Politicians, Islam and threat to peace
THERE is nothing ISIS, the Taliban are doing today that has not been done before in Northern Nigeria long before Boko Haram emerged as a matter of fact. Only that the world wasn’t paying attention then. When the West was still fighting communism and the USSR, when J.F. Kennedy declared that “Ich bin ein Berliner in his 1963 speech, when Ronald Reagan challenged Gobarchev in 1987 to “tear down this wall,” Nigeria was being tortured by the ruling Islamic hardliners. Boko Haram is only the latest incarnation of a very long series of a progressive malaise. In February 2000, Governor Mohammed Ahmed Makarfi of Kaduna, the most multicultural state in the North imposed Sharia. Not only was the imposition contrary to the provisions of the country’s secular constitution, it was an act of religious extremism. The apex Islamic bodies, Jama’ tul Nasril Islam (JNI) and Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) did not condemn that extremism. The second bloodiest religious riot in Nigeria’s history then ensued in the state and the body count ran well over 2000. But it was Zamfara State governor Ahmed Yerima Sani who a month earlier launched the Sharia spree that has now engulfed 12 northern states. To confirm his seriousness, in March 2000, he ratified the cold-blooded cut of Buba Bello Jangebe’s hand for allegedly stealing a cow. His deputy then, Mamudu Aliyu Shinkafi was the one in November 2002 who pronounced the fatwa that scurried ThisDay fashion correspondent, Ms Isioma Daniel into exile in Norway during the Miss World pageantry officially hosted by Nigeria. The fanatics were virulently opposed, claiming the event was not supposed to hold during their holy month of fasting.
Despite the fact that the show organisers conceded that the girls would not wear bikinis on stage, the fanatics still went to work. They seized on the 18 words of Isioma Daniel that speculated on what Prophet Mohammed would think of the beauties. Sponsored riots that led to the death of 217 broke out in Abuja and Kaduna. The extremists didn’t want the pageantry because they claimed it would violate the holy month of fasting but they didn’t think their killing spree would.
Instead of Islamic leaders condemning the mass murder, they blamed the organisers. Dr. Lateef Adegbite, secretary general of Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) argued that with the murderous riots, the government and the organisers will learn to take them seriously. If they don’t want a programme, they don’t want it. To which Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s Nobel laureate called him “a fool” i.e. how can you stake your need for respect on the lives of others. Two years later, the Zamfara State deputy governor rose to become the governor of the state while his boss became a federal senator and married a 13 year-old-girl.
All the pronouncements were not said or done by outcast terrorist organisations or criminals giving Islam a bad name. They were politicians who campaigned that they were going to introduce sharia as contained in the Quran and not the cherry-picked one that formed the basis of the penal code. June 2009, in the town of Sara in Jigawa State, a mob descended on a police station and burnt it down for failure of the police to hand over a fleeing man that sought refuge there. They claimed he had blasphemed against the holy prophet. October 2007, Shehu Sani’s book The Phantom Crescent satirising sharia leaders, lawyers, judges, and Hisbah (their police officers) was banned in Kaduna by the Upper Sharia Court. In February 2006, the extremists took to the streets of Maiduguri over the Danish cartoons; 16 people were killed including Rev Fr. Matthew Gajere who was helping his altar boys escape when the siege began. They didn’t know why they were rioting; they were just told to go into the streets by their sponsors. And so they chose their usual targets: non-indigenes, non-Muslims but no Danish nor European.
This is from The Punch newspaper of March 22, 2007: “Muslim pupils at a secondary school in Gandu, Gombe State, beat a teacher to death after accusing her of desecrating the Koran… The teacher, Oluwatoyin Olusesan, a Christian, was invigilating an Islamic Religious Knowledge exam at the Government Day Secondary School, Gandu when the incident occurred… the teacher suspected that a foul play was about to take place when one of the students wanted to come in with his books to the exam hall. The teacher collected the books and threw them outside, unknown to her, there was a copy of the Holy Koran among the books. The principal said before they knew what was happening, the students had started chanting Allahu Akbar (God is Great). All efforts to control the rampaging students proved abortive even when the school principal, Mohammed Sadiq, tried to protect the teacher in his office. The principal was also terribly beaten and injured while they set the teacher’s car, three classes, the school’s clinic, administrative block and library on fire.” Note: these happened during their Islamic Religious Knowledge examination. Well, maybe they did not know like everybody else that Islam is a religion of peace.
In the state that eventually became the epicentre of Boko Haram; during the January 2001 lunar eclipse in Borno, Muslims youth began a rampage destroying hotels, bars and brothels blaming them for the cause of the eclipse. In September 2001, Governor Yerima Sani forbade women to come out and cheer President Obasanjo on his official visit to his state because according to sharia, women and men should not mix freely in public. The women refused. In October 2001 in Sokoto, Safiya Hussaini was sentenced to stoning to death for adultery by Judge Mohammed Bello Sanyinlawal while acquitting the 60-year-old Yahaya Abubakar who impregnated her. After sustained international pressure, Safiya was acquitted a year later and made honorary citizen of Rome. Sokoto Governor Attahiru Bafarawa and Zamfara’s Ahmed Sani condemned the honour with the latter adding, it was act of proselytisation. It was the turn of Amina Lawal in March 2002. She was sentenced to public stoning for getting pregnant outside wedlock in Katsina. In 1998, Muslims youth like the Taliban that can’t get use to the compromises of tolerance and diversity, invaded the Olofa’s palace and razed down the shrine of Moremi, a traditional goddess in Offa. December 1994 in Kano city, Gideon Akaluka, a trader, was beheaded and paraded danse macabre because his wife desecrated the Koran. In February 1989, death to Wole Soyinka posters were carried around during Zaria riots because he defended Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, urged artists to launch their own creative jihad against the Iranian Ayatollahs, and called on civilised nations to expel Iranian diplomats from their territories. And then the Maitatsine massacre in December 1980 in Kano –the bloodiest single massacre in the nation’s history. 4,177 lives were lost, 8,712 received various degrees of injuries. As usual, there were no convictions.
To continue with the tradition of no conviction, less than two weeks after the bombing of the UN headquarters in Abuja, the governor of Kano State, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso ordered 20 members of Boko Haram released as part of celebrations of the end of the holy month of fasting. Vanguard Newspaper of August 30, 2011 quotes him: “As a government, we consider all Islamic and Christian religious sects the same. It is the duty of government to embrace all religious groups toward peaceful coexistence among citizens.”
• Damola Awoyokun is a writer and historian. Follow me at @osoronga