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Trouble in the Nigerian House of Othman Dan Bello

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Nigeria is a complex country in many ways. With a population of 120 million and about 374 ethnic groups it is the tenth most populous country in the world after China, India, United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan. The country has roughly a 50% population of Muslims, and is the eleventh country with the largest Muslim population (after Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, China, Ethiopia and Russia. China, India and Russia have Muslim populations of roughly 3%, 14% and 19% respectively ). As Christian populations go, it is also about the tenth largest in the world. Note that in Africa, of 53 countries, about 30 have a significant (10% or greater) presence of Muslims and only about 15 of them have Muslim majorities (See table 1), to give a roughly 30-40% Muslim population fraction (Christians roughly 46%). Worldwide, the population fraction of Muslims is about 20% of the world population of about 6.2 billion. The large population of Muslims in Nigeria was the justification for its membership of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) under Babangida in 1986. Today, only a few Nigerians, including this writer, can definitively say whether Nigeria is indeed a full member, an observer member or no member at all of that august Islamic body! Despite that large and influential Muslim population, the question that has been on the lips of many Nigerians in the past week has been as follows: Why would so many Nigerians - as many as 200 by some accounts, more than those reported killed in Afghanistan itself - be killed by other Nigerians in a three-day riot in Kano? Over a US-Afghanistan war thousands of miles away? Why are there so many dead in normally quiescent Jos due to fighting between Christians and Muslims, and among the Tivs and the Jukuns? Does any of this have to do with the Sharia-ization of many states in Northern Nigeria? To my mind, the answers are wrapped up in four propositions: 1. religious solidarity; 2. sectarian competition; 3. political disaffection; and 4. socio-economic disenfranchisement. I will take each of these turn-by-turn. Religious solidarity of the Umma

Built into almost every religion is a sense of family among its adherents. Certainly, Christianity, of which I am an adherent, talks about Christians being members of the body of Christ, with the implications of one member caring for what happens to others: being our brother's keeper, as it were, for example if he is under attack by an "enemy". With 1.7 billion Christians around the world, that is a lot of brothers to keep. In the Islamic religion, with about 1.2 billion adherents worldwide, the similar notion of pan-Islamic brotherhood is wrapped up in the concept of the Umma [Truly! This Ummah of yours is One Ummah, and I am your Lord, therefore worship Me (Alone). Al-Quran (21:92) ]. Umma is a term derived from "mother," meaning a motherland for all Muslims irrespective of their national, cultural or ethnic background. The concept of Umma is therefore immediately at variance with the modern (Western) construct of physical and separate nation-states. In Islam, humanity is divided into two groups, the Umma (Muslims) and the Harbi (non-Muslims). The Umma reside in the "Dar al-Islam" (the Land of Islam) and the Harbi live in the "Dar al-Harb" (the Land of Warfare), and the ultimate goal is then to stretch the good boundaries of the Dar al-Islam over the entire globe, obviously diminishing Dar al-Harb in the process. When this "stretching" can be done only with the Sword of Truth of the Koran and/or the Sword of Steel remains a political and religious debate. Thus again built into Islam is a permanent sense of conflict between these two houses in a manner reminiscent of war, and one can imagine that many of the Kano rioters must have seen their protestations as taking sides in this particular US-Afghanistan war in which some members of Dar-al-Harb have brought war on Dar-al-Islam.. In some respects, the notion of Dar-al-Islam and Dar-al-Harb is similar to the Christian notion of being "in the world" but "not of this world". However the Christian conflict is framed in spiritual terms: that the Christian heart wars against the Flesh of the unredeemed Man, between doing good and wanting to do evil. Another concept worth highlighting is about "religious innovation" (Bid'ah), which Prophet Mohammed specifically bans in the Koran: "Indeed the best speech is the Book of Allah and the best guidance in the guidance of Muhammad (SAW). The worst of affairs, are the newly invented matters (into the religion) and every newly invented matter is an innovation, every innovation is misguidance and every misguidance is in the Hellfire. " - A Friday Sermon by Muhammed. Some latter-day mystics have made a distinction between bad innovations (bid'at