Muslims and Political Developments in Nigeria. Speech by Professor Mojeed Alabi

Muslims and Political Developments in Nigeria

Speech by Professor Mojeed Alabi at the Round-Table Marking the 30th Anniversary of the Islamic Welfare Foundation (IWF), Holding at Kwara Hotels, Ilorin, Thursday, 1st May, 2014

As salaam 'alaykum  warahmatullah wabarakatuh.

One cannot be seeing to speak at any gathering of the Islamic Welfare Foundation  (IWF),  particularly  an anniversary  event like this, without paying homage to the memory of the late Alhaji Saka Fagbo, one of the leading lights of the Muslim Ummah who we, as upcoming generation of Muslim intellectuals in the early through the late 1980s, looked up to for the needed guidance at a time when the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) and such similar organisations as the Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (COMYO, now NACOMYO)  had to respond to the global waves of onslaught against Islam and Muslims, reflected in many anti-Islam overt and covert operations, in words and indeed, by individuals and groups with sufficient wherewithal to influence government and corporate polices.

The desire by the Muslims youths and the intelligentsia to take appropriate steps to redress years of injustice against the Ummah, which, among several other factors, informed the establishment of the IWF and such similar organisations in Nigeria was built on a new found consciousness, hitherto rare among the bourgeoning Ummah. The rising consciousness itself was a fall out of the Islamic revolution in Iran and the anti-West global sentiments that attended the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). The revivalist underpinnings of the global Islamic movements of the last decades of the 20th Century necessitated a strategic change of approach in advancement of the cause of the Deen and the Ummah from emotional and haphazard responses to issues and developments to more rational and conscious policy agenda to secure for the Muslims their rightful position within the socio-economic and political landscape of Nigeria. For the first time, perhaps, in the history of the Ummah in Nigeria, the Muslims responded to the long standing tradition of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that the pen is mightier than the sword and that the strategies for ensuring a rightful place for ourselves had to change from brawn to brain.  It was realised perhaps that the future of Islam lies in appropriate responses to the ever-ringing admonitions of Allah (SWT) as enshrined in Holy Qur’an as follows:

                       Let there arise from among you....".

It is in the light of this that one must seize the opportunity afforded by this noble gathering to seek Allah’s continued rahma pray for the likes of Alhaji Saka Fagbo and many of his peers, both those in this here-before and others that have passed to the great beyond. We pray Allah to bless their respective  souls, forgive their transgressions  while alive, sooth  the pains of the grave for them, extend His favours to them on the day of accountability when only the shield of Allah would provide the needed comfort, and admit them to Al-Janat Firdaus. Amin

 Islam and Politics

Scholars and writers from time immemorial are ad idem that Islam is a way of life. The true practice of the Deen encompasses the totality of the life of man - social, economic, cultural, educational, and indeed political life. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was an embodiment of the political man, being a leader who administered a vast territory and left and left an enduring legacy of sound management of public affairs such that even those who never hide their disdain for Islam and Muslims could not fail to recognise the unique character and leadership qualities of a man that is certified by the Creator and the creatures as a mercy to mankind in all climes and ages. SAW

For the Muslims, politics is a part and parcel of life. As the Holy Prophet further charged that the love of the community is part of the Deen, it goes without saying that the Muslims have a duty to participate in the governance and administration of the society in which they live in order to facilitate the overall development of the society on the one hand and wellbeing of the citizens or inhabitants on the other hand. Of course, the Nigerian Muslims are not oblivious of the importance of politics to their overall wellbeing and the wellbeing of their fellow non-Muslims as well as the practice of by their religion. Our precursors resisted European penetration of their lands not because of any specific aversion to cultural mix but rather because of the danger the foreign influence might pose to their wellbeing and the Deen. After all, the Islamic history is replete with stories of emissaries to foreign lands by the early Muslim rulers in response to the admonitions of their Creator and his Prophet to propagate the message of Islam and establish justice in the land. But, as several studies have shown (n), the European colonisers did not originally embark on mere civilising missions. In fact, early civilisations have been proved not to be European but rather Arabic, Egyptian or Asian. Economic necessities propelled the seizures of foreign lands while the Christian missionaries seized the opportunity for evangelisation. Thus, European colonialism brought in its wake the Judae-Christian ideas and philosophy that threatened and have continued to threaten the very essence of the Islamic cultural heritage.

