A Bill seeking to establish Christian courts yesterday passed second reading on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The Bill if passed into law would create equivalent of Sharia courts of Appeal.

The Bill sponsored by Hon. Istifanus Gyang (Plateau PDP) and eight others, is titled, “a bill for an act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004, to provide for the establishment of the Ecclesiastical Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja and the Ecclesiastical Court of Appeal of the States, and for related matters.”

The Bill seeks to activate section 37(1) of the Constitution, which guarantees the right of every citizen to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including to propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance. 

The judges to man the courts are to be called cardinals, and are expected to be drawn from those learned in law, who would be required to administer justice in accordance with Christian faith and the laws of the country. Their appointments would be done by the National Judicial Council. 

Leading debate on the Bill, Hon. Gyang explained that the Ecclesiastical courts when established would complement the regular courts in adjudicating in matters relating to the tenets of the Christian faith.

He said: “This shall be between individuals and groups that yield and submit to its jurisdiction.”

The lawmaker said that the court shall exercise such appellate and supervisory jurisdiction in civil proceedings involving questions of Ecclesiastical law and Christian personal law.

He explained that the amendment Bill was seeking 14 alterations in sections 6, 84, 185, 240, 246, 247, 288, 289, 292 and 318 of the principal Act.

Gyang said: “It alters the second, third, sixth, and seventh schedule of the principal act. It has four insertions in Part 1G, section 270A-E, Part 2D, Section 285A-E and a citation.”

He added that the amendments will no doubt widen the scope of jurisprudence, adjudication and legal practice in our nation.

According to him, “it will bring to reality the administration of Ecclesiastical Christian tenets and law in adjudicating matters of personal Christian law and civil matters. These shall be prescribed in the rule of practice and procedure of the Ecclesiastical courts.’’

Speaking further on the Bill, Gyang explained that the Bill was not competing with Sharia courts and does not take into cognizance, the different denominations in Christiandom.

He said: “The customary courts already take care of traditional worshippers…it would create new fields of study in law…”

The Bill was, however, referred to the Special Ad-hoc committee on constitutional review.

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