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If only we could be less religious

Malam Nasir El-Rufai

The city of Kaduna is as much the city of Lord Frederick Lugard as well as that of Ahmadu Bello. The two were the most famous men ever to reside in that city.

Lugard made the small settlement the capital of his new entity called Northern Nigeria. While the pacification of the emirates was going on, he had established his capital in Jebba and then moved it to Zungeru.

In 1910, Lugard moved the capital to Kaduna in the land of the Gbagyi, a minority ethnic group. There he established the capital of the Northern Protectorate.

When he was ordered to merge the Northern and Southern Protectorates with the Colony of Lagos to form Nigeria, Lugard protested when he was asked to move to Lagos. He would have preferred Kaduna to be the capital of the new entity.

By the time Ahmadu Bello came to occupy the city in the 1950s and 60s, the city had transformed.

It was a true metropolis and truly cosmopolitan. Chief Bola Ige, first elected governor of old Oyo State, was born in the Lugard city and he loved to be called Kaduna boy, the title he gave to his memoir about his remarkable childhood in that city.

Kaduna is now the city of Nasir Ahmad el Rufai, the petite governor with a tall ambition.

Rufai wants the city to return to the era of fond memories where the city accommodated everyone and there was no feeling of ethnic division or religious differences.

Today Kaduna is emblematic of the damage politicians playing the religious card have dealt to Nigeria. No one is allowed to be a normal Nigerian in Kaduna.

You are either a Christian or a Muslim. Both religions preached love. The people of Kaduna love to hate each other.

What is sparking the recent controversy is El-Rufai insistence on picking a running mate for the 2019 governorship election when he would be running again on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.

In a bold move, he picked a woman as his deputy-governorship candidate who also happened to be a Muslim. She would replace Yusuf Barnabas Bala, a Christian.

A woman on the ticket is a bold move in a region noted for its conservatism and where women did not have the vote until General Olusegun Obasanjo decreed it in 1979.

Since 1999, the governorship ticket in Kaduna has been balanced between the two religions with a Muslim always at the head of the ticket.

However it was when President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan picked Namadi Sambo as his Vice-President that a Christian became the governor. Mr Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa later died in a tragic helicopter crash.

Both under the military and civilian dispensations, the governor of Kaduna State are most likely to be a Muslim.

During the Second Republic, when religion was not a big issue, the deputy-Governor to Balarabe Musa was Abba Musa Rimi, also a fellow Muslim.

Since 1999, religion has been decorated with the red uniform of danger in Kaduna. In contention are the two religions imported from the Middle-East and Europe.

Both the Arabs, who originated Islam and the Europeans who transformed the teaching of Christ, the Jewish rabbi, to Christianity, believe in the Jewish origin of their religion and their roots from Father Abraham.

The Jewish that practice Judaism and worship in the Synagogue, do not propagate their religion. They do not try to convert anybody.

However both the Christians and Muslims believe they have the right, and indeed the duty, to propagate their religion.

Indeed, in old times, a Muslim group can embark on a holy war, called the Jihad, to ensure the forcible conversion of a group of non-Muslims. Jihad can also be embarked upon to “purify Islam.”

It was such purification that some parents in Ibadan are embarking upon when they insisted that the International School, Ibadan, must allow their wards to wear hijab to school as part of their uniform.

In the peculiar lingo of the Islamists (as distinct from Muslims) they don’t want their children to mix with the world or to be lost in a crowd.

Yet how can a school uniform be a union when it is not worn uniformly by every child? The Islamist represents the new trend and it was pioneered in Nigeria by the bearded cleric-politician from Zanfara State, Ahmad Sani Yarima, once the postal-boy of rigorous Islam.

When Yarima woke up to impose the new Sharia on his state, one of his first victims was a man called Baba Jangebe who was accused of stealing a cow. Jangebe pleaded guilty and he had his right hand amputated in accordance with the judgment of the Sharia Court.

Note that Saudi Arabia, the home of Sharia is the only country in the world where capital punishment is carried out by beheading.