Nonetheless, with a mixture of carrot and sticks, the European colonisers/missionaries were able to entrench their rule and by extension their foreign culture and with it their religion. In the circumstances, the early Muslim leaders were left with no choice than to align with the new rulers with a view to ensuring the preservation of their Deen. That was the phenomenon of Indirect Rule. In this regard, the interests of the imperialists coincided with those of the native Muslim rulers, particularly in the Northern part of the territory now known as Nigeria. The divide and rule tactics of the imperialists  paid off as the Muslim North sided with the colonial rulers against the so-called Christian  South in the politics of decolonisation  that eventually  pitched the North against the South.

Although the Muslim rulers of the North found willing allies in the colonial rulers whose sole interests were mainly economic, the attraction was not so much in the preservation of the ethics of the Deen as in defending the unity of the 'One North'. Gradually, the Muslim rulers of the North took on the toga of pro-establishment and willing allies of the colonial rulers in the preservation of the status quo.

The alliance between the Muslim rulers and the wielders of political power, especially in the North, where the numerical superiority of the Muslim population was beyond doubt, continued and was indeed deepened after independence. The established order was also preserved by the succeeding military rulers who, for want of legitimacy, endeared themselves to traditional institutions. Such was the time when no Nigerian ruler was thought to be capable of successfully administering the country without the support of the Sultan of Sokoto who represented and still represents the official voice of Islam in Nigeria. It took a Sani Abacha to demystify the suzerainty of the Sultan with the removal of Ibrahim Dasuki in 1996. 

Wither the (un)Holy Alliance?

The alliance between successive Nigerian governments and the traditional, nay Muslim, rulers produced results that were a mixture of successes and failures in terms of the overall implications for the Muslim Ummah then and now. As allies of the established order, the Muslim rulers naturally became pro-establishment in words and orientation, ready as willing tools of the government in selling unpopular governmental policies and dousing popular tensions. Of course, one cannot deny the advantages that accrued to the leaders, both collectively and individually, from such closeness to the powers that be. The Muslim rulers (and leaders) became so stupendously rich, economically successful and politically powerful. Such power was used to corner some concessions that appeared favourable to Islam and the Muslims - continued numerical superiority of the North largely perceived as the land of Islam, retention of Islamic system of justice howbeit in its heavily modified form (eg, the Penal Code), use of Arabic inscriptions on Nigerian currency, in addition to  other personal and group favours that were not so much tangential to the interests of the Muslims but nonetheless gave some false sense of security that all was well. For the almajiris  of the North,  it mattered not in whose hands the natural resources were  concentrated as long as the Maigida could provide daily sustenance to a hapless and impoverished masses of the Muslims.

The Southern Onlookers?

For a considerable period of time, successive Nigerian governments, in their policies and pronouncements, carried on as if the North was wholly Muslim while the southern parts of Nigeria were the land of Christianity. Of course, we know such an assumption could not be true of the complex geographical expression (to use the words of Chief Obafemi Awolowo) called Nigeria. With the benefit of earlier and easier access to education, our precursors in the South realised the critical role of education in closing the gap between Christians and Muslims. Thus, the establishment of Muslim educational institutions and the rise of Muslim youth organisations such as the MSSN were targeted at building the Muslims personality for survival in a system that was skewed against Islamic education in particular and Muslims in general. Those were good decisions that were necessary to meet the challenges of the time. The strategies have produced their own visible deliverables and many of us here seated have benefited from these early efforts.

