A few minutes before Speaker Aminu Abdullahi Shagali formally dissolved it on Friday June 7, Kaduna State House of Assembly passed into law the Religious Preaching Regulation Bill. Shagali said an inter-faith regulatory council shall be established in the state with a chairman to be appointed by the Governor, with two members representing Christian and Muslim faiths respectively.
Under the bill, a Local Government Inter-Faith Committee shall also be established in each of the state’s 23 LGAs. The bill stipulates that any person who plays religious cassettes or uses a loudspeaker for religious purposes in a public place between 11pm and 4am, or uses a loudspeaker for religious purposes other than inside a church or mosque commits an offence. He shall on conviction be liable to not less than two years in prison or a fine of not less than N200,000 or both. The bill adds that any person who publicly insults or seeks to incite against any religion by making false statement in such a manner as to lead to a breach of peace, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years or a fine of not less than N100,000 or both.
The bill, which was introduced three years ago, is an amendment to an existing law in the state which was enacted in 1984. To protect lives and property against the consequences of reckless religious preaching, the then Military Governor of Kaduna State, Air Commodore Usman Muazu, enacted Edict No. 7 in August 1984 to regulate religious preaching. An explanatory note said “the purpose of the Edict is to permit only learned and responsible religious preachers to preach in the state.”
Soon after it was introduced on the floor of the state assembly in 2016, the Religious Preaching Regulation Bill came under severe criticism from both Muslim and Christian clerics who argued that it infringes upon citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of religion. Former adviser to late Governor Patrick Yakowa on Islamic Matters, Shaykh Haliru Abdullahi Maraya advised Governor Nasir el-Rufa’i not to assent to the bill because “Section 38 (1) of the constitution serves as a licence to all Nigerians to propagate their religion and any law that is inconsistent with any provision of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should be considered void.”
Those who claim that the bill seeks to regulate religion misrepresent its essence which is to define the requisite criteria of persons who should engage in the public preaching of religion. The claim that the bill is intended to regulate religion is not only mischievous but also untrue. Indeed, it is time to curb the free-for-all nature of religious preaching in the multi-religious and heterogeneous Nigerian society. Religion, more than any other factor, has over the years been the instrument manipulated by unpatriotic Nigerians to destabilize the country or a section of it.
Incessant ethno-religious crises in Kaduna State particularly in the past three decades justify the Kaduna State lawmakers’ last-minute action in passing the Religious Preaching Regulatory Bill into law. Many innocent lives and properties worth millions of naira have been lost in Kaduna State due to religious disturbances often ignited by fanatics who lack adequate knowledge and understanding of their religion.
Nonetheless, provisions of this bill should be implemented firmly but sensitively. Council and Committee members at the State and local levels should respectively be fair in their recommendations for issuance of licenses to applicants that meet up with the stipulated requirements. Prejudice and sectarian sentiments should be avoided by members of the Regulatory Council as well as LGA Committees in the discharge of their functions. This is to forestall a situation where genuine applicants would unjustly be denied licenses to preach.
When Governor el-Rufa’i eventually assents to the bill, Kaduna State government would have courageously tackled a problem that has lingered for a long time in that part of the country. We urge the governor to sign this bill into law without delay.