BOKO HARAM AND THE NIGERIAN PROJECT
The Nigerian Compass of Sunday 29th January 2012 published a bare-it-all interview with Dr. Ishaq Akintola, Director, Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) in a four-page pull-out of its Westerner magazine on the Boko Haram question and the Nigerian project.
Are you worried by the increasing wave of bombings by the Boko Haram sect?
Certainly, I am worried, deeply worried. I hate the sight of bloodshed. About five years ago I boasted to a friend that Nigeria can never experience the type of bombings going on in Iraq. Little did I know that this horrible thing is coming here. I am worried because we need peace in this country if we want to develop. Now before we go far in this interview, I sincerely hope that I will not be misquoted, quoted out of context or misunderstood because I am going to make sweeping statements today. I am also going to make some disclosures which some people may not find too comfortable. But whatever I say today will have been informed by my deep love for my compatriots and my passion for this country. Let me state clearly, unambiguously and unequivocally that bombing anywhere or killing innocent people is unacceptable in Islam. Neither are Muslims permitted to attack Christian individuals or their places of worship.
Personally, I want to live in peace with any Nigerian regardless of his or her religious background. Muslims and Christians should not be fighting or quarreling. I believe the problem is systemic. The Nigerian system has failed to create a level playing ground for both Christians and Muslims to operate and coexist peacefully and that is what we should be discussing now. That is where the solution to this problem lies. We will see that as this interview progresses.
Of much more serious concern to me is this conspiracy theory in the whole bombing higgledy-piggledy. It has been revealed that not all the bombings have been done by Boko Haram. In fact some Christian individuals have been caught attempting to bomb churches in the North and South. Now if those caught were those who failed in their missions, there must have been some Christians who succeeded in bombing churches. Have you read Rev. Fr. Kuka's explosive interview and article on the matter? He revealed how fellow Christians plotted to bomb Christian churches over rivalry. Go get it and get better educated. Shine your eyes my brother. The more you look the less you see.
Furthermore on the conspiracy theory, just as we all know that the scripts of Glasnost and Perestroika were written in the White House and not necessarily in the Kremlin, we must turn our searchlight for the casus belli of the topsy-turvy enveloping the Nigerian nation to the United States. The widely speculated American prediction that Nigeria would breakup by 2015 may have needed to be given substance. We may have paid fifth columnists exploiting the Boko Haram phenomenon to ensure that the '2015 break' becomes fait accompli.
They claim in various statements that they are fighting the cause of Islam , are they justified?
To the extent that they demand the application of Shari'ah to be used by Muslims in Nigeria and not to be used by the Christian section of the population, they are justified. But the method employed is petrifying. Violence should not have been visited on Christian targets. Islam is a religion of peace. Equally disturbing is the fact that the number of Muslims killed in these tragic days outnumber the number of Christians.
Their demand for Shari'ah is legitimate because that is an inalienable, constitutional, Allah-Given and fundamental right of Muslims. They could have limited their approach to peaceful demonstrations and legal processes. Unfortunately there is this factor of the extent of exposure. Don't forget also that the press and the Nigerian elites who form a minority of the population conspired against the Muslims when the latter demanded Shari'ah. Instead of an objective assessment of the issue, sentiment beclouded good reason. Muslims were ridiculed in the print and electronic media. Discussions and interviews on the issue were parochially handled. We have records of interviews granted to Nigerians on the Shariah issue and it was mainly Church clerics that were interviewed.
I believe that Muslims are still shortchanged on this issue and it needs to be revisited. Justice is the soul of peace. Nobody can deny one and have the other. If democracy guarantees equal participation, then we should allow a situation whereby the system in the land favours all religions in education, law, etc.
Even in the ongoing Boko Haram saga most media houses pay attention to what Christian leaders say while they completely ignore Muslim leaders. Yet they are saying Muslims are silent. They are saying Muslim leaders are not doing enough. Who will make the views of Muslim leaders known? Is it not the press? Who controls the press? Who ensures that the press does not listen to Muslims? It is like the case of a man who ties the hands of his neighbor so the latter will not be able to pick anything from the community table. Then came a wild animal attacking the same man and he started blaming the neighbor whose hands he had tied for not doing anything to stop the attack.
