Friday, March 25, 2016 12:15 pm
Sunny Akanni, a Kaduna-based former National President of Christian Lawyers Fellowship of Nigeria (CLASFON) speaks on the bill sent to the Kaduna State House of Assembly by the State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai. As a lawyer, Akanni exposes the flaws of the bill, the fears of the Christians, the relevant sections of the Constitutions that negates the spirit of the bill and concludes that the bill is dead on arrival. He allays the fears of Christians over the bill saying there are procedures for redress in the courts. Excerpts from an Interview conducted by Bola Adewara.
Q: What is your position of the bill Governor El-Rufai is sent to the Kaduna State House of Assembly?
A: The headline of the bill is The Bill for a Law Substituting the Kaduna State Religious Preaching Law 1984. This means there was a law in 1984. That law came in by military fiat, an edict which has since formed part of the Kaduna state laws. This bill wants to regulate religious preaching. When you look at it critically, a few things can be a highlighted from there.
In section 3 of the Bill, it defines who a preacher is. It says a preacher is person licensed by Jamatu Nastril Islam (JNI) or a Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to preach. Fundamentally, that offends Mathew 28 and Mark 16 which says “Go ye into the world and preach the gospel.” For us as Christians, we know that there are different kinds of preacher. If you check the Anglican set up, there is what they call Lay Preacher. If you now say a preacher is a person licensed by CAN, we know there will be a problem.
When you look further into the Bill, you see the issue of pubic place. Public place means resort areas, markets, public institutions, centres and other facilities accessible to the public. Inside the bus is a public. Wedding reception is a public place. Football field is a public place. So when the bill says “other facilities accessible to the public” it means you have expanded your definition of Public Place to favour yourself. Petrol station is a public place.
When you move further, it says “the two major religions in the state shall be regulated by the body”. Now when you look at section 40 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, you have already picked out the two major religions. There is this aspect of discrimination we see, you have discriminated against the Christians and the Muslim. However, that is not the issue. When you say a committee, an Interfaith Ministerial Committee to be appointed by the governor, and the inter-ministerial committee will interface between JNI and CAN and that committee will exercise supervisory control over them, there is where the problem lies.
On the composition of the committee, it states who will be on the committee: a special adviser to the governor on internal security, the most senior state official advising the government on interfaith religion, a member representing JNI and CAN could be there, a representative of Police and Ministry of Justice, Civil Defense, Directorate of State Security would be there. Now the problem is this. If you bring the police, Civil Defense, DSS, onto a board of religious body, these are officials of federal parastatals that should not work, based on religious sentiment. You bring a police man who is not a Christian, police man or Muslim police man. He has no allegiance to the state but the citizenry of this country, you now place them on the committee. Are you telling me that they will not be biased? They would be. Religion is a strong thing. That is the problem.
The bill under section 4a and b says the Interfaith Ministerial Committee shall approve licenses. So if the ministerial committee refuses to approve the license, where do you appeal to? Who do you go to? If you say JNI and CAN should issue licenses and will be approved by the committee, that simply means JNI and CAN are not the ones issuing the license. It is the committee.
Now, the license would be for a period not exceeding one year and it says a sponsored external preacher shall be issued a permit for the period for the event. In other words, if I am bringing a pastor from Lagos to my Church to preach, it means I must get a permit for you to preach in my Church and that permit will be for the period of the event. That is a problem. When you look at section 38 and 39 of the Constitution, it talks about freedom of religion. Section 34 talks about freedom to express your opinion. Section 40 talks of freedom of association.
Also, the bill says all cassettes, CDs, flash drives, or any other communication gadget containing religious recordings from any accredited preacher may be played in the following places only: inside one house, inside entrance porch, inside the church, inside the mosque or any other designated places of worship. Now there is a problem. If I have a CD or flash drive of a preacher based in Lagos, I cannot play it because it has to be an accredited preacher. Also, it says designated place of worship. This is nebulous. It’s general. Who designates a place as a place of worship?
Also if you commit offence under this bill, it prescribes a punishment of two years. It says trial will be a summary trial where you will be taken to either a Sharia court or a Customary court. It didn’t tell us if a Sharia court will try Christians or Muslims. So the bill in section 14 did not tell us where they will take the Christian offender to even though we know that Sharia court is for Muslims. But the law ought to go further to elucidate on these issues. It should not leave it to guess work.
There is another issue which is so funny. The bill states that you cannot use a loud speaker anything beyond 8pm in a public place. The issue of a public place is nebulous. In law, when you state the specifics, you exclude the general. When you want to put a law in place, you have to state so many things, you state clearly what you mean by public place. This helps. This law is bereft of such details. We have looked at this bill and we guess it is a huge joke.
