IMPACT OF THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTON ON CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION
It is no longer question whether Christmas celebration is among the famous celebration of its kind in the Christendom. Christmas has always been an inciting and momentous period to some Christian churches and its members.
Though the celebrants sometimes do vehemently indulge themselves in the act as a result of their love for this celebration, they fail to recognise one fact that, ‘the length of their food is being measured and is capable of measurement’, which at time makes them cross bounds and trample on others religious and constitutional rights which invariably cause mishap and upheavals in friendships, families and the human community at large during and after the celebration.
There have been several attempts to curb the problems emanating from the said celebration, minimising its negative effects on mankind but these efforts have been abortive due to the complicated nature of the outcome that arise from this celebration.
This work will seek to give some constitutional guidelines and measures that “may” (it is under probability that it may help, or may fail to be of the needed help) help in curbing the menace. This work has deliberately refused to touch the authenticity and scriptural validity of the said celebration for some reasons that are borne in the mind of the writer. This work does not in any way promote the said celebration, take note please.
In addressing the conflicts that are faced with, it is imperative to examine some relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended (herein after referred to as the constitution). Section 38 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution as amended has provided for the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The section states as follows: “every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom (either alone in the community with others and in the public or private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance”.
There are some key words like “thought” and “conscience” that will be of immense help in bringing out the thrust of this discussion. Nigerian government have respected our conscience by protecting and enshrining it in provisions of the constitution. It therefore means that we all have the right to worship anything we like at any time.
Bringing it home, we all have the right to choose either to celebrate Christmas or not. Whether it is biblical to celebrate it or not, we owe our fellow humans the duty of respecting their beliefs. The fact that you’re celebrating Christmas does not give you the effrontery to question a non-celebrating fellow, it does not in any way make you better than him, and he has the right to take his own stand.
On the contrary, you that are not celebrating for your personal reasons, you are in no way capacitated to judge the celebrant, you have no right whatsoever to interfere with his own celebration. As he respected your right for not celebrating, you owe him reciprocation in this regard.
It is sad to say that many Nigerians do not know the implication of altering or interfering with others religious activities and celebrations like Christmas and the liabilities incurred from it. It should be noted that the aggrieved party (the party that his celebration was interfered) can seek redress in any court of competent jurisdiction and claim damages accordingly. We should not take any religious celebration as an instrument of trampling on others constitutional rights.
Some people even worsen the situation when they become the ones spearheading such celebrations. Most parents have disown their adult children from taking a stand not to indulge in such celebration, spouses divorcing each other because of such celebrations, invariably making them become extremist. Some of the celebrants have become strong enemies to their friends for not compromising standard regarding this celebration such as rejecting gifts and not giving a reasonable or expected compliment of the season.
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. - Martin Luther King Jr.
What if your acquaintances do not even believe in Christ thus not treating Christmas with high esteem, what will you? Will you kill them? Will you not respect their right to freedom of worship and conscience? Or, what if these friends do not believe in the existence of the almighty God as our atheist friends? Will you exterminate them? What will be your grouse with them as per Christmas? Why not take your non celebrating member in the same way as he is entitled to his own opinion?
It is immaterial whether an individual is standing alone in a family, in a village or in a state to reject any religious celebration; this will not in any way affect the validity of his stand and such decision MUST be respected.
Religion is EXTREMELY PERSONAL AND NEVR CAN IT BE IMPOSED on any citizen of Nigeria. We need to respect others religious beliefs for they do not owe us any explanation why they choose to worship the way they do but they owe their GOD(S) and their conscience.
Tilting to the ecclesiastical jurisprudence a little, Jesus said “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must do to them. This, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean” Matthew 7:12.
From the above, it is important we try to empathise, substituting ourselves in the shoes of our neighbours, seeing whether we would love people to respect our feelings and beliefs if we were in their shoe and do same accordingly.
Christmas has posted a challenge on us all. Let’s see the extent we will respect the biblical counsel and constitutional right to freedom of thought, religion and conscience, by honouring others decision and stand regarding Christmas celebrations in our twin capacity as: good Christians and as respectful obedient citizens.
My humble appeal is that we marry our similarities and respect our differences when it comes to issue of religion and conscience. Let us not use things like these to bring up unnecessary problems in the human society and our respective families.
May I conclude with the powerful words of Martin Luther King Jr when he said: “On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right”.
Edikan Ekanem is a student of University of Uyo, a contemporary writer and a columnist who remains politically neutral. He can be reached at 08130015006 or [email protected]