By Evang. Kwamkur Samuel Vondip
National Director, Legal and Public Affairs, CAN.
Suddenly, the media were awash with the screaming breaking news headlines: “Nigeria’s Chief Justice Wants Constitution Amended To Accommodate Sharia Law”; “Nigeria’s chief justice wants more Shari’a in constitution”; “Constitution should be amended to accommodate peculiarities of Shari’a – CJN.”
In the media reports, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad was reported to have publicly called for the amendment of the country’s constitution to “accommodate some of the concerns of Muslims and the Shari’a Law“ (Daily Trust).
He made the call on Wednesday in his keynote speech at the 20th Annual Judges Conference at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). His speech was read by the Grand Khadi of Niger State, Justice Muhammad Danjuma. Not only that, the CJN was also reported to have urged the academics to champion the cause of redesigning the methods of teaching Shari’a law; discard English as the language of instruction in Shari’a law and for a separate faculty dedicated to Shar’ia.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) notes that Nigerians are well aware that there are sections of the constitution which allow the implementation of Islamic Personal Law.
CAN observes that the CJN has neither denied any of the reports attributed to him nor has he clarified it. No person or association has come out with a contrary opinion. And we therefore regard it as a settled fact: the CJN did indeed say it. And much more, he meant it. He called for amendment to alter Nigeria’s current constitutional status to be religiously inclined – inclined toward one religion – Islam. Clearly, this looks like the path to making Islam a state religion.
No one can begrudge the CJN from peacefully practicing his faith. But to seek to transform it into having greater space in our constitution for only one religion is the height official immodesty.
CAN views this as the most reprehensible, reckless and insensitive statement made by a public officer, a jurist, the very head of Nigeria’s judiciary at that.
It is one more glaring case in our recent history where public officers, rather than see themselves in privileged positions to discharge responsibilities that promote national cohesion, dialogue, and understanding, remove suspicion and project Nigeria’s leadership, have instead turned around to be local and humdrum in their dispositions toward other parts of the country. Related cases are the heads of the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force who chose to cite specialised universities in their home areas using the public treasury. Perhaps the CJN is reinforcing the same mentality, this time using religious self-indulgence.
But then, we may pause and ask ourselves the following questions: are these actions by the military chiefs and the pronouncement of the CJN deliberately synchronised to promote regionalism and religious bias? Are we seeing the implementation of part of a much bigger plan to turn the country into one behemoth of a region and also one grand religion? Is Nigeria about to witness the sure move toward becoming an Islamic State and the possibility of the country being forcibly transformed into a Shari’a state? Could all these be part of the motivation for calling for laws that could stifle any national debate or crush opinions that are branded as Hate Speech and for the regulation of the social media? Was the CJN Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohamed already speaking on behalf of those who are conspiring to allow Islam dominate and subjugate other faiths? Was this agenda the reason Hon Justice Walter Onnoghen was crudely and hastily removed and Hon Justice Tanko hastily sworn in as CJN?
Hon Justice Tanko is obviously aware that there is a constitutional barrier to his dangerous idea. Section 10 of the constitution specifies: “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” The very first provision of the constitution states clearly in Section 1 (1): “This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons through the Federal Republic of Nigeria,”
So, he throws in what he believes is the solution: Amend the Constitution. And to do that, he is not talking of a national consensus. No. He simply states, “As we all know, there are sections of the constitution that allow the implementation of Islamic personal law and apart from that, we cannot do more. “However, we have the number to amend the constitution to suit our own position as Muslims.”
If the less educated, the unenlightened, the mischievous and the politically extreme can tinker with such permutations, certainly not a man of the learning, age, experience, exposure and publicly centred personality as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Does his position speak positively of a man who can still be trusted to hold the judiciary together as belonging to one nation with one people of various opinions, religious convictions and political persuasions?
Hon Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad has ushered in a potentially volcanic and voltrous debate. He, and those supporting and prodding him on expect to receive a feedback. Here is one: it is dangerous; it is condemnable; it is impractical; it is unwise, it is highly divisive, and unnecessarily so. Nigerians should rise with one voice and condemn it. They should tell their national and state legislatures to disregard it. We instead call for national unity based on the current constitutional provisions.
CAN counsels the CJN to instead show greater concern to the elements that will keep the country peaceful, serene, united, steadily growing and, with inclusive governance.
He should focus on how to bring greater reforms that will bring justice closer to the people devoid of technicalities, and the ridiculous complications we all saw during the sitting of tribunals, appeal panels and even the Supreme Court over which he presides.
CAN observes that Nigerians want to see safer highways, highly improved electricity supply, failure-proof roads, affordable and available health care and housing, jobs and empowerment for our youth and women as well freedom to ventilate their opinions.
On the other hand, CAN calls for the implementation of the 2014 National Conference Report. This will help give a balanced and proper expression to all parts of the country in how they wish to live and be governed in this 21st Century.
Hon Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad should think again. He hasn’t helped our country with this ignoble position. As an eminent jurist and head of a very critical arm of the government of the federation saddled with the responsibility of interpreting laws, what we generally expect of the CJN is patriotism in the course of his official function, not partisanship.