My attention was drawn to the separate calls made by the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for the resignation or removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
The two bodies bitterly criticized the CJN for calling for the improvement of the status of the Shari’ah in Nigeria through the amendment of the relevant sections of the Constitution. They described the CJN as heating the polity by thus calling for what they described, laughably though, as the Islamization of the country.
The comments of the two bodies reminded me of those of an Ibadan high court judge back in 1990. In the course of expert evidence that I gave before him under cross-examination on Shari’ah provisions on succession and inheritance by the renowned legal luminary, Mrs. Folake Solanke SAN, the trial judge, a Christian, expressed surprise at, and profound appreciation of the depth and breadth of the Shari’ah.
Openly before the whole court, he lamented his lack of knowledge of a law in force in his own country even as a judge. Consequently, he advocated that every student in Nigeria should be made to study the Shari’ah.
How does that compare with the various attacks of the HURIWA and the CAN on the CJN? What a huge contrast! Who knows better the constitution and the law, a judge or a biased human rights writer and a layman scribe of CAN combined?
Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution as amended guarantees freedom of religion both in belief and in practice. The whole life of a Muslim is governed by the laws of his religion. Therefore, it is the duty of the nation to provide for a judicial system whereby the relevant laws are interpreted correctly and disputes among adherents arising from such laws are resolved peacefully.
Hence, there are provisions in the Constitution for the establishment of Shari’ah courts anywhere this is required in the country to cater for the needs of Muslim citizens. If HURIWA and CAN are not asking that these provisions be expunged from the constitution, why do they want to crucify the CJN for calling for the improvement of the Shari’ah as other laws in force in the country are open to improvement?
In what way is the improvement of the application of the Shari’ah for Muslims in Nigeria offensive to non-Muslims? And in what way does it constitute a violation of the provision of Section 10 of the Constitution which prohibits the adoption of a state religion by the State?
Incidentally, the critics contradicted themselves by suggesting that Nigeria is both a ‘Secular’ and ‘Multi-religious’. Aren’t the two terms mutually exclusive? Nowhere in any constitution of Nigeria is the country described as ‘Secular’.
Those who are pathological hostile to anything Muslim to the extent of denying fellow citizens who happen to be Muslims, rights even as simple as the use of hijab by female Muslim pupils and students are better advised to purge themselves of such hostility for the good of all.
Let them bear in mind that Muslims are aware of the fact the Saturday- Sunday weekend imposed on all of us by our Christian colonizers satisfies the religious needs of only Nigerian Christians. Yet, Muslims are not complaining. So, let non-Muslim citizens of Nigerian cultivate the spirit of “Live and let live”.
Meanwhile, we should salute the courage of the CJN, commend him for making the call and urge the National Assembly to take quick action on his suggestion and do the needful.
Professor Noibi is the former Executive Secretary, Muslim Ummah of southwest Nigeria & Retired Prof. of Islamic Studies, University of Ibadan, Ibadan.