Since then Yarima has moved to higher ground. I cannot remember now whether more hands were harvested by the Sharia militants in Zamfara or any other place.

Yarima too had faced indictments for alleged stealing but no one dare drag him before a Sharia Court.

Like hundreds of other politicians who once sang the song of Sharia and who are all still keeping their two hands, he is well protected by the Constitution, hands and all.

Unlike Jangebe and his ilk, Yerima and members of his tribe have enough money to hire an army of lawyers. They never ask for the religion of their lawyers. They are interested in keeping their hands which is very useful for digging and other task that may be necessary.

Even Ahmadu Bello, whose forefathers fought a jihad to purify Islam and impose the Fulani rule on the Hausa states, would have been surprised about the reckless religiosity that has overtaken Nigeria.

Bello was Premier of the Northern Region which is now being ruled by 18 governors.

Nigerians In their wisdom (or lack of it) has given the job once performed by a single person to 18 men to do. One of the 18 is El-Rufai, a man of considerable appetite for controversy.

The constant upheavals in Kaduna State and the relentless tension among the various groups, the bloodletting and campaigns of hatred and bigotry have a bearing on El-Rufai competence and claim to statesmanship.

He needs to do everything in his power to stem the tide of religiosity in his state. I am not sure appointing a Muslim as his running-mate in the 2019 governorship election may help his ministry in that direction.

It would be wrong to blame Rufai alone for what is happening in the state. Like the relentless advance of the Sahara Desert, we could see it coming.

The problem was coming from different directions. In the old Western Region, the competition among the religious bodies was a healthy one.

When the Christian missionaries established Victory College, Ikare, Ondo State, the Muslims too sent their children there.

Then they raised money and established their own school. Majority of the citizens of Ikare are Muslims. They did not say Muslim pupils must dress in Arabic fashion so that they can differentiate them from other students of Victory College.

In those days at Ife Anglican Grammar School, Ile-Ife, Muslims students were allowed to belong to the Muslim Students Society, MSS.

During the month of Ramadan, the school kitchen open early to prepare food for their saari, the pre-dawn breakfast before the Ramadan fast. Yet our school was owned by the Anglican Church.

Today, priests and imams have so much powers and influence but little responsibilities. It is good to build the largest church auditorium in the universe, but this should be matched with building of schools, hospitals and homes for the poor.

Those who are preaching hatred claim they are obeying the dictate of God. They said God loves fashion, he has already dictated how a man and a woman must dress, eat, drink and relate to his neighbour.

If your neighbour does not agree with you on your idea of God, good luck to him. You don’t need to agree with him on anything else. Yet we know God cannot be God if he does not love his children equally.

Indeed, there is no conclusive evidence so far that God prefers one religion over the other.

In 1983, I had gone to attend the wedding of a friend of mine in Abeokuta. Surprisingly, they made Mrs Simbiat Abiola, the chairman of the wedding reception, a role normally given to a man.

In her speech, she upbraided the imam who had proclaimed while we were at the mosque for the wedding, that the bride should be tolerant even if her husband decides to marry more wives. He said the maximum accepted by Islamic Law was four.

“Can you pray that prayer for your own daughters?” she queried. “How can anyone be advocating that women should be put in seclusion in this day and age? Can anyone dare put the daughter of M.K.O in seclusion?”

She said the imams were not well-informed and that they need to know what was happening in other countries especially Egypt, Libya, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia where the men preferred to be monogamous.

“Let me tell you the truth,” she said. “The President of Egypt is a Muslim and he has only one wife and his wife is not in the purdah.”

Nigerians need to rediscover the godliness in their lives so that the country can become a better place. There is no proof that countries that are more religious are better than those who are less religious.

There is no proof also that God is more in love with Christians or Muslims than those who practice other religions. If so Nigeria should be better than Japan, a Buddhist country and Israel, a Jewish country.

Our reckless religiosity has not paid us. We need to return to simpler days when our ways was more tolerant, godlier and more humane. Then some people who are angry now may think of El Rufai and remember some of the good works he may have done.

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