Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN has kicked against a bill seeking to prohibit and prevent religious discrimination against adherents and practitioners of different faiths and beliefs in Nigeria.
The Association said that the bill if eventually passed into law will cause chaos, confusion, division and crises in Nigeria.
CAN made the declaration when the sponsor of the bill and member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Said Musa Abdullahi from Niger State paid a courtesy call on its leadership to solicit their support.
The bill titled “Religious Discrimination (Prohibition, Prevention, ETC) Bill 2021)” essentially seeks to provide a mechanism for enforcing certain provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as altered, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant national and international laws and conventions on religious freedom and tolerance.
Section 4(1) of part B of the bill states: “A person shall not, directly or indirectly or by any combination of the two, be intimidated, harassed, victimized or discriminated against on the basis of religious belief or activity or on the ground of manifestation of religion or religious belief or any other ground of a characteristic that people who have or engage in the religious belief or activity generally have; and on the ground of a characteristic that people who have or engage in the religious belief or activity are generally presumed to have or manifest which may include wearing religious emblem, head cover, hijab, scarf, habit, decent and modest religious dress”.
Speaking at the meeting in Abuja on Tuesday, the President of CAN, Rev. Dr Samson Ayokunle said the Bill if passed into law will enforce discrimination rather than uniting the country.
He said: “We have laws already that can take care of discrimination. And if anyone is discriminated against, the court is open. The bill if passed will enforce discrimination rather than war against it.
“The bill is causing wahala. You don’t sit on my nose because you have a right to sit down. Beyond your good intent to solve a problem, we may be creating many other ones. There is no mutual respect.
“Your name will go into history as one who disregarded the rights of the Christians to promote their own in their institutions.
“Why do we have not to wage war against ourselves? Why do we want to wake up a problem which is sleeping?
“Wearing of hijab has not made any student more intelligent. Piety is in the heart. In a multi-ethnic nation like ours, school uniform creates uniformity, classless.
“Once you pass that bill, be prepared for a state of confusion”, he said.
The CAN president recalled the crisis in Kwara State, saying that a legal backing to a bill will escalate the situation.
“I met with the Governor of Kwara State here in Abuja, in Aso Rock, and I told him, ‘Do you know that this problem had been before you? But the governors before you managed it with wisdom and through many other means…persuasion, getting closer to the people, etc.
“Now, the problem I see in us, especially the radicalisation of religion that is now coming, which has been heating up the polity, is that there has been no Islamic school established for Western education where the Muslims who established it has not helped that community to develop. And there is no Christian institution established in any place that has not opened up that place for development. If that is at the bottom of our hearts, why do we now have to wage war against ourselves on what has been working?
“For Kwara State, many people, great rulers in Kwara now went to Christian institutions in that place. I asked, ‘Is this the way to pay back the Christian institutions which provided an opportunity for you? It is part of what you are today.’ And when did the Christians in that location start to be destroying Kwara communities? No time! So, why should anybody wage a war in terms of wearing dress against them? What would have been more respectful is that in all the public institutions, yes, wear hijab; nobody is fighting about or against that. But to now say that in your school also, we must put that there; It will not be respected.
Earlier, some members of the CAN leadership which included its National General Secretary, Barrister Daramola Joseph Bade, Professor Sam Amadi, Professor Yusuf Turaki, Rev. Williams Okoye and Rev. Bayo Oladeji asked the lawmaker to immediately withdraw the bill.
For instance, Daramola in his remarks stated “Are we oblivious that Nigeria is a member of Islamic Association? We were heavy spenders under General Babangida.
“I don’t want to believe there is an ulterior motive behind this bill. Is it a kind of bill that will bring money to Nigeria?
“I don’t subscribe to it no matter what colouration is given to it. The bill or sponsors of this Bill should drop it now. We should not go further.
“Some of our Muslim brothers don’t even want it. Nobody has raised any objections to people wearing this. Let this bill be dropped.”
Similarly, Professor Turaki said the central focus of the bill was on wearing of hijab to which he objected to.
“There are serious religious violations in the North. In some areas, Christians are being discriminated against. I didn’t see in your bill.
