By Bashir ADEFAKA
Dr. Lateef Adegbite, OFR, is Secretary-General, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA).Â He was once Commissioner for Local Governments and Chieftaincy Matters in the old Western Region. He later became Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General under the military administration of Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi.
The Seriki of Egba traditional council and Baba Adinni of Egba Muslims spoke to BASHIR ADEFAKA in Abeokuta.Â Excerpts:
Let me start by asking you how you started out in life.Â How was it?
Well, I started life like every other person.Â Except thatÂ I was brought up in a very strong religious home and disciplinary environment. Do not forget that I am a Muslim; I started my education at a Christian school at a time when it was hard for Muslim child to continue to bear or appear as Muslim due to the fact that all the schools then were owned by Christian missions and controlled by their missionaries.
Thereafter, I went to Kingâ€™s College, Lagos from where I moved to England for my Law degrees.Â I can tell you that all my educational pursuits after primary school was on scholarship.Â I had Nigerian government scholarship for my secondary school and first degree in Law.Â I also won a Commonwealth scholarship to further study, also in England.
When I returned to Nigeria I taught Law at the University of Lagos.Â That was what I was doing when I had the honour of being invited to become a commissioner in the Western Region Government under the military administration of Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi. At first I was made Commissioner for Local Governments and Chieftancy Matters but later I became Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General of the Western Region of Nigeria.
But what has been remarkable is my involvement in Islamic affairs right from my youth.Â I was a co-founder of the Muslim Studentsâ€™ Society of Nigeria (MSSN) of which I happened to be the first President.Â I was also party to the formation of NAJOMO, a Muslim body and, of course, when Ibrahim Dasuki became the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, I was made the Secretary-General.
Also, in Egba affairs I am very much involved in the traditional set up as Seriki.Â I am also the Baba Adinni of Egba Muslims.
But the Seriki of Egba Land that you are, is it not a religious title?
No. Seriki of Egba Land is a big traditional title.Â It is a very big title because it was the Seriki of Egba Land, Sodeke (a non-Muslim) at his time, who led the Egbas to Abeokuta from Ibadan.Â Then he was the war leader and commander-in-chief and was the leader of the peopleâ€™s administration until they decided to install an Oba.
So, the only title that is religious is the Baba Adinni; the Seriki title in Egba Land, which I am a big traditional title.
As a lawyer, what would you say are the problems with our laws?
There are many things that are wrong with our laws.Â Some of our laws are not up to date.Â They are what you call archaic laws.Â They have been standing for very many years and they are no longer really suitable for us.Â Unfortunately, because our lawmakers are very busy, they have not revised these laws.
I know we have law reform commissions that have been appointed to be reviewing these laws from time to time, but the work is so much and it will take them a very long time.Â We have the Nigerian Law Reforms Commission at the centre and in some states they have also set up law reform bodies.
There are some laws that are contradictory and have to be put right.Â Judges try their best to adjust when they are handling cases in courts but their hands are tied because, they are not legislators; they cannot make new laws, they can only interpret and apply existing laws.Â And where the laws are not good enough, they try to find their way around such laws but there is a limit to which they can do.
So, many of our laws are not good.Â And the worst, the worst, and I mean the worst in this country is that, our Constitution is very defective in many respects.Â It is saddening! It is not people-based Constitution.Â It is Constitution that was rushed through in 1999 by the military and given to the people.Â So we do not have what is called popular Constitution and that is a big gap.
In many other countries, constitutions are made by the people.Â We have never really had Constitution that was made by the people: It hadÂ either been made by the colonial masters, that is the British or by the military.Â So, that is indeed a very big gap.
Nigerian governments are said to have once been quality-based.Â What do you think caused the drift as we are now witnessing?
Well, let us put things in proper perspective.Â There is no time that people have been totally satisfied with their government.Â I think you must make that point.Â In the fifties we criticized the colonial government, we wanted independence and we got independence.
No sooner we got the independence many people were not satisfied with the first post-independence government of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.Â There were a lot of criticism and there was even reported coup plot to overthrow him.
So people were not satisfied and when the first coup occurred, many people again, even though they welcomed the military but later, they were not satisfied.
