A hurricane in need of turning

Nasir El-Rufai

Nasir El-Rufai

Kaduna is a land of new beginning. It is one of the new cities that have come into existence in Nigeria in the last 200 years like Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Abeokuta and lately Abuja. Yet, there is no city like Kaduna, built by the British imperial army as the eternal capital of their new territory at the close of the 19th Century. There is a lot to be proud of in the history of Kaduna and a lot to be cautious about for it is a city of impressive somnolence but also of occasional sulfurous temper.

The new Lord of the Manor in Kaduna is Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, quantity surveyor and lawyer, who was elected governor last year on the platform of the All Progressive Congress, APC, now the ruling party in Abuja. El-Rufai is ruffling feathers by attempting to amend an old law on religious activities in the state. He has already sent a bill to the House of Assembly requesting it to pass a law stipulating that those who intend to trade in evangelism in the public place must obtain permission from government authorities. Those who fail to do so risk fine and imprisonment. The House, dominated by Christians and Moslems, have not commenced work on the bill, but it appears the governor has embarked on a bumpy ride.

Religion is a sensitive issue in Nigeria, but especially in Kaduna State which is enjoying a long interlude in its history of sectoral and religious strife. In the wake of the introduction of new Sharia in 2000 in many Northern States, Kaduna flared up when there was a threat to introduce it in the state. Hundreds of people died in the conflagration which was put down by Federal troops. Since then, the state has witnessed several other upheavals and little bush fires. The latest was the clash between the radical Shiite movement under the leadership of the charismatic Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and an entourage of the Chief of Army State, General Tukur Buratai in Zaria. The clash led to the death of many Shiite adherents. El-Zakzaky is still being held by the authorities. The Kaduna State government has instituted a judicial panel to investigate the matter.

The state government has cited the example of the Zaria clash to emphasise why it needed to regulate religious activities. Barnabas Bantex, the deputy governor, told a delegation of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, led by its state chairman, Bishop George Dogo that the bill was not new, only a spirited attempt to firm up an old law in the face of new realities. Says Bantex: “There is nothing in the Bill that suggests any effort to abolish, stop or derogate on the freedom of religion and religious beliefs. It merely seeks to ensure that religious preaching and activities in the state are conducted in ways that do not threaten public order and public safety, and to protect the rights and freedom of other persons.”

Kaduna State is the place where the two imported Abrahamic religions conflicted and coalesced. Close to the old city of Zaria, Kaduna State is Wusasa, where we have the oldest church in Northern Nigeria which has been the centre of Christian evangelism for more than 100 years. Yet Zaria, old centre of Islamic engagements, was one of the battlegrounds during the revolution of the 19th Century that brought the Fulani to power in the Hausa states.

Fittingly, Zaria is home to many great institutions including Ahmadu Bello University, the Nigerian Military School, the School of Aviation and the most famous factory for the production of the Northern power elite, Barewa College. Ahmadu Bello, first and only Premier of the old Northern Region, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, first and only Prime-Minister of Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria military ruler for nine years, General Murtala Muhammed, Gowon’s successor, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Nigeria’s first elected Executive President, Mallam Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, second President in the current Republic, former Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki and the current Sultan Sa’adu Abubakar, are all old students of the school. Of course, El-Rufai left that school in 1976 with all round distinctions. Therefore, if there is a state that is very connected to the national power loop, it is Kaduna and its main asset is the rusty Barewa College.

The centrality of Barewa College and its impressive legacy has not stopped the religious divide in Kaduna State from becoming a chasm. Both Christianity and Islam originated from the Middle-East among the Jews and the Arabs. Each religion believes it is worshipping the true God. Each believes in propagating its faith as a religious duty. It is this propagation that is the cause of most conflicts between the two faiths for hundreds of years. Other faiths, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Judaism and African traditional religions do not believe in propagation. I have never heard of Ifa or Ogun worshippers saying they are going for crusade or jihad. New adherents are left to discover the truth on their own or helped by those they come in contact with. Not so Islam and Christianity where failure to believe is fraught with danger both here on earth and in the hereafter, after death. El-Rufai, a Moslem, believes his new law could regulate this propagation and mediate the old conflict between the two branches of the Abrahamic faith.

However, despite the deep religiosity of the people, Kaduna State is overhung by earthly suspicion. Its politics is coloured often by religious divides and ethnic considerations. When the city was founded at the turn of the 19th Century, the British envisaged a town that would be a melting pot of different ethnic groups. Soon the Gwaris, who said the land belogned to them, were overwhelmed by new immigrants; the Hausa, Berom, Yoruba, Igbo, Kandara, Jukun, Kuturmi, Kataf, Kiwafa and all the other ethnic groups of Nigeria. Lord Frederick Lugard was so pleased with his creation that he wanted to make it the capital of Nigeria before he was overruled by his superiors in the colonial office in London and Lagos was awarded the prize, not without first pausing over Lokoja, Asaba and Calabar.

At independence in 1960, Kaduna remained the capital of Northern Region. When 12 states were created in 1967, Kaduna was made the capital of the North Central State. It retained its status when Katsina State was excised out of the state and the balance was renamed Kaduna State and the city remained the capital. But since all these years whether during the military era or civilian administration, only one Christian, Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa who died in a helicopter crash in 2012, has ever succeeded in becoming the governor of Kaduna. Since 1967 when Colonel Abba Kyari was made the governor of North-Central State by General Yakubu Gowon, there have been 22 other governors in Kaduna. Why then would the Christians of Kaduna State not feel beleaguered over this almost new law, despite the governor’s good intention.

We need to know that a law alone cannot override congealed prejudices of generations. Only persistent good practices will do. It is true that both the Muslim and the Christian leadership in Kaduna State have voiced opposition to the bill but one side has more to fear considering the history of the state. Luckily the House of Assembly is treading softly on the bill and I would advise El-Rufai to follow its cue. There is no need to forcibly wake a sleeping dog.

Despite this, many citizens of Kaduna State would be content that they have a governor with El-Rufai reputation for fearless advocacy and capacity for action. As the boss for the Bureau of Public Enterprises and later Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the El-Rufai of those days was a controlled hurricane. The man in charge then was President Olusegun Obasanjo who was steering the hurricane. Now the governor is in charge of his own hurricane and he needs to turn it in the direction of something more purposeful and less controversial. To control the excesses of religious merchants, he has so many laws in his kitty. He may take the cues of Lagos State which has chosen to enforce the law on noise pollution to clip the wings of exuberant clerics.

El-Rufai knows that such an atmosphere of needless controversies is a fertile ground for trouble and dangerous rumours. Late last week, there was the tall tale that the governor and his deputy were involved in an argument which ended in a fisticuffs. The deputy governor later had to issue a statement debunking the rumour, crediting it to dangerous people who were hell-bent on causing trouble. Both Christians and Moslems believe in the existence of the devil. One of the weapons of the devil is rumour mongering. Governor El-Rufai should do everything possible to send the devil away from Kaduna State.

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