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CAN Rejects Attempt to Expand Sharia Court of Appeal Jurisdiction

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•It amounts to imposition on Christians, others
••constitution, human rights violation
…Jude Johnson

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Chapter has rejected a move to for constitutional amendment that to expand the scope of the Sharia Court of Appeal to include criminal jurisdiction.

The Chapter in a statement on Monday under the umbrella of Concerned Christians Citizens of Nigeria, called on the National Assembly to cease from entertaining the Bill tagged: “The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Alteration) Bill 2016” sponsored by Hon. Abdullahi Balarabe Salame (APC Sokoto State), seeking for the amendment of sections 262(1), 262(2) and 277(1) and the deletion of section 277(2) of the 1999 Constitution.

Further to this move, the group demanded  that the proposed Bill, which they noted is self-serving and divisive, should outrightly be rejected.

They argued that any further attempt by the National Assembly to enact the Bill into law would further polarise the Nigerian nation along religious lines, adding that “this should be avoided by all means.

“We therefore, urge all Nigerians who have the interest of this country at heart to denounce this Bill for the sake of the unity, peace, progress, and prosperity of our dear country”.

The christian group also alerted that the Bill went through first reading and second reading in the House of Representatives without any debate before it was referred to the Ad Hoc Committee on Constitution Review.

To this end, they gave a historical perspective in various attempts to smuggle Sharia law into the overall Nigerian legal jurisdiction with damning consequences for the citizens of other faith, particularly Christianity and traditional religions.

The full statement:

A CALL ON THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES TO HALT THE MOVE TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA BY EXPANDING THE JURISDICTION OF THE SHARIA COURT OF APPEAL TO INCLUDE CRIMINAL MATTERS.

1. We, Concerned Christians Citizens Of Nigeria, under the auspices of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) FCT Chapter, have received with rude shock, the news of the on-going surreptitious attempt by the House of Representatives to amend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, by expanding the scope of the powers of the Sharia Court of Appeal to include criminal jurisdiction.

2. In a Bill tagged “The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria [Alteration] Bill 2016” sponsored by Honourable Abdullahi Balarabe Salame (APC Sokoto State), the proponent of the Bill sought for the amendment of sections 262[1], 262[2] and 277[1] and the deletion of section 277[2] of the 1999 Constitution. The Bill went through first reading and second reading in the House of Representatives without any debate before it was referred to the Ad Hoc Committee on Constitution Review.

3. HISTORICAL ANTECEDENTS OF PREVIOUS ATTEMPTS TO IMPOSE SHARIA LAW ON THE COUNTRY

It is instructive to note that:

• Before the Second Republic, our Muslim brothers started the agitation for the full implementation of the Sharia law in Nigeria. The heated debates in the 1978 Constituent Assembly over the insertion of certain provisions relating to the 1979 Constitution are still fresh in our memories. As a compromise, Sharia Personal Law, i.e., without the criminal aspects, was allowed to be included in the 1979 Constitution. It is clear from the relevant provisions of the 1979 Constitution that Sharia Personal Law was intended to apply strictly to Muslims in resolving their family and personal matters, such as inheritance, marriages, etc.

• Again, at the 1998 Constituent Assembly, another attempt was made to re-introduce Sharia Criminal Law into the Constitution. The uproar that greeted that attempt led to the then Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, GCFR, to direct that the status quo be maintained by retaining the Sharia Personal Law provisions.

• Experience and studies have shown that some of our Muslim brothers have taken cover under the Sharia Personal Law in the Nigerian Constitution to declare their States “Sharia States” with legislations that proscribe and criminalise certain conducts:

o For instance, on 27th January, 2000 Zamfara State enacted the first Sharia Penal Code in Northern Nigeria.

o Since then, the following States, namely: Bauchi, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto and Yobe have enacted completely new Penal Codes to replace the 1960 Penal Code applicable in the Northern States.

o Along the same direction, Niger State amended the 1960 Penal Code Law by introducing a new section 68A to bring it in conformity with Sharia Penal Law.

o Meanwhile, work is ongoing in the preparation of Sharia Penal Code in Gombe, Kaduna and Katsina States.

Of significant note in the new Penal Code enacted by this so-called Sharia States, is the establishment of outfits known as Hisba, empowered under the Sharia Penal Codes to enforce the observance of Sharia Law by all and sundry within the States where these Penal Laws hold sway. The Hisba outfits have been involved in destroying the means of livelihood of people perceived to have contravened provisions of the Sharia Penal Code. Only in a few States have the activities of Hisba been subordinated to the authority of the Nigeria Police Force.

Punishments under the Sharia Criminal Codes include, retaliation (for homicide and grievous hurt), death by stoning (for adultery), amputation of hand and foot (for theft), caning and flogging and blood price (for unintended homicide). All these punishments, which had previously been out-lawed by the Colonial Administration, have now found their way into the Sharia Penal Codes.  In implementing the Sharia Penal Code, atrocities have been perpetrated against non-Muslims, particularly Christians in the so-called Sharia States.

