Symposium 2015: Judicial Perspectives – Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju

Reported by Abby McKeon

This session was moderated by Roger Hunt, Judge, United States District Court for the District of Nevada, and featured Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju, Justice, Nigeria Court of Appeals. 

Justice Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju began by stating that religion has always been a part of law. She comes from Nigeria: a multilingual and multiracial nation where the law embodies the morals and values of society. The Constitution explicitly provides for freedom of religion and expression, and it prohibits the country from adopting any official religion. While Nigeria has strived to weave laws of the land with religious organizations, the decrease of overt religious protection since 1999 has led to instances of unrest.

Unfortunately, differing religious groups in the northern and southern regions of Nigeria have resorted to violence. Justice Ogunwumiju feels very strongly that religious people should not be discriminated against or treated poorly based on their beliefs and values, both inside and outside of their religions. Although there have been devastating consequences of these acts of discriminatory violence, Justice Ogunwumiju believes that as these issues between religious organizations become more public, people become inspired to get involved to try and combat the clash of religions. 

Justice Ogunwumiju finished by discussing options for combatting issues tied to religious beliefs. She believes that if those involved in a conflict were to focus on the root of the problem, the issue would not escalate to become a major religious conflict. For example, many conflicts in Nigeria over land may begin with a simple disagreement. However, those involved in the conflict try to gain sympathy and cite religious differences as another facet of the disagreement. Justice Ogunwumiju concedes that some conflicts have religion at their center, but she stressed the importance of focusing on what the root of the problem is and not pitting people against one another just because they have different religious beliefs. She is confident that today, the Nigerian people are determined not to let religious conflict divide them.