The Transnational Human Rights Review

Document Type


English Abstract

Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state. The two major religions in the country are Islam and Christianity. Adherents of these two major religions take divergent positions on the question of the secularity of the Nigerian state. While most Christians argue for separation of the Nigerian state from religion, most Muslims advocate the fusion of religion, the state and the law. To many of them, the Sharia ought to govern the totality of the life of a Muslim from cradle to grave. For instance, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, maintained that any call on Muslims to abandon religious law in the name of secularism will fail. Many Muslims in Nigeria appear to seek to be governed by the Sharia in all their human activities. The word Sharia has been defined as the complete universal code of conduct drawn by the creator, Allah, through His Messenger, Muhammad, to mankind, detailing the religious, political, economic, social, intellectual and legal systems. It is meant for universal application, covering the entire spectrum of life, prescribing what is lawful (halal) and prohibiting what is unlawful (haram). Sharia is the Islamic law, which is based on the Quran, the Hadiths, and the works of scholars in the first two centuries of Islam. The 1999 Constitution did not expressly proclaim Nigeria to be a secular state. However, it prohibits both states and the Federal Government from adopting any religion as state religion; and guarantees to every person the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion6 as well as the right to freedom from discrimination on grounds, inter alia, of religion. On the other hand, the Constitution in chapter II under the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy, enjoins the state to provide facilities for, among other things, religious life. In addition, it makes provision for the establishment of Sharia Courts of Appeal though with jurisdiction restricted to questions of Islamic personal law. The Constitution also provides for the taking of oath of office by certain public officers. Although the Constitution is silent on the sources of Nigeria law Islamic law has been recognized as one of the sources of Nigerian law. These Constitutional provisions have been the subject of tendentious interpretations. While some people contend that the Constitution has provided for the secularity of the Nigerian state, others contend to the contrary. Moreover, there is no agreement as to the meaning of secularism. Even at the government level, there have been conflicting pronouncements by ministers of the federal government on the status of Nigeria in terms of the relationship of Nigerian state to religion. Recently, the Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN] urged President Goodluck Jonathan to sanction the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mohammed Nurudeen, for allegedly saying that "Nigeria is one of the most Christian-populated Islamic nations in the world". The President of CAN, Bishop Oritsejafor, further maintained that section 10 of the Nigerian Constitution affirms the secularity of Nigeria. In further reaction to the alleged pronouncement of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, said that Nigeria remains a secular state despite its membership in the Organization of Islamic Conference [OIC]. According to him, the Constitution is very clear that Nigeria is a secular nation. This article will examine the concept of secularity of state in historical perspective and will consider the question of whether Nigeria is a secular state having regard to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended). The debate as to whether Nigeria ought or ought not to be a secular state is outside the scope of this work.