Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, in an interview with select journalists speaks on the proposed religious preaching bill, face-off with trade unions and the pastor Suleiman who says he will die if the bill is past. Read excerpts from the interview below
One of your policies that has generated a lot of controversy is the religious preaching bill. What does the government want to achieve when it becomes law and how are you going to tackle the anxiety that it has generated among the people?
Kaduna State, more than any state in Nigeria, if you take out the Yobe, Borno and Adamawa axis, which suffered from Boko Haram insurgency, has suffered the most from death and destruction of property due to misuse and abuse of religion. More people have been killed in Kaduna from the words that people have said. And if you go back in history to when the Maitasine incident happened; he was a Cameroonian that came to Nigeria and started preaching. The Emir of Kano had him deported back to Cameroon. After that, he managed to smuggle himself back again and continued preaching. He was preaching a version of Islam that was intolerant, a version that called other Muslims pagans and so on. But in spite of what he was preaching, he acquired followers and we all know what happened. Military operation had to be mounted to flush them out. Those that escaped from the Maitasine crisis moved to Borno State and started the Kalakato sect, which again led to many deaths and destruction in the early 1990s. All these came from people that were not trained in religious matters, people that woke up and started preaching and acquiring followers and inevitably their sects grew in large numbers to threaten communities and there were clashes.
That was also how Muhammed Yusuf started. He was a student of Sheik Jaafar Adam in Kano. They fell out because Jaafar felt that some of the views he was expressing were extreme and intolerant. He went and started his own sect and we all know what happened and we are still dealing with it.
Thus, when you have such things happening in your country, I think as leaders, we have to sit down and examine ourselves and the society and see what we can do to prevent it.
In my opinion, it is the lack of regulation of religion that led to all these circles of death and destruction. Just recently, we had the Shi’ite problem in Zaria, following a similar pattern.
I believe that before you start preaching in any religion, you should have gone through a system of education, training and some kind of certification. Even those that deal with the physical life get certified, let alone those that deal with the spiritual life. We initiated this bill from the Kaduna State Security Council, based on reports of new sects emerging in Kaduna State.
Are there recent cases?
There is one around Makarfi called Gausiyya, they do their Zuhr prayer around 11am, different from other Muslims. This is how this thing starts and if you don’t resolve it quickly, it grows into something else.
A woman in Makarfi said Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was speaking to her and sick people started going to her for their healing. The husband of this woman was busy collecting N1,000 as consultancy fee before people could see his wife. We had to take steps to end that movement because before you know it, people would start coming from far and wide and this woman would become our next problem.
It was the report of two or three of these that compelled us in the security council to ask the question, whether or not there was a law that regulates preaching. Then we were told there was a law; since 1984 after the Maitasine problems, the administration passed the law. It was subsequently amended several times to increase the fine and the imprisonment term. This is a living problem and we know it. Christian priests, the ones I know, go to seminary and spend so many years there, study under a more experienced Reverend to learn what to say and what not to say.
Religious leaders don’t preach hatred; they preach peace, tolerance and love. But today in my religion of Islam, anybody can wake up and start a sect; there is no control. In those days, from Islamiyya School, if you chose that line, you needed to study more books. After that, you would go to the East (Borno area) for more studies and training. Then from there, you would go to a mosque and begin to call people to prayer before you become an imam in any mosque. Before you became an imam of a Friday mosque, the community must agree that you were well learned and competent. But now, everyone can build a mosque, put up loudspeakers, call himself an imam and start disturbing people at night.
A priest that has gone through thorough teachings and training would not go and ask people to cause trouble and kill each other. They are trained men of God. In Christendom today, we all know that some people would drink something overnight and wake up the next day and claim they are apostles, that God had spoken to them. You could not disproof that because you were not there with him and he would start to collect followers. When he begins to preach hatred, what can you do? Is it the society we want? This is the question. The logic behind this law is to strengthen the 1984 laws so as to regulate and ensure that those that are given the opportunity to preach at least know what they are doing, they have a level of responsibility to develop the society rather than divide it. This is our goal; we don’t have anything against any religion or anybody.
What about freedom of religion?
Some people have argued that there is freedom of religion, of course; Section 38 is very clear: We must not have a state religion, every Nigerian is allowed to practise their faith or even if they do not have any religion at all. However, those that are quoting Section 38 of the constitution conveniently forget Section 45 which says that you can regulate any human right if it would affect the right of others. You can practise your religion but you can’t do it in a way that abuses the right of another. There is nothing in this law that is not in conformity with the constitution, or there is nothing new about it other than expanding the scope and after we sent the bill to the House of Assembly, I saw an article that alerted us of what we did not include: Blocking of federal highways, but that is in the Penal Code. It is good to have put it there because every Friday you see most mosques blocking roads. Why? We had to call them to a meeting to have a system that police would be there to guard and also control the traffic. In my opinion, this is a law that we need not only in Kaduna State but almost all states in Nigeria and I want to assure you that, I just came back from the National Economic Council meeting, and a handful of the governors asked me to send them our own law because they thought they also needed it in their state. Everybody is watching to see how we will handle our own. We sent it to the state assembly in October 2015 because some people are saying we sent it because of the Shi’ite problem. No! It was the state assembly that kept on looking at it and saying this one ‘na hot potato’ until now. But, on a very serious note, we don’t have any ulterior motive other than to put a framework that would ensure that Kaduna State people live in peace with everyone practising their religion and disallowing every Tom, Dick and Harry to come and say he can preach.
What will be the major role of the government in this?
We do not regulate as such, we have formed two committees that would issue the licence. It is not the government that will issue the licence. It is a committee of Christian umbrella bodies and Muslim umbrella bodies. We will just have an inter-ministerial committee to be checking once in a while and be keeping records because we want to know who is preaching here and who is doing what there. For us, the reaction was just disproportionate and many of the people that are talking about the law have never even read it. If you read that law, it is very short; it is 16 sections. I tell people who disagree with the bill to read it and tell me what they don’t like about it. Don’t tell me you don’t like the entire law because we know we have a problem and I am the governor and I need a solution. Don’t say the solution is not to have the law; we need the law but tell me what you don’t like, then we can discuss it. We want to find a solution that brings peace. We are not fixed in our position, what we are fixed about is that Kaduna State people must live in peace and everyone must be allowed to practise their religion without hindrance. We took an oath of office to do that. Apart from that, every other thing can be discussed. Are you telling me it is okay for someone to put up speakers in the night and start making a noise, be it Islam or Christianity, disturbing people? Is that okay? Which chapter in the two holy books says that Jesus or Muhammad (SAW) did that. Are we not trying to copy them? Are they not the perfections of both our religions? Jesus said, ‘Give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s.’ Government is the Caesar.
We have informed the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Jama’atu Nasril Islam that if they have problems with any section, if there is anything to be done, and if they don’t want the government to be involved, we will remove it, but they must regulate.
What is your take on the assumption by some in the state that hold that the bill is aimed at stopping the practice of Christianity and Islam in the state?
I have not seen anyone talking about Islam actually. Most of the people that say I would die, as if I would not die, are people who call themselves Christian clergy. Of course, I will die. If that apostle is truly an apostle, he should mention the day I will die. There is nothing in that law that prevents or infringes the practice of religion. It seeks to ensure that those that preach religion are qualified, trained and certified by their peers to do it. And some sections of the media have made it as if the law was drafted against Christianity. It is most irresponsible and I have nothing to say except to leave the matter to God.