By Yusufu Shehu Usman
The social media is awash with the news that governor Wike of Rivers State has ordered the demolition of a central mosque in the state capital as he was also reported to have declared Rivers State as a Christian state in the midst of the controversy
I don’t fault Wike for declaring Rivers a Christian state. That’s what it is. But it is insensitive to demolish the mosque if the building had an approval or did not contravene any extant legislation
It is to recalled that in the same vein and before Wike’s declaration, some Governors in the Northern states like Kano and Zamfara declared their states as Shari’a states and set up structures and legal instruments to facilitate the implementation of certain aspects of the Shari’a legal system
The truth is that some Northern states that are partially implementing the Shari’a laws have pockets of adherents of other Faith’s and that did not stop them from instituting some aspects of the Shari’a law.
Equally, in Rivers State which Wike was reported to have declared a Christian state, there are scores of adherents of other faiths apart from Christianity.
Therefore, if those states whose governments are implementing some aspects of the Shari’a laws are not faulted because the majority of the population are Muslims, I see nothing wrong with Wike declaring Rivers as a Christian state for the same reason
However, where I am concerned is the report that on the orders of governor Wike, a mosque that services the spiritual needs of the Muslim population ( small or large) in Port Harcourt the state capital was demolished
I will not be in hurry to condemn the act without first being aware of the reasons why the mosque was demolished ( if it was truly demolished)
If Wike ordered the demolition of the mosque only because of his declaration that Rivers is a Christian state, he is absolutely wrong and the action runs against the letters and the spirit of the Constitution
The Constitution not only guarantees the right and freedom to hold religious beliefs, but also the freedom to every Nigerian to practice a religion of his choice and to worship without intimidation from the government or from others who hold different religious views
The states that declared Shari’a laws did not demolish churches and places of worship of other faiths because those states are predominantly populated by Muslims
Furthermore, if Wike ordered the demolition of the mosque because it contravenes extant state laws with regards to regional or urban planning or building laws of Rivers State, it is not right to condemn the action of the governor
The laws are meant to be obeyed by all in the interest of peace, mutual coexistence and the general development of the society
Therefore, if those constructing the mosque violated the planning laws, they can not blame the state for enforcing the laws
However, if they believe that they have complied with the relevant laws and still the government demolished their structure without any cause or justifiable reasons, they have the right to challenge the action of the government in e court of competent jurisdiction
The courts are created by the Constitution to adjudicate over disputes between the citizens and the government or agencies of the government as well as to settle disputes between the citizens.
There is no doubt that issues of religion among us are always very sensitive not necessarily because Nigerians are the most pious and religious people on the earth, but because of the way we manipulate religion for political gains.
I advise the Muslims to remain calm over this issue and not to politicise it or be unduly sentimental in the pursuit of their
percieved rights. They should be law abiding as they pursue the legal or other options for the resolution of the dispute between them and the government
As for me, I prefer an amicable resolution of the dispute instead of the legal option which by the nature of our religious sentiments could only heighten tension between the Christians and the Muslims not only in Rivers State but across the country
I am very sure that we have men and organisations of good will that can intervene and broker peace and amicable settlement between the parties without rancour or acrimony
The state government may also consider providing an alternative but appropriate place for the Muslims to build another mosque within the state capital if for other reasons the demolished structure can not be restored
We should not allow the issue to get out of hand because of regional, political or religious sentiments. I hope and pray for the peaceful resolution of this sensitive issue