The #ShariaBill – Barriers to Passage

This is the Bill before the Federal House of Representatives proposing an amendment to the provisions in the Nigerian constitution relating to the jurisdiction of Sharia courts. Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 9.35.25 PM

Proposed by an Honourable Representative from Sokoto State, it seeks to expand the scope of the Sharia appeal court’s authority from personal law, to also include criminal law.

If the Bill were to pass as is, sections 262 and 277 of the constitution would read as follows (amendments emphasised) –


262 – The Sharia Court of Appeal shall, in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, exercise such appellate and supervisory jurisdiction on civil and criminal proceedings involving questions of Islamic personal law.


277 – The Sharia Court of Appeal of a State shall, in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by the law of the State, exercise such appellate and supervisory jurisdiction on civil and criminal proceedings involving questions of Islamic personal law which the court is competent to decide…

For those who are not aware, “hudud” are the punishments, under Sharia law, believed to have been set by God. “Qisas” refers to retributive justice under Sharia law, in instances when a Muslim is murdered, suffers bodily injury or suffers property damage.


I do not think the bill can become law in its present form for the following constitutional reasons (though there are also questions to be asked about the place of such amendments in a secular state in the year 2016, but that’s a different matter altogether) –


  1. The requirements for amending the constitution –

According to section 9 of the constitution, for an amendment to pass, two-thirds of each house of the national assembly must first of all approve the amendment. Then, two-thirds of the houses of assembly in no less than two-thirds of the States of the Federation must also approve the amendment. Basically, if the amendment fails to pass in 13 States, it will have no effect. I do not think that the promoters of the Bill can get 24 states to approve the amendment.


  1. The Prohibition Against Adopting an Official Religion –

Section 10 of the constitution forbids the Federal Government and the government of any State from adopting any religion as State Religion. It’s hard to see how a State can mete out punishments based on religious crimes without being seen to have adopted the religion as its official religion.


  1. The Guarantee of Freedom of Religion –

In section 38, the constitution says everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change their religious beliefs, and the freedom to propagate one’s religion. The proposed amendment does prescribe how a person might elect to have Islamic criminal law apply to him or her, leaving several important questions unanswered. Will the law apply to all States in Nigeria, or just a few? Will it apply to only Muslims, or to non-Muslims as well (since it is a matter of criminal law). Can Muslims opt out, given that they have the right to change their beliefs and religion? How about the fact that apostasy is a hudud crime?


  1. The Requirement for Crimes & Punishments to be Law

The constitution says (in section 36(12)) that, unless it says otherwise, a person can’t be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and its penalty prescribed in a written Federal Act or State Law. This means that, to be of any consequence, the various hudud and qisas matters/punishments must be listed and passed into the criminal/penal code of a State or of the Federation.


  1. The Right to Freedom from Discrimination

It is also a provision of the constitution, that no citizen shall on the basis of ethnic group, sex, RELIGION, place of origin, etc., be subject to any restriction which people of other sexes, places of origin, or RELIGION are not subject. This, to my mind, would also extend to the restrictions placed on Muslims by virtue of Sharia criminal law. Thus, if the government attempted to levy a Sharia punishment on a citizen, he would be entitled to argue that it is unconstitutional, given that it is a punishment that does not apply equally to all citizens of Nigeria who commit the same offence.



The Chronicles of Chill: The Day of the Waawu


In the 12th month of the reign of King Gambrach, former man of Gunn, first of his name, and second time seated on the throne, there was a heat that passeth all understanding in the land. It rained not, the sun scorched the earth and famine petrolatum continued to ravage the land. And neither the swag of E-Dawg nor the body language of Gambrach could contain it.


The spirit of egbami continued to sweep through the land, causing members of the ruling and plundering elite to be apprehended by the Everly Failing at Convictions Commission. The Everly Commission spread their net wide and far, descending like a mist into households and striking fear into the hearts of the mere mortal men – men who did not produce any coin in support of Gambrach’s ascension to the throne.


