Confucius is credited with saying that “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” The message in there encodes wisdom that is ever important. In trying to carry out revenge, or right a perceived wrong, we sometimes harm ourselves in the process. Before thinking of copying an action as a form of revenge or equilibrant, we should spare some thoughts whether our intended action is a manifestation of foolishness. It becomes double tragedy when we bring God into the fray, and exhibit foolishness in the name of the Lord.
Last week, media outlets informed Nigerians of an important bill being considered by the House of Representatives. In a country groaning under a leadership-induced recession, the house members are considering a bill to establish an ecclesiastical court in Nigeria. According to one of the bill’s sponsors, this court system “will no doubt widen the scope of jurisprudence, adjudication and legal practice in our nation”, and “would complement the regular courts in adjudicating in matters relating to the tenets of the Christian faith.” If this proposal isn’t foolishness, then we need to apologise to the famous five foolish virgins.
Before I continue, let me be clear that this article isn’t being written by an atheist, agnostic, or any other person who would “naturally” be expected to scoff at the mention of an ecclesiastical court. I am a Christian. I don’t consider myself a Christian merely for document filling purposes. I am a “Christian” Christian, and I think this eccle-whatever court idea is bullshit.
Let’s look at this proposal from three angles. I’ll start with motivation. Although I might be wrong, at first glance, it seems this proposed ecclesiastical court is in response to the Islamic Sharia courts in Nigeria. For years, the Sharia courts in northern Nigeria have served as the icons of religious inequality and legal inconsistency. Instructively, Gyang Dung, one of the sponsors, represents the northern Plateau State. A look at the other sponsors would likely indicate a northern slant. From this, it is safe to infer that this proposal is intended as a leveller of sorts. Forget the tale about it helping the Nigerian legal system. The underlying thinking is likely: “since Muslims have a court system funded by the government, let’s also have ours”, no matter how foolish the idea of Christian courts may seem.
The second angle is implementation. In a society with different Christian denominations, the bill’s sponsors must have a foolproof means of instituting the courts if the bill gets passed and assented. Since some denominations view some others as anti-Christians or sub-par Christians, the odds of getting a workable solution that suits diverging interests are very low. That’s even assuming that Christians would agree to be subject to such a court. The argument about Christian courts being required because the Bible speaks against secular courts is a self-serving distortion of scripture. No where did the Bible speak against secular jurisprudence. Rather, it shamed Christians who supposedly living in peace should be able to resolve conflicts within themselves, but let such conflicts grow so vile that secular courts are required to make peace. Hence, whatever would make Christians to seek redress in a “Christian court” is suitable for a secular court. They might as well save the government the extra costs of running a needless parallel system, and simply head to the nearest normal court.
Nigeria is supposed to be a “secular” country. This is the final angle from which I want to view this proposed court. Secular in sense that while Nigerians may believe in God, and be like America whose motto is “In God We Trust”, the government would be separate from religious matters. The institution of Sharia courts made mockery of Nigeria’s religious neutrality. Now, instead of campaigning to dismantle Sharia, we want to worsen matters with another divisive policy that would end up in opposition to the seemingly “toothless” constitution. Since northern Muslims have a sharia court system, and the reps want to create a Christian counterpart, we should consider courts for Sango, Amadioha, Fenibeso and other deities’ followers. Please, no one should say Nigeria has “customary courts”. Those courts are based on local customs, not local religions. See where this foolishness can lead Nigeria?
If the reps pass this bill, and the senate does the same, the onus would be on the 36 state assemblies to block the appropriate amendment to the constitution. If countries with more “claim to Christianity” don’t have ecclesiastical courts, Nigeria has no business creating such. Rather, the focus should be on strengthening the existing legal system so that Nigerians can have faith in it. I do hope that even in this time of economic scarcity, our reps would find a way to borrow some useful sense. Nigeria does not need Christian courts in any guise. I don’t even want to consider the possibility being thrown up by conspiracy theorists that this bill is a disguised way of getting sharia implemented across the entire country. That thought is too dangerous to ponder.
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