dalala) and good ones (bid'at huda), but the distinction appears at best murky and too subject to differential sectarian or jurisprudential interpretation! Thus again an in-built conservatism exists within the religion. If ordinary Muslims are not careful, they can very easily turn into fanatics - such as the 19 suicide bombers of September 11 - or be unable to prevent fanaticism (even if they are not themselves fanatics) simply because they themselves secretly believe that it is the "fanatics" that are obeying the letters, if not the spirit, of the law. For example, which Muslim dare question without serious retribution the cutting of the hand of convicted cow thief, Zamfara Mallam Buba Bello Kare Garhie Jangebe 45, father of five [alias 'Kare Garke' (ranch raider),] in March 2000; or the January 2001 100-lash whipping of a nursing mother of 17, Bariya Ibrahim Magazu of Zamfara State, who was said to have committed fornication in the state; or the most recent death-by-stoning sentence given to 35-year-old divorcee Safiyatu Husaini of Tungan Tudu (Sokoto State) for adultery? Would it be "bid'at dalala" or "bid'at huda" to do a DNA paternity test on her cousin, 60-year-old Yahaya Abubakar, who was accused of impregnating her, but was freed by judge Alhaji Muhammad Bello Sanyinlawal because only three out of four required witnesses could be found to testify following his confession? If the pregnancy was taken as evidence against Hajia Safiyatu, could that pregnancy be the missing fourth evidence against Alhaji Yahaya, in order to be fair to all sides? What do the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafai and Hanbali Schools of Muslim Jurisprudence have to say about these cases? These are all questions that inquiring minds, particularly this non-Muslim Nigerian from Ekiti State, Nigeria, a part of the "secular" Federal Republic of Nigeria, would like to know. Finally, there is also the controversial issue of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, which some non-Muslims, particularly Jews, have interpreted as an example of the possibility of justification of a Muslim breaking his promise to a non-Muslim "infidel" whenever he has become stronger (militarily) than that non-Muslim. This is despite the severe injunction against breaking promises in Islam. In fact, a 10-year promise of non-belligerence treaty signed in AD 628 at the town of Hudaybiyah by Prophet Mohammed with the people of Quaraish, whose base was Mecca and from whom he had fled to Medina in AD622. (He himself was a Quaraishi) However, this treaty was first technically broken by the Quaraishis who, in December AD629, joined with another Bedouin tribe (the Bani Bakr) to attack one of Mohammed's allies, the Bani Khuz'a. This led Prophet Mohammed to attack Mecca in January AD 630, just 18 months after the treaty had been signed. This particular Treaty of Hudaybiyah issue became a bone of contention over Yasser Arafat's attitude to the Oslo agreement signed between the Palestinians and Israel in the United States in 1993. It was a deep source of irritation among Muslims worldwide because it hinted irreverently at Prophet Mohammed's insincerity, and deep apologies were offered. Nevertheless, it continues to generate suspicions about sincerity between Muslim and non-Muslim negotiators in conflicts around the world. In a world increasingly global and complex, these three notions present serious issues of continuing conflict within Muslims and between them and non-Muslims, particularly Christians. One fails to see how one can get around these notions and misconceptions and preconceptions without undermining the Islamic faith itself and yet secure amity among the peoples, particularly of Nigeria. Nevertheless, one has to learn about them. Sectarian competition within the Umma ------------------------------------- Just as the Christian world is divided into (Roman) Catholic and Protestants of various sub-sects, the Muslim World is also divided into Sunnis (generally orthodox, and about 90% of worldwide Muslim population), Shiites (more radical and fundamentalist, about 10% of worldwide Muslim population; Iran for example is 90-95% Shiite) and Ibadhi (roughly 1% of total world population, mainly as the state religion of Oman). While all use the Koran and accept Mohammed as the Prophet, his death bed divided them, with the Sunnis accepting one Abu Bakr as Mohammed's first successor (as Caliphate), the Shi'at Ali (Party of Ali or simply Shi'ites) insisting that his natural successor was his direct descendant and cousin Ali (who eventually became the fourth caliphate of the Sunni line, but is regarded as the authentic first one by the Shi'ites) and the Ibadhi who later had problems with both interpretations. Over the centuries, the traditions and interpretations of all of these sects have also diverged beyond who Mohammed's true successor was. Muslim jurisprudence is also divided between the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafai