Tempers rose on Tuesday at the venue of the ongoing National Conference in Abuja as adherents of the two major religions
engaged in a debate over the dominance of Islam in the 1999 Constitution without any mention of Christianity.
But the intervention of the leadership of the conference saved the situation.
The drama ensued when two Christian delegates representing Christian Leaders, Bishop of Kafanchan Diocese of Catholic Church, Joseph Bagobiri and Pastor Emmanuel Bosun (Ogun State), raised the issue which they described as unfair treatment of Christians and Christianity in the country.
This angered their Muslim counterparts, who opposed their submissions.
They had both submitted that the constitution of Nigeria was skewed in favour of Islam and Muslims with a call on delegates to ensure that the imbalance was corrected.
Bagobiri opened the debate on religion. He gave a detailed analysis of how the Nigerian constitution did not have any mention of Christianity or the church, but Islam was repeatedly mentioned.
He also argued that the adoption of a particular religion by states must be done away with, adding that in a country like Nigeria, neutrality was needed.
He said since Islamic courts had been created, it was only normal to extend the hands of fellowship to Christianity in order to create a fair state.
He called for the establishment of Ecclesiastical Courts to handle Christian-related disputes, like Sharia courts.
Bagobiri said funding should also be provided for the Christian courts, just like Sharia courts so that Christians could have a sense of belonging in their own country.
In his contribution, Bosun argued that the conference must address religious imbalance in the country, adding that the conference needed to address religion squarely before it destroys Nigerians.
He said, “In the 1999 Constitution, Shariah was mentioned 73 times, Grand Khadi 54 times, Islam 28 times , Muslims 10 times and there is no single mention of Christ, Christian, Christianity or church. Some mischievous elements are taking these lapses in the constitution to come to the ungodly decision that probably that the state is an Islamic state.
“So, what are Christians doing here 100 of our churches were burnt down, Christians are being killed. In fact, it has reached the stage of genocide. I will cite one example – In one denomination in Plateau State, the Women’s Fellowship as at 2001 had 500 registered widows and by 2008, they had 900 registered widows. By February 2014, they had 25,000 registered widows.”
But a former Governor of Kebbi State, Adamu Aliero, citing Order 9 rule 7 raised a point of order.
He said, “A delegate must confine his contribution to the subject under discussion and will not introduce matters irrelevant thereto. The speaker on the floor is bringing issues that are not related to Mr. President’s speech. I therefore want the Chairman to call him to order. He is bringing diversionary issues that are very sentimental.”
But the Deputy Chairman of the conference, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, said Bosun could not be ruled out of order since others had been allowed to speak. He said he he would only plead that delegates should mind their contributions so as not to offend the sensibilities of other people.
Bosun therefore continued saying, “There is the need for us to abide by what Mr. President said on pages 14 and 15 for this conference to take a closer look at the Constitution and make recommendations that would facilitate redressing every imbalance therein so that all the citizens in Nigeria can live peacefully and live in harmony.
“If we set Nigeria on fire for whatever reason, none of us would be able to live here. We Christians do not hate Muslims. We are prepared to live together in harmony. I live in the South-West where Christians and Muslims live together and there is peace. We want to see that peace all over Nigeria- in the North, South, East and West.”
In his contributions, a delegate from the South-West, Pastor Tunde Bakare, told delegates not to deviate from the principles set by President Goodluck Jonathan as doing so would only make the conference a jamboree.
He said, “Two earlier distinguished delegates have described the President’s speech as a guiding principle to this conference. Another one said a marshal plan. Permit to go into the speech itself and bring three issues in three minutes. The President himself made clear his expected outcome of this conference that as stated in Pg. 19 “…my expectation is that the outcome of this conference will be a positive turning point for our country’s development. We must seize this opportunity to cement the cleavages and fault lines that separate us. We must relaunch our country.’ If my expectation are different from his (Jonathan’s) then we are in a jamboree. We must approach these issues with no suspicion and antagonism. Therefore we should be open-minded and work to achieve what is best for Nigeria.”