I think, therefore, that it is natural that people will always show some dissatisfaction.Â But the point to be made here is that, peopleâ€™s dissatisfaction had never been as big as what we have today.Â Many people have been brought into government and so, the scale of dissatisfaction now is much higher than ever before.
The present crop of people in government have persistently toyed with our collective destiny.Â Donâ€™t you think this has dangerous implication?
Well, some will say that.Â But no.Â I will not agree entirely with you.Â The government is a serious one; there is no doubt about that.Â But the quality of leadership may not be what you and I would want because; we donâ€™t seem to have seen the best materials in government.
As Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs.Â What would you say is the stand of Islam on terrorism?
It is a pity and I will take time to explain this matter.Â It is true that violence is more rampant, more on the spread in some Islamic states.Â I can mention four of them clearly: Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and to some extent now, some parts of Pakistan.
And so, these are areas where the Muslims are dominant.Â But when you look at why it is so, some people think it is because these are Islamic areas, what they are doing is virtually manifesting the tenets of their religion.
That is not true.Â Why some of these areas are violence prone is because, the people in those areas are reacting to injustice which have been inflicted upon them.
Let us take Palestine, the Middle-East, for example: Israelites have occupied Arab land unjustly and the people have been clamouring that they (Israelites) should vacate their land.Â But they have refused to do so.Â Even though the United Nations (UN) through several resolutions of the UN General Assembly through many resolutions of the Security Council, the Israelites have refused to relinquish the land and give them back to the Palestinians.
Instead of doing that, they continue to wage war against the Palestinians.Â Then when you drive people to the wall, they get frustrated.Â And when they are frustrated and they have no way out, they get desperate and a desperate person is like a wounded lion; he would want to do anything and then some of the strong headed among them become suicide bombers in order to secure justice for their people.
These are not playing games, it is not sports, the people are not mad.Â But they get so frustrated saying that what is the point of staying in this world and so they do what they doâ€¦.
(cuts in) But FaroukÂ Abdulmutallab is not from any of the areas where people are pushed to the level of frustrationâ€¦.?
(cuts in) I will come to that.Â You see, these people then feel that they must revenge and that they must destabilize their oppressors.Â But with that, they are not acting according to Islam.
Although there are some wrong teachers of Islam who have sunk it into their heads that if you kill in such situation, you are automatically guaranteed paradise.Â There is nothing like that because, that is not the kind of war that is rewarded.
Okay, what then is the position of Islam in this matter?
Yes, Islam is against violence.Â It is against extra-judicial killings.Â People are killed only when their deaths are authorized by the law after due legal process and it is only the State that can carry out such action.Â We are not allowed to be engaged in self-help to kill people.Â So it is not permitted, authorized or sanctioned by Islam that you take the laws into your hands in order to vent your grievance and your annoyance.
You see, Islam is very, very specific on this matter and it is very important that people should know.Â Islam allows you, only when you are attacked and you are not the first to launch the attack, to defend yourself at that point in a way that is comparable to the scale of force that is used against you.
In fact Almighty Allah says in the Qurâ€™an that if you kill a person unlawfully, it is like killing a whole nation.Â The kind of punishment you will have on the day of judgment will be as if to say that you have destroyed a whole nation; how much more killing hundred people, five thousand people.
So, it is unfortunate dragging Islam into this thing.Â The only thing is that these people happen to be Muslims and they happen to be in Islamic areas where for long they have been victimized, dispossessed and persecuted on a daily basis.
In chapter 23 of the Glorious Qurâ€™an Allah says, â€œRepel evil with that which is bestâ€¦.â€Â He says repel evil with that which is best and that is, you should use righteous way.
That was the way many early Muslims lived their lives and that is why people say Muslims are docile.
That anything you do to him he will say Agba fâ€™Olohun (We accept it as being destined by God).Â Even when people were suffering, they respond with the best of answer.Â You know, leave everything to Allah.
He is able to come to your rescue.Â After all, you remember? Even these Israelites they have forgotten, when they were in Egypt and were persecuted by Pharaoh and God sent Prophet (peace be on him) to rescue them. When Godâ€™s time came, those who were pursuing them became perished in the Red Sea.
Allah does not forget anybody and so, we have to be patient and respond to issues with gentleness.Â It is not very easy but that is what the Qurâ€™an has asked us to do.