‘Crash in crude oil price signals a devastating impact of coronavirus on Nigeria’
Nasrul Lahi-l-Fatih Society (NASFAT) clocked 25 on March 5, 2020 and to mark the Silver Jubilee anniversary, one-month long activities was lined up from March 1 through March 29, 2020. However, the programme had to be halted on Wednesday after the international conference on “Peaceful co-existence as means towards building a better society” held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in response to the directive by the government authorities that social and religious gatherings that attract more than 50 participants should be discouraged to curb coronavirus spread. NASFAT President, Niyi Yusuf, in this interview with KABIR ALABI GARBA shares in the apprehension of Nigerians over the likely adverse socio-economic impact a long period of coronavirus could inflict on Nigeria while celebrating the milestones the Society has accomplished in the last 25 years.
Do you think authorities are on the right course banning religious gatherings and closing schools to curb the spread of Coronavirus?
The answer is yes! This is because we are going into an uncharted terrain. Ebola is not the same as COVID-19, so, we all need to be prudent and conservative as possible. And from what we have heard, the understanding is that gathering allows multiplication of infection, so, if there are ways the government can reduce gathering which can reduce possibility of infection, such ways should be supported.
As a result, Nasrul- Lahi-l- Fatih Society (NASFAT) took the view that safety of lives is much more important and paramount in line with the dictates of Q4v59 where Allah instructs that “… Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority…”
Since we do not know all the information that is available to the government authorities, the belief is that they have taken the best decision concerning this issue and as obedient Nigerians, we just have to abide by it.
The adverse socio-economic impact of coronavirus on Nigerians is emerging to be huge especially with the fall in the global oil price, what is your take on this?
It is good to have a little dose of fear. It is also healthy. We need to be proactive especially when something is happening in more than 120 countries of the world and 24 countries in Africa. Whatever steps taken to reduce the spread should be welcome. We can only guess and look at scenarios, but no one knows for sure how long and bad this will be. All things being equal, if this coronavirus should extend to say, three, four, five months, we can only imagine the impact on the economy. Unfortunately for Nigerians, we will be suffering from double jeopardy: reduction in price of crude oil… today (Thursday), Nigeria produces crude oil at $32 per barrel, whereas the price of crude oil is $30 per barrel, meaning we are earning less than the cost of production of crude oil. This means we are effectively not making money. The revenue that will come to government this year is likely to reduce drastically which, I suggest, has forced the government to slash the 2020 budget by N1.5trillion. And if the price of crude oil continues to be below $30 dollar for long, that slash may not be enough. The question is how many weeks or months this coronavirus impact will last? Fortunately, China did not declare any coronavirus case today (Thursday) which is good, because China is the hub of the demand and manufacturing. If China starts to produce and demand for natural gas again, country such as Nigeria will benefit. That is one glimmer of hope. But essentially as a nation, we are overtly exposed to the drastic consequence of crash in the price of crude oil! So, price of crude oil being below $30 is a grave cause for concern and if that price continues for long, we are likely to have severe economic crisis. Second problem is the coronavirus with rate of inflation and pace of infection as well as the attendant social disruption. We hope and pray that these two issues – coronavirus and crude oil price – will not last for long, otherwise we are in for big trouble.
Corresponding to the issue of COVID-19 is the perpetual security challenge in the country, what has been the role of NASFAT providing an enduring solution to it?
In the last few months, NASFAT has focused on four areas of priority: health, education, livelihood and dawah (preaching) with the acronym, HELD. The objective of this focus is underpinned by our understanding that the root cause of insecurity, terrorism and strife can be traced to two or three things: poverty, lack of knowledge/education and discrimination.
So, NASFAT believes in fighting the root causes than to be fighting the symptoms. We are addressing access to health, affordable quality education, decent meaning of livelihood and better understanding of the religion (through Dawah). The belief is that if these four priorities are addressed adequately, the root causes of insecurity, terrorism and strife could have been tackled constructively.
From experience, what do you consider as key to building a well-balanced society?
Building a well-balanced society starts with education and leadership that is selfless. A leadership that is visionary, that can see the big picture, set direction and work selflessly to get everybody moving in that direction as oppose to a leadership that works only for a few. Leadership must always work for the majority and for the good of all. It is also important to have right level of accountability, rules in addition to ensuring that there is reward for compliance with the rules as well as sanctions for contravening the rules. Both reward and sanction need to be done on blind basis where there is no favouritism, nepotism. If you do well, you are rewarded, if you do not, you are sanctioned. It doesn’t matter who you are. When you have such rule-driven society that promotes merit, provides equal opportunity for all to thrive with a leadership that is selfless, you are already on the pathway to a well-balanced society.
