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Unconstitutional, Impracticable, Injurious!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
By Neta Nwosu
 
  • Catholic Bishops kick against Christian Education bill over unconstitutional clauses 
  • Revisit, reexamine CAN’s original purpose, says CBCN

The Catholic Bishops in Nigeria have strongly objected to the bill before the National Assembly aimed at establishing the National Council for Christian Education over some provisions they described as ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘injurious’. The Senate in May 2023 passed for second reading the bill seeking to establish a regulatory council that will oversee Christian curriculum development in Nigeria. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), the umbrella body of all Catholic Bishops declared the National Council for Christian Education bill ‘unnecessary’ and ‘impractical’ owing to doctrinal differences of the numerous Christian denominations in the country.

The Bill being supported by Hon. Rimamnde Shawulu Kwewum and five other Lawmakers of the House of Representatives, is designed to develop, regulate and approve syllabuses/contents at all levels of Christian education; certify Christian Religion Education Instructors at basic and secondary levels; approve the content of all Christian Religion Education in all schools; as well as accredit programmes of Christian Theological Institutions.

Other sponsors of the Bill are Hon. Beni Lar, Hon. Yusuf Ayo Tajudeen, Hon. John Dyegh, Hon. Solomon Bob and Hon. Benjamin Mzondu. CBCN, in a statement jointly signed by its President and Secretary, Most. Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Archbishop of Owerri and Most Rev. Donatus Ogun, OSA, Bishop of Uromi, on June 27, 2023, posited that the bill will infringe on the rights of various Christian denominations to provide instructions and formation according to their respective doctrines.

“The Bill is unnecessary and impracticable because of our doctrinal differences. Furthermore, our juridical autonomy in matters of education is being surrendered to the Government,” the Bishops stated. The statement reads in part, “The Bill (Section 7 vi) calls for the accreditation of the programmes of Christian institutes of theological learning. No exemption was made for seminaries and other religious institutes owned by the various Christian denominations."

This Bill will, therefore, infringe on the rights of these various Christian denominations to provide instructions and formation according to their respective doctrines. Section 42 (3) of the constitution states, "No religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community or denomination in any place of education maintained wholly by that community or denomination."

CBCN further stated that the bill is incompatible with the secular character of the Nigerian State as enshrined in Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Bishops said, “In as much as the Government, at the Federal or State level, has not and cannot adopt any religion as its official religion, it must respect the three juridical principles that govern the relationship between the State and the Church; that is:

1. The principle of juridical autonomy of both entities;

2. The principle of reciprocal incompetence in regulating the affairs of each other; and

3. The principle of collaboration between both entities.

“The first principle makes it legally possible for the Church to provide education for its adherents. The second principle makes the State incompetent to regulate the education provided in Church institutions. And the third principle means the State can support (not regulate or control) the mission of the Church to provide education for its adherents. They expressed more concerns, “The Bill proposes the establishment of a government Board whose members are to be appointed by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The fear cannot be dismissed of having People appointed who may not necessarily serve Christian interests.

“The Bill seeks the power to determine the contents of Christian curricula, certify our teachers, and control the teaching of "Christian" doctrines. As such, the Bill ignores the fundamental differences between Nigeria's over one thousand Christian denominations. CAN itself has five Blocs.” “How can we have one "Christian Education" regulated by the proposed Board?” the Bishops queried. CBCN gave an account of the origin of the Bill and how the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) deviated from its primary essence.


“The idea of pursuing a Bill to regulate religious studies in secular schools came up during the Education summit organized in 2019 by the Association of Christian Schools in Nigeria (ACSN), a body of mostly Pentecostal private school owners and some protestant denominations.”

The Bill, as originally intended, was neither intended to regulate theological concerns nor to have anything to do with theological institutions. Having discussed the idea, CAN decided to pursue it by asking the lawmakers named above to sponsor the Bill. But at some point, certain elements were added to the Bill, which certainly are not in the interest of the Church. The Bishops recalled that the Bill was initially conceived by CAN for the establishment of a Christian Board.

“The chief motivation was that the Muslims had an Education Board being funded by the Federal Government. It was reckoned that if the Muslims had such a Board, Christians, too, should have theirs,” they recollected. Going forward, CBCN enjoined CAN, to “undertake a proper needs assessment to determine the needs of Christians in Nigeria that would require the support of the Government. Asking the Government to establish a Council for Christian Education simply because Muslims have one is counterproductive. It is imperative to revisit and properly examine CAN's original purpose as opposed to what is expressed in the Bill presented at the National Assembly.”

The Bishops urged CAN to explore the possibility of going for a Bill that addresses “our concerns as Christians.” They listed the concerns:

1. In most parts of the North, there have been unprovoked attacks on Christians.

2. For over forty years, well before Boko Haram's destructions, thousands of our churches have been destroyed across northern Nigeria. No one has been charged, nor has compensation been paid.

3. Christians face serious challenges and obstacles in gaining access to land to build their places of worship in northern Nigeria.

4. Christian children are hardly given admission to schools because they bear Christian names. Where they could enter higher institutions, they are denied high profile courses like Medicine, Architecture, Engineering, etc.

5. Christian Religious Education is prohibited in some parts of the North.”

However, CBCN counselled CAN, “Should CAN determine that there is a need for a National Christian Council for Education, such a Council, which must recognise the doctrinal differences of the various Christian denominations, should be under the full control of CAN and not of the government. Where there is genuine collaboration in Nigeria between the State and the Church, Government funding can be available to such Council without it being a government "parastatal."

The Bishops, on a final note, opposed the Bill, “Therefore, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, due to the injurious nature of this Bill, as reflected its joint statement, strongly expresses its absolute objection to this Bill.”

 


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