For more than 30 years, a state in Africa’s most populous country essentially ignored a law put in place by its military government that required preachers to get licenses, limited the playing of religious cassettes, and outlawed derogatory language by religious organizations and leaders.
But this spring, governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai is attempting to revive the policy. A new bill from his administration would restrict both Muslim and Christian preaching among Kaduna’s 6.5 million people by requiring pastors to obtain annual permits.
The proposed law is an effort to curb religious extremism, deputy governor Barnabas Bantex told reporters.
“We swore to uphold the Constitution, which recognizes the freedom of religion and thought as fundamental rights,” he said. “The same Constitution obliges us to ensure the safe exercise of these rights by legislating in the interest of public safety, public order, public morality or public health, and for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.”
Faith leaders contend it infringes on religious freedom.
“The bill is obnoxious and directly offends our faith,” Femi Ehinmidu, chairman of the Kaduna state chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, told reporters. “Taking away the rights to preach and evangelize is telling the Christians not to practice their religion as commanded by the Lord Jesus.”
Nigeria’s population is split between Christianity and Islam. Social hostilities surrounding religion are very high, while government restrictions have so far been moderate, according to Pew. For example, last month the president of the Fellowship of Churches of Christ in Nigeria and two other pastors were kidnapped at gunpoint while they were praying at a church camp. (One died after being left in the wild, the other two were freed after 10 days.)
In order to obtain a license, preachers in Kaduna would have to apply to a committee made up of members of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI). Before that, they’d go through a local screening committee and an interfaith committee comprised of one CAN and one JMI member, plus several government appointees.
Without clear stipulations, the committee decisions can be entirely subjective.
“The danger to it is this: what if you are in a local government and all the members of the local government screening committee are Christians and they say we don't want the preaching of Islam in the local government and they reject your application?” said John Achimugu, a prominent attorney and freedom of worship advocate, in Vanguard. “The law does not provide a remedy for you or any forum where you can seek a redress of your grievances as to why you are denied a recommendation for the issuance of license.”
Much like the original law, Kaduna’s new bill also restricts preaching on CDs, tapes, flash drives, or other devices to houses of worship and private homes.
It also outlaws using a loudspeaker for religious purposes other than inside or around a church or mosque, abusing religious books, disturbing the public peace, using derogatory language about any religion, or carrying weapons into a place of worship in order to cause a disturbance. Violators would face a fine of about US $1,000 or two years in prison.
“The Bible commands us in Mark 16:15 to ‘go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,’ and 1 Thessalonians 5:29 also said, ‘pray without ceasing.’ This is the life-wire of the Christian religion,” said Ehinmidu, the Pentecostal leader.
CT reported in January on a similar attempt to regulate preachers in Kenya, but backlash from evangelicals, Catholics, and Muslims was so severe that President Uhuru Kenyatta sent the 2015 Religious Societies Rules back to the drawing board. Any new regulations must be “subjected to further vigorous public consultations,” his spokesman stated.