By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta
THERE is uneasy calm at Kiagbodo community, the hometown of elder statesmen, Senator Edwin Clark, in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, over an attempt by an indigene, Mallam Abubakar Korokeme, to build a mosque in the predominantly Christian community.
The matter has been simmering for some time until last Sunday when some youths to a degree demolished the mosque under construction by Korokeme in his Kiagbodo compound.
Nobody openly admitted the act, but women and youths have protested repeatedly against the building of a mosque in the community, saying they do not want herdsmen to use as a base to infiltrate the community and later attack the people.
The community actually met over the mosque affair on July 26 where the people, young and old, made it very clear that they would not tolerate a mosque in the community. They cited reasons of rape and attacks by suspected herdsmen in neighbouring communities for their refusal.
Korokeme, the man at the centre of the controversy, told Sunday Vanguard, “It is in my compound that I am building the mosque for me and my Muslim brothers and it is within my right to do so and, more so, there is freedom of worship in Nigeria.”
He said since he started building the mosque, he had received calls from a prominent indigene of the community, who ordered him to pull down the mosque or he would send people to pull it down.”
According to him, the chair of Burutu local government council, Mr. Godknows Angele, who invited the feuding parties to a meeting at Burutu, ruled that he had the right to practice his religion and build a house of worship.
Chairman of Kiagbodo community, Mr. J.O Layefa, however, disagreed, saying, “I am not aware that the chairman of the council told him to continue with the building mosque, that was not what the chairman said in our presence.
“I want to say, first of all, that there is no tension in Kiagbodo over this matter; the community is calm, the people do not want a mosque to be built in the community, we, the executives, are standing with the people.”
“When we went to the local government council headquarters in Burutu at the invitation of the chairman, security agents were there. The Regent of the community made it clear that the people were against the building of a mosque in the community.
“The chairman said that we should all wait for Chief Clark, who is the leader, and oldest man of the community, to resolve the matter, but, in the meantime, the building of the mosque should be suspended, but Korokeme did not suspend the project”.
Alhaji Isa Clark, a younger brother of Senator Clark, who is a Muslim like Korokeme, in a letter dated August 27 to the community chair, alleged that that there was “a gang-up by some persons in Kiagbodo community who are promoting anti-Islam against the minority Muslims in Kiagbodo community.”
The correspondence by the younger Clark, who wrote as Korokeme’s solicitor, was entitled, ‘A letter of advice to avert the infringement of right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and anti-Islam in Kiagbodo Town by some indigenous persons who claim to be Kiagbodo elite.’ Incidentally, Korokeme is also a cousin to Senator Clark.
Alhaji Clark, who referred to the July 26 gathering, said, “The item No 6 in the agenda of the meeting was pre-emptively designed to embarrass the minority Muslims in the community and specifically unveil the plot by some actors and Kiagbodo elite to provoke an illicit majority votes for the demolition of the place of worship (mosque), which our client is building in his living compound or premises, situate and lying along Kiagbodo –Aloba Road.”
“It is obvious that those who are against the practice of Islam and opposed to the building of a mosque by our client in his premises in Kiagbodo are ignorant of his right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as provided for by Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended.)”
Barely a week after the letter, some irate youths of the community partially demolished the mosque as a forewarning to Korokeme that the people would not accept further acts of disobedience to the warning that he should discontinue further works on the mosque, which some people had advised him to convert to residential apartment.
The chairman of Burutu local government, Angele, had to mobilize security agents, including the Area Commander of Police and Divisional Police Officer, DPO, in Burutu, to restore normalcy, last Sunday.
Sunday Vanguard learned that prior to last Sunday partial demolition of the mosque, security agents had stepped into the matter, but the villagers insisted that they do not want a mosque in the community.
Angele, who took a trip to Asaba, the state capital, on the invitation of the governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, to give him first hand information on the happenings, confirmed to Sunday Vanguard that he summoned the warring parties to the council for meeting with the executive council.
Senator Clark, who maintained that he was not against Muslims and their religion, told Sunday Vanguard, “Recently, I got a telephone call from the chairman of my community that there is problem in my community. He told me that women and youths in the community were demonstrating. He said that one boy who calls himself Abubakar and Isa Clark, my younger brother, were building a mosque in Kiagbodo.”
“He said that the women were demonstrating that there were herdsmen in the bush destroying their crops and once such a mosque is built in the community, other herdsmen will come in and use the community as a base to carry out nefarious activities.
“The chairman briefed me that they invited officials, who came from Burutu, the local government headquarters to hold a meeting with community people and they were later invited to hold a meeting with the local government chairman and councillors. The Regent of the community told him (council chair) that his women and men were demonstrating in his community that they do not want a mosque that one Abubakar is building in the town.
“The chairman asked Isa Clark and Abubakar, who reside in Ughelli and Warri, who they were building a mosque for since they do not live in Kiagbodo and there were no Muslims in Kiagbodo, and I was told he advised them to take the matter to me whenever I come to Kiagbodo.
“Recently, I learnt that one night, some youths damaged part of the mosque. So I asked the young man building the mosque that I will not be in a community where there will be trouble all the time. I have a university there and anything can happen. So I called the young man and told him that your name is not Abubakar, your name is a different name; how did you come to become a Muslim?
“I told him that he is looking for trouble in the community and a young man called me thereafter, saying that he is the head of Muslims in Ughelli area. Because the chair of the community told me there was announcement that all members of the community should gather for an address by Miyetti Allah, I asked him what for, is that the way to convert my people or do you not know that I am opposed to RUGA?
“Do you not know that I am the leader of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum? How can you be building a mosque in my village when it is not a Muslim town? Is that person not fishing for trouble? I asked him if he knew that the mother of one of my sons is a Muslim, married and lives with me”.
Senator Clark, who explained that that he was not against Islam, said, “If you want to do something and the community said it does not want it, you have to live it. The two persons that are causing this trouble do not live in Kiagbodo and we do not have Muslims in Kiagbodo.”
He said there was no Muslim in his Edwin Clark University in the community, but that if tomorrow, there are Muslims and the authorities decide to build a mosque within the university campus, he has no objection, but as a community, Kiagbodo people do not want a mosque in the town because of the fear of herdsmen and their activities.
Korokeme, however, vowed in an interview with Sunday Vanguard that it was within his right to build a mosque in his private residence in Kiagbodo and should not be disturbed by anybody.