A professor of Islamic Eschatology and Director of Muslim Rights Concern, Ishaq Akintola, tells BAYO AKINLOYE that the Christian Association of Nigeria’s criticism of recent visit by the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, is uncalled-for
Did you say Nigeria is not a secular state?
Yes, Nigeria is not a secular state, I still insist. A secular state does not recognise any religion at all. But the Nigerian state recognises all religions. The government supports both Christian and Muslim pilgrimages. Christian and Muslim prayers are said at official functions. The preamble of the Nigerian Constitution leans heavily on God. So, we are a multi-religious nation. It is when Christian leaders want to pull the wool over our eyes that they claim that Nigeria is a secular country. What exactly do I mean? Nigerian Christians have been enjoying everything they need since the British took over the country and colonised it. They have the Christian common law while they object to Muslims having Shariah. They enjoy Christo-Western education while they restrict Muslim children’s access to Islamic education. Christians are free to do whatever they like on Sundays but Muslims are chained to their workplaces on Fridays.
That chain must break. Freedom is our cry. We must widen the horizon of the quest for self-determination. They hold Christian court or church marriage whose certificate is recognised by law whereas mosque marriage certificate is not recognised. Christian schoolchildren use Christian school uniforms but Muslim children are disallowed from using the hijab. Muslim women are denied driving licences and international passports in Nigeria on account of their use of hijab. There is an urgent need to straighten this lopsided system. It is not working. Nigerian Muslims still remain oppressed today because they have yet to be emancipated in the four examples above. There are more areas of oppression. But there are one or two aspects where the Muslims have been liberated.
Can you give an example?
An example is the Sallah holidays. Although Christians used to enjoy Christmas and other holidays, there was no Sallah holiday for Muslims on Eid el-Fitr and Eid el-Kabir days during the colonial days. We wrenched that from our oppressors’ hands after a long struggle. Another example where freedom has come our way is where Nigerian Christians compelled Muslims to operate Christian financial system with its riba (interest) which is haram (forbidden) for Muslims, yet they refused to allow Muslims to practise the Islamic banking until a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (now Emir of Kano), belled the cat by introducing Islamic banking.
So you can see that it is all about struggling for liberation. It is like a master-slave affair. Those who sit on the necks of Muslims are reluctant to set them free. But we will get there whether the oppressor likes it or not. It is interesting to note that Christians know that a Muslim commits a sin each time he collects or gives riba yet they never freely allowed it. What do you call that? Do we love our neighbours? Do you call that freedom of religion? Isn’t there some element of selfishness in that? Didn’t Jesus teach loving the neighbour? I remember that a particular bishop from the East led his followers in a public demonstration against the introduction of Islamic banking. Ridiculous, isn’t it?
What about Shariah Law that Muslims rely on?
Point of correction, please; Muslims don’t have Shariah law to rely on because Christians have always contested the right of Muslims to use Shariah. So, which Shariah are you saying the Muslims have? Who gave them — the Christian Association of Nigeria? Or, is it the Christian Elders Forum? Muslims in the entire southern Nigeria have no access to Shariah up till today. They remain oppressed. Shariah was not allowed in the North until Senator Ahmad Sani (former governor of Zamfara State) introduced it in Zamfara in 1999. But you will remember the controversy which that singular action generated. We were called all sorts of names for supporting its introduction. Do I think those who profess to be Christians are represented by the law of the land? What is the difference between the law of the land and the Christians? As far as I am concerned, the Christians own the land.
But why would you say they own the land?
They own the law. Yes; I am unequivocal about that. We do everything in Nigeria today the Christian way. What is there for the Muslims? What are Muslims allowed to do?
Islam came to Nigeria in 1085 and the British brought Christianity in 1842; that is 800 good years before Christianity. They immediately stopped Shariah practices in the South and reduced its practice in the North to civil matters only. What law was practised after the abrogation of the Shariah by the British? Was it not Christian law? Now we must ask: Who owned the land from the 1914 amalgamation to independence in 1960? The British colonialists were no less Christians than my mother was a woman and they bequeathed a legacy of Christian domination and Christian culture to the Nigerian system. Did Nigerians make any attempt to strike a balance between Christian law and Christian way of life and Islamic Shariah and Islamic way of life? No. It was assumed a priori that everything was alright. Life is perfect so long as we sustain the Christian way of life. Never mind the Muslims; they may have teeth but they can’t bite – that was the general impression. The south-western axis of the press pursued this line of thought and attacked every idea that bears any iota of Islamic identity to this day.
