The Senate, popularly known as the red chambers, is currently pushing for a bill to establish a “National Centre for Christian Education”.
According to its sponsors, the law “will regulate and set standards for the practice of Christianity in Nigeria, and “strengthen religion” for national cohesion.
The piece of legislation was at first reported to be sponsored by other religious faiths to reduce the practice of Christianity in Nigeria.
This information went viral and stimulated fears among Christian communities, which in the last eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government suffered the worst kind of annihilation from Islamic fundamentalists, who are still lurking around communities without a scintilla of consequence for their satanic actions.
However, inquiry indicated that there is no plot to gag Christians from preaching the gospel, which is a fundamental principle of the faith.
To douse the tension too, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has clarified that the bill was sponsored at the House of Representatives by Hon. Shawulu Kwenmwun.
Other co-sponsors are Beni Lar; Yusuf Ayo Tajudeen; John Dyegh; Solomon Bob and Benjamin Mzondu.
At the Senate, Senator Binos Yaroe sponsored it, while senators I. Gyang; Abba Muro; Emmanuel Bwacha; Lilian Ekwunife and Abba Moro co-sponsored, and they are all Christians.
National Director, Education, Youth and Women Development of CAN, Rev. Ozumba Emmanuel Nicodemus, in a statement, said: “The aim of the bill is to get a regulatory council for Christian education that will oversee Christian curriculum development and monitor what our children are being taught in secular schools.
“It is our token contribution to preserve the sanctity of our faith and the innocence of our children.”
He added that many theological schools in the country are substandard and their certificates are not recognised beyond the institutions that awarded them, yet they abound everywhere.
This bill, he said, will harmonise their operations and set a minimum standard that must be met before awarding certificates to their graduates.
The body stressed that the bill, when passed, will formalise Christian education as a course of study in tertiary institutions and accord recognition and validity to the certificates gotten from Bible and theological schools and other Christian institutions in the country.
The intervention put to rest the report that the bill seeks to regulate Christianity or censor Christian preaching and preachers.
To CAN, it was mischievous and maliciously spewed to cause disaffection among CAN, the sponsors of the bill and the Christian community in Nigeria, and ultimately scuttle its noble agenda to have a voice on matters that concern the faith and calling.
The bill tagged, “An Act to Establish the National Council for Christian Education for the Purpose of Regulating and Setting Standard and For Related Matters, 2023” has already passed second reading purely to enhance the educational value of Christianity, according to CAN.
Reacting to the issue, Istifanus Gyang, senator representing Plateau North, said wrongly practiced religion has bred extremism.
He stressed that Nigerians don’t have to suspect themselves across religious divides. “Rather, we need to understand, and respect ourselves, our peculiarity and reality,” Gyang said.
Justifying the bill, the sponsors had said: “Religion as wrongly practised is what has bred extremism and hate, but rightly practiced religion can be a source of strength and national cohesion.
“This is where the place of a commission that will develop a curriculum for Christian education is very necessary.”
Senator Moro representing Benue South, said the bill is “apt” owing to the fact that some youths have been manipulated by extremist religious leaders.
He had attributed part of the problem experienced in some parts of the country to inappropriate explanations of the Bible and the Quran.
After passing the bill through the second reading, Lawan referred the bill to the Committee on Education for further legislative input.
For some, the bill is obviously a way to gag the practice of Christian religion contrary to the letters of the constitution. They feared that Muslim dominated parliament would not favour laws for coordination of Christian schools.
First and foremost, the secularity of the country, the constitution, and other laws and policies in Nigeria generally protect religious freedom.
The constitution mandates that the government “shall not adopt any religion as State Religion” to avoid a situation where religious suppression is enthroned.
No doubt, Christian education, which is today marked down for better ‘reforms’ has served as an advocate for funding and innovation in education, moral improvement, empowerment, social movement and service delivery.
Today in Nigeria many universities are built by faith organisations, run with high-level discipline, unlike most government universities infested with cultism and corruption among other vices.
In America and Europe, Christian denominations build universities to educate their clergy and lay followers.
Most of these institutions have since become secular in orientation, but their presence may help explain why populations in America and Europe are relatively more educated.
Apart from their roles in creating educational infrastructure, religious groups were foundational in fostering societal attitudes toward education; there have not been any scientific claim to the Christian fate demonstrating extremism.
According to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), there are approximately 900 religiously affiliated colleges and universities in America.
Liberty University is regarded as the largest Christian University in America. It is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (Southern Baptist Convention).
Founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell Sr. and Elmer L. Towns, Liberty University is among the world’s largest Christian universities and the largest private non-profit universities in America by total student enrollment.
A good look at the management of public schools in Nigeria, after the government took over from the missions and other agencies, shows some level of inefficiency and corruption in the management of resources meant for the education sector.
This cannot be said to be the case in the administration of the mission schools, as they seem to fare better.
“The right to religion and free conscience is enshrined in Section 38 of the Constitution. It’s an inalienable right. This means that no one can be deprived of it. This also means that it cannot be derogated except as provided in the Constitution.
“Section 45 of the Constitution provides that any law made by the legislature to derogate from the right enshrined in section 38 (among other named sections affirming certain fundamental rights), may only be valid if such law is made in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; and if the law is meant to protect the right and interests of others.
“In my opinion, the grounds for which derogation may be permitted are quite expansive enough to cover regulation of religious preaching, not just Christian preaching alone.
“However, if the bill is limited to Christian preaching alone, then that raises a different matter altogether. That would amount to violation of section 42 (1) (a) of the same Constitution, which specially prohibits discrimination on account of religion etc; especially where the law is targeted at a particular religion, among other protected categories listed in the subsection,” declared Edoba Omoregie (SAN), a Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law and Governance.
According to him, section 42 serves as an absolute protection against discrimination, which is not subject to any form of derogation.
Therefore, any bill, which is targeted at only the regulation of Christian preaching, he stated, is unconstitutional, irrespective of whether the proposed law fits into the derogations permissible in section 45 of the Constitution, since section 42 rights are not listed among rights, which may be liable to derogation.