By Ochereome Nnanna
NORTHERN Nigeria is now blest with some well-educated, patriotic, modernised and progressive-minded leaders like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State, the Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kashim Shettima (who has borne the main brunt of the Boko Haram insurgency), the reformist Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi and renowned human rights activist, Senator Shehu Sani. These are some of the progressive Muslims and products of a Region which is ravenously in need of reform in order to be in tune with the rest of the country and the world at large.
With the alpha position of the North in the political affairs of Nigeria, every patriotic Nigerian should support efforts by the Region’s progressive leaders to bring it from the darkness to the light. Emir Sanusi has positively shocked many of us who had felt that being crowned the King of Kano would muzzle a man who refused to keep quiet even as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. Sanusi has refused to allow his royal turban to gag him. From that stool he dared the Boko Haram Islamist insurgents and spoke the unblemished truth to President Muhammadu Buhari, alerting him of failed expectations.
The monarch recently criticised the very system that his ancestors helped create. He wants the North to stop pursuing what he calls “thirteenth century” approaches to social engineering, as it has impoverished the masses of the people, especially women and children, while keeping only a few privileged individuals in great affluence and opulent luxury. Indeed, the North is in great need of comprehensive internal healing before it can have the remotest opportunity to join the bandwagon of development. One of the areas it must pay attention to is religious intolerance. This is an issue of great universal importance, which was why the United Nations enacted it as a recipe for human cohabitation amidst explosive diversities.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission, UNHRC, in 1966 adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR. Most if not all member-nations signed this charter to guarantee the basic rights of their peoples irrespective of race, gender, faith and what have you. In fact, the Kingdom of Jordan founded on Islamic principles actually enshrined article 18 of the Covenant which harps on freedom of thought, conscience and religion in its constitution. Nigeria, being a signatory to this Covenant, also reflected the principle in the fundamental rights of our all citizens in Chapter IV Section 38 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and Section 42 (right to freedom from discrimination).
Unfortunately, this constitutional right does not enjoy uniform application nationwide. It is fully observed in the South, including the Yoruba areas where the religion of Islam has large following. In this part of the country, religious groups freely proselytise, inter-marry subject to the consent of individuals and families; and people switch faiths with little or no harm to their lives and property. In the South West, non-Muslims enjoy their rights to the full even in the most Muslim-dominated communities, and vice versa. That is why Yorubaland is peaceful, progressive, educated and modern, faith notwithstanding. In the Christian-dominated Eastern parts, Muslims live freely, practice their faith and marry consenting non-Muslims. Muslims even preach to the locals and no one harasses them.
The situation is dramatically different in the Muslim North, where non-Muslims are only allowed freedoms that are permitted under the Sharia Islamic laws that pre-existed there for centuries before the dawn of modernity and exposure to Western influences. Even the Constitution is observed and respected subjected to what is permitted under the Sharia cultural laws of the Muslim North, which is the basic tenet in most Muslim societies worldwide, including the “liberal” ones. In the light of this, Christian men are not free to marry Muslim women, but Muslim men are free to marry Christian women. Muslims are not free to change their faith; non-Muslims are celebrated when they do. Christians evangelise or proselytise at their own peril. Muslim interest groups could attack, kill them and destroy their places of worship at the slightest provocation or trumped-up provocation, and governments either ignore the crimes or make lip service promises to compensate the victims.
This was exactly what obtained in Borno State during the Danish cartoon riots. In September 2006, a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, had published some editorial cartoons portraying the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, in a manner that annoyed Muslims all over the world. The ensuing riots spread to Northern Nigeria, leading to the massacre of many Christians, though the Danish cartoonist was not even a Christian (he was an atheist). In Borno alone, hundreds of shops and 56 churches were razed by Muslim mobs. The Governor of Borno State then, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, promised to compensate the victims but failed to fulfill his promises even after several reminders by Christian leaders.
When the Boko Haram Islamist insurgents were driven out of their Maiduguri base and they fled into Sambisa Forest in Southern Borno, they wreaked a heavy toll on the lives and property of Christians and Muslims alike since that part of the state is home to people of both faiths who had coexisted peacefully for decades almost like in Yorubaland. However, it was the Christian population that suffered the most because they were specifically targeted.
In the past two years, Nigerian troops have succeeded in uprooting the terrorists from most of Borno State, and the state government has even started rebuilding many of the ruined communities formerly occupied by the Jihadists. In contrast to what usually obtains in the Muslim North, Governor Shettima has given over N210 million to Christian leaders to rebuild their churches, just as mosques are being rebuilt. This cheering news was broken by the Chairman of the Borno State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Bishop Naga Williams Mohammed, in interviews published in many national dailies over the weekend. According to Bishop Mohammed, Shettima is the only governor who has routinely granted Certificates of Occupancy to Christians to build churches in the state, and assists adherents of both faiths in their pilgrimage affairs. He also caters for Christian Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, through the Christian leadership. This is very encouraging news, coming from the leader of Borno Christians.
After the abduction of the Chibok girls three years ago, there was this wide perception that Governor Shettima was partly culpable for the negligence that made this possible. Former President Goodluck Jonathan had set up the Brigadier General Ibrahim Sabo Committee to probe the allegation. The Committee’s report, according to a THISDAY newspapers lead story published on June 24th 2014, absolved the Borno State Government and laid the blame at the doorstep of the military, Police and security agencies. The agencies, in turn, blamed poor equipment for their failure. The Federal Government refused to release the report to the public due to the political atmosphere at the time.
The bottom line of this issue is that the leadership of Northern Nigeria should listen to the voices of progressive elements in their midst and copy the good examples of people like Governor Shettima and give every citizen a sense of belonging. We need it in the North just as we need it at the Federal level. Nigeria should be governed with the Constitution, while citizens are encouraged to live their private lives within the noble precepts of their faiths.
That is the panacea for internal healing, without which there can never be development for the North and the nation.
HERE IS WISHING ALL MY READERS HAPPY EASTER!!