and Hanbali Schools of thought, with profound effects on the differential administration of justice in different Islamic countries world-wide. Let us quickly move to Afghanistan and its neighbors. The Taliban in Afghanistan is a radical Sunni student-led group with unusually deep hatred of the Shiite group within its borders, and has brutally suppressed that group. Iran is 99% Shiite and is virtually a theocracy, while Iraq is 85% Sunni but largely secular. Internal conflict within Iraq is as much a reaction to Saddam Hussein's dictatorial tendencies as much as a sectarian contention between the Sunnis and the Shiites, while the Iran-Iraq war of yore can be cast as an international sectarian strife. Thus in fact there are many instances of war in Dar-al-Islam. Enter Nigeria . Of the roughly 60 million Muslim Nigerians, 80-90% of them are located in Northern Nigeria, with the majority being in the twelve states that currently form the Sharia Law belt - Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Kano, Yobe, Jigawa, Bauchi, Katsina, Niger, Bauchi, Adamawa and Gombe. Although Nigerian Muslims are largely of the Sunni persuasion, a radical set of fundamentalist movements has been developing over the years to confront the more conservative Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI) and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIA) which are viewed as mere vehicles of state Islam. These include: (i) Yan Izala - or the Jama'at Izalatil Bidiawa Iqamatus Sunnah (Movement Against Negative Innovations and for Orthodoxy) - a Sufi brotherhood begun by Sheikh Ismaila Idris in Jos and later enjoying the support of important figures such as the late Sheikh Mahmoud Gumi. Together with influential Muslim groups such as the Council of Ulama, a group of Islamic scholars based in the north, the Izala Islamic sect are championing the campaign to fully Islamize the northern region. (ii) Maitatsine - founded [and taking root in Kano] in the 1960s by Alhaji Marwa Maitatsine of Cameroon. Maitatsine himself was killed in Kano during the 1980 disturbances in which over four thousand people died within less than a month of fighting, This group was also reported (but never proved) to be responsible for riots in Maiduguri in October 1982 and Yola in February 1984. (iii) the Muslim Brotherhood movement under Sheik Ibrahim El Zak-Zaky, whose group, though Sunni, received fundamental Muslim training in the largely Shiite Iran. It has a large number of recruits from university students in Northern Nigeria and have been often (wrongly?) referred to as being "Shi'ite" due to its Iranian link. Thus one can view the sweep of fundamentalism in the Muslim North as a manifestation of increasing sectarian competition of the Sunni-Shiite orthodox/non-orthodox kind with a local twist, with some more radical Muslims demonstrating greater impatience with the conservative (and considered to be corrupt) status quo of the Northern state power. Governor Ahmed Sani (of Zamfara, the first of several states to institute the full complement of the Sharia Law), fits this bill, although ironically he has been denounced by El Zak-Zaky as a Muslim political opportunist for merely trying to re-Islamize the polity through "Islamizing" state institutions, rather than Islamizing the society at a more basic level. What this also means is that when a mosque is burnt in Northern Nigeria, it does not always mean that it was done by a non-Muslim: it might be worth asking which sect of Muslim did the mosque belong to. Finally, the youthfulness of the student Taliban organization and its ability to have swept a conservative government out of power in 1996 - of course with the help of the United States and other countries more terrified about Russian control of Afghanistan than Taliban control - also bears an appeal to the more youthful fundamental streak, and probably explains more the support that it is having Political disaffection and its far-Northern Nigerian manifestation

 A brief history of Nigeria is in order here. Nigeria as we know it did not exist prior to 1900, it being a conglomerate of nations and territories big and small being separately coopted piecemeal into the British administration since 1886. By January 1, 1900, administration of its land area as a whole was formally taken over by the British and further cemented through several ordinance proclamations. On January 1, 1914, the Northern and Southern British protectorates were merged ("amalgamated") under Lord Lugard as Governor-General. The period 1944-1957 was one of intense political agitation for independence, party formation and commencement of constitution-building. The period 1951-1959 was one of diarchy which saw Britain increasingly sharing power and responsibility with Nigerian politicians in a spirit of accomodation and partnership, under several evolving constitutions (Richards Constitution 1944; Macpherson Constitution 1951; Lyttleton