One critical void in the early efforts at integrating Muslims into the wider colonial inspired society was that these efforts were solely made the private affairs of the Muslim societies and organisation involved. Due to a combination of factors, including colonial educational policies that were Judae-Christian in character, and the limited educational and socioeconomic background of the early Muslims, among others, no conscious efforts  were made to use the machinery of the state to further the interests of the Muslims. Of course, the political leaders of the South, including the South-West where considerable Muslim population exist, was dominated  by non-Muslims  who might not have known where the shoes pinch as far as the interests of the Muslims were concerned. In fact, the very few Muslims that were visible on the political scene such as Adegoke Adelabu (Penkelemesi) and Dauda Adegbenro were more of politicians than Muslim leaders while those that were committed to the survival of the Deen took a completely detached approach to politics, perhaps seeking to avoid the muddy water of politics from infesting the fragile unity they were seeking to build within the Ummah. The Muslim leaders of the South thus, unlike their counterparts in the North, were late arrivals on the political scene. Because thy needed to curry the favours of the forerunners on the political scene, the few that were able to cross the Rubicon into the inner caucuses of gladiatorial politics have to moderate their Islam and be accommodated or co-opted or continued to deepen their Iman and have their stay within the ‘bedroom’ and corridors of power short-lived. 

Current Realities

The separate paths thread by the Muslims in the North and the South could not but produce different impact on the Muslims as far as emerging political developments were concerned. While the North aligned with the political class, with little obvious gains to the Muslim masses, the South took a somehow detached approach to government and politics. It took the issue of inclusion of the Shari'a in the Constitution, which divided the 1978 Constituent Assembly along the Muslim North and the Christian South line, for the Ummah to wake up from their slumber and seek greater handshakes across the Niger in the defence of the rights of the Nigerian Muslims. While the existence of the Jama'atu Nasril Islam and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) have, over the years provided some national outlets for ventilation of the grievances of the Muslims, the complexity of current political developments have tended to put serious question marks on the ability of the leadership of these two bodies, even if they were willing, to properly manage the collective interests of the Muslims in the current political realities in Nigeria.

A few instances suffice to highlight the putative nature of the assumed power and influence of the officially recognised voices of the Ummah in Nigeria:

June 12:  Notwithstanding the unanimity of views about the religious affiliations of the winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential elections, the NSCIA and JNI (with Abiola as the Vice President) played less than prominent role in the struggle for restoration of the stolen mandate. While claims of subtle attempts at influencing the powers that be exist, the Bishops appeared to take the shine out of any such efforts by their principle stance on June 12 and on major political developments in Nigeria since then. We may not agree with them on all issues, but you know where they stand on any issue at any time.

Self-Succession Agenda: The ‘vocal’ voice of the officially sanctioned institution of Islam in Nigeria, NSCIA, was visibly lost both during the Sani Abacha’s self-succession plan and the Olusegun Obasanjo’s Third Term agenda. In fact, during these two critical periods of national political crises, none of our top religious leaders or institutions was heard to be on the side of the popular clamour for change. In fact, some of our Muslim leaders became willing collaborators and lost their faces in the aftermath of the failures that attended their ignominious role during these periods of national political crises

Constitutional Conference 2014: For two interrelated reasons, which I find inauspicious to make public, I ought not to comment on the ongoing Confab in Abuja. But I must not fail to add my voice to those of our brother and sisters who have observed the disproportionate representation of Muslims in the Confab. By whatever Arithmetic, 32% cannot be a proper representative ratio of the Muslim population in Nigeria. The truth is that the fault is not that of the FG alone, but the explanations from the Presidency could have been better managed by the NSCIA. Unfortunately, the NSCIA, as presently composed, is inadequately equipped to play any enviable role in the circumstances.

