the ad hominem fallacy.

In point of truth, it is irreligious to abuse or misuse religion, and in point of fact, bigotry is the application of falsehood to perpetrate falsehood. A purported 'God-fearing man', more so, a man who claims to be a 'born-again Christian' must desist from inflammation of Christian sentiments and from tinkering on the tinderbox of defamation on grounds of a presumptive 'religious' political campaign. For such is the opium that can make religion burn. Surely, it is irreligious to misuse religion to the ends of cheap political gains.

Looking again at the Constitution, nobody, including Gen. Buhari, will be in the position to jail people by whim in that constitutional and democratic government is NOT military. We know that both Generals Buhari and Obasanjo were Heads of Military Governments that were NOT democratic. Therefore the claims of any General or Head of State being more democratic than the other under military dictatorships is sham. We also know that Gen. Buhari has pledged to stand by and on the Constitution, now and when elected as President of Nigeria. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity and resolve, any less than Obasanjo's. Plainly speaking, those in glass houses should NOT throw stones.

Now, we have also adduced sufficient evidence that prove that Buhari or any other person, high or low, can Islamize or Christianize the Federal Republic of Nigeria, by sheer political fiat or religious zealotry. Nor will his Vice Presidential running mate, who is a Christian, go along with any Islamization plot, in the hypothetical event of such absurdity. Similarly, I hold it to be self-evident that Gen. Obasanjo, for all his highly advertised Sunday church services in his Aso Rock chapel, and all his Baptist admonitions elsewhere, cannot Christianize Nigeria. Even if and when he tries it, we will definitely rise to stop him.

Put together, let us all comply with the plea of Islamic and Christian clerics as well as nationalists and patriots for all round religious tolerance. Religion, being a matter of individual choice and faith, must be left where it is, such that our clerics can take care of our souls and religious persuasions, while elected civilians take care of the businesses of governance. In these connections, the holier than thou and I know it all postures should be consigned to the bonfires of perdition or the dustbins of cant. In the mighty name of God, let us resolve NOT to overheat the system any further and to make love rather than war.

(Late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo was the Vice Presidential Candidate of the ANPP April 2003 National Election and Former President of The Senate. Federal Republic of Nigeria)

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