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Time to take back our mosques

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National Mosque, Abuja

In a rare public confession, Sheik Ahmad Gumi, in a trending video, confessed that he had no option than to recognise that President Muhammadu Buhari has failed in his primary duty of safeguarding the lives and property of Nigerians.

Today, Gumi, like millions of other Nigerian Muslims, would go to the praying grounds to offer thanksgiving to Almighty God and mark the end of the Holy month of Ramadan. It is interesting that policemen and soldiers would guard many mosques across the country, especially in the old North. Such is the season we are to the extent that even the house of God is not considered safe enough from evil men.

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The disturbing consequences of Buhari’s lapses to carry out his functions properly have been the emergence of many non-state actors who are now contesting the stage with him. They are disputing with him the absolute right of the state to legitimate violence. It is interesting that most of these challenges are coming from the old North, which is seen as the power-base of Buhari and his ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC). After six years in the saddle, the regime has been unable to tame the Boko Haram terrorist group, though it has put it at bay. Few weeks ago, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State confessed that element of the Boko Haram terrorist groups have pitched their tents in his state and that they were indeed within striking distance of Abuja, the Federal capital territory.

What we are witnessing is the metamorphosis of the old North into the hotbed of a new kind of radical Islamism, bred in intolerance and nurtured in impudence. I remember the case of Gideon Akaluka who was accused of blasphemy. He was dragged before a competent court and the court remanded him in prison custody. Yet Islamists extremist were able to organise a riot: they sacked the prison, seized Akaluka, decapitated him and marched through the streets of Kano in broad daylight. No suspect was arrested. Impunity.

Few years later in 1995, some alleged students of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, seized Professor Bandele Bamdipo, the Director of Medical Services, during a protest. They beat the professor until he fainted and instead of taking him to the hospital, they took a living man into the morgue where he froze to death. No one was arrested. No trial. Impunity.

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The truth is that many Northern Muslims are enthusiastic about God, but they don’t read the Qur’an. They do not understand the dictate of Holy Prophet Mohammed about peace, justice and why Allah is actually the God of everyone, including unbelievers. If all unbelievers are killed, then there would be no one else to convert to Islam. Besides, all the ancestors of Muslims today, were once non-Muslims. Many of our fellow citizens today who are Muslims do not know that the Qur’an did not regard Christians as unbelievers and that the Qur’an recognises Christians and Jews as “people of the Book.” They are not aware that all the prophets in the Bible, including Our Lord Jesus Christ, are also recognised as prophets and messengers of God in the Holy Qur’an. Because the multitude have no Qur’an, do not read and rely mainly on the teachings of the imams, it is not too difficult to mislead them and turn them into the instrument of unnecessary violence.

During the Second Republic, the regime of President Shehu Shagari was rocked by a series of bloody riots engineered by the Islamic fundamentalist movement, Maitasine. They carried out bloody riots in Katsina and Maiduguri in 1982 leading to almost 25,000 deaths. When General Muhammadu Buhari seized power from Shagari, he too confronted the bloody menace of the Maitasine in Jimeta in 1984. General Ibrahim Babangida, shortly after he toppled Buhari, confronted his own Maitasine riot in Bauchi in 1986.

Today, in thousands of mosques all over Nigeria, the muezzin would make the call to prayers and the imams would recite those holy verses from the Qur’an. Some of those imams would still preach the gospel of hatred, how it is the duty of believers to hate non-believers. They are the ones sowing the seed of hatred that gave birth to the Maitasine and now the Boko Haram in our land.

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Early in 1991, the military governor of Katsina State, Colonel John Madaki, had confronted another sect of Islamic fundamentalists who were brandishing the flag of the extremist Shiite movement. Madaki had threatened that troublemakers would be shot if they continued to disturb the peace of Katsina. “No one can threaten a true Muslim with death because to die in the cause of Allah is the ultimate aim,” said the fundamentalist leader, Imam Yakubu Yahaya in an interview with Newswatch magazine. “We do not recognise the Federal Government, state government, local government and any form of government. We do not recognise Sarki Katsina (the emir) because these people are not leading according to the injunctions set down by Allah through his Holy Prophet.”

Such incendiary statement set the community on fire and those who bore the brunt knew it. Dr Usman Bukata once served as the Commissioner for Health in Bauchi State. He owned a large private hospital in Bauchi city, patronised by the common people. He also had his private residence within the hospital complex. On April 22, 1991, there was the Bauchi riot that allegedly started from the Central Mosque. The rioters descended on Bukata’s hospital, killed his mother, his wife, his four children and many patients on admission in the hospital. They did not care whether some of these victims were Muslims or not. As far as the mob was concerned, it was fighting for its own brand of Islam. Few people were arrested. Some were arraigned. None was convicted.

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The leaders of the North, especially the Sultans and the emirs, need to take back their mosques from the fundamentalists. They need to remind the faithful that Prophet Mohammed meant Islam to be the religion of peace and there can be no peace when you don’t love your neighbour and you are eager to kill him or kidnap his children. Hatred cannot be oozing from the mosques and you expect peace to reign in the community. It is this gospel of hatred that has now developed into banditry, kidnapping and all sorts of bestiality all over the old North.

In 1987, I was sent to Sokoto to report on the silent struggle among leading princes of the caliphate to succeed the ailing Sultan Siddiq Abubakar. All the riots and occasional disturbances in the North had always left Sokoto untouched. I met the military governor, Colonel Ahmed Daku, who said peace in Sokoto had been maintained because the traditional authority in that city had firm control of the mosques. Sultan Abubakar was old, but he was a man in control.

On Sunday, I attended a church service with my cousin, Gabriel Babarinsa, who was then a leading architect in town. Everyone felt at home in Sokoto, the home of peace and brotherly concord. It is still largely so today, thank God for the good legacy of Sultan Abubakar.

To restore the old order, the emirs and other leaders must no longer leave the mosques to the imams alone. Secondly, we need to put an end to the impunity of the past. The leaders of the North need to rise up and ensure that people preaching hatred are not allowed to have control of the mosques. Hatred, like love, also has the power to germinate and multiply. Impunity, hatred and reckless fanaticism, should have no place in the mosque of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith country like Nigeria. Any other option would lead to perdition.

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