Do you think religious affairs in Nigeria can also benefit from the restructuring being clamoured by some people?
Propagators of the restructuring of Nigeria should do Muslims a favour; restructuring must not be exclusive of the teeming Muslim population in the country. Restructuring must cover the lopsided structure handed over by the colonial masters. We must restructure the pro-Christian judicial system; reform the education sector to put a stop to the discrimination against Islamic education; declare Friday work-free like Sunday or find another solution acceptable to all; give official recognition to marriage certificates issued by mosques; give nationwide approval to the use of hijab on school uniforms for female Muslim children, on uniforms used by police women, female soldiers and all other para-military bodies like LASTMA (Lagos State Traffic Management Authority)and traffic wardens; and also allow Muslim women to get driving licence and international passports without being harassed to remove their hijab.
The President of Christian Association of Nigeria, Dr. Supo Ayokunle, claimed that United States Secretary of State, John Kerry’s recent visit to the country is a sign of US’ disrespect for Christians in Nigeria, because Christian leaders were not included in Kerry’s meeting with Muslim leaders. What do you make of that?
The CAN president’s allegation is laughable. Can any reasonable person expect the United States to marginalise Christians anywhere in the world? The CAN president cannot really be serious about that. It is either a huge joke or part of the arm-twisting (I stated earlier). The CAN has a way of biting off one’s nose and complaining aloud later about one’s inability to smell. The CAN will cut off one’s two hands and still goes ahead to complain when one fails to shake hands with them. Come to think of it: John Kerry came to assess the extent of damage in Boko Haram-ravaged North-East. To achieve his objective, it is only normal that he visited Northern governors and the Sultan (of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar) as the rallying point of northern traditional rulers. Kerry visited the Sultan in the latter’s capacity as a traditional ruler and not as head of Nigerian Muslims. The CAN should be advised to stop behaving like the second wife in a polygamous home. It is infantile.
Even though some people considered his meeting with northern governors and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, innocuous, don’t you think Kerry should have met with CAN or the Christian Elders Forum, knowing that Nigeria is a religiously sensitive nation?
I see nothing wrong in what John Kerry did. Is he a Muslim? For God’s sake, let us address real issues for once. Kerry did not come with a religious agenda but a humanitarian one. Now it will not be proper to discuss relief issues for Boko Haram victims with either Christians or Muslims. The appropriate thing to do is to go to the government and the traditional rulers who are in touch with the people at the grass roots and the gentleman did just that. So, why should heaven fall because CAN or CEF was not invited or involved? Is CAN the government? Is CAN in the council of chiefs? I bet White House must be laughing its heads off over this. It sounds too peripheral to be important and Nigerians know better than to waste their time on this.
The CAN president also stated that the ‘attitude, disposition and discriminatory visit’ of Kerry validated accusations that US openly supported the All Progressives Congress in the 2015 general elections.
There you go again. Dr. (Supo) Ayokunle has just exposed himself and CAN as the spoilers of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. They pampered the man until he ‘angelised’ corruption and inserted it as Nigeria’s middle name. CAN leaders should do a rethink. I don’t know about the United States supporting the All Progressives Congress in the 2015 elections. What I know is that the United States stood behind free speech, freedom of movement, respect for the rule of law and unadulterated democratic principles and above all, a free and fair 2015 presidential election.
How would the Muslim community in Nigeria have felt if Kerry had visited only Church leaders in the North and no Muslim representative?
Northern Christians can invite Kerry if they think this event (Kerry’s visit) constitutes a one-zero calculus. Why would the Muslim community raise any eyebrow if Kerry or any other Western figure attends a Christian conference or night vigil? What have the Muslims ever said about Westerners and their leaders attending TB Joshua’s Synagogue? We see it as a good development; a foreign exchange earner and a return match. After all, the colonialists gave us the Bible and told us to close our eyes – you know what happened afterwards. What is wrong if we now give them the Bible and order them to close their eyes? Joking apart, judging from the body language of the Muslim community as reflected in the attitude of the Sultan who is our leader, I don’t see them rabble-rousing on issues that do not concern Muslims. Don’t make a mistake; Nigeria is blessed to have a Sultan of peace, a patriot par excellence.
