The demand made by the leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, from President Muhammadu Buhari recently for the immediate withdrawal of Nigeria from all religious organisations is the best way out of the sectarian suspicion dogging the heels of government activities. This is the surest way to douse mounting tension and mistrust of one religion trying to dominate the rest. Expectedly, the President listened patiently to CAN submission but having the political will to do this is a different ball game entirely. I believe this particular request will confirm if Mr. President truly belongs to nobody and he’s for everybody.
The reinforcement of Islamic financial operations in Nigeria is becoming serious constitutional and sectarian trepidations. Despite the vocal and intellectual fireworks deployed by the immediate past President of CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, against the integration of Islamic banking into our financial system, the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, under Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, by fiat, formally enlisted Jaiz Bank as a “regional interest-free bank in Northern Nigeria” in January 2012. Today, the bank has 21 branches across Nigeria (no longer regional) and it was even one of the 11 banks approved for the Joint Admission Matriculation Board, JAMB, for Pin Vending. I think this is why Christian leaders were wary of Sukuk Bond arrangement.
There were accusations against President Buhari that he was much committed to the full implementation of Sharia Islamic law throughout the country before he ascended the seat of power in May, 2015. He was quoted to have said at a public forum in Kaduna in August 2001 that: “I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria. God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country.” If you ask me, I don’t see anything wrong if Buhari is committed to the growth of Islam as a religion in Nigeria, just like Christians would evangelise the nation for Christ; but implementation of Sharia is an affront to our constitution, thereby giving Nigeria dual identity both as an Islamic state as well as a secular nation simultaneously.
Recent developments in the administration of public institutions leave no one in doubt about the dogged drive towards perceived Islamic expansionist tendencies. From the hindsight of history, we knew Sokoto (the seat of Caliphate hegemony) and Ilorin, Kwara State capital fell to Fulani Islamists on the strength of being accommodated by the land owners and indigenes. So, when the issue of grazing reserves across the nation was mooted at the National Assembly, it was vehemently opposed! Prof. Ben Nwabueze, SAN, who ruminated over the systematic moves to turn Nigeria into a mono-religious state, tearfully told journalists at the venue of Igbo Leaders of Thoughts (ILT) meeting in Enugu last year that: “This is a very crucial meeting for us because, if you look at our agenda, we have critical issues for discussion; issues like Islamisation agenda and its impact on the unity of the country. Islamisation agenda is real, it’s not something that somebody has just conjured up, it is there. And it’s being implemented gradually. Look at the security agencies; in every aspect of security, Islamists are in control in its entirety. They are methodical in the way they are going about its implementation. Look at Fulani herdsmen menace, it is part of it.”
Abu Qaqa and Kabiru Sokoto, two kingpins of dreaded Boko Haram terror group had confessed during interrogation after the Madala bombing that: “We had a grand plan to Islamise Nigeria rightly starting with the North. We felt that a lot of Muslims were not practicing the religion faithfully as they should. The plans to attack churches and schools were not a reaction to any provocation. The plans had been there. You know why the churches had to go. Those schools for instance were not teaching the children according to ways of our faith. These were part of our initial plans of allowing only Islamic schools and wiping away the so-called secular schools,” they said. When President Buhari sacked the heads of educational bodies such as JAMB, NUC, NECO and 14 others in August 2016, out of the 17 affected offices, nine Christians were replaced with Muslims, while four (on-the-job Muslims) were allowed to continue in office. In all, 13 of the 17 are Muslims. Ordinarily, we don’t need to view every issue from religious perspective, but the brazen imbalance and nepotistic biases of the current administration makes one suspect and weigh every action both on ethnic and religious scales. One of the beneficiaries of this lopsided appointments and immediate past Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, who incidentally was spitting fire and brimstone over the Ecclesiastical Court proposal is very much comfortable with Sharia sweeping across the entire country regardless of the interest and feelings of other religions.
Meanwhile, dominating the headship of our security agencies by Muslims was suspected as a grand plot to further entrench Islamisation agenda which is in aberration of our constitutional provisions, which stipulates federal character for equity, fairness and regional balancing. This reality was justified by the conscription of 250 Civilian JTF in the North East into the Nigerian Army without considering the geographical imbalance and protocol for recruitment. I do hope President Buhari will do all he can to restore the secularity of this nation by correcting obvious tilts to regain the confidence of every Nigerian. It is very risky to allow things continue as they are now, as further sectarian domination of one religion above the rest might eventually breed sectarian militia both in defence of their valued lives and Christian faith in Nigeria. I doubt if we can survive it as a nation if we are forced to resort to ‘self-help’; Sudan and Central African Republic should be a lesson for us to learn from. Until there was so much outcry and widespread condemnation, the Christian Religious Studies, CRS, had been merged or subsumed into some other subjects while those designing the curriculum made Islamic Religious Studies, IRS, compulsory. What an affront! Similarly, I learnt they also proposed to make Arabic language a must in our tertiary institutions. I keep wondering if there are no Christians at the level where these lopsided academic decisions are made.
In Kaduna, the state government asked religious preachers to get permit to preach, while preachers should also submit their proposed sermons for screening. All these shenanigans were targeted at the church. It’s all in the ploy to shut down the voice of the gospel, which apparently is sheer impossible. The Head of the Church Himself had decreed that “the gate of hell shall not prevail against His Church” not only in Nigeria but the world over.
Going by the history of India and Pakistan and how their former colonialists, Britain, had surreptitiously set the two sister nations on a collision course through religion in which millions of people were mindlessly killed in sectarian genocides, it dawned on me that northern leaders couldn’t have unilaterally smuggled Sharia into our constitution right from the onset. I think by now, commonsense should prevail and religion should be allowed to be a personal relationship with God and not a state affair. Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards management should be left to the leaders of the religious bodies without any government involvement whatsoever.
In conclusion, President Buhari should seriously consider the option proffered by the CAN and be courageous to live up to his calling. He is the President of both the north and the south; Muslims and Christians; as well as the elected leader of everything Nigeria stands for. His failure to acknowledge this truth and act accordingly will do us no good. The secularity of Nigeria should be sacrosanct; to do otherwise is to make disintegration of Nigeria a matter of time!