Sharia Council’s toxic prescription on Lekwot
The Southern Kaduna crisis has lasted almost forever to make welcome any solution to end killings. But a request the other day by the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria (SCSN) for a revisit of the 1992 crisis and execution of General Zamani Lekwot (rtd) is most curious and unfortunate.
Taking the life of Lekwot, 29 years after his well applauded State pardon, lacks legal, moral, and religious justification. Certainly, there should be means to end gruesome ethnoreligious killings in Kaduna but more bloodshed cannot be one of them.
Like a sore thumb that will not heal, Southern Kaduna has remained in the news, with tales of blood, sorrow, and tears. Despite the 24-hour curfew imposed in July, heavy deployment of security forces in some local councils, and series of reconciliation meetings, over 40 persons were estimated to have been killed in August, in pockets of attacks in the region. It is indeed a deep-seated ethnoreligious animosity and bitterness that have been recurring since the Kafanchan riots of March 1987, between the majority Hausa/Fulani and minority Christian communities in Southern Kaduna. The state Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, just like the security agencies, appears to be at his wit’s end on how to enforce and promote peace in the crisis-prone area.
Apparently concerned too, Muslim scholars under the Sharia Council made recommendations. It was a dangerous one. They called for the implementation of the white paper issued on the bloody Zango-Kataf crisis in Southern Kaduna in 1992. In addition, they said the pardon granted to Lekwot, the late Major James Kude, and others sentenced to death for the 1992 Zangon Kataf crisis were responsible for the recurring crises in Southern Kaduna. Consequently, they demanded the execution of the retired former military governor of Rivers State and his kinsmen, who were pardoned in 1995.
The crux of the matter: Recall that in the aftermath of the Zango-Kataf crisis, Lekwot was arrested alongside 15 Atyap elders and leaders. They were soon sentenced to death without the option of appeal under the obnoxious and widely condemned Decree 55 of 1992, promulgated by the Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida. After worldwide anger against the judgment and several legal tussles, the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. In 1995, General Sani Abacha, reviewing their case, decided that the man and his kinsmen were unfairly treated and granted state pardon with other Atyap leaders. It is this state pardon that the Muslim scholars and leaders are asking to be overruled. How does this build peace in the volatile region?
Clearly, the elders in Sharia Council, among other stakeholders, have a duty of finding solutions to the humanitarian crisis in Southern Kaduna. But blame-game or primordial entreaty is a no-brainer and an outcast in this matter. There is no doubt that Lekwot and the company had been justly pardoned by the state. To speak to the contrary will not ease the tension but provocatively add to the catalog of injustices. Instead of worsening the crisis, the Sharia Council should rather be worried over its image in this crisis and claims-making rounds that ethnic cleansing is ongoing in Southern Kaduna. Calling for a revisit of a 29-year-old best-forgotten issue readily gives credence to allegations of genocide than it dismisses one.
The crisis has religious undertones, yet none of the parties can dismiss a belief that God the almighty is all-merciful and all lives are precious to Him. We have been repeatedly told that Islam is a religion of peace, with specific guidelines for adherents even in the face of conflicts with ‘‘unbelievers.’’ The holy book was explicit in Qur’an 60:7-8: “It may be that God will grant love (and friendship) between you and those whom ye (now) hold as enemies. For God has power (over all things), and God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. God does not forbid you, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loves those who are just.” Killing anyone or calling for such should therefore not be associated with Islam, a religion of peace.
The Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has already condemned the call for Lekwot’s life to be taken. Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) has said the call has foreclosed all windows of hope for peace and security, describing it as a manifestation of hate speech. Lekwot too has said that his life is in God’s hands, not in that of detractors. So, to prevent the escalation of the crisis, it is incumbent on the state government to clear doubts, be unequivocal in condemnation of religious bigotry. El-Rufai should tell Nigerians that Kaduna is not an exclusive territory of Fulani Muslims. His first duty is to maintain peace, not embolden discord and religious intolerance. Every single life in Kaduna is sacred and el-Rufai must defend all including that of Lekwot. In the light of the loathsome demand by the Sharia Council, the Kaduna State governor should avail extra protection for Lekwot, especially. No harm should come near his dwelling place because of an ancient grudge!
It is time all parties sat down to ask themselves, what is the real problem with Kaduna and how can Christians and Muslims live together in peace under one God? Those who do not have an answer on how to end the crisis or do not understand the questions should rather shut up and not worsen the problem.
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