Against the backdrop of this lofty programme, what would you record as outstanding achievements of the organization in the past 25 years?
What started in the living room of one individual on March 5, 1995, today has spread to more than 350 locations in Nigeria, Africa, North America, Europe and Asia. To us, it is an outstanding progress as we are now calling more people to what is good. The formation of the society was based on the injunction in Q3v104 that says, “Call to what is good, forbid what is bad….” This Quranic verse is the bedrock of the formation of NASFAT to the extent that the society has moved from just a living room gathering to a gathering of millions every Sunday and gathering of tens of millions online through our various channels. Another reflection of success is our investment in education. We have the Fountain University in Osogbo, Osun State which held its 9th Convocation ceremony last January, meaning it has been in existence in last 13 years and it has produced fine scholars and experts into working environment who are contributing to the development of the country. This is in addition to many primary and secondary schools in cities across the country such as Lagos, Ilorin, Kaduna, Zaria, Ibadan, Ondo, Shaki, Sokoto and several others where we are building students with right ethics. I am happy with what NASFAT has done in the areas of education and health. We have full fledge hospital in Abidjan, Cote D’Voire; Kaduna, Ire, Osogbo, Ikorodu and those hospitals offer basic healthcare service to our members and non-members alike. The aim is to provide access to healthcare delivery and wellbeing of humanity. We also do quarterly medical mission by going to communities around us and provide free medical services. In the area of livelihood, an agency was registered with focus on vocational training for members in digital marketing, computer skills, fashion designing, barbing, bead and bag making, photography and others. We also provide start-up capital through the NASFAT Agency for Zakat and Sadaq (NAZAS) for the trainees to be financially empowered. In the last five years, NAZAS has disbursed over N245million to deserving Muslims in Lagos and its environs. In terms of Dawah, we have TASFAN Tours and Travels which is a leading private hajj operator in the country today. It carries highest number of pilgrims among the private tour operators in the country. So, we are making it easier for members to fulfill this religious obligation. Also, we have Quranic schools and soon, we will begin to run online Quranic training using technology. One is happy with what has been achieved in the last 25 years.
Where do you hope to see NASFAT in the next 10?
In the next 10 years, there are five areas we hope to see tremendous progress. One, we hope to have completed our Mother and Child Hospital in Lagos. The project is designed to be a world-class hospital. Also, we intend to train more than one million people in vocational skills and build thousands of businesses in addition to producing several thousands of memorisers of the holy Quran.
In what way(s) has NASFAT intervened in the rising moral decadence in the country?
The way to look at it is that the world is changing with emergence of millennial who subscribe to different values dictated by technology and globalization. But this provides window for religious organizations to call people to what is good and project the right set of values. NASFAT and other religious groups have contributed greatly in this direction.
Another indication of moral decadence is high level of drug abuse among young people in predominantly Muslim communities….
Yes, there has been huge incidence of drug abuse, but I do not think it is peculiar to any particular religion. It is a social issue that affects humanity as a whole. In the past, in the United States and other climes, drug abuse was seen as Black issue, but it is now a social problem and NASFAT approach to curbing it has its root in Q5V90 with regular engagement with the youth reminding them why they have to shun drug and other social vices. For instance, in April 2020, if COVID-19 permits, NASFAT is planning a gathering of 2000 youths at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State in collaboration with the NDLEA to conduct training for these youths at the end of which they (participants) will be certified as NDLEA ambassadors. This is our own way of raising the level of awareness and teaching people how not to use drug.
What strategies would you recommend for Nigeria to attain inter-religious harmony?
NASFAT has been very strong in the area of promoting religious harmony. Several conferences and dialogue sessions have been organized on peaceful co-existence among different faiths. On Wednesday in Port Harcourt, we had another dialogue session featuring the Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi as guest speaker on ‘Peaceful co-existence as means towards building a better society’. In December 2019, we had our annual conference in Abeokuta and former President Olusegun Obasanjo was invited to speak on ‘peace and security as panacea for nation building’. Consistently, we have been promoting religious harmony among people of different faiths. At the Port Harcourt programme on Wednesday, CAN, PFN and other major Christian groups were represented. What is paramount is for us as people to recognize that God has created us differently. There should also be mutual tolerance and mutual respect. We should tolerate and respect people’s different views and opinions. Also, there is need for deeper understanding of the religion in order to appreciate that there is wisdom in diversity.
Do you agree with the claim that partisan political competition exacerbates religious disharmony?
In an environment where there is high level of poverty, high level of illiteracy, tendency for these to be exploited by politicians and non-politicians is very high.
How would you react to the view in some quarters that religious extremism in Nigeria is responsible for the lack of scientific or technological breakthrough like other third world countries?
