Catholic Priest Fears Nigeria’s Secular Status

Religious insignias
Religious insignias

A Catholic priest has expressed fear over the loud-mouthed Nigeria’s secular status considering the roles played by any government in power in the country in undermining such constitutional conferral.

Rev. Fr. Thomas Ebong in an interaction with Straightnews recalled that “Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari recently flew out to Istanbul for the D-8 meeting. I wonder how many Nigerians understand the meaning of D-8?”

On October 17, 2017, Buhari arrived at Istanbul, capital of Turkey for the D-8 meeting.

Ebong, a retired Dean of the School of Communication Arts, Akwa Ibom Sate Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua, Ikot Ekpene, queried “In the Nigerian media, you see something like ‘Developing 8’ and yes, it is also known as ‘Developing 8’ but what is ‘Developing 8’?

The eight developing Muslim countries that make up D-8 are Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey.

Continuing, he stated, “Do you get the drift yet? Nigeria named amongst hardcore Islamic nations! And if you think this is some kind of regular, harmless bilateral or diplomatic relations, read below the history of the D-8.

“The idea of co-operation among major Muslim developing countries was mooted by Prof. Dr. Necmettin Erbakan, the then Prime Minister of Turkey, during a Seminar on “Cooperation in Development” which was held in Istanbul in October 1996.

“The group envisioned co-operation among countries stretching from South East Asia to Africa. Representatives from Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria and Pakistan attended the Seminar.

“This conference was the first step towards the establishment of D-8 and it was only after a series of preparatory meetings that D-8 was set up officially and began its activities with the Istanbul Declaration issued at the end of the summit of Heads of State and Government held in Istanbul on 15 June 1997,” he explained.

He narrated “Nigeria was represented at the All Islamic Games in Baku, Azerbaijan. The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, got a wind of it and raised alarm but they were arrogantly ignored because the deed was done!

“Is not that how Sukuk, the Islamic Bond was recently introduced in Nigeria and the Nigerian Government has since dumped billions of Nigerian Naira into the venture. But wait! What is Sukuk by the way? Sukuk is a Legal Instrument, Deed or Cheque – simply an Arabic name for Financial Certificates or some type of loans agreement.”

The Akwa Ibom-born priest delved in thus “SUKUK is also regarded as “Sharia-Compliant Bond!” The Fiqh Academy of the OIC legitimized the use of Sukuk in February of 1988. It is meant for full blown Sharia – Compliant Islamic Nations or Regions.

“Sukuk uses billions of Nigeria’s collective wealth to issue Interest – Free loans to, i guess you know who…Again, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN raised alarm, and like that of the Islamic Games, it fell on deaf arrogant ears! Why, because Nigerian Christians are TOAST!

“Remember also that Nigeria is a full member of the Islamic Military Alliance, IMA, the Islamic world’s impression of NATO. And Nigeria is also a full member of the OIC, Organization of Islamic Countries/Conferences.”

“Little wonder Nigeria recently pulled out of 90 International organizations to which it belonged. Ninety! We still don’t have the list of those organizations. Obviously, D-8 isn’t one of them.”

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“So, can you just give me one reason why you still believe the lie that Nigeria is a secular state,” he doubted.

Recall at the ninth summit of the D-8 in Turkey on Friday, October 18, 2017, President Buhari said the private sector and business communities in the economic organization must be assisted with incentives to widen economic cooperation among member-states.

‘‘As the D-8, we need to intensify our activities with a view to enhancing various measures and incentives introduced to promote trade and assist the business communities from Member States to invest in our countries and widen our cooperation.

‘‘We need to work hard to establish integrated manufacturing structures and markets. I will like to reiterate the importance of increasing trade and investment among our Member States,” he said.

Buhari reiterated Nigeria’s commitment to international trade and development even as he affirmed the country’s readiness to host the Meeting of D8 Ministers of Industry from November 14 – 17 in Abuja.

Highlighting the attractive business and investment opportunities in the country, the President stressed the need for prospective investors to take advantage of the Federal Government’s new policies on trade facilitation.

‘‘Nigeria is committed to, and is actively pursuing a policy of trade and investment facilitation for growth. The gains from trade are reflected in greater competitiveness, improved productivity, job creation, consumer welfare and prosperity.

‘‘Economies that grow fastest and at more sustainable rates are those that actively promote trade and attract investment. We are committed to creating an enabling environment and making Nigeria an attractive place for business and investment,’’ he said.

The President also urged D-8 member countries to support the efforts of the African Union (AU) to establish the first ever single market for trade in goods and services on the continent.

He described the AU-backed Continental Free Trade Area for Africa as a ‘’win-win for all, including member countries of the D-8.’’

‘‘I am pleased to inform you of positive market developments currently in Africa, that will support our efforts as Members of the D-8 to enlarge our markets, facilitate our trade and investments, and develop our economies.

‘‘In Africa, we are on the threshold of finalizing negotiations to establish the first-ever Single Market for Trade in Goods and Services on our Continent, in the Continental Free Trade Area for Africa. This will be a win-win for all, including member countries of the D-8.

‘‘As partners, I urge that we work together to support this effort of the African Union that will have a positive effect on global economic development and integration,’’ he added.

He assured D-8 leaders that Nigeria would continue to support the Secretariat in its assignments to achieve the visions and objectives of the organization.

However, Dr. Godwin N Okeke who published in the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention, Volume 2, Issue 3 of March 2013 (pages 65–69) entitled, The Ambivalence of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution in Matters Relating to Secularism: a Case for a Constitutional Review defines secularism as a system of social organisation or that does not allow religion to influence the government. It is the belief that religion should not influence the government.

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Okeke explains further that a secular state is therefore a state or country that purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen of a particular religion/non-religion over other religions/non-religion. Although secular states do not have a state religion or equivalent, the absence of a state religion does not guarantee that a state is secular.

He opines that secularism is commonly regarded as an ideology that holds that religious issues should not be the basis of politics, or, in the extreme, that religion has no place in public life. Secularism, therefore, seeks to preserve the religious neutrality of government and cultures.

The Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended in 2011) provides for religion and secularity at the same time in four sections. These are: (1) section 10, which attempts to establish the secularity of the Nigerian state by providing that, “The government of the dederation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion.” (2) Section 38, which re-enforces the rights of Nigerians to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in its 4 sub-sections. (3) Sections 275 and 280, which make a volt-face and contradict the two earlier quoted sections. Section 275 provides for the creation of states Sharia courts of appeal while section 280 provides for the creation of states customary courts of appeal.

Yet, the provisions in sections 10 and 38 are completely negated and rendered void by the provisions found in sections of 275 and 280. Second, the adherents of other religions apart from Islam have been relegated to an inferior status and discriminated against by the provisions in section 275 because their religions have not been given equal recognition by the same constitution. Third, while these provisions recognise the important place of religion in our national life, they pretend that Nigerians can operate some modicum of secularism and not pluralism.

The 1999 Constitution mentions ‘Shariah’ 73 times, ‘Grand Khadi’ 54 times, ‘Islam’ 28 times and ‘Muslims’ 10 times but does not mention the words ‘Christ’, ‘Christian’, ‘Christianity’ or ‘church’ even once.

Of the 36 states of Nigeria, 12 have blatantly violated the clear provisions of section 10 of the 1999 constitution which states that, “The government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion”. These 12 states have each adopted one religion as state religion via state law. Zamfara state led in this impunity in 2005 and 11 other states towed the same path.