A call for ecclesiastic courts

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The delegates under the aegis of the Christian Association of Nigeria are not happy and are feeling ‘betrayed’ not by a member of the other faith but by a Christian for that matter. And this is coming at a time in which some members of the confab appeared to be divided on ethnic and religious sentiments. Although constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) has faulted their demand for ecclesiastical courts, the Christian elders have been undaunted in their demand. Sagay had dismissed arguments made by CAN representatives in the confab that the 1999 Constitution was skewed in favour of Islam and that it was unfair to Christians. He had said, “The constitution says Nigeria shall be a non-religious state. So, Nigeria has no particular religion. No religion is more recognised than the other, under the constitution.”

Sagay had also disputed the argument by the CAN representatives that Islam was mentioned in the constitution, except for the section that talks about Sharia courts. Pertaining to the plea by the delegates for ecclesiastical courts, Sagay said such courts were not recognised in Nigeria. “Ecclesiastical courts do not operate in this country. If they were operating in this country, it would be a different matter. I’m not aware of anywhere in this country where people submit themselves to any system called ecclesiastical court system,” he stated. But to the Bishop of Kafanchan Diocese of Catholic Church, Joseph Bagobiri, Godswill Iyoha Iyoke and Emmanuel Bosun (Ogun State), Sagay missed the point. They insisted that Sharia was mentioned 73 times in the constitution; Grand Khadi (54 times); Islam (28 times); and Muslim (10 times). They said, “Perhaps the learned professor was alluding to the position at independence when Islamic law was (rightly and wisely) treated as an aspect of customary law for which provision was made for the appointment of jurists versed in the Sharia. As a people, we have been watching the systematic widening of the application of Islamic Sharia Law since the 1979 Constitution. Contrary to the assertion by the learned professor, there were ecclesiastical courts in Nigeria under the aegis of the Catholic Church.” It is their belief that the fundamental objectives of Unity, Faith, Peace and Progress; and national integration, as enshrined in Section 15(1) & (2) of the 1999 Constitution would be better served by the separation of the state and religion. However, if the confab considers it necessary to maintain the status quo, the Christian representative said it would only be fair and just that equal treatment be meted to Christians “by providing for ecclesiastical courts in the constitution.”

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