While commending those who are responding positively to the immediate need of freeing our abducted daughters let me cease the opportunity to further inform that the young boys, girls and children affected are much more in number than the abducted school girls. More still, it is glaringly evident that worst surprises are in the pipeline if a holistic view and approach to the issues involved are not urgently and appropriately addressed. In this respect, I wish to present my proposals to the ongoing National Conference.
The objective is to attend and agree on appropriate and adequate measures that must be taken to ensure peace and order. Let each of us then add his or her voice thus amplify them to the hearing of all and insist on their implementation. We should particularly bring them to the notice of every member of the ongoing National Conference and be prepared to vote in their favour when presented in a referendum.
Reasons and objectives of proposals
We should be sincere with ourselves, bring out the issues that hinder our peaceful coexistence and be committed to changing what needs to be changed. The Almighty God of power, truth and justice will certainly be on our side to ensure victory. Any one careful to observe will note that everything created by the all-wise and all-knowing God is governed by natural laws, both scientific and social, which if rightly applied works well to produce desired results. This includes the laws of peaceful mutual co-existence. It is of note that some of these irrepressible natural laws, which must be obeyed for peace to reign, and so, progress made, have been violated and abused in some of our efforts at nation building, from the birth of Nigeria till now.
The real challenge before us all is to muster the courage to look back, identify and dismantle those legacies that forestall justice, mutual respect and equality. “There cannot be peace without justice,” said Martin Luther King Jr., a notable icon of human rights. Also, there cannot be progress without peace. Wisdom therefore demands that these laws are studied and judiciously applied for advantage or else things will work to no advantage of our folly who think we can violet them for selfish ends.
Riots and violent public disturbances are rather more of symptoms than the causes of problems of any society. The real causes must be prayerfully traced and dealt with, if a lasting solution is desired. I say prayerfully because we need the grace of God.
In all disputes and riots, those religiously motivated have been most prominent and most destructive both to human lives and property. Religious riots have likewise been most harmful to the unity and wellbeing of Nigeria as a country. In some instances even when the origin of a dispute is not religious, it is turned religious, where the parties involved are of different religious persuasions in order to gain sympathy or mobilize support.
It is of note that some of our prominent religions did not originate from this country or from any of its tribes; as such it is obvious that all who willingly became members of any of these religions were either converted into it or inherited it from those along their family linage or any other linage, who were earlier converted. Even in the case of membership by inheritance, a willing continuation as a member can only be by a personal conviction and acceptance that what was inherited in religion is right, proper and profitable. That being the case it is unreasonable and practically impossible to reserve the right of making converts and yet prohibit loosing members who chose to be converted into another faith.
It stands to reason that preaching what is good in a religion and living an exemplary life are the peaceful means of making and keeping converts. Preaching should be on what the religion stands for and on how it benefits those who believe and are members. It is important to agree on how to go about these peaceful means of reaching out for members, of self-guarding members and on how to generally relate with others though not of the same faith. By so doing, peace will reign, in spite of the existing differences between religions or sects and of their conflicting aspirations.
Some of such agreed terms are already contained in our constitution and laws, which should be retained, respected and obeyed. All conflicting provisions and laws should also be boldly looked into and removed.
Governments’ involvement in the management of any religious or cultural organization should be stopped. All we need is to provide a level playing ground for each to thrive on its own merits and by its own means. This is so because there is no way any government can adequately and impartially carter for all the religions and cultures in existence. At the same time, appropriate government agencies should be on ground and free to ensure that every religious or cultural organization is properly organized for accountability and operates within the limits of our constitution and our laws which should be evenly made to accommodate all.
The case of one religious or cultural group taking arms against another will not easily arise if the above arrangements were in place. Violators of the peaceful order will not remain hidden for long and aggrieved persons or groups can peacefully address their grievances through the courts without resulting into violence. With such clearly spelt arrangements it will be easy to recognize those responsible or the ones that should be held responsible when problems arise.
