The dust raised by the constitutional amendment proposed by Abdullahi Salame, who represents Gwadabawa/Illela federal constituency of Sokoto state in the House of Representatives, seeking more powers for sharia courts, may not settle anytime soon as Nigerian Christians are now questioning the legitimacy of the inclusion of religious laws in a secular constitution.
Salame’s proposed bill, NAIJ.com learnt, seeks to amend sections of the Nigerian constitution to give more powers to sharia courts to try criminal offences; a matter that is currently out of its jurisdiction.
“The passage of the bill raised fears after the term ‘jurisdiction’ was reportedly misconstrued for expanding sharia law to states other than where it currently applies. The man who sponsored the bill sought to amend sections 262 and 277 of the 1999 constitution to add ‘criminal’ to the existing provisions. He has no right to be talking about sharia expansion in a secular and multi-religious nation like Nigeria,” said Festus Atinse, a Lagos resident.
Various Christian groups have reacted angrily since the proposed amendment came to public knowledge after it was reported that Yakubu Dogara, the House speaker, allegedly advised that the bill be quietly speeded through its second reading to avoid controversy, with some Christian students protesting recently in Lagos over the development.
Many have also decried the passivity with which Christian legislators in the lower house have handled the legislation. They wonder why Christian legislators, especially Speaker Dogara, should sit and watch while such contentious legislation passes surreptitiously, alleging that the legislators must have sold out.
“Recall that Dogara, though a Christian, represents a Muslim majority constituency in Bauchi state. Don’t forget also that after he won the speakership, Dogara reportedly acknowledged his allegiance to the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, for helping him emerge speaker,” said a source who does not want to be named.
“Could we then say this is Mr Speaker’s way of showing appreciation to the Sultanate, to whom he may be feeling perpetually indebted? The truth may not be far from this,” he added.
Putting the implications of this development into perspective, Chinweizu, a renowned scholar and controversial author of the revolutionary book, The West and the Rest of Us, wrote in a recent article: “While Nigerians are being distracted by the diversionary hoopla about corruption, the Jihadists are going relentlessly forward to implement their long-prepared Arab imperialist agenda.
“By the time the entertainment is over, non-Jihadist Nigerians will wake up in the Caliphate Jihadist prison where the Christians are reduced to the dhimmi status of permanent second-class citizens; and the polytheists are wiped out or enslaved for paganism, as prescribed by Islam,” he said.
A wake-up call for Christians
Some Christians have also lashed out against the lukewarm attitude of Christians, especially leaders of the flock, across the country in the face of oppression, especially following the recent reported ill-treatment of some Christians in parts of the north.
Nnamdi Okosieme, a media leader and public affairs commentator, said that when he reflects on things happening in Nigeria today, particularly the subtle attempts to subdue the Christian faith through legislation, and the nonchalance of Christians to what may well spell doom for them, he is reminded of Prophet Amos’s warning to Northern Israel.
“The prophet, worried by the malfeasance in the land, issued the now famous cry, ‘Woe to them that are at ease in Zion’. It was intended as a wake-up call for the people and I dare say that today Nigerian Christians need a cry like this to shock them back to their senses. Christians in Nigeria need to be reminded of Charlotte Elliott’s 1836 hymn, Christians Seek Not Yet Repose. Like that hymn admonishes, the Nigerian Christian is in the midst of foes and needs to be watchful and prayerful,” Okosieme said.
“Again, as Paul the Apostle warned the Ephesians, Christians in Nigeria need to be circumspect in the way they go about their daily living because the times we live in are uncommonly evil. In the last two weeks, three Christians have been attacked in the northern part of the country on religious grounds. Two were killed and the other barely managed to escape,” he told NAIJ.com.
He said it was not in doubt that the intolerance was driven by a certain superiority complex and a we-are-in-charge mentality among a certain part of the country that attempts to compel others to accept their faith, but noted that whilst it was true that a superiority complex is the hallmark of practically all faiths, the idea that an individual must accept a particular faith or pay with his life, or that he must necessarily observe or respect the tenets of another faith or pay the supreme price, was clearly repulsive.
