Three years after it was introduced, the Kaduna State House of Assembly on Friday, June 7, 2019 passed the Religious Preaching Regulation Bill into law. The new Religious Preaching Regulation law is an amendment to a similar law of 1984 in the state. The Executive Bill, which was brought to the Assembly in 2016, was passed hours before the eighth Assembly was dissolved. The Speaker of the Assembly, Alhaji Aminu Shagali, presided over the sitting during which the bill was passed after it was read clause by clause.
The bill provides for the establishment of a 14-member Interfaith Regulatory Council at the state level and committees at local government level. The Regulatory Council will have two representatives each from Christian and Islamic bodies along with public servants and representatives of the police, the DSS, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps and the State Vigilance Service. The new law mandates the Council to hear and determine appeals to be brought before it arising from the decision of the local government interfaith committees.
The Interfaith Regulatory Council is also empowered to issue regulations considered necessary to guide the local government interfaith committees in the performance of their functions as provided under the bill. The bill stipulates that a committee to be known as the Local Government Interfaith Committee shall be established in each of the 23 LGAs of the state. This committee shall consider and recommend to the state Interfaith Regulation Council all applications for the grant of licence to religious preachers as well as screen and recommend preachers for the grant of license among other functions. The LGA Interfaith Committee may also issue preaching permits for invited or sponsored preachers for the duration of the programme or event. It will also monitor compliance with the terms of the preaching licenses or permits that have been issued.
While a supplementary provision of the bill requires that all cassettes, CDs, flash drives or any other communication gadgets containing religious recordings from accredited preachers may be played inside a private dwelling unit or vehicle, entrance porch (zaure in Hausa), church, mosque and any other designated place of worship; it further provides that any person who plays religious cassette or uses a loudspeaker for religious purposes between the hours of 11pm to 4am in a public place, and uses a loudspeaker for religious purposes other than inside church or mosque commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years or pay a fine of not less than N200,000 or both.
Soon after the bill was introduced in the state assembly in 2016, Muslim and Christian bodies as well as human rights activists across the state opposed it. There are others, too, who sincerely support the bill. Those against the bill say it is unconstitutional because, in their opinion, it inhibits an individual’s right to freedom of religion as enshrined in the country’s 1999 constitution. To make a case for its argument, this opinion quotes section 38 (1) of the constitution which 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 a community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
The above position is more of a misconstrued view of the freedom mentioned in the constitution. The freedom isn’t an unlimited liberty, which for example, permits a religious preacher to insult the sensibilities of others whether as followers of his own religion or as adherents of another faith. The same freedom mentioned in section 38(1) does not, by any stretch of the word, suggest that people without the requisite religious learning should preach God’s word. There can be no motive behind the bill other than ensuring that only those who qualify to preach are allowed to do so for the very important reason of peaceful co-existence.
The state government had argued when the bill was introduced in 2016 that the bill was meant to regulate religious preaching in order to promote religious harmony and peaceful coexistence not to stipple religious freedom. Indeed, the new law lacks any legal or semantic trait to indicate that it is designed to interfere with the practice of any religion. Rather, it is simply intended to stop “quack preachers” from manipulating religion for their political or economic interests.For instance, the explanatory note to the Kaduna State Edict No. 7 of 1984 stated that “the purpose of the Edict is to permit only learned and responsible religious preachers to preach in the state”.
If preaching were left unregulated and ignorant persons allowed to preach in modern Nigeria, more damage rather than good, would be done to religion and its orthodox practice. Most often, religious bigotry, fanaticism and extremism sprout from ignorance of the teachings of the religion professed by a religious bigot, fanatic or extremist.
Ignorance was a major factor that led to the Maitatsine religious crisis in Kano in the early 1980s. The leader of the religious sect, Muhammad Marwa and his indoctrinated followers preached and practiced Islam in the weirdest form; due mainly to ignorance. It was for the sake of forestalling a recurrence of the same tragedy that some northern states in the country including Kaduna state enacted edicts in 1984 to regulate preaching. It is this edict that the bill recently passed by the Kaduna State House of Assembly seeks to amend to make it genuinely functional with a view to averting the ethno-religious crises that has made Kaduna since 1987 a home to incessant disturbances; many of them violently catastrophic. The argument advanced by those who see the bill as an infringement on some constitutional rights of citizens is only oblivious of the fact that there are more dos and don’ts in one’s religion than any restrictions ‘presumed’ to be promoted by the bill.
Besides, there is no aspect of human life or activity that isn’t regulated either by divine or humanoid law. For example, we regulate teaching by stating that only NCE graduates who have been licenced by TRCN qualify to teach. We also regulate the practice of law in Nigeria by stating that only graduates of LLB who have passed their Law School exam qualify to stand as counsels in courts of law. So, what is wrong with signing a bill that only persons with basic knowledge of his religion should be licenced to preach?
While I urge Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai of Kaduna state to sign the bill into law, governors of other states especially in the north are encouraged to emulate him. May Allah (SWT) guide them to sincerely do so, amin.