Several months after the introduction of Religious Regulatory Bill by Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, the initial criticisms that greeted its introduction has refused to vanish.
This time around, after lengthy deliberations on various aspects of the controversial bill, stakeholders from various groups and associations in Zangon Kataf communities, Zangon Kataf Local Government Area, LGA, of Kaduna State, last Thursday rejected the proposed law.
It would be recalled that El-Rufai in March this year, introduced an executive bill to Kaduna State House of Assembly, (KDHA).
The bill seeks to put regulations and restrictions on how preaching and religious rites are performed in the state, with sanctions spelt out for violators.
However, rising from a town hall meeting at Unguwan Wakili, Zangon Kataf LGA, a resolution to reject the bill was arrived at the meeting which states: “Having deliberated at length over “the Bill For a Law to substitute the Kaduna State Religious Preaching Law, 1984”, at a stakeholders’ meeting organised by our elected representative, to KDHA, Hon. Danladi Ungulu Kwasau, at Unguwan Wakili, on June 4, 2016, the following resolutions were reached.
”We thank our member at KDHA the wisdom in seeking for our opinion on how he would vote in plenary when the aforementioned bill comes up for voting. We affirmed that almost all the groups and associations present here, reject the bill and call on our member to vote against it.
“Being a predominantly Christian constituency, we stand by the position of Kaduna State chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN), which has rejected the bill in its submission to KDHA on the matter earlier than now.
“It is also acknowledged, that the Jama’atu Nasril Islam, (JNI) Zangon Kataf branch, also stands by what JNI, Kaduna State branch presented as its position on the bill to KDHA. The JNI does not uprightly reject the bill, but wants some aspects of it amended.”
Those present at the stakeholders meeting and endorsed the resolution include; Venerable John Bwanqwot, of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Alhaji Idris Adamu Jauro of JNI, Jacob Zango, Atyap Community Development Association, (ACDA) and Daniel Magaji of Kataf Youth Christian Association, (KYCA).
Others were Yakubu Surajo of the Islamic Matters Association, Martina Ignatus, Tsotson-tat, Abdeil Kude, for Civil Society Organisations, (CSO) and Luka Binniyat of Southern Kaduna Practicing Journalists, among others.
At the introduction of the bill some months ago, several Nigerians including Comrade Shehu Sani, a Senator representing Kaduna Central, criticised the bill saying it was “absolutely wrong.”
Sani, who has been at loggerheads with the governor over other programmes, however, said the government had no right to regulate or issue licenses to religious preachers in the state.
He said, “They did not elect us to lament, they didn’t elect us to give them excuses. We were elected to give them good governance. I’m not the kind of person that will see black and say it’s white. Whether we are in same party or not I will not see wrong and say it’s right.
“I did that during the military era and I will continue to tell the truth even now. Nigerians spent hours under sun to vote for us and so we must not fail them. We must do what the people want and not what we want as leaders because they voted for us.
“This is why we say the proposed religious bill in Kaduna State is absolutely wrong and we will not accept anybody to licence any preacher because people have the right to practice their religion as enshrined in the constitution”.
Apart from Senator Sani, members of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other Muslim clerics also rejected the bill and urged the governor to withdraw it in the interest of peace. For instance, Apostle Johnson Suleman of Omega Fire Ministries (OFM) described the bill as anti-Christian and urged the governor to withdraw it in order to avoid the wrath of God.
However, the governor who explained the purpose of the bill through Mr. Barnabas Bala, deputy governor when officials of CAN visited him stated that the purpose of the bill was to ensure religious peace and harmony in the state.
He said, “Kaduna State has a history of Religious/Sectarian crisis and what this bill seeks to do is not anything new but to learn from painful experience, and discourage the use of religion for violence and division. The bill by virtue of Section 45 (1) of the 1999 constitution is in order and does not offend the provisions of the constitution. The provisions of the Bill are in tandem with the constitution.
”There is nothing in the bill that suggests any effort to abolish, stop or derogate on the freedom of religion and religious beliefs. It merely seeks to ensure that religious preaching and activities in the state are conducted in ways that do not threaten public order, public safety, and to protect the rights and freedom of other persons.”
Speaking on the bill, Arc. Ahmed Abdullahi, leader of Arewa Community in Lagos, said that a lot of people did not understand the purpose of the bill which according to him is intended to ensure that peace reign in the state.
He said, “You are aware that Kaduna has been a hot bed of religious crisis in the past, so the action of the governor is not to derogate any religion but to ensure that there is peace in Kaduna every time.”
Abdullahi solicited the cooperation of all residents of the state to ensure that peace reign in the state.
“To me the bill is not targeted at any particular religion because if critically observe the matter, Muslims would be more affected than any other religions.”
Despite criticisms, there is an indication that the governor may not rescind the decision to introduce the bill.
According to Malalm Uba Sani, Special Adviser to the governor on Political Matters while speaking to journalists recently in Kaduna, the governor would not be swayed by myriad of criticisms trailing the introduction of the bill, and insisted that the bill has come to stay.