“By taking Nigeria into the OIC in 1986, Ibrahim Babangida officially turned Nigeria into an Islamic state. Simply by the act of the application for OIC membership, Babangida tampered with the secularity of the Nigerian State. That unilateral decision should be reviewed because it violates Section 10 of the Constitution.” – Elder Solomon Asemota (SAN)
On February 3, 2015, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), as the Vice Presidential Candidate of All Progressives Congress informed his audience at an interactive session with professionals in Warri, Delta State that former President Goodluck Jonathan was the first and only Nigerian leader to have attended a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC). He made this assertion as a campaign build-up to 2015 general election to disabuse the mind of the electorate from falsehood associated with President Muhammadu Buhari as a Muslim fundamentalist who is perceived with the agenda of ‘Islamising’ Nigeria.
Earlier before Osinbajo’s submission, Prof. Emeka Uka – prelate and moderator of General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria – stated that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and retired General Ibrahim Babangida deserved to be tried for treason as punishment for systematically violating the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by attending the G8 summit of the OIC during their reigns in office. He stated thus: “They had gone to register Nigeria in OIC as an Islamic country; and unfortunately, during a meeting of the G8 Islamic countries held in Egypt in 2001, Obasanjo identified himself, portraying Nigeria as an Islamic country by attending that meeting. This made some people to feel that Nigeria is an Islamic country; and Islamic countries do not tolerate another religion.”
It is this complex interplay of Theology and International Relations that informed the position of respected Elder Solomon Asemota (SAN) in Vanguard Newspaper of August 25 in his capacity as the National Chairman of the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) to have declared that Nigeria is already an Islamic State and no longer a multi-religious nation as His Eminence, Sultan of Sokoto was quoted in a report to have allayed fears of a plot to Islamise the nation. He asserted critically that Nigeria is a secular state in line with Section 10 of Nigerian Constitution.
For one, the origin of secularism has been extensively discussed in my earlier submission in The Guardian of September 24, November 6 and November 27, 2015 under the caption “Secularism, Shari’ah and Nigerian Constitution.” Unarguably, it is a concept developed during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe by Agnostics and advanced by Atheists and that underscore the temporal nature of its philosophy which is at crossroad with African culture on one hand and the multi-religious nature of over 250 ethnic identities in Nigeria.
Again, the eminent Jurist and retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Niki Tobi, similarly expressed his authoritative view that Nigeria is not a Secular State. He said: There is the general notion that Section 11 (of the 1989 Constitution, similar to Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution) makes Nigeria a secular nation. That is not correct. The word secular etymologically means pertaining to things not spiritual, ecclesiastical or not concerned with religion. Secularism, the noun variant of the adjective, secular, means the belief that state, morals, education etc should be independent of religion. What Section 11 is out to achieve is that Nigeria cannot, for example, adopt either Christianity or Islam as a state religion. But that is quite different from secularism (see Fundamental Legal Issues in Nigeria: Essays in Honour of Andrew Obaseki, 1999).
On the other hand, the journey to Nigeria’s membership of OIC dated accurately to 1969 when General Yakubu Gowon as the Head of State and the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the Vice-Chairman of the Federal Executive Council sent a Nigerian delegation as an observer led by Alhaji Abubakar Gumi to its first meeting in Morocco in line with strategic diplomatic relation of Nigeria with other countries including but not limited to her neighbouring countries.
Cameroon as a country with a high level of religious freedom and diversity and with Christianity as the predominant faith practised by about two-thirds of the population became a full member of OIC in 1975. Republic of Benin with a predominantly Christian’s majority became member in 1982; Togo Republic became a member in 1997. According to the CIA Factbook 2012, approximately 29% of the population in Togo is Christian, 20% are Muslim, and 51% hold indigenous beliefs. Republics of Niger and Chad became member the same year in 1969 while West African Republic of Cote d’Ivoire with nearly equal population of Muslims and Christians (according to recent CIA Factbook) became member in 2001.
It is obvious that Nigeria’s full membership of OIC in 1986 is in line with strategic diplomatic interest in her neighbouring countries on one hand and global best practices contrary to religiously tainted view of Elder Asemota (SAN). If Christian-dominated countries do not become Islamic countries by their membership of OIC, why did Elder Asemota conclude that Nigeria is now an Islamic country? Even Co-operative Republic of Guyana and Republic of Suriname – heterogeneous and multicultural Christians-dominant countries in South America with minority Muslim population -are full member of OIC.
Today, the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation is an international organisation consisting of 57 member-states and has permanent delegations to the United Nations and the European Union while the official languages are Arabic, English and French.
Obviously, if the late sage – Awolowo – were to be alive today, he would have been roundly criticised by Asemota for promoting an “Islamisation Agenda” by setting up the first Pilgrims’ Board in 1958 to assist the Muslim faithful. It is therefore befitting to unlearn intolerance and accept Nigeria’s membership of OIC as in the country’s strategic diplomatic interest.
Dauda Ayanda is an engineer.