The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), on Thursday asked the National Assembly to expunge from the 1999 Constitution all references to Sharia Islamic law.

The Bishops also urged the lawmakers to project the secularity of Nigeria pursuant to Sections 10 and 38 of the Constitution as no other religion is recognized by the supreme law of the country except Islam.

In the copy of its memorandum presented to the Senate Committee on Constitution Review made available to reporters in Abuja, the CBCN stated that there must be an end to the established status that Islam enjoys in the Constitution before Nigeria can have lasting peace and unity.

The memorandum, which was co-signed by the CBCN President, Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, and the Secretary of CBCN, Bishop Camillus Umoh, maintained that the 1999 constitution was an imposition of the military, adding that it has put Christians and adherents of other religions at a disadvantage in any place with a Muslim majority.

The Catholic Bishops’ memo reads in part: “Regarding the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we state in the first place that there was no time Nigerians convened as individual stakeholders or as represented citizens to decide on or give it to them as a binding law or constitution. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a product of and an imposition of the military.

“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.

“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. In particular, there have been complaints about the special bias, recognition and prominence accorded to Islam in the Constitution of this nation, Nigeria.

“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.

“It translates to the adoption of Islam as a State religion. Of course, the enforcement of Sharia laws with public funds amounts to those States adopting Islam as a religion. We submit that adopting sharia law(s) as a State laws(s) amounts to adopting the religion founding those laws as state religion; and this violates Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution”.

It went further that: “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. This should be redressed.

“For the sustenance unity and fairness in this country, the Senate has to take seriously this stand of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria in response to its call for memoranda on the Review of the 1999 Constitution; and has to see this Constitution review exercise as an opportunity to give sincere listening ear to Nigerians to whom the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended) later referred to as ‘The 1999 Constitution’ remains an imposition.

“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 (As Amended).”

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