Amid the crippling economic situation of the country, as well as ethnic tensions in Lagos between the Yoruba and Hausa, another monster has reared its ugly head. It is the move by the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, to control and in effect ban Christian religious activities in the state, a move many have begun to interpret as part of the larger Islamization agenda in the country by the ruling northern oligarchy.
Governor El-Rufai, who like President Buhari, is perceived as an Islamist fundamentalist, is feared to intend to use the new laws on Christian worship to minimise the growth of Christian religion, sending some pastors to prison and in effect driving pastors and evangelists away from the state and ensuring the dominance of the Islamic faith.
The new laws in Kaduna State are as follows:
- In Kaduna you cannot preach without license
- Every preacher will have to go and get ONLY one year license (renewable every year). That is, you must always preach without an expired license or you risk 2 years imprisonment.
- If you invite any external preacher (i.e. preacher outside Kaduna State), such a person must be licensed for the duration of his/her stay and the body issuing the license has the right to reject any external preacher they feel is not qualified to preach in Kaduna State.
- Every preacher who wants to be licensed will appear before a screening committee. If he/she scales through, he/she will only be given license for one year.
- The law criminalizes the use of CDS, Flash Drives and other communication gadgets except in religious buildings or inside people's homes.
- That means that one will be arrested for listening to preaching or religious music inside one's car or in any open place except in one's house or religious building.
- If anyone preaches without license, one is guilty of an offence punishable by two years' imprisonment or a fine of N200, 000.
- You can't use microphone in your church after 8pm or you are guilty of an offence punishable by two years' imprisonment or a fine of N200, 000.
- Since all preaching must be done within a building, it means public evangelism will be criminalized. Those who preach early in the morning, or inside a bus, if arrested, will be fined N200, 000.
- This could also mean people will not be allowed to go out for evangelism on streets or move with vehicles with public address systems to advertise their programmes.
These, indeed, are drum beats of danger. Knowing how religiously volatile the northern parts of the country are, this latest development from Kaduna will no doubt provide those religious zealots with a ready-made excuse to attack Christians at the slightest perception of provocation.
In a country where Moslems have been free to practice their faith outside the Moslem-dominated north for years without any form of molestation, Governor El-Rufai's new laws on Christian religious worship are unacceptable.
Why restrict these laws to Christians? Do Moslems not disturb the public peace from their Mosques every morning? Is freedom of religious worship no longer guaranteed in Nigeria? Is strangulating Christians a solution to the problems of Kaduna people?
We are therefore left with little choice but to join many other Nigerians in believing that the unfolding development could be part of the long feared Islamization of the country.
In 2003, President Buhari was alleged to have boasted that it was Allah's will for him to ensure that Islam was spread to all corners of Nigeria. The Kaduna situation has only fuelled that assumption.
We therefore call on the president of the country, Muhammadu Buhari, to wade into the Kaduna issue quickly before it snowballs into a deadly round of religious/ethnic crisis as has always been the case.
Christians in Nigeria need to be assured by the APC-led federal government that they are safe and are protected by the Constitution.
At a time when El-Rufai should be addressing the extreme poverty among his people but has ignored it and chosen to fan the embers of religious/ethnic war, all well-meaning Nigerians should close ranks and call him to order.
There is no basis for those laws and there can never be. Indeed, these are dangerous signals from Kaduna which should be stopped before other northern states follow suit.