In February, the Kaduna State government sent an executive Religious Preaching Bill “For A Law To Substitute The Kaduna State Religious Preaching Law, 1984”. The highly controversial bill which is presently before the State House of Assembly is designed to strictly regulate all religious activities in the state, consequently curbing the citizens’ freedom of religion. Nevertheless, it has received strong disapproval from both Christian and Muslim communities, the two dominant religious groups in the state.
In the midst of the increasing opposition to the bill, the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasiru El-Rufai, met with officials of the state branch of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) soliciting for their support.
El-Rufai, represented by the deputy governor of the state, Mr. Barnabas Bala, held a 40 minutes closed-door meeting with a delegation of the Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) led by its chairman, Bishop George Dogo where he assured them that the government is dedicated to making sure that there is a safe environment for the citizens of the state to practice their religion.
Speaking to newsmen at the end of the meeting, the leader of the delegation established the truth that the meeting was based on the controversial bill, but said the association would not make any comment for now.
“When we are through with the study, memo will be sent to the State Assembly; on the day of public hearing we will explain more, but now it would be premature to say the position of CAN.”
Responding to the public worry that the government is aiming at limiting religious freedom, Bishop Dogo said:
“I don’t think any governor has the power to enact law that will supersede what is in the constitution. The constitution guarantees every person the right to practice his/her religion, I don’t think there is any governor that can enact a law in that regard. Governors ask for prayers in all places of worship, so how would they enact a law that will ban the practice of religion.”
According to a statement issued after the meeting by Mr. Samuel Aruwan, spokesman to the governor, the government is going ahead with the Religious Preaching Bill. He said:
“This is not a new law. It has existed since 1984, with amendments in 1987 and 1996. The military governments which created the law were responding to outbreaks of religious violence such as Maitatsine in 1983; the riots after the Kafanchan incidence of 1987.”
Stressing it further, he said:
“Kaduna State has a history of religious/sectarian crisis and what this bill seeks to do is not anything new but to learn from painful experience, and discourage the use of religion for violence and division. The Bill, by virtue of Section 45(1) of the 1999 Constitution, is in order and does not offend the provisions of the constitution. The provisions of the Bill are in tandem with the Constitution.
“There is nothing in the Bill that suggests any effort to abolish, stop or derogate on the freedom of religion and religious beliefs. It merely seeks to ensure that religious preaching and activities in the State are conducted in ways that do not threaten public order, public safety, and to protect the rights and freedom of other persons.”
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Not minding public protests, the Kaduna state government still insists that the Religious Preaching Bill is to meant to “protect the state from religious extremism and hate speech.”