Nigerian Muslims have already developed their own dogma about the Nigerian press. Ditto for the whole press in the Western world. It is an asymmetrical press. It is anti-Islam. Dont forget also that the Boko Haram group was not violent ab initio. The extrajudicial killing of their leader Muhammad Yusuf alongside hundreds of his followers as well as the destruction of their headquarters transformed the group overnight.
Does Boko haram pose any danger to Islam?
Too early to say. We will cross the bridge when we get there. The mistake Muslims have been making all over the world is that different groups held one another with suspicion. This is true in the case of Sunnis and Shiites to the extent that they became enemies. It gave easy victory to America in Iraq. It is dividing the Arab League over the Syrian question. The fear of Iran is galvanizing the Gulf states into an arms race. No. I think we can still sit down and dialogue with all groups before it is too late.
Have Muslim leaders in the North done enough to distance themselves from Boko Haram and work for religious harmony in the country?
You heard what I said earlier. All Muslims feel concerned and all are expressing this fear. But the press has chosen to turn its beam mainly on Christians. The whole of Africa trembles when Oritsejafor coughs because virtually all newspapers, television stations and radio will report his cough. When Okogie sneezes the Nigerian press catches pneumonia. But Muslim leaders from the North or South-West get no attention if they address press conferences. We should stop asking what the Muslim leaders have been doing. We should start asking who among the press have bothered to report actions and speeches of Muslim leaders. Take a survey of newspaper, television and radio interviews since the Boko Haram imbroglio broke out and you will realize what I am saying. Some television discussions that I have watched featured three guests one of whom was a bishop, one a pastor and the other a church-goer. Of course the anchor man too is a Christian. Where is the balance of the pendulum? Where is professional ethics? How fair can they be to the other side?
There are allegations in some quarters that those behind Boko Haram are hiding behind religion to fight a political cause
And what is the political cause? It must be for the PDP because President Jonathan has admitted that there are Boko Haramites in his cabinet. Nigerian elites are the ones trivializing the issue. They are the ones deceiving us and they are using the press to achieve this objective. Nigerian Muslims have certain demands and grievances which they have been making and nursing even before independence. Successive governments have chosen to ignore those demands.
The colonial master bequeathed a complicated political legacy and it is now proving unworkable. Subsequent constitutions were also imposed on Nigerians, including the 1999 constitution which the military imposed on us. A nation's constitution is its foundation. Our constitution has structural defects. The center is too powerful. The army, the police, customs, primary school teachers, etc, everything is being controlled by the Federal Government. It is too much. This is not true federalism. That is why they are now admitting that the police cannot police Nigeria, the army cannot secure the country, customs cannot control the boarders. Do you know why? It is simply because we have a greedy center which has bitten more than it can chew.
The situation has created …permit me to borrow from Chinua Achebe's book, the situation has created a widening gyre…the falcon cannot hear the falconer …things are falling apart and the center cannot hold. Even our democracy is a fraud! We have to face reality. There is an urgent need for a Sovereign National Conference where every ethnic group and every religious body will come forward to tell us what exactly they want. Is it not strange that it is the Muslims who are making demands? That is because the status quo suits Christianity. The colonialists were Christians and they ensured that everything in Nigeria was Christianised before they left. Test my hypothesis: ask Oritsejafor what the Christians want and I assure you that Muslims are ready and willing to give them. Now without being prejudicial, the truth is that Christians don't want anything because they already have everything they need in the system.
In an effort to have a sense of belonging thereby strengthening their patriotism, the Muslims started demanding parity. They got nothing up till today. Each time they asked for something they were blackmailed as people seeking to Islamise the country. I think our Christian neighbours know that the colonialists handed over a Christianised nation, therefore. Nigeria has remained a Christian nation to date. The Christians are enjoying it as it is and they don't want a change. The Muslims are saying, "Give us a share. Let us be partners in the Nigerian project. You have the law. Give us our own law. You have the banking system, give us also our banking system. You have English on naira, leave our Arabic on naira". What do they get in response? Labels and stigma: they are called fundamentalists, extremists, terrorists…They are blackmailed as planning to Islamise Nigeria. No, I don't really think they are fighting a political cause. Lets pay serious attention to the demands made by Muslims which government has always ignored both at federal and state levels. It may sound funny but that is the reality.
