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Catholic Bishops under the umbrella of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) have rejected a bill in the National Assembly for the establishment of the National Council for Christian Education bill, claiming it runs contrary to the interest of the Catholic Church and Nigerian Christians at large.

The bill which was sponsored by Hon. Rimamde Shawulu Kwewum, Hon. Beni Lar, Hon. Yusuf Ayo Tajudeen, Hon. John Dyegh, Hon. Solomon Bob, and Hon. Benjamin Mzondu, was for the purpose of, among others, developing, regulating, and approving syllabuses/contents at all levels of Christian education; certifying Christian Religion Education instructors at basic and secondary levels; approving the content of all Christian Religion Education in schools; accrediting programmes of Christian Theological Institutions.

The Catholic Bishops in a statement signed by the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, and the Secretary Donatus Ogun, the bishops described the proposed legislation as unnecessary.

While the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) had expressed support for the Bill saying it would help formalise Christian Education as a course of study in our educational institutions, the Catholic bishops said that it would impede on the preservation of doctrinal differences among the various Christian denominations.

CBCN noted that the idea to regulate religious studies in secular schools came up during the Education summit organized in 2019 by the Association of Christian Schools in Nigeria (ACSN), a body of mostly pentecostal private school owners and some protestant denominations. The bill, as originally intended, was neither intended to regulate theological concerns nor to have anything to do with theological institutions.

Having discussed the idea, CAN decided to pursue it by asking a few lawmakers to sponsor the bill. But at some point, certain elements were added to the bill, which certainly is not in the interest of the Church.

The motivation was that Muslims had an Education Board being funded by the Federal Government, hence Christians should have theirs too.

CBCN President, Archbishop Lucius Ugorji, confirmed that CBCN has studied the bill, and due to its injurious nature, the Catholic Bishops strongly expressed its absolute objection to the bill.

He, however, highlighted the sections of the bill which was either contrary to the constitution or the autonomy of the religious bodies.

He said: “Section 7 calls for the accreditation of the programmes of Christian institutes of theological learning. No exemption was made for seminaries and other religious institutes owned by the various Christian denominations. It’s an infringement on the rights of these various Christian denominations to provide instructions and formation according to their respective doctrines.

“Besides, Section 42 (3) of the constitution stated 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 maintained wholly by that community or denomination.”

“The bill is also incompatible with the secular character of the Nigerian State as enshrined in Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution which stated that Government has not and cannot adopt any religion as the official religion, hence it must respect the three juridical principles that govern the relationship between the State and the church.

“The bill proposes the establishment of a government Board whose members are to be appointed by the President. The fear cannot be dismissed of having people appointed who may not necessarily serve Christian interests.

“The bill also seeks the power to determine the contents of Christian curricula, certify teachers, and control the teaching of “Christian” doctrines. The bill ignores the fundamental differences between Nigeria’s over one thousand Christian denominations. CAN itself has five Blocs. How can we have one “Christian Education” regulated by the proposed Board?”

The Catholic Bishops, however, stated that the bill was unnecessary and impracticable because of doctrinal differences, adding that by implication, juridical autonomy in matters of education is being surrendered to the Government.

They suggested that CAN should undertake a proper needs assessment to determine the needs of Christians in Nigeria that would require the support of the Government, insisting that asking the Government to establish a Council for Christian Education simply because Muslims have one is counterproductive.

“It is imperative to revisit and properly examine CAN’s original purpose as opposed to what is expressed in the Bill presented at the National Assembly. CAN should explore the possibility of going for a bill that addresses our concerns as Christians.

“For example, in most parts of the North, there have been unprovoked attacks on Christians. For over 40 years, before Boko Haram’s destructions, thousands of churches have been destroyed across northern Nigeria, and no one has been charged, nor has compensation been paid.

“Christians face serious challenges and obstacles in gaining access to land to build churches in northern Nigeria. Christian children hardly secure university admissions because they bear Christian names. They are denied professional courses like Medicine, Architecture, Engineering, etc. Christian Religious Education is prohibited in some parts of the North.”

CBCN insisted that, should CAN determine that there is a need for a National Christian Council for Education, such a Council, which must recognize the doctrinal differences of the various Christian denominations, should be under the full control of CAN and not of the government.

“Where there is genuine collaboration in Nigeria between the State and the Church, Government funding can be available to such Council without it being a government “parastatal.”

The bill since it was introduced has generated hot controversies among stakeholders in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s Christian body, the Christian Association of Nigeria, has hosted a summit to that effect. The summit was held in Abuja from Thursday, 22nd to Friday, 23rd June, 2023 at the Royal Choice Conference Centre, National Christian Centre featuring high-level remarks, Theme talk, Presentation of the Bill, Panel Discussion, Seminar presentation, Group Workshop, Goodwill messages, Prayers sessions and Communique on the Summit, by stakeholders.

Participants at the summit were key stakeholders in the educational sector, CAN National and Bloc leaders, Zonal leaders and states leaders, Church leaders and Education Directors, Christian Proprietors and Heads of Schools, Heads of Departments, Head teachers of faith based/mission schools, Chaplains, Senior Christian Teachers, Christian Lawyers, PTFs/PTAs leaders, Christian Organizations engaged in Christ Centred Education, Christian legislators at the National Assembly, Rectors and Provost of Seminaries, Researchers and other relevant stakeholders in the educational sector.

As a Nigerian, or Christian, What is your stand?

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Julius Adegunna, a writer, and publisher of good news and reports. He is also a trainer in Writing and Publishing, a Media Consultant and an Entrepreneur. A 1987 Graduate of International Relations of the University of Ife, (Now Obafemi Awolowo University) with Post Graduate Diploma in International Relations, and Master in Communication Studies of Lagos State University. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

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