It is crucial to reiterate that we are in a constitutional democracy. As such, those in position of authority must remember that power belongs to the people. Therefore, any attempt to circumvent public trust by making laws that are irritable to a section of the country portends a grave danger for peace, stability and national unity.
The signing into law of the Companies and Allied Matters Bill 2020 by President Muhammadu Buhari on August 7 has been greeted with apprehension by various segments of society. The Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020, which was passed by the National Assembly replaces the 1990 CAMA. In part, sections 839(1) and (2) of the new law empowers the supervising minister of the Corporate Affairs Commission “to suspend trustees of an association [Church or NGO] and appoint…interim managers to manage the affairs of the association for some given reasons.” The law also empowers the registrar of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the supervising minister to regulate the activities of religious bodies and civil society organisations or charities, otherwise known as Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
Only recently, two Lagos-based lawyers, Joseph Siyaidon and John Osegi, approached the courts praying that some provisions of the new CAMA 2020 be declared unconstitutional. In like manner, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) asked the president to rescind his assent to the new law. It urged him to send the legislation back to the National Assembly to address its fundamental flaws. The rights group, which made the call in a letter dated August 22 equally asked the registrar-general of the CAC, Alhaji Garba Abubakar and the attorney general of the federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), not to enforce the CAMA 2020 until the National Assembly repeals the legislation. The group lamented that the provisions of the Act empowers government to arbitrarily withdraw or revoke the certificate of any association, suspend and remove its trustees and also merge two associations without their consent or approval. It also accused the government of pursuing initiatives that restrict the fundamental human rights enjoyed by the citizenry.
On its part, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in a statement to the Federal Government titled, “Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) rejects CAMA Completely,” which was issued by the special assistant on media and communications to the Association’s president, Reverend Samson Ayokunle regretted that the law is tantamount to a declaration of war on the Church. It not only dismissed the move but described it as “Satanic.” The body feared that CAMA “would snuff life out of the Church and rank the Church as a secular institution under secular control.”
Excerpts from the statement reads: “The leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria rejects outrightly the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020 that was assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari recently. The law, to say the least, is unacceptable, ungodly, reprehensible, and an ill-wind that blows no one any good. It is a time bomb waiting to explode. While we are not against the government fighting corruption wherever it may be found, yet we completely reject the idea of bringing the Church, which is technically grouped among the NGOs, under control of the government. The Church cannot be controlled by the government because of its spiritual responsibilities and obligations.”
In a series of questions, the apex Christian body asked: “How can the government sack the trustee of a Church which it contributed no dime to establish? How can a secular and political minister be the final authority on the affairs and management of another institution which is not political? How can a non-Christian head of (a) government ministry be the one to determine the running of the church?” while emphasising that, “It is an invitation to trouble that the government does not have power to manage.” The Association then urged the government to “face the business of providing infrastructure for the people [such as] health provision, food, education, adequate security employment, etc.”
CAN also maintained that: “The government should not be a busy body in a matter that does not belong to it. The government does not have the technical expertise to run the Church of God because of its spiritual nature. If the government is bent on imposing a law on us which the entire Church in Nigeria is against, then, they have declared war on Christianity and the agenda to destroy the Church which we have spoken against before now is coming to the open more clearly. If you cannot give us good amenities of life, we would not allow you to take away our liberty to worship our Maker.” The association surmised that government should “stop the implementation of the obnoxious and ungodly law until the religious institutions are exempted from it” and “return the law to the National Assembly for immediate amendment.”
“It is unfair that the Church is grouped among Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the country…(and)…be monitored and controlled by Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). The most annoying part of it is that the Act empowers the CAC to suspend board of trustees, including those of Churches suspected to have mismanaged their finance…”
On his part, the Catholic bishop of Nsukka Diocese, Most Reverend Professor Godfrey Onah had during his Sunday sermon on August 23 opposed the bill, citing government’s insensitivity. According to Bishop Onah: “The question many Christians have been asking is; where were Christian legislators during the debate on this bill and its passage in the National Assembly? Because, if they had opposed this bill on the floor of the House, it will not have been passed and sent to the president for assent. I blame Christian legislators for doing nothing and allowing the passage of the 2020 CAMA Act.”
He added that, “It is unfair that the Church is grouped among Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the country…(and)…be monitored and controlled by Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). The most annoying part of it is that the Act empowers the CAC to suspend board of trustees, including those of Churches suspected to have mismanaged their finance and appoint interim managers to manage their affairs. If this law is implemented, what it means is that Churches in the country have been reduced to ordinary secular organisations.”
