A call by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, for the amendment of the constitution to broaden the application of Sharia law in the country has generated sharp reactions from some stakeholders of the two major religions in the country – Islam and Christianity.
While the umbrella body of Christians, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), rejected the idea of any constitutional amendment for the purpose of adding to the Shariah content in the nation’s constitution, some Muslim leaders and scholars described the CJN’s call as a welcome development.
A human right group also on Friday, condemned the CJN’s call warning him not to plunge the country into a religious war.
Justice Muhammad had made the call on Thursday at the opening of the 20th Annual Judges Conference at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.
The CJN said: “As we all know, there are sections of the constitution that allow the implementation of Shari’a personal law and apart from that, we cannot do more. However, we have the numbers to amend the constitution to suit our own position as Muslims.”
The CJN was represented at the event by the Grand Khadi of Niger State, Justice Muhammad Danjuma.
He was reckless, should be sacked —CAN
However, reacting to the CJN’s statement, CAN, through a statement by Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, the Special Assistant (Media and Communications) to its president, Reverend Samson Ayokunle, urged the CJN to deny the statement which it said was capable of provoking a religious crisis in the country.
The CAN statement reads in part: “We have not seen the full text of the paper presented and we learnt the Chief Justice was represented at the event. So, it is difficult to know if the speech was that of the Chief Justice’s or his representative’s.
“We don’t believe that such a reckless and provocative statement could be made by the number one judicial officer in the country. How could the CJN say, ‘We as Muslims have the numbers to amend the constitution…’? It is not possible. It is either he was misquoted outright or quoted out of context.
“Otherwise what is the fate of Christians in his court if he could be so openly partisan and parochial? Do we take it that what he said is the official position of this regime on inter-faith relations? Why has no one in the leadership of the executive and the legislature taken him up on it?
“The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is eagerly awaiting the rebuttal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria on the unfortunate and unguarded utterances that can provoke a religious crisis in the country.
“Be that as it may, asking for the constitutional amendment with a view to adding to the Sharia contents is ill-timed, provocative and unacceptable. In our previous meetings with President Muhammadu Buhari, we made it abundantly clear to him that the lopsided appointments of his government in favour of a religion and a section of the country is unacceptable.
“Although he promised to look into the observation with a view to addressing it, what we are seeing and hearing about the government is the continuation of the lopsided appointments. There is enough evidence to prove that the subtle Islamisation agenda and nepotism are real.
“These are direct contradictions to some portions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). These include but not limited to sections 10, 13 (3-4), 15 (2) (d) and (4). It is widely believed that no country survived two civil wars. Our leaders should be mindful of the complexities of the people they are leading. There have been presidents who are Christians and during their time, there was never a time they promoted their religion at the expense of others. Our leaders should stop paying lips service to the unity and peace of the country.
“The above statement credited to the Chief Justice appears to comfirm our fears that the appointments were done towards a religious end of islamisation.
“Those in government are warned not to use the cheap popularity or acceptance they seek to set the two religions against each other. This type of statement, if true, is enough for the president of the country to intiate the removal of this chief justice from office. He is religiously biased and partisan.
“These are not the best of times for the country and the citizenry and both the government and the governed must rise up to the challenges.
“Like it was said during the unfortunate civil war, ‘keeping Nigeria one is a task that must be done’. This is why some are calling for a return to the old national anthem. The CAN leadership at all levels is praying for the protection and healing of our country but let those in positions of leadership help our prayers to be answered by their actions and utterances.”
He spoke well —Muslim leaders
However, the Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Professor Afis Oladosu, saw nothing wrong with the CJN’s statement, describing it as a furtherance of the desire of Muslims which had long been ignored.