“In a well-oiled campaign, Pantami has deployed media stormtroopers who are selling the dubious line that his travail is due to the enforcement of the Nigerian Identity Number (NIN) enrolment for all Nigerian citizens and residents. As much as I am indifferent to whatever happens to him, pertinent questions remain: Should someone known to have expressed extreme religious views be allowed to continue as a member of the Federal Executive Council in a country where the issue of faith can be emotive and divisive? Especially at a time of widespread ethno-religious suspicion and mistrust? President Muhammadu Buhari surely has a decision to make.”
Last week, the Kano State Hisbah Board confirmed the arrest of eight young ladies and four men for eating in the daytime during Ramadan. This, according to the Hisbah Board Director General, Dr. Aliyu Musa Kibiya, proves conclusively that these young people were not observing the fast. “We will investigate and if they have cogent reasons we will release them. Those found wanting will however be enlightened and even prosecuted if need be,” said Kibiya. “Fasting is compulsory for healthy, adult Muslims in the month of Ramadan except for the travellers, menstruating women or old people.”
The arrest brings to fore the way religion is being used to regulate the lives of poor people, especially in Kano where ‘offences’ like stylish haircuts or playing certain music could result in jail terms. I am not advocating for Muslims to avoid observing Ramadan. The issue here is that enforcing religious observance by government is always problematic, especially when there may be an unfair class dimension to it. But while Kano may be notorious for the way religion has been hijacked by politicians who themselves are no paragons of virtue, it is not the only state where Hisbah is in operation. In the past 21 years since the former Zamfara State Governor, Ahmed Sani Yerima, introduced ‘Sharia’ in the North, we have seen a discernible pattern. From Jangebe whose hand was amputated for stealing a goat to others who have been publicly flogged and stoned, what has become clear is that the Nigerian version of ‘Sharia’ is designed to punish only a certain class of people.
However, at about the same period when Kano Hisbah operatives were chasing some poor fellows for buying food on the street (rich people eat within the confines of their houses), the Bauchi Hisbah was pledging to conduct a headcount of commercial sex workers in the state with a view to obtaining accurate data on these vulnerable citizens. During a sensitisation workshop organised for them, the Permanent Commissioner in charge of Hisbah and Sharia implementation, Aminu Balarabe-Isah, said that information generated from the exercise would help in coming up with policies and programmes targeted at discouraging these commercial sex workers from continuing with their dangerous trade. He also expressed the readiness of the state government to organise mass marriages for those among them who could find suitors.
Much more importantly, Balarabe-Isah disclosed that the state would grant seed capital to these women to start small scale businesses. He further explained that investigations conducted by his agency indicated that most of the sex workers took to prostitution as a result of illiteracy, poverty or maltreatment meted on them by their step-mothers. Hafsatu Azare, who spoke on behalf of the sex workers, assured the Hisbah Commissioner that they were willing to quit the trade if the state government would empower them as promised, describing their condition as pathetic.Advertisement
I commend Governor Bala Mohammed for this Hisbah initiative that shows how a responsive (and responsible) government can deal with social problems. I understand that Bauchi Hisbah was created during the era of Adamu Muazu who also participated in the Yerima-led ‘Sharia’ in the North, essentially to avoid backlash from vocal Muslim clerics. It was Muazu who established the Sharia Commission under which Hisbah operates in the state. Before then, beer parlors and brothels openly operated in the state with patronage across ethnic and religious divides but most were forced to close or go underground. In Bauchi today, like in many northern cities, there are still areas where brothels and bars continue to operate, even if clandestinely.
Rather than be hypocritical about the problem, because these areas also harbour criminals, Governor Mohammed has decided to address both the security risks associated with allowing them to operate unchecked and the socio-cultural problems of engaging in such vices. The governor and his wife are reportedly involved in empowerment programmes that target these vulnerable women who sometimes resort to sex work for survival. Many of them are divorcees and Bauchi indigenes, others are from the neighbouring states.
