Christian Court in Nigeria – Diverse Perspectives!

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Christian Court Nigeria

News broke on the 6th December, 2016 as the House of Representatives passed a bill to set up the Ecclesiastical (Christian) Court of Appeal in Nigeria through second reading. According to the sponsor of the bill, Gyang Dung from Plateau State, in conjunction with eight others, the bill seeks to make 14 alterations in about 10 sections of the Nigerian constitution and make another 4 insertions. Mr. Dung emphasized that the amendment would activate section 37(1) of the 1999 constitution which states – “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.” He said, the Ecclesiastical courts, when established would complement the regular courts by adjudicating in matters that concerns the tenets of the christian faith which shall be between individuals or groups that yield and submit to its jurisdiction.

“It will bring to reality the administration of Ecclesiastical Christian tenets and law in adjudicating matters of personal Christian law and civil matters”, says Hon. Gyang Dung.

Related post: The New Curriculum Controversy: Unveiling the Third Perspective and Opportunity to Spread Christianity

Recall that, few years ago, the formal President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), threatened to sue National Assembly and Attorney-General of the Federation over the absence of Ecclesiastical Courts in the 1999 Constitution. Agbakoba, in a petition to the then Senate President had argued that the absence of the provision for the establishment of the said court is a violation of section 42 of the 1999 Constitution, which prohibits discrimination of any citizen on the basis of religion. Mr. Agbakoba said, “Islamic and Customary practitioners are well recognized and accommodated in the Constitution by the Customary and Islamic court system in Sections 260, 265, 275 and 280. But no corresponding provision is made for Christians or Ecclesiastical Courts.” He then recommended that, necessary alteration should be made to the Constitution to allow for the establishment of Christian and Ecclesiastical Courts. He opined that in a multi-religious country as ours, Christians should not be made to feel discriminated against by being forced to resort to secular Courts which are manned by persons with little or no knowledge of Ecclesiastical law and jurisprudence, especially in matters pertinent to their faith.

Inference from the foregoing could lead one to conclude that the proposed establishment of Ecclesiastical Court in Nigeria is a corollary or parallel to the existing Sharia Court. It seeks to establish an equilibrium of rights to religion. However, divergent opinions have been trailing the development since the news broke. Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede who is also the Registrar of JAMB is of the opinion that the proposed Christian Court is a recipe for anarchy and should be stopped. The Public Relations Officer of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Rev. John Hayab in a like manner argued that the bill might trigger religious crisis. He is of the opinion that this kind of bill is not what Nigerians need now, and the lawmakers should make laws that unite rather that divide us further. Hayab also noted that adherents of other religions apart from Christianity and Islam could as well demand for courts that uphold their tenets. While majority of Christians think there is nothing wrong in having a Christian Court since there is the Sharia Court for Muslims, few think, there are more pressing issue plaguing the country presently to which our legislators should apply their attention. In other discussions, Christians are being taunted with the questions of, on which penal code will adjudication in that court be based?. Could it be that of Old Covenant, such as “an eye for an eye” or that of New Covenant such as “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more”? In fact, opinions could be as divers as 170 million and more. Let’s take a surgical look into the basis for those opinions.

Public Sentiment and Indulgence

Nigeria’s public do habitually indulge their political class by a reprimand such as, ‘there are other issues to which they should accord higher priorities than the so called inconsequential ones’. Truly, there are more important economic, education, and unemployment issues but if the number of our political officers was to be justified by their effectiveness, no issue should be left unattended to. In essence, it is not right for us to shy away from issues of religion balance because there are more ‘important issues’. So, if some people are criticizing the legislators or the bill for the establishment of Christian Court because there are more ‘important issue’, that criticism lacks objectivity. Therefore, it is right for them to discuss and decide at this time, not other time, whether the bill is to become a law or not and also to discuss every other important issues. Mostly, public sentiment and indulgence are engendered by the spirits of competition and selfishness. Most people seem to throw objectivity in the gutter while defending their religion, no matter what. It sounds like, "whatever it is, we are always right, they are always wrong!"

Solving an Impropriety with Another Impropriety

Another school of thought believe that, a pluralistic country as Nigeria should be governed by secular constitution, and the inclusion of Sharia Code in the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 is an askance. They think, trying to balance out the Sharia Court with another impropriety of Ecclesiastical Court is wrong altogether. So, because of the saying that, two wrongs don’t make a right, Christian Court should not be made to add anarchical dimension to the precipitated religious crisis brought about by Sharia code in Nigeria. Though, neither Sharia Court nor Ecclesiastical Court is right for Nigeria, some people think we shouldn’t add more and consequently aggravate the already tensed situation.

A Needed Revolution

This is another basis for people’s argument for or against. Obviously, no mere remedy could expunge the Sharia Code from our constitution, since it is constitutional and the elements that inculcated it would always be the majority in our judiciary, legislature and military institutions. That is the fraud, brought about by the British-orchestrated and perpetuated population census since 1963. The false preamble of the Nigerian Constitution is even contributory to solidifying the stay of Sharia Code in it, it says “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having firmly and solemnly resolved, to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible an indissoluble nation under God…Do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution:-“. I do not believe, we the people agreed to give ourselves that self-contradictory constitution, but that’s what it is. It takes the majority to alter the constitution, but if the ‘majority’ will not vote to expunge Sharia code, a drastic measure must be taken to at least get even. Those living in non-Sharia-practicing states may never understand what it means to get even. So, in the quest for getting even, some people will argue that establishing the Christian Court is a revolutionary panacea. Notwithstanding, such court would not be necessary in all the states, just as the Sharia Court was not.

Global View about Christian Court

A peep into judiciary systems across the world reveals that the term, Ecclesiastical Court and its practice used to be popular in years prior to 18th century, but reverse is the case in the present world. Except the Middle-Eastern countries where monarchical form of government still hold sway, the First-World nations have all embraced democratic governance in recognition of the pluralistic nature of their societies. If Ecclesiastical Court is found anywhere in the world today, their jurisprudence is restricted to those matters that concern churches and clergies, not the general civil matters. People with this kind of global view would no doubt argue against the establishment of religious court of any faith. To them, such practice belongs to the anal of history, in the Middle-Age!

In conclusion, a total overhauling of the Nigerian Constitution to reflect all-inclusiveness, zero bias and possibly absolute secularism would be the best option. However, in the short term, if most Nigerian clamour for a non-violent revolution in solving most of the institutional problems, we need not shy away when a revolutionary approach as this is being canvassed. We should also brace ourselves in preparation for whatever a bloodless revolution will bring. Where their is action, there are consequences!

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