Kaduna — The Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has asked Governor Nasir el-Rufai to focus his attention and energy on the security challenges bedeviling the state, rather than wasting his energy on the controversial bill on regulation of religious preaching in the state.
Addressing journalists yesterday during a meeting with church leaders across the state, the state chairman of the association, Rev. Joseph Hayab, said rather than dissipate his energy on the bill, the governor should enact a law on hate speech, incitement and pollution.
He said the recent judgment by the state high court, which declared a provision in the bill prescribing the screening and licensing of religious preachers in the state
as a huge relief to all peace-lovers in Kaduna.
The high court, while delivering judgment in a suit by the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) challenging the bill, had declared that the provision of the bill seeking to screen and issue licence to religious preachers was unconstitutional.
According to Hayab, given the ominous purpose of the bill, CAN will continue to stand with the PFN to legally pursue the matter to the apex court.
"We invited you here to make a public statement on some recent developments in Kaduna State, particularly, the recent court judgment on the controversial executive bill seeking to regulate religious preaching in our dear state.
"We wish to state that the judgment of the court is a welcome development and a huge relief to all peace-loving people in the state, both Christians and lovers of peace from other faiths," Hayab said.
He further said: "For the Christians, we suspect that the bill, in the first instance, could be an attempt to bully the different faiths we profess and illegally aimed at obstructing religious preaching, especially the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"Given the ominous purpose of the bill, we stand with the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) Kaduna State Chapter to legally pursue the matter to the apex court of the land. This is because, the Holy Bible commands all Christians, not just pastors, to 'go into the world and preach the gospel' (Mathew 28: 19-20 and Mark 16: 15)
"On the weight of the above, we interpret the motive behind the bill as a gross violation of the rights of Christians and all people of faith to practice their faiths as enshrined in section 38(1) of the Nigerian Constitution, which gives Nigerians the right to practice the religion of their choice.
"While, according to some feelers, the government may appeal against the judgment, CAN wish to advise the Governor Nasir El-Rufai's administration that rather than dissipate valuable time and energy on a matter with a propensity to create further misunderstanding in the state, the government should focus its attention on the security challenges bedevilling the state".
He added that "manifestly, the government seems to have failed in its key responsibility of safeguarding lives and property of the people as stated in section 14 (2b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, since armed bandits now, than ever before, continue to cause hapless citizens havoc at any time they so wish without fear of been captured."
According to Hayab, "it is no longer news that people within Kaduna State are repeatedly being robbed, abducted or killed by bandits, often identified as Fulani herdsmen almost on a daily basis.
"Consequently, families and relations have had to cough out huge sums of money, amid scarce resources, to pay ransom to kidnappers to have their abducted relations freed.
He also said: "At times, even when the ransom is paid, the abductees are killed. At present, people in some rural communities in Kaduna State are unable to go to the farm purely for fear of being abducted, raped, or killed and yet all the government worries about is a Preaching Bill!
"To add salt to injury, recently, the United Kingdom listed Kaduna State among the 21 states in Nigeria considered as red/danger zones where British citizens and other Europeans are advised against visiting. Is that not supposed to be the undeviating concern of the government?
"Therefore, the problem that should be of grave disquiet to the government of Kaduna State and the front burner is the way to secure our territory from the intrusion of armed bandits instead of compounding the problems with a bill that offends the set provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.
"We, as a result, call on El-Rufai to devote his energy and attention to addressing the unending challenge of constant kidnappings of our people on the highway, in their farms and homes.
"We are equally calling on the governor, in the interest of justice and fair play, to pay compensation to all victims of herdsmen attacks, kidnappers, and armed robbers, just like he paid the fulani herdsmen three years ago to stop the killings in some parts of Kaduna State, even though the massacres are yet to stop".
Hayab maintained that the preponderance of the violence in Kaduna State was not instigated by religious preaching but mostly caused by injustice, lack of equity, hate speech by those in power and the outright marginalisation of certain people in the state.
"So CAN is calling on the government to retrace its steps and focus on people-oriented programmes and stop exploiting religious differences to further polarise the citizenry.