With the above in place, there should be no dichotomy or competition between private religious or cultural laws and the common constitution and laws which being common are binding to all. This is so because the common constitution and laws would have been made in fairness to all and so ought not to conflict any private religious or cultural laws if such laws are in themselves fair. Those who unjustly and unfairly deny others the right of living make it justified for themselves to be denied the same.
All who understand and accept the need to submit to a commonly agreed constitution and laws, in all fairness to others, deserve the protection of the government and all its security agents in place. They also deserve to have an environment conducive for the pursuit of whatever activities they have in mind whereby they may prosper. If such protection and environment are not granted, to the law abiding, what results is anarchy. I do not advocate resort to violence because prayers of those who find themselves in such conditions will be heard of the God of justice who will ensure, or direct on measures to take for, their protection and defence.
The most basic purpose of government is to institute appropriate laws for peace and order that enable good developments and is also to enforce such laws. Law enforcement provides security to the law abiding by preventing all acts of lawlessness or at least restraining them. Those who are denied this service cannot be blamed for taking measures to ensure their security. They should indeed responsibly cooperate to ensure that they are provided or else work to provide it for themselves.
As it is, just condemning or renouncing violence is not enough, if the right structure is not in place. The right structure involves separating governance from religion. Colonial racial differential policies resulted in creating the foundation of the existing judicial problems of Nigeria. Apart from the policies, their bias application, for selfish political reasons, further compounded the problems. A uniform application would have developed every race in line with its religious and cultural history, but the colonialists, while despising the historical values of the non-Muslims, upheld that of the Muslims and even proceeded to impose its model on the non-Muslims. Only a pretentious posture was made of upholding the customs and traditions of the non-Muslims, and that was mainly done to checkmate the activities of the Christian missions, especially in the North.
The colonialists were clearly in error even if ignorantly. However, if ignorantly, when the errors were discovered, political reasons and corruption made it impossible to make necessary changes. Now as it is, there are no real customary courts for the non-Muslims because they were corrupted and abused by the removal of the religious rituals involved and thereby destroyed. What exists at the present are artificial cultures, creations of the colonialist that fitted the non-Muslim groups into the emirate model, giving them a false sense of culture. This artificial cultures are largely pretentious and mainly for ceremonial purposes.
True, down to earth, cultures and traditions are linked to religion and are dynamic in nature, as they interact with other cultures. These have emerged over the years amongst the various tribes in the country even though they are not accorded due recognition in our national affairs. Most of those traditional religions and cultures, officially recognized by governments, are moribund and a huge drain to public funds. What pertains at the moment is that most of the so called ‘pagans’ were long converted to one form of Christianity or the other, with a few others converted to Islam. By these conversions, their cultures have in reality and of necessity changed. Besides, the customary courts established are not real, so even the un-converted are not satisfied with what is on ground.
It goes without saying that anyone who believes in any religion considers the laws contained in such a religion above any other laws. If the intent is to obey such laws, all that needs to be done is to cooperate to establish and document common laws, both criminal and civil, mandatory to all but guarantying the religious or cultural freedom of all to institute any more stringent laws among their willing members at their own expense. While at that the rule of the thumb will be to ensure peace and unity in the pursuit of commonly agreed goals and objectives as a nation or a state.
It is of note that everyone stands to benefit in an environment of peace and prosperity, so it is sadistic to work against such an objective. The constitutional provision that allowed for Sharia law was neither right nor helpful both to the nation and the religion of Islam that was favoured. The Islamic violent insurgence on a daily increase is a statement of discontent and misconception which must be dealt with.
First, let us consider the issue of discontent. There is discontent in the discharge of justice. From the background of most of the perpetrators of this violence, some of them believe the various forms of injustices they experience are because they are not granted the full Sharia law. But that opinion is not true and is only as a result of the ignorance of the adherents who are mostly illiterates, except for those with ulterior motives. Some of those who know better encourage this agitation for political advantage.