Behold, in that day, did the Everly Commission sweep up heads of the houses of usury, namely the houses of Fidelitus and Accessivus. The sweeping up was marked with much fanfare and all across the land there were whispers that the Gates of Darth Soukey had opened unto these houses. There were even louder whispers that these houses had taken custody of fantastically amazing swathes of coin on behalf of Daisy-Annie who, by the way, was still in search of convalescence in Jandinia. And all wished her healing at the hands of the Jandinian meisters, for her watch was not yet done and there were questions yet unanswered that only she could solve. The people were mostly unmoved by the Everly Commission’s recent arrests however, for they had grown weary of the languid courtroom dramas. It was not their fault, they knew things could be better – for in The Good Wife, a single episode could encompass 3 whole concluded trials. But these are not the chronicles of the Everly Commission.


It was in this time, that Gambrach finally appended his signature to the coinage of the Kingdom. After much blustering, which many attributed to the annoying scrutiny of Sean Corleone and Stanctibus of CoinIT, there was peace between the senatii and the seat of the Throne. And all innthe kingdom rejoiced for the lack of coinage had held up the promised monsoon of change for nearly a year.


And lo, did the Queen’s Hand and Councillor in Chief in Jandinia organise a summit in Jandinia to bare the hearts of the rulers of the various kingdoms of the world and turn their hearts away from corruption. Some said it was to be an exorcism, for all the men of the world possessed by the evil spirit Missingstopheles would be gathered inside the same tent.


The Councillor in Chief was a man of privilege, named Kar Merron. Kar’s spirits were in tumultuous joy as he briefed the Queen on the impending banquet for the visiting rulers. “Your Grace”, he said, as he drank of the wine in his goblet, “it will be a most terribly terrific affair. All the principalities and powers and rulers of corruption in high places have pledged their attendance.”


“In fact”, he went on, “we shall have the honour of welcoming the two most fantastically corrupt countries to our country. It shall be a corruption-fest such as the world has never seen, I assure you, Your Grace.”


But there were ravens in the windows who overheard his remarks and carried them far and wide, and eventually to the cities of Twilistia and Social Mediana. Of course, there was no gaddem chill. There was an immediate division in the land, with some lining up behind Kar Merron, saying his words were true and others incensed, demanding an apology.


Leading the charge for an apology was Dinobetes Melitus of senatii, who had announced that he had been selected to accompany Gambrach to Jandinia. “Why oh why wouldst Merron call our kingdom corrupt? What measure did he employ?” wailed Dinobetes. And lo, did a voice cry back to Melitus saying, “Oh Dinobetes, be thou not troubled, for the answer to your question is plain and not requiring of fasting or prayer. If thou seekest the answer, I say to thee, go home, seek ye out a mirror and cast thy gaze upon it. The image you see, looking back at you is the measure.” And the people of Twilistia cried, “Waaaawu!”


Gar-Bar, scribe of Gambrach, was also vexed. “The words of the Queens Hand have caused Gambrach much embarrassment. For even thou Gambrach sayeth it every gaddem time he voyages out of the Kingdom, that his Kingdom reeketh and stinketh of corruption, take ye heed that the Queen’s Hand has spoken out of turn.”


And the people of Jandinia asked Gambrach if he would seek a withdrawal of remarks from Kar. But Gambrach demurred, for he was more interested in recovering all that the people of the Kingdom had stolen and hidden in Jandinia. And he was weary of his treasure quests, not being Long John Silver.


Lo, there was a greater Waaawu still to come. For the pestilence of petrolatum was severe upon the land, and Gambrach decided that it was time for the Kingdom to permit as many merchants as would bring petrolatum, bring it, proclaiming “Monde Importatio!” But it came at a cost – the price of petrolatum doubled overnight. And the people of Twilistia shouted “Waaaaawu!”


And many Lovengers who had opposed Gejoshaphat when he sought to proclaim Monde Importatio in the preceding quadrannium began to postulate, “This is the best monde importatio ever! For Gambrach is trustworthy and Gejoshaphat was not.” And others called them perfidious, saying “Nothing changeth since the departure of Gejoshaphat. Ye contended against him in deceit and futility, and thy mouths changeth like the weather on a Jandinian summer day.”


With all these issues and happenings going on, of course there was not an iota of chill anywhere in the gaddem land.