One of the issues on the burner of public discourse is the proposed law by the Governor of Kaduna State through an Executive Bill entitled: “A Bill for a Law to Substitute the Kaduna State Religious Preaching Law, 1984” to the Kaduna State House of Assembly for its consideration and passage into Law. The Bill is now at its Committee Stage awaiting public hearing and final presentation for its Third Reading.
As usual I didn’t want to comment on this until I got my hand on the Bill. I’m very careful not to write on legal issues without first getting my facts straight, moreso when it relates to religion. A commentator who is not careful can find himself getting drowned in the cesspool of hot emotions bereft of facts. I have seen the Bill. And I have also x-rayed the logos and the potential rhema of this Bill.
Let’s not beat around the bush on this bill. Let’s subject some of its sections to constitutional scrutiny and see if it will come out legally healthy. Section 4 of this 15 sections bill establishes the Committee of Jama’atu Nasir Islam (JNI) for the Muslims and the Committee of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for the Christians and their respective composition. A third body known as the Inter-faith Ministerial Committee was also established to exercise supervisory control over the JNI and CAN Committees.
I submit without any equivocation that section 4 of the proposed law is arrogant and a direct affront on section 10 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. The said section of the constitution prohibits state religion in the following words: “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” Section 4 of the proposed law contravenes section 10 of the constitution by making Islam and Christianity Kaduna State religion.
By establishing committees of these two religions, the proposed law is ordaining the assumption that Islam and Christianity are the only religions in Kaduna state and ipso facto the Kaduna State religions. This section, to the extent of its inconsistencies with section 10 of the 1999 Constitution, should be null and void.
Section 5 of the proposed law empowers the JNI and CAN Committees to issue licenses approved by the Ministerial Committee which shall not exceed one (1) year to preachers; and a sponsored external preacher shall be issued a permit for the period of the event that brought him to the State. I wonder if the drafter of this section is aware of section 38(1) of the 1999 constitution as amended.
Section 38(1) of the 1999 Constitution states that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” Please highlight this section, we will come back to it several times.
Section 9 of the proposed Kaduna State Law restricts the playing of all cassettes, CDs, flash drives or any other communication gadgets containing religious recordings from accredited preachers to the following places only: inside one’s house; inside entrance porch; inside the Church; inside the Mosque; and any other designated place of worship.
Section 10 of the proposed law prohibits the use of any cassette containing religious recording in which abusive language is used against any person or religious organization or religious leaders (past or present).
Section 12 of the proposed law makes it an offence for any person who preaches without a license; plays a religious cassette or uses a loud speaker for religious purposes after 8pm in public places; uses a loud speaker for religious purposes other than inside a Mosque or Church and the surrounding area outside the stipulated prayer times; abuses religious books; incites disturbances of the public peace; abuses or uses any derogatory term in describing any religion; or carries weapons of any description whether concealed or not in places of worship or to any other place with a view to causing religious disturbance.
Any good one finds in the above sections of the proposed law is merely cosmetic and designed to hide the venomous nature of this law. This law is suspicious. When you first hear of a law of this nature, your initial expectation will be that it will seek to regulate the nuisance citizens suffer as a result of others exercising their rights of freedom of worship. But even a cursory look at the sections of the law shows clearly that its main thrust is to regulate proselytization.
It is pertinent to point out here and now, that no Fundamental Human Right is absolute. So we can’t adumbrate on the Fundamental Human Rights sections of the 1999 constitution as amended without shedding our beam light on section 45 of the said constitution. Section 45 states that: “(1) Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society- (a) in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or (b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.”
So here comes the big question. Can the proposed Kaduna State Preaching Law be said to be reasonable justifiable in a democratic society? Can the said law be said to be in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality or public health? Or can it be said to be for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons? I submit that the answer is a resounding no. And I challenge anyone who believes otherwise to show me one section of the Bill that substantiates his belief.
No section of the proposed law passed the test of section 45 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended. No section of the Bill is in the interest of defense, public safety, public morality, public order or public health. The Bill is rather a megalomaniac effort to control the exercise of the Fundamental Right of Freedom of worship.
Why is the license valid for a year? Why is it left as a subjective matter to the people issuing the license? Why is it wrong to play the religious CDs inside ones car? So TD Jakes, Benny Hinn, an Imam from Saudi Arabia or David Oyedepo need to travel to Kaduna to get a license before their Tapes and CD’s can be played in the car of someone in Kaduna? Is this not clearly aimed at curtailing evangelism rather than regulating public order?
No section of the Bill is talking about regulating the volume of noise emanating from worship places but rather there are several sections talking about where and when and how not to worship. If you say don’t play CDs or loudspeakers loudly in worship places to disturb other persons then you will be within the contemplation of section 45 of the Constitution but just talking about where, when and how not to worship is clearly in contravention of section 38 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The major complaints about places of worship is basically the noise, the disturbance to the average citizen, why didn’t the Bill address the noise coming out, instead the Bill is more interested in where it should be permitted. If civil societies are at liberty to protest and associate, why is it wrong for religious bodies to gather peacefully in a public place and make their views known? Is this an indirect target of a particular faith that speak with the public more?
One will argue that religion is fast becoming a fertile ground to commit crimes and thus needs stringent regulations. I agree to the extent that many persons are indeed using religion as a cover to commit hideous crimes but our extant laws are adequate to deal with such persons. Recently the Supreme Court affirmed the sentence of death for murder on one Rev King. We didn’t need a new law to fish out this criminal and sentence him accordingly.
Even the issues of blocking roads and using loudspeakers to disturb the free movement and peace of other citizens are issues that can be dealt with adequately within the framework of our extant laws. The point is not about enacting new laws. It is in engaging the legal system and demanding for our rights to be respected.
El Rufai and his horde of advisers are making moves to rape the very constitution they swore to protect. Or maybe he is giving in to the unspoken wish that assail all religious animals. That wish to see everyone call upon the name of God the way you want them to. The temptation is always great to use every power within one’s disposal to make this wish come true.
History is replete with mortals who have failed in this bid. Even Jesus and Prophet Mohammed couldn’t convert the whole world. Men have used pedagogy and still failed. Others have used force and still failed. It will remain a burning desire in our hearts to always try but we will always fail. No matter what your Imam or pastor tells you, the day will never come when everyone on earth will be a Muslim or Christian.
And as for those who are toying with the unworkable idea of using the instruments and apparatuses of democracy to curtail the exercise of religious freedom, know that you will fail. Religion does not bow in the face of force or violence, it flourishes.
This is our Hosanna.
First Baba Isa (FBI) is a Legal Practitioner and writes from Abuja