Mallam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna state seems to be on the warpath with Christians. It is reported that Christians in the state are voicing their opposition to an executive bill before the state House of Assembly, allegedly designed to restrict all forms of religious preaching in the state.
In recent weeks, the social media has been awash with reactions from Christians who have kicked against the Religious Regulation Bill, arguing that it is at variance with Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution which presupposes that every Nigerian has a right or freedom of thought, conscience and religion and a right to change religion. The Religious Regulation Bill, designed to replace the Religious Regulation Edict of 1984, is geared towards regulating Christianity and Islam as it seeks to create an inter-faith Ministerial Committee to be appointed by the governor and exercise control over Jama’atu Nasril Islam, JNI, and the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN.
Some of the measures the bill is proposing include: *The ministerial committee shall issue licenses to religious bodies. *Without such licenses, you cannot preach. *No external preacher can preach in Kaduna without a permit. *The committee has the power to refuse to issue licenses
No criteria are given as to what will qualify one to have a license issued to him or for one to be denied a license. While the law does not regulate traditionalists in the practice of their beliefs, they are to have a representative on the committee which regulates the Christian and Muslim religions.
The bill empowers JNI and CAN to keep records of churches and mosques including data of preachers. (The law does not stipulate what ‘data’ is required to qualify for license). The law criminalizes the use of religious CDs, flash drive and other communication gadgets except in churches, mosques or other places of worship or personal houses. The implication is that you cannot listen to Christian tapes in your car or at any place except your house and in a church. If you preach without a license, you are guilty of an offence punishable by two years imprisonment. If you hold any Christian gathering even in a church and use loud speaker (microphone) after 8.00 p.m, you are guilty of an offence punishable with two years imprisonment. I If you hold a crusade or any programme or any other kind of programme and use a loudspeaker at the said programme as long as it is not a church, you are guilty of an offence punishable by two years imprisonment. The bill criminalizes the abuse of religious books and makes it punishable by two years imprisonment. (It does not define what ‘abuse of religious books’ mean. It criminalizes the use of derogatory terms in describing any religion and makes it punishable by two years imprisonment. It does not define what ‘use of derogatory terms in describing any religion’ means.) Every preacher will have to obtain one year license (renewable every year) or risk two years imprisonment.
If you invite any external preacher (i.e. preacher from outside Kaduna State), such a person must be licensed for the duration of his/her stay and the body issuing the license has the right to reject the external preacher if it feels he is not qualified to preach in the state. The proposed bill has a lot of holes, like it does not provide a remedy for you or any place of appeal where you can seek a redress of your grievances as to why you are denied a recommendation for the issuance of license if that happens. Offenders will be tried by customary and Sha’ria courts and there is nothing in the proposed law that says a Christian must be tried by a customary court. Therefore a christian could find himself before an Sharia court and is likely to experience injustice and bias.
So much about the proposed bill is yet to be properly explained which could lead to complications. Also the proposed bill contravenes the express provisions of the Sections 38 & 39 of the 1999 Constitution which protect the rights of citizens to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression.
Asked if there were consultations before the bill was drafted and transmitted to the House, a lawyer, Mr. Maxwell Kyon, said: “Ordinarily, you would expect that a bill on such sensitive issue may have some sort of publicity. If not for some of us who have made it public in the social media, it wouldn’t enjoy any publicity at all. I think with the call and some other persons who either agree or disagree with the bill, we are hoping that there may be some sort of consultations by the House of Assembly in terms of public hearing before the bill is passed into law”. It is clear that if such a law were to come to pass, it could cause a ripple effect that could lead to unfortunate circumstances.