By Josef Ishu 

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has canvassed for ‘One Nation, One Law’ in the ongoing Constitution Review organized by the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended).

The CBCN also urged the National Assembly to expunge all Sharia Laws enshrined in the 1999 Constitution if Nigeria must be seen to be truly a secular State. 

These positions were stated in a memorandum dated Wednesday, May 26 and Thursday, May 27, 2021 and signed by the CBCN President and Catholic Archbishop of Benin-City, Most Rev. Augustine Obiora Akubeze and CBCN Secretary, Most Rev. Camillus R. Umoh, the Catholic Bishop of Ikot Ekpene. 

The Catholic Bishops insist that Nigerians need ONE NATION governed by ONE LAW.  “We state that it is the height of self-deceit to claim that we are one nation, but with nothing in our Constitution to show that we mean so, that we are so, or that we mean to be so. The Senate thus has the duty of ensuring through constitutional amendments that our Constitution truly reflects equality of all before the law; and not different strokes for different folks”.

The Church leaders submitted that to sustain collective aspirations as One Nation with One Law and to project the non-secularity of Nigeria pursuant to Sections 10 and 38 of the 1999 Constitution, and as no other religion is mentioned in the 1999 Constitution, “ALL REFERENCES TO SHARIA ISLAMIC LAW OR ISLAM SHOULD BE EXPUNGED FROM THE 1999 CONSTITUTION”.

A cross-session of Catholic Bishops in Nigeria on a procession                                   Pix: CSN Archives 

Read the full Executive Summary of the CBCN’s position below: 

THE MEMORANDUM / PRESENTATION OF THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS CONFERENCE OF NIGERIA TO THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE REVIEW OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (AS AMENDED)

Date: Wednesday 26th May & Thursday 27th May, 2021 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 

  • OUR MAIN POINT ON THE REVIEW: Nigerians do not have ONE LAW as ONE PEOPLE in ONE NATION. To correct this, all references to Sharia and any other discriminatory or divisive law(s) should be expunged from the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended). 
  • PREAMBLE

This is the Executive Summary of the Memorandum we, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, had earlier submitted to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the 8 day of September 2020 following Senate’s call for memoranda on the Review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended). Our said earlier submitted Memorandum was dated…… 2020; and is, for reference purposes, herewith attached as ANNEX A.

Regarding the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we state in the first place that there was no time Nigerians convened as individual stakeholders or as represented citizens to decide on or give it to themselves as a binding law or constitution. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a product of and an imposition of the military. Bearing this in mind therefore, the particular aspect we want to address for this Review of the 1999 Constitution has to do with the place Islam as a religion has assumed in our Constitution vis-à-vis our national life, to the extent that the 1999 Constitution has put Christians and adherents of other religions at a disadvantage in any place with a Muslim majority. Complaints abound on the lack of adequate compliance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria against the establishment of any state religion, respect for the freedom of religion, including the right to freely change one’s religion, and equality of all religions before the law. In particular, there have been complaints about the special bias, recognition and prominence accorded to Islam in the Constitution of this nation, Nigeria.

To ensure peace and unity of the nation, there must be an end to the practically established status that Islam enjoys in our Constitution. We note in this regard that while Islam is mentioned very many times in the Constitution, there is not a single mention of Christianity or any other religion in the Constitution. This should be redressed.

For the sustenance unity and fairness in this country, the Senate has to take seriously this stand of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria in response to its call for memoranda on the Review of the 1999 Constitution; and has to see this Constitution review exercise as an opportunity to give sincere listening ear to Nigerians to whom the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended) [later referred to as ‘The 1999 Constitution’] remains an imposition.

Consequently, we, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, speaking in the name of the Catholic community in Nigeria, hereby submit the following for consideration in the on-going review process. 

  • THE 1999 CONSTITUTION AS IT IS ON THE ISSUE/QUESTION OF THE SECULARITY OF NIGERIA AS A NATION

Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution provides that The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion”. And Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution, among other things, provides 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….”

Contrary to the above provisions, the 1999 Constitution, as entirely composed, is evidently inflicted with inherent fundamental contradictions. These inherent fundamental contradictions entrenched the operation of diverse legal systems and regimes in the one nation that is Nigeria. This operation of diverse legal systems and regimes has resulted in our current situation of not having ONE LAW as ONE PEOPLE in ONE NATION. Rather what we have is ONE NATION, DIFFERENT LAWS for DIFFERENT PEOPLES. Consequently, the 1999 Constitution has given strong backing to this present situation of DIFFERENT LAWS for DIFFERENT PEOPLES.

To be precise, Sections 260 – 264, Sections 265-269, Section 275-279, as well as Sections 280 – 284 of the 1999 Constitution are the founding legislations for this “DIFFERENT LAWS for DIFFERENT PEOPLES”. We refer the Senate to the detailed provisions of the above sections of the 1999 Constitution herein mentioned.