Despite the virtual collapse of the moral frame of our society, religion is still an important issue and our politicians understand this. Unfortunately they too often exploit it selfishly, using both Christianity and Islam. This then explains why, in their bid for 2023, some politicians in the South-west are already going to the Atlantic Ocean to pray with a female deity seated inside the water and declaring ‘Wa ri ogo re lo’ (you will continue to shine) at the expense of the people. And by releasing such videos, they are also aware that it plays well with their poor supporters who would then see “the hands of God” in whatever manipulations to secure power.
Nigerian politicians understand this game very well because it works for them. When, for instance, Isa Pantami was preaching his sermons of intolerance, he knew what he was doing. He was playing to his audience at the time and he gained the popularity he coveted as a ‘respected Imam’. But now that he is in a position of power as Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Pantami is reminding us that his views have since changed. That may well be true. But the problem remains that the young men and women who listened to his intemperate sermons were not aware at the time that their Imam lacked the courage of conviction, and they may have been running with what he told them to our collective detriment.
In a well-oiled campaign, Pantami has deployed media stormtroopers who are selling the dubious line that his travail is due to the enforcement of the Nigerian Identity Number (NIN) enrolment for all Nigerian citizens and residents. As much as I am indifferent to whatever happens to him, pertinent questions remain: Should someone known to have expressed extreme religious views be allowed to continue as a member of the Federal Executive Council in a country where the issue of faith can be emotive and divisive? Especially at a time of widespread ethno-religious suspicion and mistrust? President Muhammadu Buhari surely has a decision to make.
But back to the issue of manipulation of religion. In October 2014, I was privileged to speak on the place of faith in our national life at an annual Islamic conference in Lagos. Incidentally, when I received the invitation from Dr Disu Kamor, Executive Chairman of Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), I suspected that somebody did not do due diligence so I sent a reply that in case MPAC members were not aware, I am a Christian. The organisers got back to me that they were aware of the faith I profess and that I was deliberately chosen as guest speaker for their annual conference. That experience taught me a lesson in tolerance and it is a testimony to the faith of MPAC members who are respected professionals and successful people. Interested readers can find my presentation, ‘Between Faith and Fanaticism in Nigeria’, on my web portal (Between Faith and Fanaticism in Nigeria (olusegunadeniyi.com)
Meanwhile, a nuanced understanding of the interconnection between religious and cultural values, according to the World Economic Forum, “can help cast light on the dynamic ways in which religion both shapes and is shaped by society.” That is the enduring lesson from what Bauchi Hisbah has demonstrated. Empowering vulnerable women like commercial sex workers is not only the right thing to do in order to eliminate poverty and create a better society, it is also politically rewarding. Women, as attested by many politicians, come out to vote on election day. Much more importantly, within the cultural setting of the North today, investment in women empowerment will ultimately help in addressing many of the social problems confronting the country.
While it has been argued that religion is neither a poison pill nor a silver bullet for resolving the contadictions in any society, understanding its significance is also crucial in countries like ours. Problem arises when religion becomes a tool for manipulation, division (including between social classes) and politics. That is what we must change in Nigeria. Which is why I find what the Bauchi Hisbah is doing with the commercial sex workers rather commendable. The lesson it teaches is that where there are thinking leaders, policies and programmes that are anchored on faith can also lead to significant social change.
Idriss Deby’s Predictable End
In one of his numerous macho moves in April last year, the late Chadian President Idris Deby led his troops on an offensive against Boko Haram. Thereafter, he granted self-promoting interviews where he attempted to put down Nigeria and the efforts of our military. “Our troops have died for Lake Chad and the Sahel. From today, no Chadian soldiers will take part in a military mission outside Chad,” said Deby who further claimed that “Chad is alone in shouldering all the burden of the war against Boko Haram.” By that declaration, he discountenanced not only Nigeria that actually bears most of the financial burden but also Niger Republic and Cameroon that also have troops in the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF).