More importantly, in contributing to the lack of justice, is the creation a dual judicial system managed by a government that has to do with unbelievers thus politicizing and corrupting their religious justice system. Since the purpose of justice has not been achieved, the quest of those sincere but mostly ignorant folks agitating for full Sharia is not only to have the full Sharia but that which is controlled by trusted teachers of their sects.
For the ordinary peaceful and law abiding person, having a means of livelihood, doing what one believes in and having justice in case of any dispute are some of his most basic desires, which once met ensure peace. A nation needs to provide these, and even more, across all tribal, religious or any other groups that may exist within its borders and for those who aspire to express themselves in their own ways, to justify its existence as a nation.
People who live together must, as of necessity, be governed by common laws to enable them settle their disputes when they arise and live together in unity and peace. Refusing this on the guise that; it conflicts with some religious or personal laws, are not of true religious motives and is simply unfair and not realistic.
Even though I am not a lawyer, it is quite obvious that there is something fundamentally wrong somewhere with separate laws. In my view, both the involvement of government in the administration of separate irreconcilable laws and the separating of the civil law from criminal law are wrong. It is wrong for government to be directly involved in the administration of the Sharia law or any other private law, which is discriminatory, requires faith to appreciate and understand and which cannot be freely and fully discussed in the public domain where unbelievers are involved. The circumstances involved predict failure, and so our efforts at national integration and progress will continue to fail.
A law is a law and to break any law should be criminal. Most disputes that mature into what is considered as criminal emanate from civil, religious, personal or cultural matters and the dividing line is mostly not obvious. Whether we like it or not, there are inter-religious marriages taking place and the state should recognize them and safeguard the interests of both parties. Despite my professional ignorance, it seems obvious there has been an ongoing use of words to justify and operate a legal conflict that has not worked nor can work.
Government participation in the administration of Sharia law implies that government cannot institute a level playing ground for all religions or religious sect. It also cannot be an impartial arbitrator in religious disputes which arise between different Muslim groups, or else between Muslims and any other religion, but a responsible contributor to the disputes. This, therefore, justifies the anger of aggrieved Islamic sects against government resulting in the destruction of government properties.
Also, such government involvement compels it to reach out to appease the aggrieved and more so to cover its failure of not rightly doing what it has undertaken to do. It is all part of the appeasement when large sums of money are being used to sponsor people on pilgrimage year after year, which would have rather been used to bring about needed developments. Though there are those who are happy with the situation as it is, since it provides them with ready employment at government expense, however most are unhappy, but have had to look on helplessly.
The situation on ground now is that, neither the Muslims who are purportedly being provided with an exclusive justice nor the Christians and other non-Muslims who are discriminated against are benefited or satisfied. The only possible beneficiaries are those who use it for personal selfish gains, which in reality is not a benefit.
All the bloodletting that has occurred in the name of religion is not central to religion but centres on men’s quest for political power. Even though there is power involved in religion, the power of religion is spiritual. It was a faulty foundation, by the British Colonial Administration, that joined and subjected the Islamic religion in some parts of Northern Nigeria to political power. By so doing it made the adherents of the religion to hold government responsible for whatever problems there may be in their religion. Secondly, it created a false notion that, to solve religious problems or change religious leaders, political problems must first be solved or the political leaders changed.
As a result the cart is put before the horse, making political leadership responsible for the spiritual, which is religious, leadership. Ideally, spiritual leadership, which controls the hearts and minds of its adherents, will end up deciding on and controlling the political leadership, but indirectly. That not being the case, supposedly popular spiritual leaderships, sidelined by the political leadership or structure, are tempted to instigate uprisings for the change of the political structure and leadership. Therefore, all religions should be left to freely operate and influence their members, who, in turn, will influence government and political activities for good. The constitution, all acts of governance and political activities, should therefore not take responsibility in the management of any particular religion, while religious and sectarian differences exist.
