Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai is not a man known to shy away from the spotlight. His past exploits and accompanying controversies as a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory and Director-General of the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) serve as avid reminder to those who have followed the diminutive and combative character of Kaduna’s number one citizen’s sojourn into public administration and governance.
Now in 2016, El-Rufai’s personality streak for courting controversy is at work again-this time in a sensitive, volatile and passionate clime like religion that has often and brazenly tested the political and territorial wholesomeness of this country.
However, as the uproar and resentments against El-Rufai’s impending religious license bill continue to gather momentum, it becomes imperative to sniff beyond the Kaduna state governor’s intent in order to have clarity on this sensitive issue.
In this age of terrorism, a menace that no country in the world is immune to, it becomes imperative for any responsive and responsible government to take heed and address issues that could usurp its peace and security. A step Nasir El-Rufai has taken amidst the ongoing military offensive against Boko Haram in the North East.
Having seen the untold destruction and havoc the sect has imprinted on the country, it is only sensible for the Governor to take pre-emptive step in nipping it in the bud and addressing the flippancy that gave rise to Boko Haram from a harmless religious group that was appalled by the glaring inequalities between the rich and the poor in the north to a formidable terror group that does not only threaten the territorial integrity of Nigeria but, also of her neighbours.
While defending the religious bill meant to check the activities of churches and mosques, the Kaduna state governor stated this was important as intelligence gathering briefed him of new Islamic sect known as ‘Gaussiyya’ whose philosophy, aims and objective remains unclear. Hence, it becomes imperative to regulate the activities of religious bodies in the state in order to avert the breeding of terror groups hiding under the garb of religion.
Instead of slamming the governor, he should be applauded.
It is quite unfortunate that issues of national interests over the years have often been subjected to religious and ethnic sentiments- A blindfold preventing us from seeing the bigger picture, something playing itself out now in Kaduna.
Regulation of religious activities is not something new, the West have a strict regulatory policy in place that sieves a religious body’s sermon, orientation and objectives. Even in Islamic countries, a good example, Pakistan, madrasas in Punjab are effectively monitored by the Province government all in the bid to stamp out radical teachings and extremist ideologies that have long fed the jihadi activities of Pakistan Taliban and other terror groups in the country.
So, El-Rufai has not erred for taking this strong posture to screening the activities of religious bodies within the state. What he has done is to, zoom the lens on the activities of churches and mosques as they are fertile ground for fanatics and hate preachers to sprout.
And besides, he does not intend to embark on this road alone, he intends to constitute a central body that will have representatives of both religions deliberating and deciding on issuance of licenses to establishment of new churches and mosques.
But, critics have faulted this bill stating it is not only counter-productive for a country where religious issues are often volatile and sensitive but, also unconstitutional as it infringes on the freedom of religion, thought, conscience and open propagation of one’s belief. Yes, it does run contrary to not only the constitution but also the tenets of democracy, a political structure and institution we strongly believe in.
While it seems rational to defend the fundamental human rights and freedom guaranteed by democracy, it is also exigent to adjust and reassess these rights as enshrined in the constitution in the wake of evolving socio-political happenings threatening the existence of the state and questioning its territorial sovereignty.
Have you ever seen a citizen demanding for freedom of movement when curfew is imposed in a crisis situation? Never, the need to restore law and order to such crisis-ridden enclave by the authorities overrides any individual’s constitutional right to freedom of movement.
Even in Western democracies where they are light years ahead of us when it comes to liberalism and enforcing citizens’ rights, the state does not hold back in denying its citizens these rights if national interest is at stake. The French government’s passing of bill to wiretap citizens’ phones and internet activities in the wake of the deadly Paris terror attacks lay credence to this.
Still contending with Boko Haram in the North East, the Kaduna state governor is well aware of what lies ahead if it fails to cut an infectious virus that could be exploited by new groups or sects all bandying the religion placard while grooming terror behind the scene.
The state governor however, must endeavor to make this bill proactive and un-biased.
Fears that it could be hijacked and used against Christians must be addressed if the governor truly wants to fight radicalization and harmful teachings in places of worship as he claimed in his earlier defense of the controversial bill.
Creating a religious body that is transparent and adequately having representatives of both faiths in its fold could be a first step in series of others in allaying the worries of either faith.
As much as our constitution guarantees freedom of religion, it is also pertinent to remind the governor that Nigeria as a State is secular, and must remain so even in his little domain where he calls the shot.
El-Rufai must not let politicians, sycophants and unwanted elements distort the objective of this bill and his own intentions with respect to checking religious excesses.
Despite the fact that, terrorism and its crippling effects on the country necessitated the initiation of this bill by the governor, he must show wisdom and resolve not to veer off this perilous road that he has already embarked on otherwise, he just might have tampered with a grenade that could leave in its wake a dent on his own image and a horrible scar on the polity.