Is Nigeria Still A Secular State?

By Julius Oweh, Asaba
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The separation of religion from statecraft is predicated on the time honoured principle of protecting the fundamental rights of the citizens to practise any religion of their choice without let or hindrance. The secular nature of a state is further strengthened on the score that no religion is adopted as state religion and the founding fathers of Nigeria were very much aware that and so adopted that model in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

There are Muslims, Christians, African traditional religion adherents and those who do not believe in any form of organized religion. The beauty of that arrangement is that nobody is discriminated against on the basis of religion.

But the vibrations coming from Aso Rock and the political and diplomatic dispositions of President Muhammadu Buhari, to say the least, are not comfortable at all.

During a recent visit to Saudi Arabia, the media handlers of the president said that Buhari rejected the suggestion of the Saudi authority to join Islamic coalition against terrorism. But the president speaking to Al Jazeera contradicted the views of his media advisers, saying that the country has a lot to gain by joining the coalition against terrorism and that in fact, Nigeria is already a member of that coalition headed by Saudi Arabia.

This is how the nation helmsman puts it: `We are part of it because we have got terrorists in Nigeria who claim that they are Islamic. So if there is an Islamic coalition to fight terrorism, Nigeria will be part of it because we are casualties of Islamic terrorism`.

Many Nigerians are taken aback by the sentiments of the president about the so called benefits of belonging to the group in a multi religion nation like Nigeria. The president failed to tell Nigerians the benefits of belonging to such group. But the greater danger and political implication is that Nigeria is a member of military coalition without the approval of the national assembly.

This is a clear breach of the constitution by any stretch of political imagination. The 1999 constitution, the fundamental law that governs the operations of the present democratic dispensation in Sections 217-219 forbid the president from entering into any military patch or deployment of our soldiers in foreign land without the approval of the national assembly.

The same constitution also maintains `the national assembly shall have power to make laws for the regulation of (a) the powers exercisable by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation`. That is the more compelling reason that the president should withdraw our membership of that coalition and seeks the consent of the national assembly before entering into such military pact.

It is this kind of disposition that made people like Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti state to say that Buhari was on the verge of Islamizing the country. Speaking recently in Port Harcourt, Fayose warned Nigerians on the looming disaster of foisting Islamic theocracy on the nation. Hear his sentiments: ‘They (APC) have started subtle moves to make Nigeria an Islamic nation but God will stop them. This was done in 1984, it failed. It would fail again.....Nigeria is a free nation where we proclaim the name of Jesus Christ freely, and we believe in Allah for those who are Muslims. This nation will not be taken for an Islamic nation`.

Religion is so toxic and combustive that it should not be mixed with politics or the governance of a nation. Saudi Arabia is free to practise theocracy but Nigeria should not be drawn into the diplomatic faceoff between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Furthermore, should Nigeria remain in the coalition against terrorism, the message to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levent (ISIL) is that Nigeria is an enemy and that would peak up the co-operation between Boko Haram and ISIL.

Nigeria would be worst for it. That is the more reason the Abuja authority in the interest of the nation should cut any relationship with that coalition. Those who want to fight international terrorism are free to do so and should not be done under the veneer of Islam. Nigeria is a secular state and nothing should be done to paint the country otherwise.

Apart from the president not following the due process in joining the coalition, he should be reminded of how a military government in the past smuggled Nigeria into Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) and the political furnace that accompanied that. If that could fail under military dictatorship, then it would melt like butter under the force of heat in a democratic dispensation. Already the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) had warned of the dire consequences of that move.

There are many problems plaguing the country and the present government should not add religious crises to it. That is why the Central Bank of Nigeria should also explain to Nigerians what the Islamic motif and Arabic signs are doing on our currency in a country whose lingua franca is English. Buhari and his APC travellers should not change the secular nature of the country and do things that may endanger the present religious harmony.

It is not too late for Buhari to retrace his steps or the National Assembly should do the right thing by invoking the necessary constitutional provisions to protect the secular nature of Nigeria. This is certainly not the `change` the APC promised Nigerians.

Julius Oweh, a journalist, Asaba, Delta State. 08037768392

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