The recent pronouncements made by Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State, to “regulate” religion by banning the “unlicensed places of worship” of Christians in his state has caused many Christians to take the threat of Islamisation more seriously than ever. The threat was further escalated to an ‘imminent level’ when at a recent forum meeting for the 19 Northern Nigerian State Governors unanimously decided to regulate Christianity in their respective states. Is the “One Nigeria” doctrine again under the serious threat of failing for religion sake?
No one is asking what the Northern Governors have to fear from allowing Christian to practice their religion freely but responsibly in their respective states. Is it perhaps a very big fear they harbour? No one is also asking how Southern Christian Governors and other elected Christian politicians will or should respond.
The regulation of religion is perhaps the hardest social task political leaders have ever had to undertake on the planet. You cannot regulate religion. You cannot stop people believing in what they choose to believe in, especially if such are beliefs they are willing to die for. There have been innumerable instances of heinous bloodshed in the attempt to regulate religion throughout history. The best political leaders have been able to achieve is to separate the State and religion through ‘secularisation’, which is something the 19 Northern Governors will not do. Religion is at the centre of their governance.
Mosques like churches mostly start as “unlicensed places of worship” i.e. as a “Jamat Khana” or “Musallah”. A Musallah is a temporary place of worship for Muslim travellers, temporary residents or an interim place for residents who are seeking to set up a permanent place of worship in their community. When the numbers of regular attending members of the Musallah are meet certain criteria and the community is supportive, a “sanctified mosque” is then built with funds from governments, wealthy citizens or rich donors in the Middle East. Why should it be different in Northern Nigeria for churches, the place of worship of Christians?
The primary political question evoked is, do unlicensed religious places of worship exist because the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria permits them to? Section 38:1 of the 1999 Constitution as compliant with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right guarantees that: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the 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.” Where does El-Rufai and the other 18 Northern Governors get the legitimacy and powers to ban unlicensed places of worship, if not the Constitution? The rights and freedoms of all religions to be practised in ways that do not violate the Criminal Code of Nigeria are fully protected in the Constitution.
One can further ask if Nigeria’s condition of legal pluralism is not being unfairly expedited by the 19 Northern Governors to suit their Islamic determinism? Legal pluralism can create problems because of the multiplicity of authorities at play. Legal pluralism ensures that the [British Colonial] Common Law, both Sharia and Customary Laws [the preceded colonial law] are all authoritative. While the Common Law of Nigeria is binding on all citizens in certain matters Sharia and Customary Law can apply to individuals based on voluntary individual choice or as the individual identifies. Why are the Northern Governors then imposing Sharia on the individual choices of non-Muslim Nigerians?
Well, there is a brand of Islam known as “Arewa Islam” which is distinct from the mainstream of Sunni Islam. Arewa Islam is culturally adapted to the culture of Northern Nigeria even though Islam is supposed to be a culture-free religion. It is also exceptional to the Constitution. Arewa does not recognise non-Hausa-Fulani Nigerian Muslims as “genuine Muslims”. Yet, Arewa Muslims are particularly courteous to European, Middle Eastern, and Far Eastern Muslims (and Christians). The “Kudu Muslim” is inherently deemed as “inferior” in the eyes of the Arewa Muslim but not in the eyes of God if the Quran is the true authority of Islam. It is certainly worse for Christians in the eyes of the Arewa Muslim.
Behind the charade, it is all about the fear that Christianity is growing at alarming rates in the Northern States, especially through conversion and particularly in Pentecostal and Evangelical denominations. To stem the tide of Westernisation that leads to Christian persuasion coming into ascendancy in the Northern states, the 19 Governors will have a lot of banning to do. They will have to ban TV, glossy magazines, mobile phones, the Internet, designer wristwatches, air-conditioning and more. There is only one group that is currently and vehemently advocating for such bans in Nigeria, are the 19 Northern Governors going to join them or will they uphold the Constitution and foster peace, not violent divisions?
One can be sure that the Christians of Nigeria, despite the reactions or non-reactions of elected Southern politicians, will do their very best and more to prevent any Islamisation of Nigeria by constitutional coup d’état. It remains only a threat though.