Looking at the unnecessary destruction and disasters that could have been avoided, the pains and sorrows that do not discriminate on religious or tribal grounds, sentiments should be put aside. There are always problems and casualties when the right thing is not done at the right time. From the case of Abinsi and Satiru in 1906 and onward to our present day problems, it is obvious that, they were and are being caused by the unwholesome involvement of government in the administration of religions and cultures, of a privileged few. Education which could have hastened development and harmony was, and is as yet, fettered for the same reason. Education is an avenue of presenting to the younger ones all the information there is to make decisions for a better future.
Issues of a constitution and laws are relevant only to a people who live together and see the need, not only to live in peace but also, to achieve some noble objectives. They therefore must decide on such terms that will ensure a peaceful coexistence and mutual benefits, which are defined by their constitution and laws. This constitution and laws should therefore be religiously neutral while according all religions the liberty to function within the law.
‘Unity Peace and Progress’, says our Coat of Arms, the motto which summarizes our common objectives at a glance and in one phrase. If this is not just a farce then our constitution and all other laws both private and public must be seen to comply with the spirit and letter of this motto. At the least, even if there are certain groups with private constitutions and laws that do not comply, the common public constitution should fully comply, and be appropriately opposed to those who refuse to agree on these noble objectives.
However, when it comes to the use of words, it is common knowledge that the same words are often interpreted differently by different people for one reason or the other. This makes it necessary to work on establishing a common understanding of some of these vital words in the motto that is part of our ‘Coat of Arms’, with all latitude to accommodate our differences.
A condition of harmony, in accord, would be a very appropriate intention of the use of the word ‘unity’ to describe the various activities of the many different parts within the one country. This is further elaborated as a combination or ordering of parts that results in or promotes an undivided total effect. The resulting singleness of effect or symmetry and consistency of style and character is likewise a relevant definition of unity.
The ‘peace’ aspired in our motto should rightly include a state of tranquility or quite as freedom from civil disturbance and a state of security or order within a community, provided for by law or custom. It is a breach of the peace when one fails to comply. Also relevant, and would have been implied, in the use of peace in our motto, is harmony in personal relations.
Here also, the ‘progress’ intended in our ‘coat of arms’ motto is likely not that of ‘a royal journey marked by pomp and pageant’, nor ‘a state procession’, nor ‘a tour or circuit made by an official’. It is likewise not likely ‘an expedition, a pleasure trip (journey), or a march through a region’. These, though included in its definition, do not reflect the real life of nationhood and nation building which is full of challenges. Even if that were to apply, it should only be in respect to the commonly agree goals of the nation.
The ‘progress’ intended should more rather be ‘a forward or an onward movement (as to an objective or to a goal), an advance’. It may also be ‘a gradual betterment, especially the progressive development of humankind where things are planned and made to happen for good’; ‘to move forward or proceed, developing to a higher, better or more advanced stage’.
An inherent aspect of nature is that every item in it wants to give expression. As long as some life exists, none wants or idly allows itself to be shut up or gagged. Everything and everyone wants the liberty to express itself in its own way.
Yes, all want ‘to be’, but how many would ‘let be’? ‘To be’ and ‘let be’ is the foundation of true unity, peace and progress. It is the unity, peace and progress, relevantly and realistically, applicable to any people who would mutually benefit in living together. With these definitions clearly spelt out, it is expected that we are agreed on the type of unity, peace or progress we are talking about, which is applicable to a diverse people in one geographical area.
To be and let others be, the foundation of true ‘unity, peace and progress’ is where you do unto others as you would have them do unto you. With that in mind, common laws are established and respected by all, to ensure that none is hindered or offended by the other and all such that would hinder or offend are then justifiably not allowed in their quest. Those who live together should have common laws they all respect touching all aspects of life, if they are to live in unity, have peace and make progress.
Some, unfortunately, are working hard to impose on us a hurtful alternative to our desired ‘unity, peace and progress’. This alternative is born out of oppression and aims to oppress.
