By AUSTIN OWOICHO, Abuja
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Muhammad Tanko, yesterday called for constitutional amendments to accommodate some peculiarities of Shariah law which have been ignored for so long. The CJN made this statement while declaring open the 20thAnnual Judges Conference at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. The CJN was represented by Justice Muhammad Danjuma, the Grand Kadi of Niger State.
In the meantime, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has given its blessing to the CJN’s suggestion. The human rights organization is of the opinion that the current constitution is a child of British colonial Christianisation of the country which has failed to take into consideration the multi-religious nature of the Nigerian nation. MURIC spoke through its director, Professor Ishaq Akintola, who issued a press statement on the matter on Friday, 13thDecember, 2019.
“The CJN has our full backing on this. The British colonial government bequeathed a legacy of Christianisation to the Nigerian nation. Muslims were not comfortable with it but the British did not listen. The British did not give a damn. The Northern Muslims resisted and the British invaded the North. Muslim resistance was brutally broken by the ruthless massacre of thousands of Muslim freedom fighters in Hausaland, particularly in Burmi (1903), Satiru (1906) and Zinder (1917). Even those who surrounded were not spared as they were mowed down with machine guns. Thereafter, the British victors curtailed Islamic landmarks.
“Islam had arrived in Karnem Borno in the year 1085 (818 years before the invasion of the North by the British) during the reign of King Humi Jilmi while Christianity was first preached in 1842 (757 years after the advent of Islam) under the Agacia tree in Badagry. As far as we are concerned, therefore, the British who brought Christianity to Nigeria spread their religion by force after invading the North, after intimidating the South West and after subdueing the Muslims who had been practicing their faith for more than 800 years. They used excessive force against the Muslims and carried out barbaric and extra-judicial killings.
“The bombardment of Lagos in 1851 by Commodore Captain R. W. Bruce during the ‘Boiling Battle’ (Ogun Ahoyaya) and the subsequent surrender of the city was the first operation ‘shock and awe’ designed to cow Southerners. It was equally intended to send a strong message to the North. The booming of cannon shells and other bombs was hitherto unknown to the city. Lagos quickly put its tail between its legs like a frightened dog and other cities in the South West took the cue. It was a fait accompli. The Muslim population cautioned its membership against courting the ire of the colonial masters. This surrender paved the way for the creation of the Lagos Colony ten years later (1861). From then onwards, the city of Lagos which by 1775 had more than fifty Islamic schools, opened the floodgate to the intimidation and coercion of Muslim children in colonial schools. This persecution has lasted to date.
“We have gone down the lanes of history because today was born from the wombs of yesterday. Muslims in Yorubaland put up no armed resistance to colonial invasion and forceful conversion whereas Northern Muslims died in their thousands resisting colonial invasion. This resulted in the bold and ruthless conversion of Muslims to Christianity in the South West whereas the colonialists exercised caution in their dealing with Northern Muslims. This situation also informed British adoption of indirect rule in the North. Nobody should ask MURIC to forget the history of Nigerian Muslims. Brutalisation of Muslims by the British marauders is part of our history just as the forceful abandonment of Islamic landmarks as ordered by the British Christian evangelists.
“It was after the British had killed all Muslims who resisted their occupation of Northern Nigeria and after they had imposed restrictions on the Shariah that they established a Christian-oriented administration. Western education through which thousands of Muslims were forcefully converted was also introduced to replace Islamic education which was already popular before the arrival of the British.
“This was the situation until Nigeria obtained independence in 1960 and the Muslims continued to bear the brunt of subjection to a Christian-oriented system. Unfortunately successive regimes in post-independence Nigeria have failed to review the system after the exit of the British in spite of repeated demands. As a result of this, the Muslims remain unintegrated, unaccommodated and displeased. Without attempting to justify violent uprisings, it is our contention that this lop-sidedness is partly responsible for the interreligious clashes which Nigeria has experienced to date, including, of course, Boko Haram insurgency.
“The system we run in this country is not only alien to Muslim culture, it has marginalised the Muslim population. Our democracy is deceptive in as much as Muslims who form the largest segment of the population are not integrated into the system. Participatory democracy is the global best practice. But not in Nigeria.
“Nigeria’s democracy excludes the Muslims. Our weekends shut Muslims out. It is the entire monopoly of Christians. Saturday and Sunday are free but Friday is not. The Muslim girl-child goes to school with tears in her eyes because she must not enter the school with hijab on her head. There is no single Shariah Appeal Court in the entire South West and Muslims in that sub-region are subjected to Christian common law in all civil matters. Muslim marriages conducted inside mosques are not recognised but those held in churches are sacrosanct. This democracy is fraudulent.
“Christian women enjoy the monopoly of recruitment into the army, navy, police, civil defence, traffic wardens, immigrations, customs, etc but Muslim women cannot because those uniformed agencies will not recruit users of hijab. Yet Muslim police women and soldiers use hijab in Britain, United States, Ireland, etc. Female Muslim graduates therefore remain jobless and impoverished while their Christian counterparts smile to the banks.
“Yet it was not so ab initio. It was the British Christian colonialists who changed the system to favour Christians only. This is not good enough and we need to sit down like neighbours to renegotiate our nationhood. It is always better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. If we all condemn the Boko Haram style, what alternative have we put forward?
“MURIC therefore embraces the CJN’s idea of the need for constitutional amendment. It is even belated. It is part of restructuring. We hope the restructuring camp will welcome the CJN’s idea because it is not going to be about Muslim demands alone but a comprehensive one. We call for objectivity in this matter. Those who always oppose anything which is likely to benefit Muslims are urged to consider this initiative with an open mind. Constitutional amendment has all the potentials to usher in peace and tranquillity if we approach it with sincerity.