Constitution 1954, tweaked by the decisions of the Willinks Minority Cpommission report of 1957) which formed the basis of Nigeria's first independence constitution. In October 1960, it obtained flag independence from Nigeria, becoming a Federation complete with a parliamentary system, a Prime Minister (Tafewa Balewa) and a ceremonial governor-general (Nnamdi Azikiwe) and regional governors of three regional governments, all under the Queen of England as the ceremonial head of state. In October 1963, the Queen was constitutionally "dethroned", and Nigeria became a federal republic, also with a Prime Minister and a ceremonial (selected) President. There were now four regions. In January 1966, following political turmoil in a number of regions, the military staged a coup, displacing the civilian government at all levels of government, only to relinquish power 13 years later (October 1979) after one civil war (countering the secession of the eastern region of Biafra between 1967-1970), four military heads of states (Aguiyi-Ironsi - assassinated in July 1966 after 6 months in office; Gowon - displaced in a coup after 8 years 1966-1975; Murtala Muhammed - assassinated after 15 months; Obasanjo - hand-over after three years 1976-1979) had plied their peculiar styles of governance. By this time, the subdivisions had grown from four regions to 12 states (created under Gowon) to 19 states in 1979. After four years of civilian rule, the military returned, displacing president Shagari (from October 1979 to December 1983), and replacing him with yet another musical-chair set of military rulers and a puppet civilian regime - Buhari (displaced in a coup after 18 months), Babangida ( stepped down under pressure in August 1993, having annulled MKO Abiola's free-and-fair election to the presidency of June 12, 1993), Shonekan (displaced after 81 days). the particularly vicious rule of Abacha (from November 1993 to June 1998) and Abdusalami Abubakar (June 1998 to May 1999). By this time, the number of states had reason to 36, and remains so today. In May 1999, began its current adventure into civilian rule, with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (formerly General Obasanjo of the 1976-1979 military regime) as the latest president. I have quickly gone over Nigeria's history to show that the country has seen its own share of political turmoil . Over 41years of independence, the nature of its twenty-nine years of military rule coupled with a 12-fold fractionalization into states have put a severe test on its federalism as proposed by its founding fathers of 1960. The resultant political disaffection is evident in various colorations around the country. For one, the various pre-1966 socio-economic gains of the regions were arrested by the military coup of 1966. Secondly, the civil war of 1967-1970 still brings bitter memories to the Igbos of Nigeria. The frequency of change of military leaders - with a penchant to starting projects all over again - have not been salutary. Restriction of political debate, ignoring of popular sentiment, brutality and unevenness in enforcing laws, as well as corruption in governance have been the hallmarks of military rule in Nigeria. Nevertheless, one does not fail to be reminded that the military "managed" to keep Nigeria under one flag, a feat that might not have been accomplished otherwise. This brings us to the issue of the political Northern Nigeria - and the mythical figure "Othman dan Bello" The name is a composite of Ahmadu Bello and his great-great grandfather Othman dan Fodio. In 1804, Shehu Usuman (Othman) dan Fodio (1744-1817), a Fulani leader and scholar, became incensed with the syncretic Islamic religion being practised among his hosts, the Hausa North to which his forebears had migrated from the hills of Futa Jallon in Senegal. Starting from Gobir near Sokoto, he began an Islamic "jihad" (holy war) which quickly established a politico-religious hegemony throughout much of what came to be known as Northern Nigeria. The direct influence of this jihad was felt right up until 1903 when the Sokoto Caliphate was defeated in battle by the British. Just about this time, in 1910 Ahmadu Bello was born, later to become the Sardauna of Sokoto and first Premier (in October 1954) and Governor (October 1960) of Northern Nigeria, and the modern political founder - the Kamal Ataturk as it were - of that region. He was the head of the party which formed the ruling parliamentary government (in a coalition with another party) when Nigeria gained Independence in 1960, but chose to remain in the North while "sending" Alhaji Abubakar Tafewa Balewa to Lagos to act as Prime Minister. He was killed in the first military coup of 1966. What legacy of political leadership did Othman Dan Fodio and Ahmadu Bello leave behind? Since 1960, of the twelve heads of Nigeria's federal government so far, 8 have been from Northern Nigeria, covering a total period of 36 out of Nigeria's 41 years of independence. The exceptions are Ironsi, Obasanjo (twice) and Shonekan. The longest of those stretches, totalling 32 years, were under Balewa (1960-66), Gowon (1966-1975), Shagari (1979-1983), Babangida (1985-1993) and Abacha (1993-1998). 