A week-long training course on law and religion, and a conference on religious freedom took place at the University of Lagos from February 23-27.
Hundreds of students, professional lawyers and lecturers gathered to attend three events focusing on this year’s conference theme, “Towards Law and Religious Freedom in Africa,” sponsored by the Centre for Human Rights of the Faculty of Law at the University of Lagos; Ikeja and Lagos branches of the Nigerian Bar Association; the African Consortium for Law and Religion Studies, South Africa and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University in Utah, United States. Brigham Young University is a private institution owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Law and Religion
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During the conference, Professor Ibidapo-Obe announced three significant outcomes from the international conference:
- Founding of the Nigerian Association for Law and Religion Studies. Its membership will consist of academics, practicing lawyers and faith leaders. An initial slate of officers who will serve as founders of the organization was selected.
- Founding of a West African Center for Law and Religion Studies which will be hosted by the University of Lagos. The center will establish links to the Law Faculty of the University of Ghana as well as to other major universities across West Africa.
- A new course on law and religion was added to the curriculum at the University of Lagos.
During the international conference, a four-day three-hour intensive course on law and religion was held in the mornings for law students. It was titled “Comparative Freedom of Religion.” More than 400 students, including those from seven other universities across Nigeria, attended the classes.
“The conference has identified and stretched the position of law as an instrument to harmonize peaceful co-existence among religious believers and practitioners,” said Cornelius Gabriel, president of the University of Lagos Law Students Association.
In addition to the basic training course for students, a “Train-the-Trainers” course was taught in afternoon sessions to law faculty instructors and several deans of law schools from nearby universities as well as faculty members interested in potentially teaching courses on various aspects of law and religion. Approximately 60 individuals were present in each class.
Professor Cole Durham Jr., Susa Gates Professor of Law and Director of International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University, provided the basic lectures with assistance from Professor Kofi Quashigah, Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana, Legon; Professor Is-haq Oloyede, the Coordinator/Secretary for the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin in Nigeria; Professor Akinola Ibidapo-Obe, Dean of the Faculty of Law and Director, Center for Human Rights, University of Lagos and Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former President of the West African Bar Association.
On Thursday, February 26, a full-day symposium on law and religion was held at the main auditorium of University of Lagos with over 1,000 in attendance. Scholars, clerics, judges and legal experts, including sitting Supreme and Appeals Court Justices, all promoted religious tolerance and freedom.
Setting the pace for the symposium session, Professor Rahamon A. Bello, the chief host and Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, said that “Africa offers a mosaic of almost all religions compared to other parts of the world where you find particularity in terms of religion – West with Christianity, Middle East with Islam and Judaism, and Far East with Hinduism and Buddhism.” He said the constitution of Nigeria and Ghana guarantees freedom and equality of religions, though some practices of religion could also be inimical to others’ rights. Hence the need forums such as this.
Various thoughts focusing on the need for the intersection of law and religion and the desirability of religious freedom were expressed by the speakers at the symposium.
Mr. Alex Mouka, chairman of the Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association, advocated for the law and religion course to be introduced into the curriculum of every Nigerian university. He stated that the students will eventually be legislators, advocates, and politicians, who will most likely positively influence the course of religious freedom.
“There is absolutely nothing we can do to prevent the world not having Muslims or Christians or even people who are traditional worshippers,” said Sheik Abdur-Rahman Olanrewaju Ahmad. He said religious people of all faiths need to live in harmony and not with hatred towards one another.
Hon. Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour stated that significant parts of criminal law have their roots in the law instituted by God -- The Ten Commandments. “However, where morality conflicts with the law, the law prevails.” He added, “Law can both be a shield and a sword in matters of religion.”
“There are literally thousands of religions or divisions within the religions of the world and dialog tables with thousands of seats do not exist,” said Cole Durham. He continued, “But there are techniques of inclusion. When dialog is being structured, make sure that it is not just the large denominations or major religions that are represented. Having at least one or two groups that can bring the perspective of smaller groups to the table will add important perspective. After all, in matters of religious freedom, the ultimate test of success, is how the weak and powerless are treated.”
The audience included a number of other prominent scholars and representatives of bar associations, government officials, scholars, lawyers, and students. Some of the notable conference participants were: Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju, Justice of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria; Chief Christopher Abiodun Borha, Mayegun Iwaya and Environs, Nigeria; Chief Mrs. Tokunboh Abimbola, Lecturer, Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, Nigeria; Rev. Fr. Paul Anyansi, Priest, Our Lady Queen of Apostles Catholic Church Ilupeju, Lagos, Nigeria.
Amongst several distinguished guest in attendance were Mrs. Condice Grave, Deputy Chief, US Consulate, LAGOS; Professor Cela Tunbosun, Dean Faculty of Law University of Ibadan; Mr. Yinka Farounbi, President Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja Branch. Others are Mr. Dele Adeshina, Senior Advocate of Nigeria; Professor Yemisi Bamgbose, University of Ibadan; Professor Segun Awonusi, former Vice Chancellor, Tai Solarin University; Professor Oyelowo Oyewo, former Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos and Professor Peter Fogam, also of University of Lagos
The universities with participating law faculty representatives in the events of the international conference are Brigham Young University, USA, and University of Ghana, Legon. Others are University of Ibadan, Obafemi Awolowo University, Babcock University, Redeemers University, Olabisi Onabanjo University, University of Port Harcourt and Lagos State University, all in Nigeria.