President Muhammadu Buhari's hurried departure for the 14th Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Saudi Arabia, in the evening after his inauguration last Wednesday, has left many wondering why the surreptitiousness.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and some legal practitioners are of the view that the country's membership of the body remains unconstitutional, and a smokescreen for something sinister.
The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, yesterday, joined in the criticisms, as it alleged a plot by Buhari to drag the country into religious crisis. It warned that the country would not survive the dire consequences of such war.
While a member of the House of Representatives, Nnenna Elendu Ukeje said the National Assembly can no longer play any role over the appropriateness of the country's membership of the OIC, her colleague in the upper chamber, Shehu Sani attempted to calm frayed nerves with his submission that, "there is nothing wrong with Nigeria's membership of the OIC and PMB's attendance."
In alleging Buhari's plot to cause a religious upheaval in the country, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, urged the National Assembly to quickly wade into the matter, adding that what was playing out lends credence to Obasanjo's Islamisation and Fulanisation theory.
Deputy national publicity secretary of the group, Mr. Chuks Ibegbu said: "It is condemnable that Buhari abandoned Nigerians immediately after he took his oath of office to travel to Saudi Arabia for the OIC meeting. Let it be known that Nigeria is not a member of the OIC. Former military leader, Ibrahim Babangida dragged Nigeria illegally into the OIC and the people protested vehemently against it. They rejected it on the ground that Nigeria is a secular country. Now Buhari is plotting to return the country into that organisation. Let it be known to him that he will not succeed.
"He should stop wasting his energy in travelling, but should sit down and face his responsibilities as a leader. Nigerians are facing hunger and starvation; there is insecurity everywhere; there is a big challenge on the economy and the masses, who are his primary responsibility are feeling the heat. Instead of addressing the issues, he is busy attending meetings and trying to drag the country into an organisation that has no benefit to its wellbeing... I do not know what Buhari thinks he will benefit by creating problems for the people. The OIC has not cared about the economic crisis in Nigeria; OIC has not cared about the insecurity that is threatening the unity of the country among many others. Somebody should warn the President."
The group said it was sad that the President accorded priority to attending a meeting in Saudi Arabia, when millions of persons were waiting on him to address the nation after he took his oath of office on Wednesday.
"What kind of president will do that? It shows how intolerable he has become. It shows he only wanted the votes of the people and nothing more. It shows how transformed he has become and his real self. It shows he can only listen to himself, and do whatever pleases him. That is a bad omen. Buhari cannot wake up over night to do whatever pleases him. He should be called to order in the interest of peace and development of the country', the group stated.
While CAN described as "unconstitutional," the country's membership of OIC, it said immense attention should be paid Obasanjo's outcry.
In a statement yesterday, in Abuja, signed by its President, His Eminence, Rev. Dr. Samson Ayokunle, the body noted that Obasanjo has sacrificed a lot for this nation in order to make it one and great, and therefore deserves respect while his pronouncements should be treated with caution.
CAN described OIC as "the collective voice of the Muslim world" and which works to "safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony. Are the government officials listening to those who voted them into power at all? Is the government not heating up the polity? We all remember how Nigeria was smuggled into OIC during the military. We wonder if the President is ready to attend the meeting of the World Council of Churches or be asking the Vice President to represent him whenever the members meet."
Ukeje, who is the outgoing Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs told The Guardian that the country's membership of OIC had already been settled when the former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida was in office between 1985 and 1993.
"It was a decision taken when the country was under military rule. There was no parliament at the time. So, the parliament cannot play any role on the issue again," she claimed.
Elendu, who is a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Abia State declined to state in clear terms what the country stands to gain by its OIC membership.
Asked to justify Nigeria's membership of OIC membership, Sani (PRP, Kaduna Central) simply referred to his earlier tweet on the matter. He insisted that he had no problems with it.
In the tweet, he wrote: "There is nothing wrong with Nigeria's membership of the OIC and PMB's attendance."
He, however, cautioned against allowing the membership to compromise the sovereignty of the country saying: "Any association that will bring economic benefits to our country is welcome as long as there's no blackmail and our sovereignty will not be compromised."
Another lawmaker, who reacted only on condition of anonymity said if the country's membership of OIC came through a military decree, it means it had legal status.
"Although, debate on this issue is not one I would want to participate in, it is enough to say that to determine the legality or otherwise of Nigeria's membership of OIC, the emphasis should be whether it came through a decree or not. You know that a decree is recognised as valid Act of Parliament."
Spokesman of the Senate, Abdullahi Sabi Aliu, who was equally contacted through messages did not utter a word.
A Port Harcourt-based lawyer, Mr. Festus Oguche, on his part described President Buhari's presence in OIC as personal and not in the interest of the country. "He is only there to represent himself and not the country. Our laws imbue him with all rights and privileges connected with the right to freedom of association and nobody can deny him of that choice if he so chooses, and if the association itself is admitting individuals as members, but definitely, not the country.
