Buhari, the Sultan and fighting terrorism

Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, addresses the United Nations General Assembly September 19, 2017 at the United Nations in New York. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

Although the spate of terrorist activities in the country may be upsetting and challenging, the different positions taken recently by President Muhammadu Buhari and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saad Abubakar III, over the cause of terrorist activities in the country may be seen as needless blame-trading, for both positions are correct.

According to reports, Buhari, whilst speaking at a security meeting in Jordan, had blamed the seeming inability of government to curb the activities of insurgents on the role of clerics whose provocative preachings attract members into their fold. He was said to have called on Muslim leaders around the world to denounce the hateful violence committed by deranged people in the name of Islam.

On his part, the Sultan of Sokoto, whilst speaking to the General Assembly of the Northern Traditional Rulers Council in Kaduna, attributed the spate of killings in the north to government’s inability to discharge its obligations to protect citizens. He was quoted to have said: “If you see such thing happening, then there must be a failure of government.”

Ordinarily, the comments made by the leaders at different forums are not mutually exclusive, even though they may be interpreted to be opposing each other on the cause of terrorist activities in the country. In a sense, both statements are right. Whilst Buhari was reacting appropriately to a challenge, namely, the inability to address the problem of terrorism, the Sultan was also right on the cause of the problem.

In historical narratives, and rightly so, religion has always been used as an instrument for social change, either for good or for ill. Besides the universality of religion, religious doctrines have been known to provide principles for belief and action. The appeal to religion as being the final arbiter for judging the purpose of human existence, its role in providing norms for values and guide for moral actions and its appeal to the Transcendental vis a vis man’s finitude and experiences of perceived absurdity, all together avail religion a prime place in human existence.

For the undiscerning and naively minded, the convincing power of religion could be the ultimate guide to action. It is this reality that all kinds of power seekers exploit when they use religion as a device for seeking position or entrenching a value. Thus the president was right when he claimed that the insidious preaching of clerics incite people and attract members to their fold.

However, for a cleric’s preaching to become the source of motivation for people in such a manner that these people begin to act contrary to the dictates of reason and the law, shows that all has not been well with that society. In other words, such a society has plunged into a state beyond the control of the government. It is either such a government is bereft of ideas to properly run that country or the religious bigots have overtaken that society.

In agreement with the Sultan, when people are disenchanted with the polity, when they lack proper education about themselves and the world around them and when government does not wake up to its responsibilities, it is then that such disgruntled people take laws into their hands and oftentimes with the use of terror.

Since time immemorial, terror has been an instrument for the settling of differences by those who viewed themselves as marginalised, oppressed or unaccommodated by the system. The use of terror is beyond religious war. It is also an instrument of class struggle and protest against economic disenfranchisement. With globalisation aided by technology, terrorism has now become a franchise.

Nonetheless, it also needs being reiterated that balancing the act of religion and living in a pluralistic society is a difficult task for government. This is especially true in a state of multifarious poverty like Nigeria.

In a such a society, it needs to be emphasized that everyone has the liberty to belong to any religion, in so far as people live within the dictates of right reason, they do not infringe on the rights of others and are willing to constantly dialogue on their peaceful co-existence.

This is where education becomes necessary. Education, in this sense, does not imply mainly the acquisition of skills for material survival, but also the mental cultivation and exposure and openness to different peoples, cultures and lifestyles, which lead to refinement of the spirit.

Government should also emphasize on existential needs – needs that bind all as humans. Government should not privilege any religion over another. Criminal activities, however, coloured or flavoured, should be seen for what they are and decisively dealt with. Above all, the government must teach by example by upholding the rule of law.

As this newspaper has always maintained, there is always a great lesson to be learnt in cases of seeming inconsistent opinions over matters of national import.

The lesson here is that Nigeria as a country is greater than any religious identity; it is greater than any personality. The value of any group or individual should be reckoned with on the basis of its potential to edify and enhance the well-being of the collective.

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