On Thursday, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) presented specific recommendations to the National Assembly for the envisaged constitution review. In its memorandum addressed to the Senate Committee on Constitutional Review and co-signed by Most. Rev. (Dr.) Augustine Akubeze, CBCN President and Most Rev. Camillus Umoh, Secretary, CBCN, the prelates talked tough as they urged the law makers to expunge all references to the Sharia Islamic Law from the constitution. The body lamented the impact of the discrepancies of the 1999 constitution on the unity and peace of the nation. Describing the 1996 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as “a product of and an imposition of the military,” CBCN urged the Senate to address all issues that violate Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution. “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.” The memorandum dated Wednesday 26th May & Thursday 27th May, 2021 further read, “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. “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. “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 the 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 “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 of 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 that Nigerians do not have one law as one people in one nation. “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. “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).