Leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Kaduna State met yesterday to deliberate on a controversial religious bill awaiting the assent of the governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.
The CAN leaders, comprising two members each from the 23 LGAs of the state, have now asked Governor El-Rufai to channel the energy of his administration towards protecting the people from banditry instead of trying to stop religious preaching.
The leaders had earlier expressed support for the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) which challenged the constitutionality of the bill in 2016, and welcomed the State High Court judgment declaring the issuance and licensing of clerics in the state as “illegal”.John Hayab, a reverend and state Chairman of CAN, said after the meeting: “It is no longer news that people within Kaduna state are repeatedly being robbed, abducted or killed by bandits, often identified as herdsmen almost on a daily basis.
“Manifestly, the government seems to have failed in its key responsibility of safeguarding lives and property of the people since armed bandits now, than ever before, continue to cause hapless citizens havoc at any time they so wish without fear of being captured.”
Hayab urged El-Rufai to see insecurity as a more serious problem that required urgent attention than the religious preaching he’s trying to control.
A State High Court had last Wednesday declared that the state had no rights to screen and issue licenses to religious preachers in the state. The court presided over by Justice Hajaratu Gwadah had maintained in her ruling that the state government had no rights to regulate religious activities in the state. Justice Gwadah also ruled that screening and issuing licenses to religious preachers was unconstitutional.
Hayab, who addressed a press conference at the CAN Secretariat along Ibrahim Taiwo Road, Kaduna, appealed to Governor El-Rufai to obey the court ruling on the religious preaching bill.
Hayab declared that the bill was designed to bully Christians in the state and would not stand the test of time. He said: “We invited you here to make a public statement on some recent developments in Kaduna State, particularly the recent court’s ruling on the controversial Executive Bill seeking to regulate religious preaching in our dear state.
“We wish to state that the judgment of the court is a welcome development and a huge relief to all peace-loving people in the state, both Christians and lovers of peace from other faiths.
“Given the ominous purpose of the bill, we stand with the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria Kaduna State Chapter to legally pursue the matter to the apex court of the land.
“CAN is calling on the government to retrace its steps and focus on people-oriented programmes and stop exploiting religious differences to further polarize the citizenry.”
He stressed that if the government refused to listen to “wise counsel” and ignored the court’s ruling on the bill to regulate religious preaching in the state, CAN would seek alternative ways of making their grievances known to the world.
The bill had been with the assembly for three years and had been opposed by Muslim and Christian bodies as well as individuals across the state.
The opposition of both the Muslim and Christian bodies in the state to the bill may be a result of the provisions of the bill.
The law provides for the establishment of an Interfaith Regulatory Council at the state level and committees at local government levels responsible for screening and issuing license to preachers. The Local Government Interfaith committee shall consider and recommend to state Interfaith Regulation Council all applications for the grant of license to religious preachers as well as screen and recommend preachers for the grant of license among other functions.
The law further states 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. It states that any person who publicly insults or seeks to incite contempt against any religion, by making false statements in such a manner that can likely lead to 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.