As if the daily cases of lawlessness is not enough in this country, the Sharia Police has said it will arrest people caught eating in public as Ramadan beings on Monday. Apart from being an illegal, insensitive and unconstitutional directive, it is an open invitation to a perilous religious crisis in the country.
Under the 1999 Constitution, every citizen of Nigeria, by virtue of Section 38, has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. And Section 10 states that there shall be prohibition of state religion.
In effect, no law, order or directive can compel anyone to carry out the tenets of a particular religion or in this case to abstain from eating in public or private during Ramadan. Why then should Kano Hisbah impose on the people the indirect obligation to observe fasting when state religion is forbidden? Is that not foisting the Islamic religion on the people?
Whether you observe your religious practices or not is not the immediate concern of our Constitution. The law recognizes religion as personal and as such left it to be practiced solely on that basis — of discretion and volition.
All citizens have the right to practice any religion and change such a religion at any time without the interference or consent of any person or authority.
If our law provides for all these, therefore, the plan to arrest people eating in public during Ramadan is a gross constitutional infraction. It is a legal taboo to (indirectly) compel all Kano dwellers to observe the Muslim fasting without even making consideration of other persons who may hold different religious views.
As it is the truth that Islam is not the only religion in Kano. What if the person sought to be arrested for eating in public is an atheist, Christian or one without any religious belief?
In fact, even if a Muslim who decides not to observe the fasting eats publicly, there is no legal basis to make arrest of such a citizen.
Eating during Ramadan whether in public or private, either by a Muslim or someone from any other religion, is not a crime or wrong under any law in Nigeria and as such cannot warrant arrest or conviction. Even if such law exist, it will be unable to withstand the test of Constitutional validity as any other law that contravenes the provisions of the Constitution stands void and ineffective (Section 1(3) of the Constitution).
Religion is and should be personal and the exercise must be guaranteed and protected.
Instructively, the Hisbah or Sharia Police is an aberration under the 1999 Constitution. State policing is alien to our jurisprudence. The only rightful policing body in the country is the Nigerian Police Force, to the exclusion of all others. Thus, Section 214 (1) of the 1999 Constitution provides that "there shall be a police force for Nigeria, which shall be known as the Nigeria Police Force, and subject to the provisions of this section NO OTHER POLICE FORCE SHALL BE ESTABLISHED FOR THE FEDERATION OR ANY PART THEREOF" (emphasis supplied by me). Consequently, the Sharia Police is an illegal organization and should be disbanded forthwith.
Compelling other members of the public to join in the Muslim fasting is against the right to freedom of religion, the spirit of our law and constitutional democracy. The propagators of this empty and dangerous threats on the members of the public should watch it as it might brew unimaginable religious disaster.
Festus Ogun is a Constitutional Law enthusiast and human rights activist. Contact him via: [email protected] ; 09066324982