A call by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, for the amendment of the constitution to broaden the application of Sharia law in the country has generated sharp reactions from some stakeholders of the two major religions in the country – Islam and Christianity.
While the umbrella body of Christians, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), rejected the idea of any constitutional amendment for the purpose of adding to the Shariah content in the nation’s constitution, some Muslim leaders and scholars described the CJN’s call as a welcome development.
A human right group also on Friday, condemned the CJN’s call warning him not to plunge the country into a religious war.
Justice Muhammad had made the call on Thursday at the opening of the 20th Annual Judges Conference at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.
The CJN said: “As we all know, there are sections of the constitution that allow the implementation of Shari’a personal law and apart from that, we cannot do more. However, we have the numbers to amend the constitution to suit our own position as Muslims.”
The CJN was represented at the event by the Grand Khadi of Niger State, Justice Muhammad Danjuma.
He was reckless, should be sacked —CAN
However, reacting to the CJN’s statement, CAN, through a statement by Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, the Special Assistant (Media and Communications) to its president, Reverend Samson Ayokunle, urged the CJN to deny the statement which it said was capable of provoking a religious crisis in the country.
The CAN statement reads in part: “We have not seen the full text of the paper presented and we learnt the Chief Justice was represented at the event. So, it is difficult to know if the speech was that of the Chief Justice’s or his representative’s.
“We don’t believe that such a reckless and provocative statement could be made by the number one judicial officer in the country. How could the CJN say, ‘We as Muslims have the numbers to amend the constitution…’? It is not possible. It is either he was misquoted outright or quoted out of context.
“Otherwise what is the fate of Christians in his court if he could be so openly partisan and parochial? Do we take it that what he said is the official position of this regime on inter-faith relations? Why has no one in the leadership of the executive and the legislature taken him up on it?
“The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is eagerly awaiting the rebuttal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria on the unfortunate and unguarded utterances that can provoke a religious crisis in the country.
“Be that as it may, asking for the constitutional amendment with a view to adding to the Sharia contents is ill-timed, provocative and unacceptable. In our previous meetings with President Muhammadu Buhari, we made it abundantly clear to him that the lopsided appointments of his government in favour of a religion and a section of the country is unacceptable.
“Although he promised to look into the observation with a view to addressing it, what we are seeing and hearing about the government is the continuation of the lopsided appointments. There is enough evidence to prove that the subtle Islamisation agenda and nepotism are real.
“These are direct contradictions to some portions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). These include but not limited to sections 10, 13 (3-4), 15 (2) (d) and (4). It is widely believed that no country survived two civil wars. Our leaders should be mindful of the complexities of the people they are leading. There have been presidents who are Christians and during their time, there was never a time they promoted their religion at the expense of others. Our leaders should stop paying lips service to the unity and peace of the country.
“The above statement credited to the Chief Justice appears to comfirm our fears that the appointments were done towards a religious end of islamisation.
“Those in government are warned not to use the cheap popularity or acceptance they seek to set the two religions against each other. This type of statement, if true, is enough for the president of the country to intiate the removal of this chief justice from office. He is religiously biased and partisan.
“These are not the best of times for the country and the citizenry and both the government and the governed must rise up to the challenges.
“Like it was said during the unfortunate civil war, ‘keeping Nigeria one is a task that must be done’. This is why some are calling for a return to the old national anthem. The CAN leadership at all levels is praying for the protection and healing of our country but let those in positions of leadership help our prayers to be answered by their actions and utterances.”
He spoke well —Muslim leaders
However, the Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Professor Afis Oladosu, saw nothing wrong with the CJN’s statement, describing it as a furtherance of the desire of Muslims which had long been ignored.
According to him, discerning Muslims have always advocated proper recognition of Shari’a as an aspect of the Nigerian constitution “based on the reality that the daily life of a Muslim is circumscribed by Shariah provision.”
In a telephone interview with Saturday Tribune, the don said: “If the constitution provides that every Nigerian citizen should be given the opportunity to manifest his faith as fully as possible, I think there shouldn’t be any controversy from any legal quarter in respect of what the CJN has advocated.
“But I wouldn’t be surprised if some critics, particularly from the non-Muslim section of the Nigerian populace, begin to say that this is another attempt to Islamise the Nigerian nation.