He said that while it is true that Nigeria is a nation under God, it is by no means a state propelled by the tenets of any particular religion, but a secular state underpinned by man-made laws codified into a document, which becomes the grand norm establishing the modus vivendi of the different peoples constituting the nation.
“It is thus very unfortunate that Christians in Nigeria, particularly elected representatives in the National Assembly, should acquiesce to the inclusion of sharia laws in the constitution of this country. What would happen should the Christians, African traditional worshippers, atheists, etc. demand inclusion of their faith-based laws into the constitution? Would Nigeria survive the centrifugal tendencies that may arise?” he queried.
“It was bad enough that Christians allowed that act of indiscretion to see the light of day at the time; it is even more revolting that they are indifferent to present attempts, as has been reported in the media, to enact a law that allows sharia laws to be applicable in every part of the country. The implication of the horrendous act, of course, should not be lost on anyone,” he said.
Okosieme said that if the law is passed, Christians should be ready to have themselves tried in courts undergirded by the laws of a faith they do not subscribe to.
“Will Christians not arise and terminate this monstrosity before it decimates them? How long can they continue to be politically correct? How long will they continue to wring their hands in seeming hopelessness? Christians in Nigeria are not watching, not seeing and not praying. They must speak up, they must shout and they must go down on their knees and pray away the looming danger,” he said.
Church leaders in ominous silence
In a telephone chat with NAIJ.com, Adedipe Adeleke, an elder in one of the largest churches in the country, said Nigerian church leaders are very weak when it comes to speaking up on crucial national issues that affect the wellbeing of Christians in the country, adding that journalists are also not doing their best in terms of reporting government policies that favour one religion above the others.
“Our church leaders are very weak. What we do in churches these days is engage ourselves in verbal attacks but we are passive when it comes to policies of government that hurt us as Christians,” he said.
“Journalists are also not reporting national inequities like this. If Christian legislators will not speak up on matters concerning their faith, others who want their own faith to be entrenched in our constitution will not wait for them. It all depends on who is passive and who is active,” he noted.
He said for Nigerian Christians not only to have their say but also to have their way equitably, they must also learn to be involved in civil disobedience as a proven method for achieving justice, equity and fair play.
“I read in the papers yesterday that some Christian students protested in Lagos against the recent move by the House of Representatives to give more powers to sharia courts. This is the right way to go, not sitting down and expecting things to happen. Imagine a situation when Christians all over the country carry placards to state houses of assembly over this matter! The attention of the international community would definitely be drawn to the matter. This is how to get things done,” he added.
File picture of the Sultan of Sokoto with some Christians
Adeleke, however, noted that if something passes at the federal House of Assembly, it could not be said to have been secretly done, explaining that democracy is the rule of persuasion by vocal majority.
“Gay Rights got passed in US and in operation in Europe because there was a vocal majority. If Christians refuse to constitute a vocal majority against what it is perceived as against their well being, then we cannot blame anyone for sharia being given federal applications,” he said.
Sharia in the constitution is an error
For Sunnie Amajor, the president of TotalMan Fellowship, a non-profit men’s leadership organisation based in Lagos, the issue of politics and governance has not been taken as seriously as it ought to have been by the Nigerian church, and therefore a lot of things had before now gone into the nation’s constitution without the Christians’ knowledge and approval.
He explained that most times the weight of legislation is not properly understood by the Christians because appropriate structures have not been put in place by the church leadership to sieve and release their understanding to the Christian fraternity.
“However, the issue of governance and politics is a primary concern in the mind of God. That is why the Bible says that the government will be upon Christ’s shoulders and also why God initially gave the first Adam the blessings of dominion. Therefore, if churches are not keen on the issue of politics and governance, then we are missing out on one of the key assignments that God gave us,” he said.
