Catholic bishops kick and reject bill for council on Christian education

Doctrinal discrepancies, they say, make suggested legislation ‘unnecessary and impractical.’

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has rejected a bill requesting the establishment of a National Council of Christian Education, claiming that the proposal violates Sections 10 and 42(3) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution of 1999.

Rather of pushing a bill that breaches Nigeria’s secular character, the bishops requested the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which originally fought for the bill in the National Assembly, to promote legislation that addresses, among other things, unjustified attacks on Christians in the North.

In a statement issued by its President, Archbishop Lucius Ugorji, and Secretary, Bishop Donatus Ogun, the CBCN opposed the bill.

Rimamde Kwewum, Beni Lar, Yusuf Ayo Tajudeen, John Dyegh, Solomon Bob, and Benjamin Mzondu supported the bill, which intends to establish, regulate, and approve syllabuses/contents at all levels of Christian education.

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The bill also seeks to certify Christian religion education instructors at the elementary and secondary levels, as well as to approve the content of all Christian religion education in all schools and to accredit Christian theology institutions’ programs.

The bishops expressed disappointment that the bill included no exceptions for seminaries and other religious institutes owned by diverse Christian groups within the federation.

On this basis, the bishops claimed that the bill violated their rights to deliver instructions in accordance with their various teachings, citing Section 42 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.

The clause states that “no religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community or denomination in any place of education wholly maintained by that community or denomination.”

They also stated that the bill “is incompatible with the secular character of the country as enshrined in Section 10 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution.”

According to the CBCN, “inasmuch as government at the federal or state level has not and cannot adopt any religion as its official religion, it must respect the juridical principles that govern the relationship between State and Church.”

According to the bishops, the notion of drafting a bill “to regulate religious studies in secular schools” arose during a 2019 education conference organized by the Association of Christian Schools in Nigeria, a body of predominantly Pentecostal private school owners and certain Protestant denominations.

They pointed out that the bill was never intended or envisioned to control theological problems or have anything to do with theological institutions.

The bishops said that CAN chose to pursue it by requesting that parliamentarians sponsor the bill, claiming that some components were added at various periods that are not in the best interests of the Church.

They claimed that the bill was “unnecessary and impracticable due to our doctrinal differences.” Our legal autonomy in educational matters is being ceded to the government.”

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They also challenged CAN to conduct “a proper needs assessment to determine the needs of Christians in Nigeria that would necessitate government support.” It is foolish to ask the government to establish a Council for Christian Education simply because Muslims have one.”

The bishops believe it is critical to revisit and thoroughly study CAN’s initial goal, as opposed to what is reflected in the bill presented to the National Assembly.

They also charged CAN with investigating the prospect of pursuing “a bill that addresses our concerns as Christians.” Unprovoked attacks on Christians, for example, have occurred in most sections of the north.

“For over 40 years, well before Boko Haram’s destructions, thousands of our churches across northern Nigeria have been destroyed,” they said. No one has been charged, and no compensation has been paid. In northern Nigeria, Christians confront significant hurdles and obstacles in acquiring access to land to erect their places of worship.

“Christian children are rarely admitted to schools because their names are Christian.” Where they are admitted to higher education institutions, they are denied admission to high-profile disciplines like as medicine, architecture, engineering, and so on. Some sections in the north forbid Christian religious education.

“If CAN determines that a National Christian Council for Education is required, such a council, which must recognize the doctrinal differences of the various Christian denominations, should be completely under the control of CAN, not the government.”

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