I disagree with that, it is unfounded. The question is what is religious extremism? Even if one is to accept without conceding there is religious extremism, when did that start? Did it start 200 years ago? Or did it last year? If it was 200 years ago, what inventions did we do 200 years ago? It is a case of calling religion a bad name. But in a country where we do not make enough investment in education, you can’t expect to have inventions. For instance, in 2018, the budget of South Africa for Basic Education alone was $16 billion, in Nigeria, the total budget for education as a whole was about $30 billion, so, South Africa is spending more than half of our total budget on education on basic education alone! You can’t compare their output with ours! In fact, more than 60 per cent of our budget goes into recurrent expenditure, so, we are not spending on capital investment and when you are not making investment, you are not expect to have inventions.
Would you say that the educational curriculum has anything to do with fallen standard of education, which includes nature and nurture?
Yes, it is indisputable that there is a fall in standard of education. But there are many factors responsible for that. First, teaching is no longer an admirable career. In the past, teachers were revered, but today, if you ask a pool of young ones, what do you like to be? Hardly could you get one to say he/she wants to be a teacher! They are poorly paid, so, the best of us will not go into education and teaching. To me, people go into teaching now simply because of necessity, not because of passion for the profession. Thus, we need to make teaching more attractive. Also, inadequate investment in education is another challenge. Third, our curriculum today does not reflect the need of the industry. One of my favourite book is ‘Seven Habits of highly effective people’, and one of the habits is, ‘begin with an end in mind’. If this is applied to our educational system and curriculum, we need to ask ourselves, the kids we are producing in the schools, where do we want them to land or end? Is it in the industry? If so, we must work with the industry to define what kind of output do you want from our educational section? And this should be reflected in what the schools produce. However, there a huge disconnect between the graduates of our educational system and the need of the industry.
Do you think parents are losing out in the proper formation of their children due to socio-economic challenges?
I don’t think there is yes or no response to that. It is going to be different response for different person. To those who live in metropolitan area where parents leave home at 5:00a.m and do not come back until 10:00p.m, perhaps, they may not have enough time with their kids. But there are parents who stay with the kids. There are parents who have designed their routine in such a way that they spend more time with their children. And there are other parents who live in cities and villages outside of Lagos where they do have opportunity to stay with their kids. The fundamental is the more time you use with your child/children, the better the relationship/bond that you can form and the better the influence of the parents over the kids. Conversely, the less time you spend and the less opportunity you have. The question is how much time is average parents spending which, I think, will be differ based on each parents, their location, their profession, their social standing and so on.
What challenges has NASFAT faced in the past 25 years?
One of our greatest challenges is the ability to mobilize as much resources as we would need to deplore to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. For instance, the Fountain University, we would love to have expanded its academic programmes, but it is a function of how much money you are able to deploy. Currently, we are building our International Islamic Centre at Asese on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which we would have loved to have completed before now. It is also a function of how much resources you are able to deploy. Ability to mobilize resources, human and material, remains our greatest challenge.
The issue of women participation has been a constant feature of national debates, do you subscribe to the perception that Islam limits women’s visibility in public service?
NASFAT does not subscribe to that perception! It is not even founded in the Islamic history. One of the greatest narrators of Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) is Aishah (RA) and she couldn’t be at the back room and still emerged greatest narrator of Hadith. It means she was always visible around the Prophet to have been able to collect a greater number of the sayings and practices of the Prophet. Also, there were many women in the Islamic history, who followed the Prophet to wars, attending to injured Muslims, providing essential services at war fronts. So, if women could be part of expeditions and being at the war fronts, what best form of visibility is one looking for? Generally, we believe in the fact that God has created men and women as equals. But realizing that we are in an environment that is patriarchal and men are in upper front, it is incumbent on everybody to give women a lift. Our belief is that a nation would develop if both men and women are ‘clapping’ together. We understand there a gap between men and women, so, we have taken deliberate steps to close that gap and ensure that our women can contribute equally. Another point is that more than 60 per cent of NASFAT members are women. Thus, we need to do programmes and activities that are relevant to our members.
If you have the ears of President Muhammadu Buhari, what would you advise him to do in the face of mounting challenges of insecurity and economic hardship confronting Nigeria?
My understanding of us as a nation is that we are very enterprising. If Nigeria is compared to other countries in the West African coast, one would realize that Nigerians are very enterprising. Some will argue that our best resource is not actually crude oil, but human capital. If there is one thing at all that I would like the government to do is to find way to unleash the entrepreneurship that is in our people. Find way to spark the innovation that is in the mind of average Nigerian. Imagine if you have hundred millions of Nigerians behind the plough the amount of productivity that can yield will be massive. Government should create the enabling environment to allow most of us to be as productive, creative and innovative as we have the potential.