7 of these twelve heads of states (Balewa, Mohammed, Shagari, Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, Abubakar; exception was Gowon) have been Muslims, covering a period of 31 years out of the 41. Therefore, bearing in mind the awful power of the Federal government, the general feeling in the country among Southern Nigerians has been that the nation has been ruled by "Northerners"; and among non-Muslims, that there has been Muslim domination, or at least extra-ordinary influence. The standard and understandable retort has been that except for Balewa and Shagari, ALL the other so-called Northern rulers have been military dictators without any Northern mandate, and that in any case, they all ruled with Southern and non-Muslim connivance. The charge of Muslim domination became less sustainable, and the feeling of Northern insistence on domination was brought to a head by the cancellation of president-elect MKO Abiola (a Yoruba Muslim from Southern Nigeria) in 1993 by military President Babangida. Even under his successors (Abacha and Abdusalami Abubakar), the cancellation was maintained and Abiola was incarcerated until his death in June 1998. Many political watchers see the (s)election of the present Head of State President Obasanjo not only as a deliberate "power-shift" to the South by the North, but also as a compensation to the Yoruba for Abiola's plight. Enter the political disaffection. Although disputable, the accusation has been incessant that the Obasanjo regime has used his might to victimize the North - indiscriminately sacking Federal employees of mostly Northern origin (for example, a significant number of military officers that were retired were of Northern origin), scrapping programs that would benefit them (such as the Petroleum Trust Fund) and general neglect. Obasanjo's overtly Christian pronouncements about his personal faith and his divinely-ordained mission in his second coming (as it were) have not also helped matters, making the more radical Muslims to be suspicious of his political actions. Thus it has been asserted that the official introduction of expanded forms of Sharia Islamic law into twelve far-Northern (Muslim) states since Obasanjo's commencement as president is mere "political Sharia" - a reaction and counter-weight to Obasanjo's government's actions. This brings us to another explanation of the Kano riots over Afghanistan, alluded to recently by top politician Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, and announced presidential candidate for 2003 to contest against Obasanjo. He stated that the speed of announcement and breadth of support of his support of the United States over its action against terrorism in Afghanistan might have been a factor - notwithstanding the fact that the announcements were made by Foreign Minister Alhaji Sule Kumo, who unfortunately now has one home fewer to call his own after the ensuing Kano riots, a victim of arson. It is left to us to judge whether Rimi's statement is a political one or a religious one. Socio-economic disaffection

 Although I have not taken a scientific poll, it is reasonable to assume that most riots around the world result from the activities of able-bodied men during the day-time, say between 8 am and 6 pm, when most employed people should be at their desk or in the fields working. It is not a long distance in reasoning therefore to imagine that the unemployed able-bodied men and some women provide a large pool of people ready, able and willing to participate in protests, small and large, which could easily lead to riots, either planned or spontaneous. That pool is indeed large in Nigeria. With a population of 120 million, a labor force of about 66 million people and an unemployment rate of about 30% is probably understated! When you add to this number the under-employed, what you have is a great army of the socio-economically disaffected! Thus, the devil is Nigeria's greatest employer, finding work for idle hands; he is awfully busy! The North and its Islamic culture is particuarly hard-hit in this regard. There is a dichotomy of education which needs to be emphasised: western education vis-à-vis Koranic (Arabic) education. The nature of the present Nigerian state is such that with Western education you are not guaranteed jobs and/or socio-economic success, but without it you are ALMOST guaranteed unemployment and economic failure. Thus an emphasis on Koranic education in vast parts of the North to the detriment of western education is unsalutary within the larger Nigerian context, and the leadership of the North appears to be quite concerned about this, if they are to be taken seriously from many recent pronouncements. It therefore appears that whenever opportunities