A New Approach

The corporate voice of the Muslims is lost on the cacophony of national issues and political development in Nigeria because the Ummah is yet to find a body that could be relevant to current realities and rise above ethnic, regional or other sectional sentiments. Current political developments in Nigeria demands that the official voice of Islam should be in the forefront of national discourses and not merely be on the defensive on all issues. Unfortunately, the NSCIA as presently constituted cannot serve such a purpose. Traditional rulers generally are not cut out for principled stance on critical issues of national development because of the assumed role of father figures for all and sundry. A body that is largely composed of such fathers cannot be expected to play the kind of leadership role that the Muslims earnestly demand in contemporary Nigeria. The dilemma is that the NSCIA has been so much entrenched in the system that it cannot simply be consigned to the dustbin of historical records. Rather, what is needed is surgical restructuring of the organisation in such a manner that it can be representative of the different shades of opinions within the Ummah. 

Last Lines

The search for dignified role for Muslims in the Nigerian political landscape also requires individual efforts. Those of us who found ourselves in positions of ruler-ship and leadership should learn to live above board at all times and be our brothers/sisters’ keeper. For the led, we should be supportive enough and give the needed advice for overall success, in the interests of the Ummah and the entire populace. In the mutual relationships between the leaders and the lead, we should seek to avoid some of the mistakes of fallacies and over assumptions that have served as landmines for those in positions of authority in Nigeria:

1. Assumption of Being in Power. The realities of power, at the political level or elsewhere, are often lost to those who are not insiders. Definitely, not everyone in government or other positions of authority is actually in power. Several factors may conspire to make power putative. For those who are new, you probably assume office with intent to move mountains. The balance of power and other forces require that the Muslim wielders of power be conscious of the long standing Qur'anic injunctions that power belongs to Allah alone who gives and withdraws it at will. This implies that whatever agenda we have should be executed timeously. It also means those of us who would made demands on the wielders of political and other powers be patient and show understanding, where our brothers and sisters are unable or less able to meet our expectations.

2. Detached Involvement. The second issue is that we may not even be in a position to help our brothers and sisters in authority if we have not strategically positioned ourselves to assist them in meeting our expectations of their performance. This is often most visible in politics. Today, perhaps because of the nature of politics in Nigeria, many of us have an aversion to it to the extent that we fail to participate in politics or even get involved in such commonplace political activities as voting. If politics is a game of number, then our detached approach to politics cannot do us any good. It leaves the field open for all the Tom, Dick and Harry to dominate the scene.

3. ‘The Buck Stops on my Table’ Syndrome. For the few that are able to cross the Rubicon of political power, particularly those of us who pride ourselves as having been properly schooled in the Islamic religion, we tend to surround ourselves with people whose interests are at variance with our own on the conviction that at least the final decisions rest with us. As someone who has traverse the inside and outside of power, I have seen some well-intentioned Muslims fallen into this mistake. Of course as the final authority, the bulks may stop on your  table but your subordinate may have painted such a different picture of the matter before you that you may be confronted with a fait accompli, by taking decisions that could be difficult  to justify or resign yourself to fate by succumbing to blackmail

4. Severance of Old Ties. The tendency to make new friends and acquaintances while in a position of authority is a known occurrence. While new friends are desirable and may indeed be material in your overall success, experiences have shown that many get attracted to you because of expectations of what you can do or undo. Of course, your older and dependable friends may not be relevant in your upward journey to power and influence, they remain supportive instruments on your descent from power, whether by removal, withdrawal or retirement.

Finally for those of us inside and outside of power, we should always be conscious of the ephemeral nature of power and that the success or otherwise of the trust of power placed on us by Allah is measured by how much we have touched the lives of our fellow beings as a critical anchor needed to complete our devotion to the worship of our Creator, Allah, the Source of all power, who gives to and withdraws from anyone at will, no matter whose ox is gored. May He continue to show us His ways and the ways of those who He loves. Amin

Wa salaam 'alaykum  warahmatullah wabarakatuh