A delicate subplot at the National Conference has reopened the wounds in Nigeria’s religious balance.
The cold war between Christians and Muslims further deepened following the submission of “toxic memos” to the National Conference by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA).
The memos were said to be “too hot” for the leadership of the National Conference to handle.
Apart from shielding the memos from members, the Chairman of the National Conference, Justice Idris Kutigi, has been trying to avoid laying it on the table.
But the memos have been referred to the appropriate committee, although most members want the plenary to discuss the contents.
The issues raised by the two organisations border on Nigeria’s membership of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) and Islam in Africa Organisation (IAC) and the D8 Group of Nations; the use of Hijab (Islamic veil) as part of national dressing code; public or religious days; establishment of Sharia and Episcopal courts; creation of Almajir schools; and return of missionary schools to the owners.
The CAN has sought the withdrawal of Nigeria from membership of foreign religious organizations like OIC and the D8.
It faulted the establishment of Sharia Courts and Almajir schools which it said was meant to please Muslims and turn the nation into an Islamic nation.
CAN said: “It is on record as a known fact that Nigeria is a member of some foreign religious organisations such as the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) and Islam in Africa Organisation (IAC) and the D8 Group of Nations.
“The membership of Nigeria in these religious organizations is (a) without any legislative approval of the National Assembly (b) a clear breach of the provision of Section 10 of the Constitution of Nigeria which prohibits the adoption of any religion as state religion because membership depicts Nigeria as an Islamic country; (c) the theocratic ideology behind the current bloodshed in our nation is traceable to these external influence.”
The body alleged that the establishment of Sharia Courts was a “tacit adoption and promotion of Islam as State religion”.
It added: “Christians therefore demand for constitutional amendment to make equivalent constitutional provisions for the establishment and funding of Ecclesiastical Courts for Christians in Nigeria.
“Equality of treatment is the lifeblood of all fundamental rights.”
CAN faulted the government take-over of Christian mission schools without applying the same law to Islamic school.
“Ironically, government has never taken over any Islamic school but has been very busy establishing and funding Almajir Schools which are purely religious schools.
“This is a clear act of injustice, inequality and discrimination against Christians. Government should establish and fund new Christian schools corresponding to the standard of the Almajir schools being presently established to ensure equality of treatment to both religions and end the obvious discrimination.
“Christians therefore demand the return of all Christian mission schools compulsorily taken over in 1972 to their owners with full financial grant for their rehabilitation.”
On its part, the NSCIA tabled a list of issues to be tackled by the National Conference including the declaration of Wednesday and Thursday as work-free days instead of Saturday and Sunday.
It recommended that Nigeria should retain its membership of OIC and others.
The NSCIA in its memo said: “We recommend that Nigeria should relate with other countries and international organizations that will serve her socio-economic interests.
“A situation in which political and economic affiliations with other bodies are criticized or discouraged on the basis of religious sentiments, despite the huge gains accruable from them, is not in the interest of the nation.”
The Islamic organisation made other demands as follows:
“We recommend that the period between 12:30pm and 3:00pm should therefore be declared work-free every Friday such that Muslims in private and public sectors are able to observe their religious responsibility without hitches or encumbrances. Similarly, the activities of schools and other official functions all over the country should not be scheduled between 12:30p.m and 3:00p.m on Fridays.
“We recognise the Islamic calendar as another universally accepted dating method; recognise it is as such constitutionally, and declare Muharram 1 as a public holiday.
“The NSCIA recommends that if Christians do not accept the observance of weekend Sabbath as a concession in a multi-religious Nations, then neutral days of Wednesday and Thursday should be declared work-free instead. But if Sunday and Sabbath must be observed, we must be honest enough to concede the absolute needs of others.
“If Nigeria is said to be secular, it has to be total and not half hearted.
“We also recommend that it should not be made illegal for anyone to harass, persecute, punish or molest a Muslim for dressing in accordance with the demands of his/her faith. The NYSC, security services, School Authorities and Public Hospitals need to be properly advised.
“In a federation, each unit is allowed to express itself fully without infringing on the rights of others. Hijab in different forms is prescribed and Muslims do not understand the hatred and hullabaloo on what Muslims wear when it does not infringe on what others wear.
“If Muslim and Christian men can wear clothing and symbols (such as crucifixes) that show their religious affiliation, then why can women not do the same freely? If Nigerians can be proud to express their ethnic affiliation through their dressing and attire, then why can Muslim women not do the same in expressing their religious affiliation.
“It also gave a condition for the establishment of Episcopal or Ecclesiastical courts.
“Muslims are not opposed to the calls for establishment of Episcopal courts for the Christians but they must transfer the jurisdiction of matters arising from church marriages from the High Court to the proposed courts because the Christians cannot have two.”