Let me now give you what is mind blowing: the JNI and CAN were incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act as NGO. The Second Schedule item 32 of the 1999 constitution, the Exclusive Legislative list, states that the state cannot pass a law that will regulate a company, incorporated trustees because these bodies were incorporated under the Federal laws, bound by the Companies and Allied Matters Act. So when you say you want to regulate the activities, is it possible? It’s exclusive. Item 32 particularly says you cannot.
Q:Could we say the bill is dead on arrival?
A:Absolutely. That is my view. Dead on arrival. I have looked at it more than 20 times and there is no substance to it.
Q:Did the State Governor call you lawyers or Church leaders to a meeting before bringing this bill to public consciousness?
A: That I don’t know. I had an opportunity of attending a meeting with the deputy governor of the state and I said there that all the noise that is attending to the bill wouldn’t have started if the government had engaged the Church leadership in a meeting before the bill was enacted. They are aware of a pastor saying El-Rufai will die if the bill is not withdrawn. As much as I don’t subscribe to such statement, those things wouldn’t have come up if they have followed the proper channel because of the literacy level of our people. Religion is very volatile. I have been in Kaduna for over 20 years. This law is dead on arrival.
Q: What is the reality in Kaduna now? Is the bill leading to any kind of friction between the Muslims and the Christians?
A: The Muslims have even rejected it and have even gone to court. Some have taken their protest to the House of Assembly to demonstrate and say they don’t want it. Sincerely there is no problem between them. We go to the same market. We don’t want anything that will trigger any problem between us.
When you say it will not hurt the Muslims more than it will hurt the Christians, I don’t subscribe to this. I know this because my cousin is a Muslim and a member of NASFAT. They have regular vigils in the night. So when you say no one should use the speakers after 8 pm, would they not be affected? I know so many Muslims do pray in the nights during their fasting. How about that? There are better ways of regulating religion. I agree that religion can be regulated but not this way. There are laws that could make things decent and foster good neigbourliness wherever we are.
Q: What is the body language of the Kaduna State House of Assembly?
A: I had opportunities of meeting with some of them. They said theirs is to take a look at the bill and take public hearing. If the generality of the people say they don’t want, they don’t want it. They said they will look at it critically. If it’s a thing that will advance the state, they will pass it. If it will destroy the state, they will reject it. A few of them I have spoken to said we should all bring our positions to them and they will look at it.
Q: There is a great deal of apprehension here in the Southern part of Nigeria. The feeling here is that El-Rufai is victimising the Christians in the North. There is even a political slant to it as Christians who backed PDP/Jonathan associate it with APC and Islam. A pastor was quoted as placing a curse on El-Rufai that he either withdraws the bill or die. What do you have to say to Christians in the South over the matter?
A: I will say it has not gotten to that point. No. It has not. You see in everything there are procedures. When the gay rights issue came up at the Senate’s public hearing, I was there and we presented our position and at the end of the day, they agreed with us. For me let us go through the process. If we go through the process and the law is passed, we will go to court. The court will now interpret Sections 38, 39 and 40 of the Constitution. And the courts are always there. To what extent can you regulate religion? Can anybody give me license when the person has not trained me? I am a lawyer. I went to the Law School. It is not the Accountants’ body that gave me license. It’s the Body of Benchers because I have gone through their tutelage. Engineers are licensed by the engineering body. If you now say it’s the Interfaith Ministerial body that knows not the process the pastor has gone through, how can it license the pastor? If you say it is CAN that should license me, CAN did not train me. I have my Church organization that trained me. I went to a Bible school. There is no Church body in this nation that does not have a training body. There is none.
Q: Lastly, I spoke to a member of an orthodox church who told me that the law will hurt the Muslims more than it would hurt the Christians. How do you react to this sir?
A: When you say it will hurt the Muslims more it will hurt the Christians, I don’t subscribe to this. I know this because my cousin is a Muslim and a member of NASFAT. They have regular vigils in the night. So when you say no one should use the speakers after 8 pm, would they not be affected? I know so many Muslims do pray in the nights during their fasting. How about that? There are better ways of regulating religion. I agree that religion can be regulated but not this way. There are laws that could make things decent and foster good neigbourliness wherever we are.
There is a law in the North called DPP, Disturbance of Public Peace where you could be charged if your loud speaker is too loud. There is another under the Law of Tort called Private and Public Nuisance. You can bring people under this law. If your loud speaker is too loud for me, I can approach you and complain. If you don’t cooperate, I can go to court to enforce my right to have peace. So the matter has not gotten to the level of curse. There is a process to everything.