Now if we go back to the beginning of this interview, I said the problem is systemic. So you may not even blame the Christians for some of the things the Muslims are accusing them of. The system needs urgent reform. We must sit down and talk. What do the Muslims want? What do the Christians want?
How can we stave off Boko Haram teachings from spreading to other parts of Nigeria and how can the menace be effectively tackled.
I don't know what you mean by Boko Haram teachings. I don't think their teachings include the killing of innocent people. I want to believe that is purely happenstance. They started killing after their leader and many of their members were killed extra-judicially. I have no doubt that if you check their books today for their doctrine, you will not find any instruction concerning killing and maiming.
What can the other parts of Nigeria learn from the southwest in terms of religion and harmony
People in the South-West have been able to co-exist peacefully in spite of divergence of religious inclinations. Households and clans have Christians, Muslims and animists deeply embedded yet there are no frictions. There is enough lesson in this for other areas. People must respect one another's faith.
Educate our readers about Jihad and what could warrant it
Jihad has been widely misunderstood to mean and to be restricted to religious war. Far from it. Jihad is, first and foremost, self-discipline. Jihad is any good effort directed at correcting evil or immorality in society. So when the Abia State Government started demolishing illegal structures recently, it was waging jihad. University campuses which enact dressing codes are lauching jihad. EFCC and ICPC are jihad machineries carved out by government to fight corruption. Therefore jihad can be waged even by non-Muslims. Any disciplinarian is a jihadist. In that context, Tai Solarin was a jihadist. May God bless his family and the work of his hand. Gani Fawehinmi (May Allah have mercy on him) was a jihadist. So are our living legends: Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana, Feastus Keyamo, the amazon Okei Odumakin and many of our activists.
Recently you attended a church service. Why did you go to a church and what has been the reaction of your fellow muslims?
Yes, I attended the God Bless Nigeria Church in the wake of recent bombing of some churches in Nigeria. Firstly, that was a solidarity visit. I realize that I am a leader, a Muslim leader so to speak. Our country is burning. Must this evil continue? Shouldn't there be respect for human life? Shouldn't there be freedom of religion? What is my contribution? How can I set an example? I know it was risky but it was necessary to build confidence across the faiths. I will not subscribe to a situation where people are compelled top worship in fear or where they are forced to stay away from church out of fear of being bombed. I know that Islam gives life, not death. My religion builds, it does not destroy. There was a force compelling me to correct this erroneous impression. Secondly the church actually invited me to a joint press conference and I felt I should honour the invitation.
Thirdly, that was not the first time I would be visiting a church or organizing a programme with Christians. You only need to look at my record even though some love to hate me. Under the auspices of Tele-Da'wah Embassy, an Islamic preaching outfit established and run by me since 1996 to date, I have organized or jointly organized debates and symposia with Christian organizations. Also under the aegis of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) a human rights organization formed by me in 1994, I have held many programmes along the same line. I can name the churches which have invited me to speak in the past. II can name Christian clerics who have invited me and whom I have invited to our programmes in the past. Most prominent among them is Rev. Fr. Gabriel Osu who is well known in the catholic diocese. Dr. Olulana of the Celestial Church of Christ was also a common face at our programmes. Even recently, I think on October 4th 2011, I joined a Christian group in praying for Nigeria at Allen round about, Ikeja, Lagos.
I do all these because I understand what religion is all about. Religion is from the Greek word meaning 'to link', 'to tie'. So I ask myself, why are we always fighting when religion is supposed to link us and tie us together in a bond of brotherhood and love? I do it because I want my country to survive, to move on to the next level. I do it because I have a good grasp of the teachings of my religion. I do it because as a leader I must act in loco parentis.
According to Islam what should be the relationship between muslims and christians
There must be cordial relations between Christians and Muslims. The Qur'an forbids forcing people of other faiths to accept Islam (Qur'an 2:256). It advocates religious tolerance (Qur'an 109:1-6). Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) lived peacefully with Christians and he left instructions that we should do the same. Again the Qur'an compels Muslims to emulate Prophet Muhammed (Qur'an 33:21). None of the four orthodox Khulafah who succeeded him was hostile to the Christians. One of them (Umar bin Khattab) actually entered churches to discuss with Christian leaders.
