Shariah and Restructuring Nigeria
If any politician in the country is challenged to gather a voluntary crowd of a million people in support of any secular issue, not to share loot, but say democracy in Nigeria, the obvious answer is that he will decline to take it up. It is just impossible. The so-called two million-man march held during Abacha did cost the nation a big fortune. Yet, the attendance, by any honest estimate, was only some few hundreds of thousand. The pro-democracy rally that followed in Lagos was a more dramatic failure.
On October 27, 1999 however, the Zamfara state government did gather a crowd of well over a million people. No one could claim that the people who trooped the city of Gusau from near and far that day were sponsored. Their transport, feeding and accommodation arrangements were all personal. The governor himself could not hold back his tears at the unimaginable and unexpected assembly. Those who would like to know what the Muslims masses in the country care for most should give this event the relevance it deserves. There is no doubt that the incident alone shows that Muslim masses are interested in their religion more than any other thing, including the ongoing political hype called democracy.
Our scholars who thought that religion has ceased to be relevant to our civic affairs should better come into grip with this mountain of reality before it is late. Events like this has proved that efforts to inculcate secular values on the population after a century of effort, characterized by a brutal combination of terror, waste of resources and subtle persuasion, have not been better than chasing a shadow. Nigeria has gone full cycle in the centennial clock of history.
I believe that it is time for reevaluation of the structure on which our polity is built. Muslims have every right to demand for an Islamic government, not only its legal system – the shariah. They also have every fact to prove that their experience in belonging to the modern Nigerian ‘federation’ by giving up their cultural values and adopting a secular system of governance has proved to be a disaster. After a hundred years, this exotic system has, one, failed to move Nigerians from the position of excruciating subservience to their colonial conquerors in terms of economy, technology and military prowess. The gap is ever widening, making sham of our independence. Two, simple social guarantees that should have been given to all citizens in the past thirty years have proved illusive. Most governments performed miserably in this respect through administrative incompetence and selfish material accumulation. Successive governments have failed to secure the lives and properties of citizens. Thousands of Nigerians lose their lives daily in avoidable eventualities that include disease, poverty, road accidents, robbery, etc. An aggregation of incompetence, ignorance and craze for control over material resources has reduced to a mirage the actualization of a social equilibrium that is necessary for peaceful coexistence, progress and happiness.
The whole nation has remained a captive of some elite, who with access to western education have monopolized resources and hoarded them away from the majority. Their intra-class conflicts and contradictions have many times caused untold hardship to common man, sometimes costing him his life and property.
I also believe that all this misadventure is caused by nothing but the fanatical adherence to the dogma of a single, ‘united’ Nigeria that must remain at all cost secular in substance and unitary in configuration. It turns a blind eye on the peculiarities of our nationalities that have existed for centuries. Overnight, the sponsors of this doctrine among the military and the intelligentsia meditate that we will acquiesce to live in the vacuum of secularity and forsake centuries of our heritage, all in the name of nationalism.
Well, if it is possible for other nationalities to capitulate and regard the present orchestration as progress in the right direction, many parts of the North, and I believe a good segment of the Southwest also, have discernible rationale to object and thus remonstrate genuinely. If others were living in perpetual anarchy, without a common leader ever in their history, this part of the country has lived for centuries under organized governments with all the political structures and complexities that characterizes a modern state. No doubt the system has been subject to abuse at some times, as any other in the past or present, depending on the personalities running it. However, an indisputable fact is that it had provided the necessary social protection and economic security for its citizens. Under such protection they led a productive living to the extent of exporting their industrial products to other parts of the world. At its best periods, even British explorers like Clapperton have confessed that it was so successful that even a woman could safely walk in the land carrying a basket of gold without any fear of molestation. Today, even the brave cannot sleep in his house with both eyes closed.
To think that people will continue to accept the imposition of the present impotent system is simply either a manifestation of an elitist tyranny and their insensitivity. Independence means choice and so does democracy. The only way to peace is to acknowledge our differences and respect them. Trivializing them will only breed frustration and discontent, the precursors to violence.
It is important that our elite realize that no nation can be sustained by obligation. There has to be a shared identity that is strong enough to bind its contradicting parts. It could be language, religion, history and so on, varying from one society to another. In its absence, no ideology or force could avert disintegration in the face of the slightest challenge.
In Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union, we have seen the rise and fall of communism, the utopian creed of egalitarianism based on dialectical materialism. Today, these one time great nations have disintegrated along their ethnic and or religious lines despite the futile effort of maintaining them at the immense expense of lives and property. The strength of creed, despite the brutal application of state terror and propaganda, has failed to sustain them. China on the other hand is still kicking with continuously revised forms of the ideology. It is largely saved from similar ruptures due the relative cultural harmony of its ethnic groups. America, which may appear as an exception to the rule and a model for our dreaming intellectuals and power brokers, is held together by the common history of its dominant white population and the sophistication of its technology. Should anything throw a spanner into the works of its security system, it will definitely witness the most destructive and the most rapid disintegration of a civilization to be recorded in history. Most European nations however, unlike America, have for centuries remained demarcated on ethnic affinities rather than trade or ideology. Where different ethnic groups have to live together by imperatives of geography they appreciated their difference and went for a confederation in order to remain together.
These are the hard facts that cannot be denied by the parroting ideologues of our present secular and unitary ‘federation’. We neither have the common identity for such a structure nor the resources to maintain it. Our ancestors in the past knew very well that when empires are made of different ethnic groups, maintaining them under a single line of command from the center becomes onerous, eventually leading to their collapse. Hence, the founders of the Sokoto Caliphate opted for a federation of states, recognizing the long-standing history of their peoples and cultures. The flags were symbols of their large degree of autonomy from the center. This strategy worked for a complete century without challenging the position of Sokoto as the center. It was a true federation despite the common identity of Islam as a religion.
Colonialists also kept the Northern Protectorate distant from the other regions for quite some time. The decision to amalgamate them was not received without opposition in Britain. After it was done, it has been sustained only with a staggering amount of fatigue. Thus all the major ethnic groups have at one time or another showed their interest to de-amalgamate.
The Southwest and ‘Biafra’ are making noise on restructuring for reasons best known to them. The Muslim North, with the Shariah development, will soon find that this is its best time to cave in. No sensible leader can afford to abuse the aspiration of the unbelievable crowd that voluntarily gathered in Gusau last month. Shariah is our life. If restructuring is the only thing that will warrant its full implementation, so be it.
My only hope is that the doyen of American democracy, the secular ideologue and those who benefit most from the present unitary structure including the so-called minorities, will allow the water of our yearnings to flow along the steepest gradient of the political landscape. To do otherwise is to fight against the indomitable force of gravity. It will require enormous energy, something they are losing fast. In the long run however, they must accept the bitter fact that a stone thrown at the sky will only end up back on earth. We wish it a safe landing.