“My view is that we should look at this matter objectively and Muslims should join the CJN in calling for the total recognition of the Sharia as part of the Nigerian constitution and be prepared for possible criticisms and controversy that this will generate.”
Also, a retired professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Ibadan, Dawud Noibi, commended Justice Muhammad for making the call.
Prof. Noibi, who is the immediate past Executive Secretary of the Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN), noted that the Nigerian constitution guarantees freedom of religion both in terms of belief and in terms of practice and this ought to be demonstrated in practical terms.
“The entire life of a Muslim is to be guided by the Sharia. Therefore, the constitution must make adequate provision to facilitate this, especially in a country where the lives of a huge percentage of the people, especially in the North, the South-West and parts of the South-South were governed by the teachings of Islam even long before the coming of the colonial masters and the imposition of their belief system and way of life on the country.
“I commend the CJN and urge the National Assembly to act swiftly on the matter and do the needful,” he added.
Similarly, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) threw its weight behind the CJN’s suggestion.
The organisation, in a statement on Friday, described the current constitution as “a child of British colonial Christianisation of the country which has failed to take into consideration the multi-religious nature of the Nigerian nation.”
MURIC’s statement, signed by its director, Professor Ishaq Akintola, reads in part: “The CJN has our full backing on this. The British colonial government bequeathed a legacy of Christianisation to the Nigerian nation. Muslims were not comfortable with it but the British did not listen. The British did not give a damn. The Northern Muslims resisted and the British invaded the North. “Muslim resistance was brutally broken by the ruthless massacre of thousands of Muslim freedom fighters in Hausaland, particularly in Burmi (1903), Satiru (1906) and Zinder (1917). Even those who surrendered were not spared as they were mowed down with machine guns. Thereafter, the British victors curtailed Islamic landmarks.
“Islam had arrived in Karnem Borno in the year 1085 (818 years before the invasion of the North by the British) during the reign of King Humi Jilmi while Christianity was first preached in 1842 (757 years after the advent of Islam) under the Agacia tree in Badagry.
“As far as we are concerned, therefore, the British who brought Christianity to Nigeria spread their religion by force after invading the North, after intimidating the South West and after subdueing the Muslims who had been practising their faith for more than 800 years. They used excessive force against the Muslims and carried out barbaric and extra-judicial killings.
“MURIC therefore embraces the CJN’s idea of the need for constitutional amendment. It is even belated. It is part of restructuring. We hope the restructuring camp will welcome the CJN’s idea because it is not going to be about Muslim demands alone but a comprehensive one.
“We call for objectivity in this matter. Those who always oppose anything which is likely to benefit Muslims are urged to consider this initiative with an open mind. Constitutional amendment has all the potentials to usher in peace and tranquility if we approach it with sincerity.”
He should not plunge Nigeria to religious war —HURIWA
Also, Civil Rights advocacy group – Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA) has expressed utter and absolute shock at the CJN’s statement warning him not to instigate possible religious conflict by advocating full sharia law in the Nigerian constitution.
HURIWA in a statement, therefore called on the National Judicial Council to “remove Justice Muhammad from office before he plunged the nation into religious conflicts with his self centred campaign for Shariah law to be included fully in the Constitution and to be taught in Arabic language in universities.”
In a statement by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media Affairs Director, Miss. Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA urged the National Judicial Council (NJC) “to call the chief Justice to order to stop over heating the polity in the guise of promoting his attachment to his religion or get him removed from office immediately since he is attempting to defecate on the Constitution of Nigeria as it were and for his negligence of duty by failing to defend judicial integrity, judicial independence and the Principle of Separation of powers.
“The Chief Justice of Nigeria should not and must not be allowed to use his national office to drum up support for his private religious codes even against the fact that he swore an oath of allegiance to the constitution before he became chief Justice of Nigeria and not Chief Justice of Shariah law. Why has Justice Muhammad Tanko suddenly become the chief Islamic warrior of sharia law? Nigerians at this point in time cannot afford another over heated environment like we had in the late 1970’s when the first attempt was made as is being suggested by the current Chief justice of Nigeria. The campaign for full sharia by the chief justice of Nigeria is capable of igniting religious conflicts amongst diverse religious groups including African Traditional Religionists, Christians, and Atheists. He is the Chief justice of Nigeria who should defend the constitution and work for a free, egalitarian society whereby equality of rights are promoted and protected.