What's your advice to Nigerians at this difficult time
The Nigerian government should not rely on the use of force. They should dialogue with Boko Haram. The state governments in the North can initiate this dialogue for the federal government. FGN should also watch its friends and allies. Nigeria should not rely on America and Israel in its fight against Boko Haram. Those countries have hidden agenda. It is also important for government to note that Nigerian Muslims have deep distrust for those two countries in particular and the rest of the West in general. The National Assembly should strengthen Shari'ah clauses in the constitution in order to dampen the fear of Muslims. I am fully aware of the delicate situation even in the South-West. The governments in this region should therefore seek to sustain the peaceful atmosphere by looking at the grievances of the Muslims. Some of these include the refusal to allow Muslim female pupils to use hijab; disallowing female Muslim bankers and nurses from using same; creating an enabling environment for Muslim pupils to learn their religion (IRK) and stopping the current practice of forcing them to study the Bible (BK), a practice Muslims see as Christians using government facilities to wage a crusade on Islam; the refusal of state governments in the South-West to allow Muslims to use civil Shari'ah in matters affecting their personal lives like marriage, divorce and inheritance; Islamic banking, etc. These issues must be resolved so that patriotism and sense of belonging will increase among Nigerian Muslims.
At the same time, I will appeal to Muslim leaders not to ostracize the Boko Haram group. We need to know their grudges and inform the Nigerian authorities. Peace-building is a collective exercise. The press must be fair in its dealings with all religions. All sides must be given the right of response. Bias against any side is an invitation to chaos. Prejudice particularly in the press is the reservoir for pent-up anger which, in turn, burst into uncontrollable conflagrations sooner or later. Nigerian journalists must avoid all forms of provocative statements or practices. It is an abuse of the ethics of their noble profession.
Provocation is often responsible for religious violence. A good fire-fighter will not direct his hose at the smoke. He directs it at the fire. Terrorism is mere smoke. We must look for the fire and extinguish it. Provocation and social injustice often constitute the fire that causes religious violence or terrorism. In this regard the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and the Nigerian Press Commission (NPC) must enforce fairness or sanction offenders.
Our security agencies must treat citizens with decorum. They are there to serve just as other citizens are serving in other areas of need. I read in one of James Bond's novels that anybody with a loaded revolver has the power of life or death over his neighbor. The nature of a policeman's job, for instance, is such that he must be given a gun by the government. But the gun must not be used as a tool of intimidation or extortion. The Inspector General of Police must work hard to change the orientation of policemen, particularly the lower ranks. Maltreatment and general cruelty may push the young ones to a bloody revolution if care is not taken.
From now on, Nigerians must be their brothers' keepers. My heart bleeds each time a Southerner is attacked in the North and vice versa. My people suffer for lack of knowledge. I charge every Nigerian to protect non-indigenes in his neighbourhood. I have a dream…the dream of a new generation of Northerners who will mobilize themselves to protect Southerners who are about to be attacked. I have a dream of new brand of Southerners who shun attempts to lynch Northerners. I dream of a Nigeria where Muslims and Christians both in the North and South will pay courtesy visits to each others' places of worship.
I charge Northern governors and Muslim leaders in the North to seek and invite Boko Haram leaders for dialogue. The dialogue must be genuine, not one laden with traps by security agencies or any other group. Such dialogue may thereafter be continued at federal level. I sincerely believe that peace is possible if we all work towards it.
To members of the Jama'atu Ahl ad-Da'wat wa al-Jihad also called Boko Haram, from me, Is-haq Akintola, a poor servant of Allah and one seeking His mercy and forgiveness, in the Name of Allah the Compassionate, the Merciful, I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship besides Allah and that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is His Messenger. I urge you to silence your guns and embrace dialogue. Your spokespersons have made your points very clearly. Allow peace to reign from now on. Accept government's invitation to dialogue if and when it is extended to you.
Finally, I urge both Christians and Muslims in Nigeria to learn to accept each other. We have all offended ourselves. The way forward is mutual forgiveness. I feel the pains of those who lost loved ones in the bombings. I pray that Almighty Allah will strengthen them morally and physically.
Is-haq Akintola (Ph.D),
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC),
Yahoo Group: groups.yahoo.com/group/muslimrights
Be just Justice is the soul of peace
No one can deny one and have the other
Neither can violence or naked force bring lasting peace