A constitutional lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome has disagreed with the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, who called for the amendment of the constitution to accommodate some of the concerns of Muslims including redesigning the method of teaching sharia law in Arabic as against English, establishment of sharia faculties etc. CJN made the call at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, faculty of law Moot Court.
In his reaction at the Arise News Abuja Studio watched by TheNigeriaLawyer (TNL), Chief Ozekhome SAN says what many Nigerians do not know is that the constitution has already recognized sharia law. He said:
“There are about 21 sections up to 2 schedules that have already recognized sharia law actually. I do not know what else did Chief Justice wanted except if he is saying that Nigeria should be made totally sharia Islamic country and to that extent I will not agree with him because religion is a personal matter between a person and his God.”
Citing section 1(1), the learned silk added that the Nigerian constitution is the supreme law of the land and all persons and authorities must obey it and any other law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution shall be void to the extent of its inconsistency. That section 10 has made Nigeria a secular state so issue of amending the constitution to make one religion compulsory does not arise.
“So to that extent, section 10 of the constitution actually provides a secular state not recognizing any religion. It says neitherthe federal government nor state government shall adopt any religion as state religion and section 38 makes it clear that every citizen is entitled to freedom of religion and conscience. And when you look at section 39, freedom of association of assembly, section 36 right to fair hearing, you will discover that compulsion has no place in religion. So you cannot begin to talk about amending the constitution to build in sharia more and may be make it compulsory. You have to scale through the hurdles of section 9 of the constitution which requires two third majority votes of all the states in Nigeria. There are 36 states and FCT, meaning that you must get 24 states to support any amendment of the constitution to accommodate sharia law in a special way.” Ozekhome said.
He also said that those fighting for God are missing it. “You can’t fight for God cause he is already self-determining.” that even in Holy Quran in chapter 109, the Holy Prophet himself (Peace be unto Him) was persecuted by the people of Mecca. They felt that he should worship their idols. In fact they promised to give the Holy prophet a maiden to marry; to make him their king and to give him money (wealth) if he will worship their gods but according to Ozekhome, SAN the Holy Prophet told them:
“oh you who do not believe, I worship not that which you worship nor do you worship that which I worship, do not expect me to worship that which you have been worshipping and I will do not expect you to worship that which I worship. To you your religion and to me my religion.”
The learned silk went on to say that when the sharia issue started in Zamfara state many years ago and in 2001, it swept across many states in the North: Kano, Borno, Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna. And then in 2002 a lot of people, about 100 of them, were slaughtered over protest against sharia. He recounted the story of a man whose hand was amputated that drew the ire of international community and NGOs. That because people felt it is their personal law and want to embrace that law and amputate people’s hands and kill themselves by stoning themselves to death for some offences including apostasy, which to him even the Holy Prophet did not say you they should kill for that, “so be it!”. But that those who do not subscribe to that belief should be left alone. He said:
“Leave others out who do not want to go along that line. I for example I am a Christian, not just a Christian I am a catholic. Not just a catholic, I am a knight in the Catholic Church. And in July this year by the grace of God I passed the 4th degree exams which we sat for in Agbo, which is the final stage of being a knight in the Catholic Church, being a soldier for Christ. There is nothing you can do for example to compel me to change my religion. Actually my father and mother were Muslims but yet they didn’t even force me to change my religion. But after my father’s death, my mother decided that she wanted to be a Christian. So I helped her, she was baptized and she was comfirmed and she died a Christian. Meaning even right now in our village, in our home, many of us are Muslims, many of us are Christians. We do not discriminate between one and the other. Some of them whenever things are good I send them to Mecca for hajji; I send them to medina, let them go and carry out one of the 5 obligations of Islam. So, nobody should therefore discriminate against another on the basis of sex or of religion and of status in life”
When asked as to what should be done to prevent personal belief from having influence in governance, he said the government of the day must have the will to allow Nigerians to practice religion according to the dictates of their conscience and that they should focus on governance and leave out issues of religion or personal belief between them and their God.
“I don’t believe in all these sponsored pilgrimages. What is the business of government sponsoring people to Rome, to Jerusalem, to Israel, to Medina, to Mecca. Is that the business of government? When people are hungry? When there is no light, where there are no road for us to pass? Where there is no good head system but they themselves will go abroad with their children, to go and get the best head system when education is in comatose but their children are in ivy leagues all over the world, when insecurity pervades the society and no one can travel and sleep in the car. If you are not abducted on the road, you are waylaid in the forest, you are waylaid in the market, even at your worship centre”
He said issues of corruption are on the ground with the government getting more corrupt than the people. That corruption has become more powerful than the 36 states including FCT combined but same must be fought within the bounds of the law and sensitive religious and ethnic issues should be avoided. The state should not be a mere geographical expression as suggested by Chief Awolowo.