He continued: "I have not adverted my mind to the ongoings at the conference, but if there is a slight speech or body language suggesting that President Buhari is there for Nigeria, then it is a clear fundamental breach of constitutional provisions. We draw serious lessons from Europe and the vicissitudes and upheavals created by religion and we know all the history on the emergence of secularism as the ideal mode and pattern on how people are to be governed. Bringing a religion under the canopy of the State or vice versa in whatever manner is both barbaric and anachronistic, and we must ensure that the ship of state is clearly steered off that dangerous course."
Oguche informed that the issue of Nigeria's membership of the OIC generated quite some controversies in the past, which almost resulted to a diplomatic row.
"It was somewhat contained then because the military was in power and the officials have their own way of getting around such issues and having their way in whatever they wanted. So, there hasn't been a formal withdrawal from the membership and to some pundits, it would appear we are stuck to it. Unfortunately, we are not because the Constitution is quite clear on the secular status of the country.
"In spite of the fact that the same Constitution created some courts fashioned after a particular religion, those courts are meant specifically for persons that profess the Moslem religion and imbibe the Sharia jurisprudence as personal law. This, however, cannot be interpreted to mean that the constitution has capsized its standpoint on secularity, rather, it acknowledged the rights of its citizens who profess to a particular law as their own personal law, and accord recognition and respect for such law through the provision of the requisite legal and judicial pedestal for its application as any constitutional instrument would," Oguche said.
For Abuja-based lawyer, Victor Oziegbe, Nigeria's OIC membership is a breach of the 1999 Constitution.
"The OIC is the collective voice of the Muslim world, which was created in 1969 to safeguard and protect the common interest of members, who are Muslim countries. Nigeria became a member during the military era but the question begging for an answer is if Nigeria is an Islamic country. The answer is emphatically 'no.'
"A combined reading of Section 1, 10 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution, are in conflict with Nigeria's membership because the sections collectively made Nigeria a secular State. However, that the President hurriedly left for the conference in my own opinion is a demonstration of upholding our foreign obligations. Remember, the OIC adopted the Convention on Combating International Terrorism in 1999.
"In view of our membership and the threatening reality of terrorism in Nigeria, there is no better time than now for the President to attend any gathering that will afford us peace in Nigeria", he said.
Kayode Ajulo, another Abuja-based legal practitioner offered his views:
He said: "Nigeria became a full member of OIC during the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Interestingly, during the regime of President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, Nigeria's membership was renewed.
"Nigeria by its constitution is a secular state, the secularity of Nigeria as a country is that it shall not promote any religion against another, or better still, it shall not adopt any religion as a state religion. This does not preclude Nigeria and her government from engaging in any religion that her citizens practice.
"Today, our constitution allows sharia practices as well as some customary practices that are faith based. In fact, administration of oaths is governed by individual faith."
Meanwhile, President Buhari has passed a vote of confidence on intervention programmes of the various institutions under the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for the impact they are making on Nigeria and other African countries.
While reading the collective statement of African countries at the summit commended the robust interventions of the Islamic Development Bank, IDB, in key sectors such as agriculture, trade and investment.
Buhari said: "The robust interventions of the various OIC Institutions and principally the Islamic Development Bank Group, have been effective in such key sectors as trade and investment, agriculture, rural development and food security, science, technology and innovation, poverty alleviation as well as women and youth empowerment."
In the specific case of Nigeria, the President acknowledged the support of OIC Member States in countering the menace of terrorism and armed criminality in West Africa, the Lake Chad area and the Sahel Countries.
"In particular, Nigeria acknowledges the support of OIC Member States in countering the menace of terrorism and armed criminality in West Africa, the Lake Chad area and the Sahel countries. We appreciate their contributions in the alleviation of the humanitarian crisis arising from the insurgency but urge them to do more.
"We appreciate their contributions in the alleviation of the humanitarian crisis arising from the insurgency but urge them to do more," said the President.
President Buhari also commended OIC institutions for supporting development projects aimed at achieving rapid socio-economic development in Nigeria.
He highlighted the Inter-Water Basic transfer, aimed at recharging the Lake Chad, the National Food Security Programme, the Second Niger Bridge, various roads and school rehabilitation projects as some projects in Nigeria that have attracted the support of OIC institutions.
On issues of concurrent global significance, President Buhari said the African members of the OIC were pleased with renewed efforts by the organization for the restoration of the national rights of the Palestinians and other long-standing unresolved conflicts.
The President, however, noted that many OIC member states were grappling with serious security problems, including terrorism, violent extremism and armed criminality.
The Nigerian leader said some of these challenges have assumed grave dimensions in recent times and required serious and coordinated approach for lasting solutions.
"In addition to the core issue of the restoration of the national rights of the Palestinians and other long-standing unresolved conflicts, we now grapple with serious security problems, represented by the destructive activities of terrorists, violent extremists and armed criminals in many of OIC Member States.
"This situation has also been compounded by a series of political crises, which continue to affect a number of our countries," he stated.