3 June 2019
President Muhammadu Buhari returned to Abuja yesterday after attending the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Saudi Arabia. The trip generated some controversy especially from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and some Nigerians on social media.
A statement issued by CAN yesterday said of the OIC: “This is an organisation, which states it is ‘the collective voice of the Muslim world’ and works to ‘safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony’. Are the government officials listening to those who voted them into power at all? Is the government not heating up the polity?
“We all remember how Nigeria was smuggled into OIC during the military. We wonder if the President is ready to attend the meeting of the World Council of Churches or be asking the Vice President to represent him whenever the members meet.”
Nigeria joined the OIC, to much controversy, under the military dictatorship of Ibrahim Babangida in 1986. Nigeria had “observer” status 17 years before becoming a full member under Babangida. Other Nigerian presidents have continued to attend OIC summits, including civilian non-Muslim presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. While Babangida suspended the constitution during his rule, Nigeria’s civilian presidents should not be involved in the OIC as it is in flagrant disregard to Nigeria’s claims to constitutional rule.
Section 10 of the constitution states: “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as state Religion.” The OIC states that it is “the collective voice of the Muslim world” and works to “safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony”.
By taking part officially, Nigeria can be seen to be adopting Islam as the state religion and classifying the country as Islamic. This official membership should be challenged in court and for them to interpret whether official participation in an Islamic organisation fits the description of adoption of any religion as state religion.
Some have argued that Nigeria has a sizable Muslim population that needs its interests to be represented at the OIC. However, Nigeria already has a leader of the Muslim faithful in the country, and he is the Sultan of Sokoto. The Sultan is best-placed to represent Nigerian Muslims at the OIC. They shouldn’t be represented by the president of a country that is constitutionally secular. Nigeria’s official membership of a Muslim organisation also violates section 42 of the constitution: “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or
(b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.”
The president of Nigeria attending an Islamic conference and Nigeria being a member of an Islamic organisation is in breach of the above provisions because it accords Muslims an advantage that is not accorded to other Nigerians of different faiths.
It is high time that the Supreme Court makes a determination whether Nigeria’s membership of the OIC violates the letter and/or the spirit of sections 10 and 42 of the constitution.