Catholic Church Plans Legal Action Against Sharia

Dakar, Senegal

The Catholic Church in Nigeria plans a legal challenge to the Islamic Sharia law introduced by some States in the north of the country, the Archbishop of Abuja, Mgr John Onaiyekan said in Dakar Tuesday.

"Not only is it unconstitutional for the Sharia to be imposed on Nigeria as a Federation, it is unconstitutional for it to be imposed on any particular State or States, even if the State were 100 percent Muslim," the prelate told PANA in the Senegalese capital.

Several Muslim-dominated northern Nigerian States have introduced the Sharia amid strong protests from Christians in the multi-religious and populous nation.

The issue has generated sectarian violence resulting in hundreds of deaths and destruction of property.

Onaiyekan, who is attending a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, said it is unfortunate that Nigerian politicians have consistently shied away from the problem.

He said some unnamed persons in the government were trying to make some political gains from the potentially dangerous issue.

"The Head of State (Olusegun Obasanjo) has dragged his feet too long on one matter.

"This might be because his hands are tied, or he has decided to tie his own hands," Onaiyekan said.

He added that when the issue first came up, the President publicly declared it was wrong.

But since then, the Archbishop said Obasanjo had back- pedalled, instead of making an effort "to call even a meeting of Governors of the States concerned."

The prelate said Christians in Nigeria were experiencing "a political manoeuvre by a small group to gain both on the political front and on the economic front at the same time."

"That is why they have resorted to this kind of manipulation of religious sentiments."

He explained that although only four or five of Nigeria's 36 States had actually proclaimed the Sharia law, the situation of Christians living in those States is sufficiently grave to deserve immediate national attention.

"We are waiting...," he insists.

The Archbishop said the States concerned based their decision on a "false notion of common will of the people," noting that Article 10 of the National Constitution declares Nigeria a non-confessional Federation.

"It clearly states that the government of the Federation or of any State in the Federation cannot adopt any religion as State religion.

"This means that even if a majority of people of a given State are Muslims, they do not have the right to make Islam the official religion of that State," Onyaiyekan argued.

"We in the Church do not consider that the five or so States are already Muslim States. We still consider the entire affair as an illegal move which must be stopped," he added.

The prelate said the Church considers a planned constitutional amendment as an opportunity to correct the "error."

He praised the strength with which Christians in the northern State of Kaduna faced the challenge of the Sharia imposition.

"They fought back and now the situation is again normal. We regret the loss of lives which that caused, however."

Onaiyekan said the situation is different in other northern States mainly because the Christians are fewer.

But he explained that at the national level, the Church is putting up a strategy on the issue.

"Let's make the facts clear. We are not fighting Islam... We have no problem with Islam. The majority of Muslims are living in harmony with peoples of other religions in Nigeria," Onaiyekan pointed out.