But that was not the first time Deby would play to the gallery on the matter of fighting terrorism. At a lavish press briefing in N’djamena in March 2015, Deby publicly declared that he knew the whereabouts of the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, whom he ordered to surrender or face death. “Abubakar Shekau must surrender. We know where he is. If he doesn’t give himself up he will suffer the same fate as his compatriots”, declared Deby who has always enjoyed dabbling into Nigeria’s internal affairs. Although many may have forgotten or perhaps did not pay much attention at the time, Deby in a way contributed to the defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. Excerpted below are three paragraphs from my book, ‘Against The Run of Play: How an incumbent president was defeated in Nigeria’ to illustrate that point:
On 27th March 2015, a day to the election in Nigeria, President Idriss Deby of Chad spoke about the 2014 botched ceasefire between the federal government and Boko Haram. He claimed to have warned Jonathan against holding talks with the group, suggesting that the episode was orchestrated by Boko Haram to buy time and regroup. “I told President Goodluck not to open negotiations with terrorists… but it was a political choice,” Deby told French magazine, Le Point, in an interview republished by AFP news agency.
The Chadian leader opined that Jonathan and the Nigerian military had underestimated Boko Haram for too long. “The whole world is asking why the Nigerian army, which is a big army, is not in a position to stand up to untrained kids armed with Kalashnikovs,” he said, seeming to state the obvious. “Two months after the start of this war, we have not had any direct contact with the Nigerian army units on the ground. We would have hoped to have at least one Nigerian unit with us. It was even a direct request to the Nigerian government, but for reasons that escape us, up to now we have been unable to work together.”
Painting a picture of a lack of seriousness on the part of the Jonathan administration, Deby said Chad had to capture the same territories twice within Nigeria, as our military would not secure the liberated communities, thus allowing Boko Haram to return. “The Chadian army is fighting alone in its part of the Nigerian interior and that is a problem. We have had to retake certain towns twice… We are forced to abandon them and Boko Haram returns, and we have to go back. That has a human and material cost,” Deby disclosed.
As my colleague, Kayode Komolafe (KK) pointed out yesterday, Chad is very strategic to our national security in several respects. Now that Deby is gone, in circumstances that could eventually lead to a power struggle, we should worry. There is a piece going round on WhatsApp lifted from an article on ‘SB Morgen Intelligence’, a respected publication for policymakers, which speaks to the nature of the challenge. It should command the attention of Nigerian authorities: “From a strategic point of view, there is a ring forming around Nigeria. Rebels have killed the President of Chad, there has been a coup attempt in the Niger Republic. Benin, following PatriceTalon’s re-election, has become more unstable as democratic norms and institutions are being dismantled. We believe that another coup in Niger is a strong possibility, and it may succeed, throwing that country which borders Mali into confusion. The ring of instability is closed by Cameroon, which has its own issues, similar to Chad in which Paul Biya has a son who is also inexperienced, and will like Mahamat Déby, be challenged for leadership. Cameroon also has the problem of an ongoing rebellion on its western flank, which borders Nigeria. The final part of that circle is the Gulf of Guinea. As Niger gets more unstable, the influx of sahelian jihadis from this axis into the ungoverned spaces in North West and North Central Nigeria is bound to increase. This arc of instability can be extended to include the Central African Republic, Libya, Southern Algeria and Burkina Faso which have significant instability issues and/or include the volatile Sahel region. Nigeria sits squarely at the centre of this arc which has already eaten into its northern half.”
The Yoruba adage, ‘Iku Ogun ni n pa akikanju; Iku odo ni n pa omuwe’, (The valiant warrior often dies in battle; the perfect swimmer often swims to their death) says more about hubris than bravery and it applies to Deby. He enjoyed the battlefield, having shot his way to power. At the end, it took bullets for that power to be wrested from him after 31 years and six sham presidential elections. But the main concern for Nigeria now is what happens after Deby. Should Chad unravel like Libya after Muammar Ghadafi, it will further compound our national security challenge. President Muhammadu Buhari and his men must do whatever they can to help Chad out of this transitional crisis. It is in our national interest to do so.
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