Celebrating Eid In Time Of Strife
In the weeks leading to Ramadan, Nigeria was not exactly in a good place. Multiple security challenges, spiking inflation that puts pressure on purchasing power and a downer on lifestyle, rising secessionist agitations riding on the backs of polarising rhetorics, and a pervasive air of retrogression characterised many discourses.
For many Muslims, it was a period to, once again, dissociate their faith from the activities of insurgents in Nigeria’s northeast and criminal gangs who have made kidnapping, mindless killing and a norm.
Fasting and crying
According to a 2019 Pew Research Center publication, Nigeria has the fifth largest Muslim population in the world – 90 million – behind Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
A bulk of the approximately 90 million people would fast during Ramadan.
Muslims, during this period, generally abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, engage in spiritually uplifting and charitable activities, and seek forgiveness from God.
The belief was that violent attacks and kidnapping by Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgents and criminal gangs terrorising Nigeria’s north will subside during Ramadan – the month being one of the most venerated in the Islamic calendar, and one in which acts that lift piety and spirituality are encouraged.
Between 2009, when Boko Haram began its campaign of terror, and now, more than two million people have been displaced and over 36,000 killed.
“Islam is a religion of peace and is totally against all these sordid activities which have caused so much unrest and untold hardship in the country,” said Adika Ahmed, a schoolteacher in Jos, north-central Nigeria, pointing to Chapter 5, Verse 32 of the Quran, Islam’s holy book as a basis. “I feel disheartened when these negative happenings are attributed to Muslims.”
While criminal gangs, commonly referred to as bandits, blame harsh economic realities and gross societal inequality for the crime spree, insurgents seek to establish a caliphate in which their warped interpretation of Islam could take a foothold.
Early on Monday, 10 May 2021, 40 worshippers were kidnapped from a mosque where 47 worshippers were performing tahajjud (night prayers) in Jibiya, Katsina State. The police spokesperson in the state said 30 persons were rescued shortly after.
“The bandits kidnapped 40 worshippers from the mosque and herded them into the bush,” police spokesperson Gambo Isa said.
“They were, however, pursued by a team of policemen with the assistance of local vigilantes and residents who succeeded in rescuing 30 of the hostages.”
Police are silent about rescuing the remaining hostages. They ended their Ramadan and celebrated Eid-il-Fitr in captivity.
Of Crimes and Comments
Despite many verses of the Quran’s definitive statement on justice, fairness and condemnation of crimes like the ones perpetrated by insurgents and criminal gangs, the reactions of some Muslim leaders do less to underscore the very essence of peaceful coexistence Ramadan stresses.
For instance, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, a former army captain and prominent cleric in northern Nigeria, who has been negotiating with these criminal gangs, has been criticised for making controversial statements that have no basis in law and religion by advocating sweeping amnesty for kidnappers. In one instance, he described kidnapping school children as a “lesser evil”.
“Kidnapping children from school is a lesser evil because, in the end, you can negotiate and now bandits are very careful about human lives. Before, the mission of bandits was to go into a town, ransack it and kill people,” Sheikh Gumi said.
Such comments do not represent Islam, says Musbau Rasak, a civil servant and a former ameer in the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria.
“Responses to the challenge from several Muslim leaders and organisations are shallow and far below the responsibility the religion put on their shoulders,” Rasak said. “I feel that dismissing the Boko haram and bandits in the North as non-Muslims, for instance, is off track. They are misguided Muslims whose acts run contrary to the message of Islam.”
Rasak believes his faith does not support the reign of terror by insurgents and kidnap-for-ransom gangs.
No Respite in Ramadan
Many believe crime rates drop during Ramadan in major Nigerian cities with sizable Muslim populations. Although there are no official statistics to know if there was a drop this year, Rasak says that may not be so anymore. That may be chalked down to increasing stifling economic realities.
“I had a bitter experience of being robbed under the Pen Cinema bridge in Agege, Lagos, a few days ago,” the civil servant said. “That’s the second time on the same axis. Ordinarily, in the past criminal activities used to be reduced during Ramadan. But not so anymore. Not just because I was robbed, I have other reasons to believe so.”
For many other Muslims, spiking prices of food items was a major headache. In March, the inflation rate in the country rose to 18.17%, a four-year high, with food prices increasing by 22.9%, according to Nigeria’s statistics office.
Food items such as bread, cereals, potatoes, oil and fruits (which are consumed in large quantities during Ramadan) drove the increase in the food price index, the NBS said in its report.
While official inflation figures for the period covered by Ramadan are not yet published, Adeola Hashim, an entrepreneur, said her family had to make drastic changes to achieve minimum comfort during Ramadan.
“We decided to only stock the basic food items we needed for Ramadan,” Hashim said. “In fact, we had to do away with preparing more elaborate dishes to break our fast this year. We even had to divert a part of the money we budgeted for food to fuel the generator because the power supply became worse.”
It is customary for Muslims to exchange gifts and feed the poor during the holy month. Communal feasts and togetherness are commonplace during the period. Such charitable acts took a hit. For many others, spreading Ramadan cheer was not so cheerful.
“I remember Ramadan 2020 was a lot better than this year despite the lockdown last year,” a banker who preferred anonymity said. “I sent money and Ramadan packages to 15 people in 2020. I managed to get to nine people this year because my disposable income was not the same as last year’s. Everybody is feeling the squeeze.”
“I have never witnessed so much hunger, hardships and fear during Ramadan like this year,” said Ahmed, the Jos-based schoolteacher. “People were so desperate that they woke up as early as 6 AM to walk long distances just to line up for a meagre free eight cups of sugar and millet.”
Lowkey Eid, No Durbar
In the days leading to Eid-il-Fitr, the festivities that mark the end of Ramadan, many religious leaders in northern Nigeria announced that there would be no Durbar. In states such as Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto and Katsina, durbars are constant fixtures during Islamic festivals.
But the fear of violent attacks and kidnappings by criminal gangs forced cancellations by Daura and Katsina emirates in Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state of Katsina, and by the Emir of Bauchi.
“In view of kidnappings and banditry taking place around the emirate, and based on advises received from the state government, security agents and health personnel, the emirate will not conduct ‘Hawan-Sallah’ and other festivities during the Eid-el-Fitr celebration,” the Emir of Katsina said in an announcement.
In many households, lowkey celebrations were held to mark not only the end of Ramadan but to also thank God for having food on their tables and keeping them safe. Interstate travels were cut out by many over safety concerns.
Moreover, the spectre of a coronavirus pandemic still hangs in the air, and the Nigerian authorities recently put measures in place to prevent the country from experiencing a third wave.
“You are forced to be moderate or even act below moderate if you don’t want to attract unnecessary attention,” Rasak said. “On Eid, you can’t even afford to celebrate lavishly. You just have to go to Eid and return home to stay indoors with members of your nuclear family.”