The essence of the religious policy of the Nigerian state is best expressed by Section Ten of the 1979 and 1999 Constitutions which carry a short prohibition section stating: “The Government of the Federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as a State Religion.” This formulation followed the acrimonious debate in the 1978 Constituent Assembly over the establishment of a Shari’a Court of Appeal. Specifically, many Christians saw the suggestion as the first step towards the establishment of an Islamic state in the country. Muslims on the other hand argued that the established of the Appeal Court was a logical extension of the existence of inferior Shari’a courts, which Muslims had been demanding for, for a long time. In the compromise that emerged, the Shari’a Court of Appeal was established but its appellate jurisdiction was limited to civil law. The Shari’a question entered a new phase on 27th October 1999 when the then Governor Ahmed Sani Yerima of Zamfara state inaugurated the adoption of the Shari’a legal system, which took effect from 27th January 2000. The Zamfara Law extended the application of Shari’a from personal law to criminal law. Following the Zamfara example, eleven other Muslim dominated states in the North also adopted similar laws.
Constitutional provisions often reflect mediating between difficult choices and that is the reality of Section Ten. In general, Christian activists have argued for a secular clause while Muslim activists consistently opposed the idea of a secular provision in the Constitution respectively. The formulation in Section 10 was done by the Obasanjo Administration in 1979 in such a way as to assure each group that the Constitution respects its core values. To satisfy Muslim concerns, the word secularism is not used in the Constitution. To satisfy the Christians, the Grand Norm provides a guarantee against the adoption of a state religion. To achieve this dual purpose, the formulation of Section 10 has to a certain extent been coined to be deliberately ambiguous. The result has been constant haggling over the “true” meaning of Section 10. While some have argued that the provision guarantees secularism, others have contested the assertion. The major problem with the provision is that it appears to allow for preferential treatment to be accorded to particular religions without formally adopting the said religion as a state religion.
If you are happy to be contacted by a Daily Trust journalist please leave a telephone
number that we can contact you on. In some cases a selection of your comments will
be published, displaying your name as you provide it and location, unless you state
otherwise. Your contact details will never be published. When sending us pictures,
video or eyewitness accounts at no time should you endanger yourself or others,
take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws. Please ensure you have read the
terms and conditions.