The Bishop further emphasised that: “Government should focus (on) and monitor its ministries, agencies and other government institutions where it budgets billions of naira annually and not church offerings. Had it been that government gave allocations to churches and decided to monitor its usage, nobody will question government.” The Prelate who wondered what the Federal Government intends to achieve by monitoring how the finances of Churches in the country are managed, when it does not contribute a dime to the Church urged government to, as a matter of urgency, withdraw the law and amend it because it poses a threat to churches across the country.
To be sure, this is not the first time attempts have been made to cow Christians in Nigeria. The reader would recall that in 2017, there was a serious controversy on the proposed merger of Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) and Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) in the basic education curriculum. The two subjects, including Civic Education, had been put under Religion and National Values in the schools’ curriculum. Because the issue generated a lot of controversy for some months, the Federal Government decided to order the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) to separate the two subjects.
That is not all. In December 2019, Nigerians were scandalised by the submission of the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko-Muhammad over his push for the teaching of Sharia Law in Arabic language in Nigerian universities. The CJN, who was represented by the Grand Khadi of Niger State, Justice Muhammad Danjuma, made the remark while declaring open the 20th Annual Judges Conference held at the Faculty of Law Moot Court, Kongo Campus of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State. Appallingly, he reportedly blamed Muslims for their lukewarm attitude towards moving Sharia Law forward in Nigeria, advising that there should be a change of attitude towards promoting Sharia to a certain level of advancement.
As if that’s not enough, Nigerians from various religious and cultural persuasions watched as the nation was made a member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). As a reaction to the alleged enlisting of Nigeria as a member of the organisation and pronouncement by the minister of state for Foreign Affairs, the minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru made a frantic defence by stating that Nigeria remains a secular state, despite its membership of the OIC.
There is no time in the history of our nation that ideological divisions have continued to widen and weaken the common ground of the nation’s civic life than now. This is largely due to policy somersaults occasioned by selective perception and treatment.
In like manner, the transliteration of the Arabic script on the Nigerian Army logo “Nasruminallah”, which means “Victory Comes From God Alone” is another controversial capsule Nigerians are forced to swallow. This is in direct contravention of Section 10 of the Constitution, which provides that “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” While Section 38(1) states that, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance”, Section 45(1) provides that: “Nothing in sections 37,38,39,40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society – in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.”
Although a nation’s currency is a symbol of its nationalism and pride, the Arabic sign on our naira notes speaks volume about the point at issue. When the erstwhile governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Professor Charles Soludo removed the Arabic script on some newly minted naira notes, on 1 October 2015, the eve of Nigeria’s fifty-fifth independence anniversary, a Lagos-based organisation, Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) publicly demanded that the government reinstate the Arabic sign. Some Nigerians queried why he did not seek the permission of the Sultan of the Caliphate before doing the “unthinkable.”
In a similar scenario, in a story captioned “Islamic banking stirs up controversy in religiously-divided Nigeria” published on June 27, 2011, Alex Thurston reported that “The governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria is fielding criticism for exacerbating the country’s sectarian problems by allowing Islamic banking to make its debut in Nigeria.” Despite some miscarriages it suffered, the matter which began in March 2009 was able to give birth to JAIZ Bank.
As a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution states that Nigeria is a secular state. The Constitution does not only imply the secular nature of the Nigerian state but also “prohibits both states and the Federal Government from adopting any religion as state religion; and guarantees to every person the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the right to freedom from discrimination on grounds, inter alia, of religion.” In Chapter II under the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, the Constitution enjoins the state to provide facilities for, among other things, religious life. This provides a cover for the seeming superiority of one religion in preference for others, as we are currently witnessing.
In his 2014 research paper titled “Is Nigeria a Secular State? Law, Human Rights and Religion in Context”, Ogbu observed that: “While most Christians argue for separation of the Nigerian state from religion, most Muslims advocate the fusion of religion, the state and the law. To many of them, the Sharia ought to govern the totality of the life of a Muslim from cradle to grave.” There is no time in the history of our nation that ideological divisions have continued to widen and weaken the common ground of the nation’s civic life than now. This is largely due to policy somersaults occasioned by selective perception and treatment.
In their bestselling book The Limits of Constitutional Democracy, Tulis and Macedo (2010) proposed that we must interrogate the meaning of constitutional democracy in order to illuminate its future. Other scholars like Dworkin (2014) propose a theory of human dignity as common moral ground for rescuing a country’s politics from ideological warfare and the restoration of genuine peace. This requires sincerity and democratic accountability. Regrettably, the Red and Green Chambers of the National Assembly relish pandering to the executive to the detriment of the masses. It is crucial to reiterate that we are in a constitutional democracy. As such, those in position of authority must remember that power belongs to the people. Therefore, any attempt to circumvent public trust by making laws that are irritable to a section of the country portends a grave danger for peace, stability and national unity. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Justine John Dyikuk is a Lecturer in Mass Communication, University of Jos, editor of Caritas newspaper and Convener of the Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.