For daring a bill to regulate religious practice in Kaduna State, Governor Nasir el-Rufai’s explosively intolerant opponents, reading religious chauvinism into it all, have tagged him “antichrist”.
But from their hysteria, not the governor, but they, sound every decibel the antichrist. By their deeds, declares the Bible, the divine Christian constitution, we shall know them!
For starters, an Auchi, Edo-based Pentecostal pastor, Apostle Johnson Suleiman, let fly his own version of Christian fatwa: the governor must withdraw the bill or he dies!
Is that the good pastor’s interpretation of Christ’s turn-the-other-cheek doctrine, in this blessed season of Easter — Christ, that was divine, yet meekly submitted to be mauled and crucified, just to cleanse humanity of sin?
Or, given the Islamic ring to the pastor’s surname, is it a neophyte getting too excitable for his own good, preaching hate instead of love, just to score one for Christianity against its great “enemy”, Islam?
But even if Islam is Christianity’s enemy (which it is not, though their doctrines differ), didn’t Christ insist you must pray for your enemies?
Besides, the irate apostle (didn’t the Bible say be angry, but don’t sin?) must be told that theocratic arrogance — which is what his show of ire amounts to — doesn’t excuse the breach of the law in a secular republic.
Threatening a sitting governor with death, for whatever excuse, could well amount to treason, if the affected high official of state decides to press charges.
Another piqued Christian brother, on his facebook wall, gleefully posted an el-Rufai picture defaced with a giant X, in red. His furious and sweeping verdict: “This Uncircumcised Philistine! Cannot stop the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in Kaduna State!!!”
But pray, is the proposed “Bill for a Law to substitute the Kaduna State Regulation of Religious Preaching Edict No. 7 of 1984” targeted solely against Christians? Hardly, though this emotive reaction would suggest otherwise.
Just as well it is nothing but hot fallacy. Calling a fellow citizen “uncircumcised Philistine” could satisfy religious bile. But if you distil history from theology, that phrase clearly belonged to the pre-Christian era, the Judaist era, when the ancient Israelites fought turf wars against virulent opposition in the Promised Land which, by the way, belonged to some people before they got there.
Judaists, if they wish, could luxuriate in such cavalier bigotry. Not Christians. Though Christ talked of Jews and Gentiles, there was nothing chauvinistic about it: just a realistic aggregation of humanity, beyond just Jews, since all, according to the Christian creed, are entitled to Christ’s redemption.
Anyway, applying psychoanalysis to Nigerian users of facebook would appear a disturbing but penetrating beam into the innermost crevices of their soul: the ultra-dirty id, without the restraining strictures of the ego and super-ego.
It is the classical Freudian slip, a raw exposé into the thick jungle of the soul, where unfettered savagery reigns.
Still, nothing from this discourse presumes el-Rufai a saint; and his opponents, irredeemable devils.
Indeed, from his tenure as Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) director-general to Abuja minister, both stewardship he proudly rendered in Accidental Public Servant, his Obasanjo-era public service memoirs, the not-so-accidental elected governor of Kaduna assaults you with his in-your-face manifest goodness of his intentions, no matter how controversial.
That enlists him needless enemies, especially among those who feel he is too proud, too huffy and absolutely insufferable. An acute mind that does not suffer fools gladly, and who gets irritated and shows it when folks are not making sense, not a few dismiss him as “arrogant”.
He may well need to seriously work on his emotional intelligence. But his mark on the public space, both at BPE and as Abuja minister, would appear indelible.
But if the new law is targeted at both Christians and Muslims, why is it that, apart from a few Muslim lobbies, only Christians foam in the mouth, rave and mouth threats?
Well, maybe for too long, religion has had too unfettered a rein in a secular republican state. In Kaduna, the dominantly Christian southern Kaduna vs the Kaduna establishment, which leaning is clearly Muslim, appears a crusade of all seasons.
Generally in the North, Islam appears the faith of power, which has the effect of radicalising the Christian swathe of the populace, with their penchant for ultra-sensitivity in faith matters. But then whoever is not feeling their pinch can’t teach them how, or how not, to yelp.
Even at the federal level, with the northern domination of power for a long time, Islam has had its fair share in Nigerian power metaphysics and imaging.
But that has been a rogue balance of a sort, since the departing British colonising powers had already codified the Christianisation of government business. That is why Sunday (when Christians go to church), not Friday (when Muslims observe their Jumat), was the original civil service rest day.
Which is why Governor el-Rufai and the Kaduna legislature must ensure the proposed legislation goes through the grill of public hearings and other legislative in-built devices to ensure the law, when passed, is fair, just and equitable to all.
But one thing the state must not do: surrender its constitutionally given powers to legislate for the good of its people, just because of some religious hysteria.
That would be succumbing to theocratic outlawry — which really is a contradiction in terms because both Christianity and Islam clearly define their relationship with secular powers: and every true Christian and Muslim must be bound by that.
Besides, the 1999 Constitution, as amended, fully empowers the state to regulate religious practice. While section 38(1) guarantees religious freedom, section 45(1) mandates the government to make “reasonable justifiable” regulatory laws “in the interest of public safety, public order, public morality or public health or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons.”
People easily forget that Kaduna used to be a cauldron of faith riots and killing; until Governor Ahmed Makarfi (1999-2007) somewhat found an antidote. Even then, that did not avert the Shiite crisis, which recent tragic escalation a judicial commission of inquiry is still trying to sort out.
So, if el-Rufai decides to be pro-active, so long as he is fair and equitable to all, what’s wrong with that?
Apostle Suleiman’s boast that he needs no licence to preach anywhere is not only hot gas to his revved up congregation, it is also akin to theocratic outlawry. If the Kaduna law is passed and he breaches it, he risks a gaol term, pure and simple.
It is the same outlawry that, with due respect to genuine Shiite grievances, would make that commune pledge allegiance to Iran, while the Nigerian state secures and guarantees its members; with the practice of their faith.
Now, see what tragedy that privilege without responsibility has caused everybody? Don’t such misguided notions negate the Social Contract?
Let lawful and responsible religious communes, Christian and Muslim, rally to ensure the proposed Kaduna law is fair and equitable to all. Religious hysteria can’t strip the government powers the constitution has granted it.