“Are Muslim women denied the right of wearing hijabs? If there are, your bill stands the right. If not, your bill doesn’t stand.
“The central focus of your document is hijab. This bill is a bill for hijab. Nigerians will ask themselves, why is hijab becoming a problem since it has never been a hijab? A bill is not yet enforced yet it has become a fight. I bet you, it is going to engulf this country.
“The intent of the bill is to target Christian institutions in Nigeria. Every other place is allowed to wear hijab. Christians establish Institutions in order to serve their God. I do not see how this bill is going to protect Christian institutions. Is your bill going to protect Christian institutions of all kinds or one today? This bill will be misinterpreted?
“We have Boko Haram in the northeast because of sharia, we have bandits, herdsmen, those states are now called sharia states. They said they are going to bring development in the far north but today, it is a sorry state. So, by bringing a hijab, you are going to add division to chaos, crisis. Give it legal backing, it will set Nigeria ablaze. This bill is going to create crises upon crises. This bill should be withdrawn and not to be discussed and passed by the national assembly”, he said.
On his own, Professor Amadi said “Do we really need another legislation? Even in Europe, where there is an issue with hijab, there are no such laws. They do not need a law
“The bill seems to me that it is primarily focused on hijab. It is focused on hijab even in private schools. It creates a problem. Even some of these provisions undermine the rights of religion.
“It seems to me is overreaching, and undermine the religious freedom”.
The sponsor of the bill, Hon. Saidu Musa Abdullahi had earlier appealed to the association for their support.
“We came up with a proposal which tilts towards proffering solution to the problem that has become a clog in our wheel of progress for quite a while now. A lot of people will say that religious issues are too sensitive to be discussed, but I feel that if you have a problem and you don’t talk about it, you are not likely going to a solution to it. It is in appreciation of that that we came up with a bill which has gone through first and second reading in the House.
“We are not preparing for the public hearing and it is my practice to build consensus around any proposal that I come up with. We decided to come here and build that consensus before going to that public hearing.
“If we must move forward as a country, we must create a forum to discuss all these things, create understanding and enhance mutual understanding before we can move ahead as a country. I see a problem that has become a big challenge and we have shied away from it over the years. It is the issue of religious discrimination.
It has been mirrored to just one aspect of discrimination. So, we came up with a proposal to address religious discrimination in this country. When we came up with the proposal, it was not really about the hijab issue that it has become today. Some of the things contained in the proposal were informed by some of the things we see happening in the country.
We came up with the idea in 2019 and wanted to come by way of a motion to discuss the issue. But we got a superior argument that we should provide a legal framework for prohibiting discrimination against people on the basis of their religious belief. There are so many sections of the constitution that guaranteed people the right to religion without discrimination. But we have seen this issue rearing its ugly head over the years and it is really taking us back as a country.
“Religion has become a source of hatred in this country and it has dampened the confidence and trust that we are supposed to have among ourselves. If we cannot build consensus and understanding and appreciate who we are as a people, I think we will not be getting it right and we will be making our nation-building efforts a lot more difficult. A lot of people have come up with proposals on how they think the country should be run; including the idea of balkanization. I do not think balkanization is the solution to the problems that we have.
The solution is for us to provide a platform for us to understand ourselves and appreciate some of our differences, discuss them and come to a common ground on what we think is better for this country. So, the proposal is tilted towards proffering a solution to an issue that I feel has become a clog on our wheel of progress.
What we are trying to achieve is to ensure that people enjoy some freedom in the public space. We want people to have the liberty to manifest their religious belief in the public space.
“Let it be on record that I will never be part of anything that will cause division in the country. I am not out to cause any confusion in this country. The proposal is to find a lasting solution to the problem in this country.
“I didn’t do it because I am a Muslim. This is not a complete document yet. By the time we get to the public hearing, people will make their inputs which will form part of the law.
There is a lacuna in the constitution. It is not enough. This is an opportunity to discuss it. I am just interested to see that this country works for us.
“I am so mindful of the sensitive and delicate nature of religious issues in Nigeria.
“I understand some of these hiccups that’s why I decided to make this call to build consensus. There will be a public hearing too”, Abdullahi stressed.