Among innumerable cases of flagrant impunity perpetrated against non-Muslims are the following obvious few:

o The abduction in August, 2016 and forceful conversion of a 14-year old Christian girl, Habiba Ishaku, into Islam who was then married off to one Jamilu Lawal by the Emir of Katsina despite vehement objection from the father and other interest groups.

o The July killing of the wife of a Pastor, Mrs Eunice Elisha, by suspected Islamists at Kubwa, FCT, Abuja. Her offence? She dared to preach the message of salvation in the name of Jesus Christ near a Mosque.

o The killing of the leader of a Christian Fellowship group, Mr. Nuhu Achi at the Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, by suspected Muslim students who claimed that Prophet Mohammed was blasphemed.

o The killing of Mrs Bridget Agbahime, a Christian business woman, in Kano on 2nd June, 2016 over allegation of blasphemy and the subsequent arraignment and discharge of the suspected perpetrators of this heinous crime by a Magistrate’s Court in Kano at the instance of the Honourable Attorney-General of Kano State, claiming that there was no case for the suspects to answer.

o The abduction and purported conversion of another 14-year-old girl, Esere Oruru, from Bayelsa State, who was taken to Kano State.

o The killing of four Christians, destruction of a church, and looting of shops by a mob of Islamists over an allegation of blasphemy in Pandogari, Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State, on 29th May, 2016.

o The attack, on 15th July, 2016, on the members of St. Philips Catholic Parish, Baki Iku, close to Zuma Rock in Niger State and destruction of church property by a group of Muslim youths on the ground that Fridays are solely dedicated to Muslim prayers.

o The killing of eight people believed to have been trapped while attempting to loot and burn the house of a Christian said to have aided a Muslim convert to escape being killed at the Abdul Gusau Polytechnic in Talata Mafara, Zamfara State.

• Examples of other disadvantages suffered by Christians and non-Muslims under Sharia:

o The unwholesome denial of grant or renewal of rights of occupancy to churches and Christian Religious groups in the core North.

o Sponsoring of only Muslims for pilgrimage for religious rites.

o The construction of 90 mosques by the Jigawa State Government.

4. WHY WE REJECT THE BILL

❖ Gross Violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

Section 10 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, reaffirms the status of Nigeria as a secular State. That section provides that “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” As clear as this provision is, some States in Northern Nigeria have flagrantly ignored this Constitutional Provision and have made Islam “State Religion” under the guise that Sharia is a way of life for all Muslims. Although the Christian religion is a way of life for all Christians, the Christian populace in Nigeria has never insisted that Christian Religious Principles be enshrined in the Constitution or in any law in this country. We are aware of the discrimination and disadvantages suffered by non-Muslims in the hands of their Muslim brothers in these states where Christians are discriminated against because of their religious orientation.

Our aversion to this Bill stems from the fact that the current abuse perpetrated against non-Muslims in the face of clear and restrictive provisions of the 1999 Constitution, would exacerbate uncontrollably once the power of the Sharia Court of Appeal is expanded to include criminal matters. Our point here is that allowing the Bill would amount to a clear violation of the provision of section 10 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

❖ Gross Violation of Our Human Rights

Section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) guarantees the right of every Nigerian to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. What this Bill seeks to do is to discriminate against non-Muslims because all it does is to protect and provide for the interest of Muslims. Arming the Sharia Court of Appeal with adjudicatory powers in criminal matters, even if it is restricted to Islamic Criminal Jurisprudence, would be a weapon in the hands of overzealous Islamists who without such provision in the Constitution are already unleashing hardship and punishment on non-Muslims in the so-called Sharia States.

It is therefore our position that if passed into law, the proposed Bill would be a gross violation of the Fundamental Human Rights of Non-Muslims in Nigeria, particularly, Christians. It has the propensity or power to dehumanise all non-Muslims in many ways in addition to the gross negative effects of the Sharia Civil Law upon lives.

Nigeria has witnessed a systematic, and, in recent times, a concerted effort by the Islamists to prosecute their agenda of Islamising Nigeria by unleashing mayhem on innocent Christian communities and other non-Muslim citizens of this country, particularly in the Northern States of Nigeria. We believe that the time has come for all well-meaning Nigerians to stand up and demand for the return of our dear country to a true secular state where, every citizen, irrespective of his/her religious orientation, enjoys equal rights and opportunities under our law.

5. OUR DEMAND

Our demand, therefore, is that the proposed Bill, which is self-serving and divisive, should outrightly be rejected. Any further attempt by the National Assembly to enact the Bill into law would further polarize the Nigerian nation along religious lines. This should be avoided by all means.

We therefore, urge all Nigerians who have the interest of this country at heart to denounce this Bill for the sake of the unity, peace, progress, and prosperity of our dear country.

We thank you, gentlemen of the Press, for your kind attention.

Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

SIGNED:

CONCERNED CHRISTIAN CITIZENS OF NIGERIA/

CAN-FCT.


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