There is one more thing the CAN president said: ‘Kerry’s visit has heightened fear and tension among Christians in Nigeria. If they cannot bring us together, they should not interfere in our affairs. So, Kerry should stop interfering in Nigerian internal affairs.’ Do you think Kerry’s visit actually did that?
If you follow opinions expressed in the media in recent times, you will know that the CAN president’s position is not shared by the average Nigerian Christian. I am sorry but I see no difference between the past reckless pronouncements of CAN’s former president Oritsejafor and Ayokunle’s firebrand diplomacy. The new CAN president’s endorsement of Osun CAN’s spiritual rascality is strongly didactic in this regard. He has no respect for the rule of law. We need more maturity, cool-headedness and sense of responsibility on the altar just as we need it on the minbar (a short flight of steps used as a platform by a preacher in a mosque). It is rather unfortunate that while the minbar is celebrating its fait accompli as personified by the current Sultan, the altar still needs to look further.
It was alleged that Muslims are major beneficiaries of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s government; same with the current administration. What do you think?
Major beneficiaries indeed; have they forgotten so soon? Was it not ex-President Jonathan who organised a heavily lopsided National Conference in which the number of Christian delegates almost doubled that of Muslims? Was he not the one who could not appoint a single Muslim among all the ministers from the South-West? Do you recall that the Sultan had to lead a delegation of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs to Aso Rock in protest against Jonathan’s marginalisation of Muslims at the National Conference and other areas? Did Jonathan do anything about it?
As for the claim that Muslims are being favoured by the present administration, that is large-scale falsehood. Even Nigerian toddlers know that Buhari is religion-blind. He is not a fanatic. He just wants to fix Nigeria. How has the present administration favoured Muslims? The facts are at our fingertips. Take the South-West as an example: there are six states there and each has a minister. Only Babatunde Fashola and Adebayo Shittu are Muslims. The rest are Christians. Let CAN tell us if that is not so. Do you call two out of six a favour? And that is just a tip of the iceberg in Buhari’s administration. The parastatals are replete with Christian chief executives. But Muslims are not complaining. Nigeria now has about 35 ministers out of which only 17 are Muslims. Tell me how the present administration has favoured Muslims. Is CAN using mathematics or mathemagic?
Personally, I believe that we are cutting our nose to spite our face in this country. We should allow government to pick the best candidates for positions in order to get maximum performance. We should not always be thinking of religious or ethnic leaning. Muslims have tried as much as possible to maintain this principle but CAN is always making a noise because of its grip on the press.
CAN said Muslims would have gone on rampage if Kerry had met only with Church leaders contrary to your view. It cited the instance of how a cartoon published in faraway Denmark led to a bloody protest in Nigeria that killed many non-Muslims. Is that correct?
The two scenarios are incomparable and I dare say it is most mischievous of CAN to try to use them. You cannot compare derision with exclusion. The Danish cartoon derided Muslims. Kerry did nothing like that to Christians. Kerry is a Christian and it is Christians who are complaining about his visit. The Danes are Christians and their cartoon attacked Muslims. It is wrong to compare the two incidents. CAN is running out of ideas. Let CAN look for acceptable examples. Its behavior these days is not only illogical but inexplicable and bewildering. Muslims have never been known to go on rampage over political marginalisation. Did the marginalisation of Muslims during Jonathan’s national conference cause any violent reaction?
What about a claim that British colonial rule in Nigeria favoured Muslims more than Christians and that Muslims are responsible for their own woes. Is that correct to some extent?
How can CAN continue to twist the facts of history? How did British colonial rule favour Muslims? Were the British Muslims? Was it our Shariah which the British abrogated that favoured us or our Islamic way of life which they openly supplanted with Christian culture? CAN is not upholding the tenets of Christianity. CAN is deceiving Nigerians. But most Nigerians know the truth and the truth has set them free. My sympathy goes to those who accept CAN’s abracadabra. The question I ask is: for how long will Nigerians continue to swallow CAN’s baits hook, line and sinker? The Bible says, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’