“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”, states a memorandum sent by the Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria to the Senate Commission for Constitutional Review. This was reported by Fides News Agency.
Recalling that “the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a product of and an imposition of the military”, the Bishops affirm “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”.
In 1999 the military dictatorship fell but in order to protect the democratization process, the new Constitution was left with a wide margin of freedom to the governors of the various States regarding the type of legal system to be applied in their own jurisdiction, allowing over the years to 12 northern states of the Federation to adopt the Sharia law also in criminal matters. According to the Bishops, this situation has introduced forms of discrimination against non-Muslims and non-respect for fundamental human rights, such as freedom of conscience.
“Complaints abound about 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”, affirm in their memorandum “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. 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. 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”, concludes the memorandum.