Controversies have trailed the Executive Bill for a Law to Substitute the Kaduna State Religious Preaching Law, 1984, sent to the Kaduna State House of Assembly by Governor Nasir El-Rufai. The bill if passed into law will summarily introduce another unique way totally different from the old order of religious worships and practices in Kaduna. In summation, it sought to curb hate speeches which has been a major source of religious crisis not only in Kaduna but in the north. Two, it requires a cleric to obtain a preaching permit from the state government, which has a life span of and renewable after one year before he could do so. Three, one shall contravene the law to play any cassette containing “religious recordings in which abusive language is used against any person or religious organisation or religious leaders (past or present). The bill, if passed into law will prohibit sales of religious books, usage of abusive and derogatory terms in describing any religion.
One shall be in breach of the law and could be arrested for listening to religious music, preaching or religious music inside ones car or in any open place but not in ones’ house or religious building. Anyone found to have contravened these laws is liable to two years imprisonment with a fine of N200, 000.00 or both. Four, an inter-faith ministerial committee, to be chaired by the governor’s appointee, will also regulate the activities of the two major religions, namely, Islam and Christianity, through the Committees of the Christian Association of Nigeria and Jama’atul Nasril-Islam (NJI). The bill, however, allows the use of loud speakers only in churches and mosques not beyond 8pm. Many say this bill is a landmine and an ambush laid for religious worships which contains lots of unholy snippets.
One grew up to realise that freedom of worship is an inalienable right of individuals and it has remained so without any contestation. It is a limitless, sacred-personal relationship between individuals with their maker- the Almighty God. Section 38(1) of the 1999 Constitution gives every Nigerian the right to freely propagate his religion. The provision says, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom…” Governor Nasir El-Rufai is fighting a good battle with a wrong tool. If this law should not allow the use of loud speakers in churches and mosques beyond8:00pm, what about parties and night clubs? Do they not constitute nuisance as well? The government of Kaduna State should bear in mind that the road to faith legislation in Nigeria has been very bumpy.
The essence of rule brings out the beauty of any game and do not in any way intend to impugn, weaken or stifle it. God understands the inherent need for rules, law and order when in Ex. 20: 2-17, provided an age long 10 Commandments to guide the behaviour of men. Religious activities like any other business in Nigeria must be guided by rules, law, order and decorum for God Himself is not an author of confusion. Any government on top of its business must ensure sanity in every sector of our daily lives. Religion in the words of Carl Max is the Opium of the masses. It is a faith- based pill swallowed hook-line-and sinker by adherents without taking cognisance of its side effects. Like the free-to air digital satellite channels magnanimously aired by some hosts, consumers of opium freely explore without “care, costs and limitations” only for them to wake up to find out that their favourite channels have been scrambled. Do not crucify me for sounding oddly a Christian. Christianity in itself is a religion of knowledge and light. Therefore, we must understand that for light to prevail over darkness, it must not be a match stick. Today, the emergence of “sorcerers” promoting various kinds of miracles and occupying public spaces in the name of religion has become the order of the day. Therefore, government owes it a duty to protect the spaces and sensibilities of others which have been violated or taking over by some religious merchandisers. We are the salt of the nation and a city built on top of a hill. The way and manner religious clerics both fake and real hide behind God in the name of religious worships is alarming.
However, the governor must be mindful of the fact that issues of religion in Nigeria must be handled with utmost care. Experiences have shown that people are driven by the sublime passion to protect their religions from laws which they think is inimical to their worship. It is pertinent to point out that the onus of explanation resides with government to avoid rancour. Our religions do not expire but governor’s tenure must end after four years. The volatility of Nigerian state, the frenzied passion for ones’ faith and lessons of religious crises must guide our resolve to religious reforms. It must be reiterated that at any given time such issues comes to the front burner like the one in Kaduna state, some religious entrepreneurs tend to rise against it. Some are germane while others are out rightly frivolous.
This bill should have taken cognisance of the peculiarities of individual religious practices and worships. For instance, Christian religious worships go beyond time limitation. Church Vigils and programmes take place even all through the night. In fact God comes down in His majesty and splendour and inclines his ears unto Christian supplications during these all night programmes. There are worships centres built far away from residential areas. Their activities do not in any way perturb anyone. Government should have prescribed a sound proof auditorium for worship centres within the residential areas who want to worship beyond 8:00pm as a protection for the right of those who may be disturbed. Consultation is one attribute of democracy. Those in charge of this bill forgot to consult widely before sending it to the State House of Assembly. The negativity this bill has courted would have been tamed if it was brought to the domain of stakeholders. Christianity, Islam and other forms of religious worships with due respect have peculiar worship styles and teaching perspectives. For the appointee of the governor who cannot be a Christian, a Muslim or traditional religionist at the same time to oversee religious issues is novel. The non-inclusion or due consideration of the interests of other adherents of other religions is a minus to the bill. Which law regulates their kinds of worship? This bill should be withdrawn for the grey areas to be trashed out. Religious war looms in Kaduna and we cannot afford to have a repeat of what happened in year 2000.
Sunday Onyemaechi Eze is a Media and Communications Specialist.