The oft-peddled justification for the latter- day rationalisation that Nigeria is not a secular state is that the 1999 Constitution, like others that preceded it, does not anywhere mention the word “secular” whereas the said constitution provides for freedom of religion.
The proponents of this construct would also point to religion promoting institutions created by state authorities like the Pilgrims Welfare Boards as a justification for their position. They maintain that the state does not only plan and organise pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem, but also subsidises intending pilgrims and even completely sponsors some.
The declaration of numerous religious public holidays by the government is also cited as a formal recognition of religion in Nigeria. Furthermore, religious creeds are taught in our schools from kindergarten to the tertiary institutions. Is Nigeria then a non-secular republic? I think the starting point is to analyse the provision of the 1999 Constitution.
Section 10 says: “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” Adoption of state religion translates into what I may call national spiritual mainstreaming, which is the formal and official integration of religious philosophies and tenets into all national policies.
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines “secular” as “not connected with spiritual and religious matter”, while “secularism” is defined as “belief that religion should not be involved in the organisation of society, education etc” So a secular state is one in which government does not put official imprimatur on any religion, but leaving the prerogative to individuals’.
Religion is a way of life, which has stipulation on virtually every existentialist issue; it regulates human conducts from birth to death. For example, the name a person bears, the kind of food he may eat or not eat, the kind of person he can marry and even the rites that would be performed at his funeral are clearly spelt out by each religion.
Anybody that wants to see the difference between a secular and a religious state should look at happenings in some states in the North which adopted Shari’ah jurisprudence, where governments forbid people to drink beer, arrest people who laze about during praying hours and slam stoning to death penalty on women who commit adultery or amputating the hands of confirmed thieves.
In Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, adult male were mandated by law to grow beards or risk being arrested! I want to submit that having a multi-religious society and a secular state is not self-contradictory. As a matter of fact, it is a nation that is blessed with diverse peoples, multiple layers of identities and religious diversity that often embrace secularity as state policy in order to entrench neutrality rather than exposing itself to explosive vagaries of religious multiplicity. That is the reason the framers of our constitution made it to be secular.
Let people who insist Nigeria is not a secular state consider this: Suppose the Federal Government refuses to declare a holiday of any religion as a public holiday is that a breach of the constitution and is it actionable? No! That shows there is nothing in our constitution that mandates the government to observe any religious rites.
What flowed from contributions of some learned friends on this matter is that people often take “secularism” to mean “irreligion”, that is lack of religion or total absence of religion. For example, in the communist USSR, religion is officially prohibited.
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.