There has not really been an outright answer to the question of whether Nigeria is a secular state or not. Within the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, section 10 states that "The Government of the Federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion".This section of the constitution is the closest thing to an outright assertion of secularism as regards Nigeria. But to interpret it, we must also take a look at what defines a secular state.

A secular state can be said to be one in which politics (and Government) is not influenced by religion (any particular one). Thus, looking again at section 10 in light of this, we may be able to agree that the drafters of the constitution envisaged a Federation which was largely secular, when they penned down that particular section of the constitution.

It then means that even though the Northern part of the country is predominantly Islamized, Islam cannot be the guide for politics in any Northern State. In the same vein, Christianity cannot be the guide for politics in other parts of the country with predominantly Christian populations. But can this be wholly adhered to in a country like Nigeria especially in its Northern region?

Sometime last week, a Christian Igbo woman, Bridget Patience, was beaten to death by an angry mob in  a Kano market , for allegedly blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed. As it emerged later, her only crime was telling an individual not to perform his ablution (the washing of hands and feet before saying the Islamic prayers) in front of her shop! Bridget Patience was definitely within her rights to dictate what happened in front of her shop; but the mob thought otherwise- to them, their religious beliefs superseded whatever rights she had. And so, she was beaten to death.

There was also a previous case of Ese Oruru, the teenage girl who was taken off to Kano by a certain Yunusa, without the knowledge and consent of her parents. In Kano, Ese was converted to Islam, and wed to Yunusa. By the time her parents made the journey up to Kano to secure their daughters' release, they were mocked by the youths at the Emir's palace because as far as they (the indigenes of Kano) were concerned, what has happened was commonplace in their religion, and not a crime.

The former Governor of the Central Bank and present Emir of Kano, Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, once stated that any call on Muslims to abandon religious law in the name of secularism, will fail. His sentiments are shared by majority of Muslims in Nigeria's Northern region- and even elsewhere- who seem to believe that religion and politics should go hand-in-hand. But Nigeria is by no means an Islamic State, or even a Christian one for that matter. Nigeria is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic state, with people of various beliefs- Christians, Muslims, Traditionalists, etc. - dwelling within its geographic space. The Nigerian constitution also guarantees the right to religion; as well as the right to freedom from discrimination due to one's beliefs.

After Bridget Patience was murdered, a citizen made a very intelligent (and quite saddening) observation on twitter. He basically stated that one could get away with murder in the North, by simply claiming that the individual killed had insulted the Prophet. Thankfully though, in this case, the authorities came out to condemn the act; and arrests of culprits have been made.

The separation of religion and governance seems to be a problem, more on the part of the Islamic faithful within Nigeria. And it is only right that the authorities in Nigeria's Northern region continually re-affirm that religion cannot be the basis for socio-political life.

President Muhammadu Buhari is a Muslim Fulani man, but he is the leader of Nigeria and all Nigerians- Christians and Muslims included. By outrightly condemning religious crimes and re-affirming the rights of ALL Nigerians, the Presidency and State Governments can begin to clearly define the lines which separate religion from politics.

It is the position of Obiaks News that no Nigerian should be permitted to impose his beliefs on another and expect the apparatus of Government to give him/her a pat on the shoulder, or look the other way when he/she commits a crime in the name of religion.

Nigeria may not be expressly listed as a secular state, but it is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic entity. Government must not be run on the basis of any particular religion, and each citizen's right to express his or her own religious beliefs without fear of an attack, must be upheld.

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