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El-Rufai and his ‘chains of freedom’

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By Ugoji Egbujo

El-Rufai left many marks on the FCT. Good and ugly marks. He stamped professionalism and order on the city. And rescued it from the rot and madness that explosive urban drift has inflicted on many Nigerian cities. Or didn’t he?


Because tales of lack of empathy and implacable insensitivity follow every of his footstep. Those who see him as a callous hypocrite think that any action that deepens the misery of the poor in the name of quest for excellence is cruel. And many think that he suffers a detachment from the grim complexity of the harsh realities of the ordinary man. Double standards means that rules are rigid when dealing with the weak , the powerful get their waivers and concessions at night. So a sanctimonious El-Rufai would allocate lands to friends and relatives while bulldozing livelihoods in the name of restoration of order . Yet the tragedy is that El-Rufai is one of our best politicians. Poor us. Equity perhaps has no chance where pretentious, elitist, glory seeking , ruthlessness masquerades nurse penchant for rectitude. So El-Rufai must always be watched.

El- Rufai, the governor, has taken restoration of order to Kaduna. He is worried about radicalization, religious harmony and abuse of public space. Kaduna has a significant minority Christian population that grumbles about perpetual marginalization. The Shiites, a minority Islamic sect, contribute to the tempestuous diversity. The state is considered particularly inflammable. Religious uprising in Nigeria is a northern phenomenon . A certain endemic hypersensitivity to religious provocations makes the region easily combustible.

The majority Muslim population in the north yearns for the puritanism of sharia rule. Islamic sects other than the predominant Sunni are barely tolerated. The northern Christians have been hardened by adversity and paranoia. For minorities, censorship portends doom.

If El- Rufai is desirous of pursuing religious harmony he must understand the scope and character of the mischief his proposed law seeks to cure. And his encroachment on existing freedoms must be the least intrusive needed to achieve a legitimate aim in public safety. He wants to resurrect a dead 1984 law.

He should find out why Lagos with more Muslims, Christians and chaos than Kaduna is not prone to the religious upheavals prevalent in northern Nigeria.

He must find out why there are never religious disturbances in a religiously complex Ibadan. There is freedom in the south west. The northern elite have for so long exploited their people.

They have held them bound with the chords of religion, poverty and illiteracy. They have radicalized the poor for vote gathering reasons. They have emphasized otherness. They have flirted with fundamentalism. Religion has been the fulcrum of perennial shortsighted self-serving political engineering. They sowed all the tension.

El- Rufai and other northern elites should re-orientate the people. When cartoons are published in Denmark no violence erupts in Lagos but northern cities will convulse. No one of note speaks against such self-destructive intolerance. When Isioma Daniel was accused of blasphemy, the deputy governor of Zamfara took it upon himself to sentence her to death. That was his idea of piety. Self righteous political opportunist.

When Gideon Akaluka was beheaded for alleged desecration of the Koran, he was seized from police custody. No one told that throng of fanatics that they committed murder. The elites feed the masses with fanaticism. And the tone is not set by Imams but by politicians like Yerima.

Akaluka would have lived if he resided in Lagos or Ibadan. Not because the Muslims in Lagos are less pious but because they are more tolerant, more conscious of our secularity and the supremacy of the constitution. The politicians in the south west are no saints but they do not use religion to keep their people in servitude.

Irresponsible religious activities can constitute infernal nuisance, everywhere. I feel great pain when my church occasions atrocious traffic snarls on Lagos Ibadan express way. I detest the church near my house despite their soul stirring songs. An anthill church with loud speakers may cause discomfort to the city. Many would find living next to that church hellish. Societal order and quality of life can be enhanced by enforcing rules against public nuisance. These rules already exist. El Rufai’s haste to introduce a bill that has potentially serious implications, without exhaustive consultations, invites concern. El Rufai wants to stifle freedom.

He wants churches and mosques registered. He wants new ones to seek prior approvals. He wants visiting preachers to obtain permits. On the surface, laws, all laws, are objective and neutral. But laws are actually tools in the hands of the powerful to protect their interests.

Licenses and permits could prove dangerous filters and obstacles. New entrants , always initially deviants, will be stopped.

CAN and JNI will be vested with tyrannical powers to decide authenticity. Is T. B Joshua part of CAN? JNI is controlled by Sunnis. The state government clandestinely appropriates the power to excommunicate an unwanted group. Pentecostalism is perceived as the main culprit of proliferation of worship centers. Pentecostalism is responsible for the most aggressive forms of evangelism which involves great mobility of preachers.

The Shiites and others at the fringes will suffer too. A perfectionism that ultimately privileges sharia rule is afoot? If a religious message is perverse it should be countered with sound reason not clubs. If it constitutes a criminal infraction then violators should be prosecuted. The constitution protects freedom of conscience and religion. El Rufai has no powers to authenticate any religion, any sermon.

Hisbah, sharia police, have been allowed to regulate social conducts in many parts of that region. That is the mother of all nuisance. The north pants for sharia rule . Any attempt to bring church growth under the control of northern governments, under any guise, is dangerous for anxiety wracked Christianity in that region.

El-Rufai claims other states are keen to follow his foot steps. One must then wonder what will happen in Zamfara where fatwas can come from the government house. It is not the insufficiency of law that is responsible for that Kaduna state’s chronic helplessness at the menace of a certain sect. Boko haram did not sprout and proliferate because Yusuf and Shekau weren’t denied licenses.

Boko haram fed on the diet of extremism that Zamfara and others prepared. It was incubated by selfish power hungry politicians. It’s launch pad was the disregard for the constitution that those who sought to use sharia for political gains engineered. It harvested minds breastfed on religious fundamentalism and left jobless by very religious politicians.

The plan to ban use of loud speakers in open grounds after 8 pm may seem innocuous. It’s good for restful sleep. But if a law is made to prohibit use of loud speakers before 6am in Kano you need no fortune teller to tell the effect it would have on Muslims and their prayer calls. No governor, no law, can prohibit that in the north. And that is why though Muslims appear worried, Christians should be troubled.

This ban will only take out Christian night vigils even in remote locations. Christians must fear because no government in the north can hamper Islam without severe political consequences. Fears that the law will be selectively applied are therefore genuine.

The bill seeks to criminalize desecration of holy books and symbols. The faiths of others should be respected . However, the import of that law is lost on no one. When Bibles are burnt no one fits. When public figures tweet abominations about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, no riots are sparked. When Ogun worshippers and gods are freely disparaged, no one really bristles.

They are called heathens. The society will be better without these provocations. But we know why Akaluka was murdered. This law would have not saved him from the jungle justice of religious extremism. This law panders to the hypersensitivity of a certain group. The society must learn the sort of tolerance due 2016 . Special laws to cater for the idiosyncrasies of a certain group undermines true cohesion and freedom in a potentially fractious state.

And the bill hands jurisdiction to sharia and customary courts. Again it looks so even. But it assumes that a customary court is a Christian court or a court for all others except Muslims.

Then you have to wonder what cases the sharia court will handle. A case of an Imam doing the will of Allah which perhaps contravenes this secular law? And the sharia court is supposed to find him guilty for preaching Islam without worldly license? But the sharia court considers the Koran as Grundnorm, supreme. And how would sects other than Sunni fare in these courts. Since the customary court is not vulnerable to any religious bias then Christians and others are really in trouble. The customary court is not subservient to the Bible. If it were , it wouldn’t find any pastor guilty for preaching the Word without El-Rufai’s permission.

El-Rufai’s poorly drafted bill is at best a recipe for commotion.


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