The ‘unity’ they want to impose is a state of not being multiple but ‘one homogeneous entity’ as may rightly be included in some dictionary definitions of unity. In that case all must conform to a homogeneous religious and other possible orders, predetermine by ‘the strong bully’. By implication the oneness is not only as a country but there must be no difference, no alternative and no liberty to decide on what is right, by the use of one’s God’s given sense faculties, within the ambit of a commonly agreed constitution and set of laws.
They may perhaps aspire for a ‘peace’ but the only peace possible is a graveyard type, where all others are dead and no more giving expression. It should be obvious to all who have some conscience and care to look at the truth in the face that, that is not a desirable peace. The peace we want is that in which all are freely and joyfully giving expression of their God given abilities and convictions, resulting into a sweet melody and a beautiful picture in the ears and eyes of all. A suitable word for this, once more said, is harmony.
Also, the alternative kind of ‘progress’ not intended in our ‘coat of arms’ being imposed is more like that defined as ‘a royal journey marked by pomp and pageant’, or ‘a state procession’, or ‘a tour or circuit made by an official’. It is likewise like ‘an expedition, a pleasure trip (journey), or a march through a region’. These do not reflect the real life of nationhood and nation building which is full of challenges but of a broken, subdued and enslaved people being supervised by those who have succeeded in subduing them.
The long term solution therefore lies in the complete transfer of the administration of all religious and customary laws from under the constitution to their respective private religious and customary organizations. It ought to concern those responsible, most of us are, that honest religious adherents are being hurt and disenfranchised. It would certainly be better if there is a structure that works and satisfies everyone without contradiction to the basic tenants of our constitution and without restriction. It appears that Islam has become a state religion in many states of the country to no benefit of the individual and in total disregard of other person’s constitutional rights.
Foremost, is that, religion and culture should be removed from the public list of responsibilities and left in the private hands of those who value any such religions and cultures. Therefore, all portions of our laws and constitution, placing responsibility of the administration and management of any organ of religion or culture, on any government in the country, should be expunged. At the same time, we should work out for use, the commonly accepted constitution and laws, both civil and criminal, without prejudice to any private laws considered not offensive.
All autonomous religious bodies and cultural organizations should register their presence and intentions the moment decision is taken to operate no matter how few they are in number. Update of these bodies and organizations should be made with growth and any possible changes. Such bodies and organizations should be given all latitude to operate, so long as they consent to be open and transparent, but should be accountable by the common laws and whenever found in default, be dealt with accordingly.
Yes, there is need for all peace loving Nigerians to enlarge their hearts in patience with perseverance and forgiveness. Yet, it is more needful, and more so their responsibility, to vigorously pursue and ensure the changes needed for stability, unity, peace and thereby progress. Our constitution, as it is, is saddled with contradictory sections devoted to the administration of some cultural, judicial and religious matters of a select few. It is therefore not surprising that we have feared badly in this responsibility, because it should not have been. The records before us clearly indicate that none is benefiting.
Therefore, let there be a purging, of all those contradictory portions that negate our cooperate entity as a nation, of any special functions of some cultures or religions. Secondly is the need to engage in a comprehensive law review that outlines our cooperate expectations of who is a law abiding citizen, in both civil and criminal concerns, while at the same time expunging all cultural and religious laws. This is not a rejection of culture and religion but a privatization. Those, in the future, who chose to bring any civil matter to our courts, will then be judged on the basis of our common law on such a matter.
What each tribe needs is adequate representation at any level of governance and liberty to develop their people and local areas. Therefore, every tribal area should be granted a minimum of one Local Government and one representative at the National Assembly. The present Local Governments structure and the present National Constituencies should, therefore also, be collapsed and restructured to ensure this. Tribal nationalism will go a long way in stimulating speedy development at the local level.
Coiled from my book, “Voice of Reason and Recipe for Proactive Action”
You can get an electronic copy of it from www.voiceofreasonrpa.com
Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.