“Every time people had been careless or at ease with the issue of governance, whether self-governance or societal governance, they had always paid the price. Esau paid the price when he was careless with his birthright. Turkey as a nation paid the price for being careless with their Christian legacy. Israel also paid the price when Joshua allowed the Gibeonites to deceive him into entering a treaty with them. There is always a price we pay when we are at ease with the issues of governance,” he added.
He lamented that the churches in Nigeria seem to be at ease, urging Christian leaders to wake up from their sleep of ‘death’, whatever might be the cause.
“The constitution of a nation is the highest law governing that nation. Every other law and belief is subject to the constitution. Every belief and practice can only legally function effectively under the ambit and within the latitude that the constitution allows. That being the case, having any portion of the sharia law within the constitution when Nigeria is not primarily an Islamic nation is an error because all the other religions will be at the mercy of sharia if the full power of the constitution is brought to bear on issues,” he told NAIJ.com an interview.
Amajor explained that although what is found in the Nigerian constitution is personal sharia law, in states where the law had been implemented people of other religions had equally been affected by it.
“Now that the criminal aspect of the sharia law, which is more vicious, is being sneaked into the constitution, of course members of other religions will also feel the impact. The question that comes to mind is: why is there such a strong desire to include the sharia into the constitution if there are no ulterior motives beyond just the members of Islam?” he asked.
“Religious bodies are powerful enough to subjugate their members to the demand of their faith. They have been doing it. Let it continue like that, outside the constitution. If any aspect of sharia must be in the constitution, then it must be mandatory for all other religions to be represented fully within the constitution.
“I believe that the representatives of other religions at both the upper and lower houses do not yet understand that whatever they do or refuse to do now will eventually come to haunt not only them but their generations to come,” he added.
As for the Christian leaders, he urged them to send clear and unmistakable directions concerning the matter to Christian members of the NASS; clear instructions backed with prayers that will wake the sleeping legislators.
“For now, let everyone that has a platform expose this fraud that is taking place. Every social platform should display this issue. Nigerians should know what is going on. Let people be aware,” he said.
Nigerian pastors are the problem
Paul Adeleke, an end-time preacher, told NAIJ.com that the current silence maintained by major Christian leaders, despite attempts by some lawmakers to secretly amend the nation’s constitution to give more powers to sharia courts, and the now frequent cases of killings in Christian communities by men suspected to be Fulani herdsmen, is evidence that a lot of them have lost touch with current political realities in the country.
“Nigerian pastors are only concerned about building mansions, institutions, cathedrals, empires, and how to hand over these acquisitions to their children. With what is happening in Nigeria right now, you can see that the purported anointing on many Nigerian pastors is just to pull crowd. They have no anointing to come out and say, ‘thus says the Lord’, and it come to pass like Prophet Elijah of old. Nigerian church leaders are actually the problem of Nigeria,” he said.
He said it was amazing how clergymen who were very vocal and prophesied all sorts in favour of their preferred candidates prior to the 2015 presidential election could suddenly lose their voices amid the persecution and, in extreme cases, the killing of Christians across the country in the current dispensation.
“A church leader, in the person of Ejike Mbaka, wept profusely before the 2015 presidential election over Jonathan’s government and advised his followers to vote the APC presidential candidate. How can you prophesy that someone will win an election and beg your members to vote the same person? That is not a real prophesy. Clergymen ought to be politically neutral,” he said.
“Sadly, Nigerian Christians are yet to see this same Mbaka weep over the killings by Fulani herdsmen in Enugu state where he serves as a Catholic priest. I am yet to read any statement from him regarding the killings. But again, how can he weep and make public comment about the Fulani herdsmen when he has been to Aso Rock to congratulate the president? It is all part of the reason clergymen can no longer speak up. They are either afraid of President Buhari or too attached to him or have associates in his government,” he said.
Reverend Father Ejike Mbaka, who is founder of the Adoration Ministry in Enugu, had during one of his sermons in December 2014 come down hard on the former president Goodluck Jonathan and wept over what he termed the government’s “inability to stop the killings of innocent Nigerians, and entrenched corruption.”