Under the said Sections 260 – 264 and Sections 275-279 of the 1999 Constitution, all Nigerians, by implication, are practically compelled to fund the payment of the salaries and emoluments of the therein mentioned judicial officers of the respective Sharia Courts of Appeal adjudicating upon and administering the laws of a particular religion (Islam) which is NOT subscribed to by all Nigerians. Also, by Sections 265-269 and Sections 280 – 284 of the 1999 Constitution, the generality of Nigerians, by implication, are also practically compelled to fund the salaries and emoluments of the therein mentioned judicial officers of the respective Customary Courts of Appeal adjudicating upon and administering the laws of particular custom(s) not shared by all Nigerians.

The 1999 Constitution, no doubt, provides for the establishment of a Sharia Court of Appeal for any state that requires it. The Sharia Court of Appeal exercises appellate and supervisory jurisdiction in civil proceedings involving questions of Islamic personal law, questions submitted by the consent of parties or persons who are Muslims, and any other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by the law of a State. Persons who are experienced in Islamic law are appointed as Judges of the Sharia Courts and are referred to as Kadis.

From the above, it is crystal clear that the 1999 Constitution provided for a Court that regulates the affairs of Muslims in any State that so desires it. More so, it is obvious that, having regards to Section 14 (3) of the Constitution especially on federal character, the composition of the judiciary is religion-wise lopsided as it is constitutionally made to favour Muslims at all times.

Sharia Law which is enforced by sharia courts is rooted in the religion of Islam, whereas customary law is not rooted in Christianity. The jurisdiction of the Customary Court of Appeal has nothing to do with Christians or Christianity. Also, the Judges of the Customary Court of Appeal need not be Christians or persons knowledgeable in Christian laws. Also, the Court does not administer the Bible as law.

The framers of the 1999 Constitution created Sharia Courts for Muslims. This explains why a Christian cannot be appointed as Kadi under the laws of the States or Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal. Thus, we conclude that while Muslims exclusively have a Court that regulates their affairs and to which they can exclusively be appointed as Judges, the same cannot be said for the Christians, or people of other religions. This shows a constitutionally backed gap of inequality and under-representation in the Nigerian judiciary.

The establishment of Sharia Courts of Appeal in our Constitution is therefore inconsistent with Sections 10 and 38 of the 1999 Constitution. It amounts to adoption of a State religion which Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution forbids and prohibits. It translates to the adoption of Islam as a State religion. Of course, the enforcement of Sharia laws with public funds amounts to those States adopting Islam as a religion. We submit that adopting sharia law(s) as a State laws(s) amounts to adopting the religion founding those laws as state religion; and this violates Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution.

As a matter of necessity, what Nigerians need is ONE NATION governed by ONE LAW.  We state that it is the height of self-deceit to claim that we are one nation, but with nothing in our Constitution to show that we mean so, that we are so, or that we mean to be so. The Senate thus has the duty of ensuring through constitutional amendments that our Constitution truly reflects equality of all before the law; and not different strokes for different folks. 

ONE NATION ONE LAW is the solution we preach as the Church. The law must be ONE and COMMON to all for all to be equal before the law.  Giving the people of Nigeria DIFFERENT LAWS is even antithetical to your identity as ONE SENATE. Since it is ONE NATION that elected the Senators to legislate for them, let the Senators give that ONE NATION ONE LAW as the grundnorm and the binding force of its unity. Give ONE LAW to Nigerians by this envisaged amendment of the 1999 Constitution, and you will revive the aspirations in them to be and remain ONE NATION. ONE NATION ONE LAW is what we preach and recommend in the present circumstance of Nigeria as a nation that wants to remain one. 

  • OUR SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE ENVISAGED AMENDMENT OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION

Consequent upon the foregoing submissions, we, as the Church, hereby recommend as follows:

  1. That Sections 260 -264; Sections 265-269, Sections 275-279, as well Sections 280-284 of the 1999 Constitution be all repealed and expunged from the 1999 Constitution so that our Constitution will give a true reflection of ONE NATION WITH ONE LAW.
  2. That other relevant sections and provisions of the 1999 Constitution still negating our collective aspirations as ONE NATION WITH ONE LAW, and projecting the non-secularity of Nigeria as currently being administered be accordingly repealed and expunged from the 1999 Constitution.

ALL REFERENCES TO THE SHARIA ISLAMIC LAW SHOULD BE EXPUNGED FROM OUR CONSTITUTION. Such references keep dividing and separating us further from one another. Our policy and slogan ever remain: ONE NATION, ONE LAW. 

  • CONCLUSION

We therefore maintain that to sustain our collective aspirations as ONE NATION WITH ONE LAW and to project the non-secularity of Nigeria pursuant to Sections 10 and 38 of the 1999 Constitution, and as no other religion is mentioned in the 1999 Constitution, ALL REFERENCES TO SHARIA ISLAMIC LAW OR ISLAM SHOULD BE EXPUNGED FROM THE 1999 CONSTITUTION.