present themselves, the willingness to express socio-economic frustrations quickly bubble up in the North. Quite frankly,this same frustration occurs elsewhere in our country, but when it is mixed with religious fervor as occurs in the Islamic North, it is a volatile mixture. I end this section with a sensitive issue: begging as a kind of Muslim Northern Nigerian religious "internship", and the incidence of wandering "almajiris" being ready hands for religious riots in the North. One understands that large roving bands of young Koranic scholars go out on the street to beg for alms (particularly money) as a way to pay their teachers (Mallams) for their Koranic studies, the side benefit of this being that it provides the "begged" Muslims a way to fulfil their Islamic requirement of giving "zakat" in support of the needy - alms giving. With all due respect to our Northern Muslim brothers, this itinerant begging does not happen in the South or any other progressive Muslim country, thus is not intrinsic to Islam. These Koranic teachers should be incorporated into a formal education system, with Western education injected early on through other means, and begging by such students should be banned. Period. Socio-economic disaffection will also continue in the far-North until and unless Western education in general is emphasised - and substantial monies committed and not just paid lip service to - rather than the constant power grab by the Northern elite. Another period. And what is there to be done?

 Looking at the four reasons proffered above for the present reaction to the Afghanistan situation by some elements in Northern Nigeria, there is little one can do about two of them: feelings of solidarity among the Umma or competition within it. These by themselves could not have led to the riots. Rather, the political disaffection and the socio-economic disenfranchisement are issues capable of being addressed by a government that cares and takes its peoples' views into consideration. Take the issue of political disaffection. Perceptions may be right or wrong, but an unwillingness to address them head-on makes the situation even more dangerous. A healthy and formal dialogue within the constituent groups of Nigeria to discuss all of our festering problems MUST be allowed within the shortest possible time - within and across political zones and religious divides in Nigeria - lest the situation get out of hand. It is in this vein that the Sovereign National Conference which will lead to a New Nigeria Constitution that should be democratically arrived and, and which will act as a new social compact among its people, should be instituted without further delay. Such a constitution would have to address the issues of individual rights in the Nigerian polity, credible devolution of power from the center and once-and-for-all enunciate the official role of religion in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious Nigeria. Solution to the socio-economic disenfranchisement amounts to four words: jobs for the people. With 120 million people, and about 40 million of those of employable age, no notion that all will find government jobs can obviously be sustained. hence private employment must be emphasized. Agriculture and public works development are two major enterprises that quickly employ massive numbers of people without a need for an extensive lag-time for further education of the existing potential work-force. Yet, private enterprise (as well as even public ones) requires an enabling environment with three ingredients: quality energy (particularly motor fuel and electric power), communication (both transport and tele-) and personal security. If federal government were to focus almost exclusively on these three aspects like a laser beam, while essentially leaving other issues to the other two tiers of state and local government, one feels confident that situations such as in Kano, Jos and other places in the country will diminish significantly in the coming months and years. Finally, one hopes that more and more Nigerians will work to study and understand the different peoples - of ethnicity and religion - that populate that complex stew-pot called Nigeria, thereby peeling away some of the myths that bias our interactions. We may come to different conclusions, but at least we should have some basic common facts at our disposal. One also hopes that we will exercise a greater degree of tolerance when misunderstandings - between individuals and across ethnic groups and religions - occur. Greetings to the Nigerian House of Othman Dan Bello!

 Table 1 of African Countries with Significant Muslim populations Angola 25% Benin 60% Burkina Faso 44% Cameroon 21% Chad 52% Eritrea 51% Ethiopia 40% Gambia 87% Guinea 88% Guinea-Bissau 80% Ivory Coast 55% Liberia 21% Libya 98% Malawi 55% Mali 90% Niger 90% Nigeria 50% Senegal 91% Sierra Leone 80% Tanzania 65% Togo 55%

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