The Nigerian Muslim and Democracy
Nigeria as a democracy is given and it is my firm belief that the only way for democracy to strive in a plural society like ours is through the active participation of every segment of the society. Put differently by way of popular participation and constructive engagement and whenever these two elements are lacking, mutual suspicion and mistrust take center stage.
I must therefore once again commend the organizers of this conference for bringing Muslims together in a forum such as this where they can add their voice to the pool of opinion that informs the national discourse on operating democracy in a plural society. Nigeria is a potpourri of pluralities – social, economic, religious, cultural, ethnic and even climatic. I am persuaded that this sort of gathering has the potential of stemming acrimonious feelings of marginalization whether justified or not.
As it is common with all social concepts, pluralism has its merits as well as demerits. The meeting of minds from different backgrounds, the dazzling multiplicity of ideas and of course the very eccentric nature of the solutions, make for great potential in pluralism.
There are, however, as noted earlier, problems because pluralistic societies are, by their very nature, divided by cleavages, among others. How a nation negotiates the landmines beneath those cracks is usually the difference between progress and regression.
It is appropriate at this point to address our minds to the famous words of the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello on the need to recognize our differences and not pretend that they don’t exist. To recognize them is to respect them, and to take them into consideration when discussing issues that can potentially affect the whole nation. To recognize them is to be mindful of the various groups that live in a nation such as ours and not take any group for granted. However, it does not mean that we should dwell on our differences or allow them to jeopardize our progress. But we cannot close our eyes to the fact that such differences do in fact exist and that we have had problems in the past when we became insensitive to these realities.
It is important to recognize that these problems are not peculiar to our country. All societies have their problems and it is only the failure to discuss them amicably that leads to crisis. That is why we must always create the opportunity to meet and rub minds. In any case, many of the issues that face us as a nation are not as grievous as they appear. They are mostly problems that are common with any developing democracy and with time and more efforts many of these problems will be overcome.
Accordingly, I encourage dialogue because debates and dialogues are the bread of democracy. Indeed, it is no longer democracy if people cannot participate in the process of governance, if they cannot have their way they should at least have their say. The stifling of public opinion leads to the kind of explosions that now dubbed the “Arab Spring.”
Here in Africa, there have been more and more debates among Muslim states over the way they want to be governed and this has led to the enthronement of better democratic arrangements. It is now clear to the world that the answer to the question: do Muslims want democracy” is ‘Yes.’ But as John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed noted in their book, “Who Speaks for Islam”, after a reported data based analysis of the point of view of over 90 percent of the global Muslim community in 35 countries, Muslims don’t want the wholesale adoption of Western styled democracy that is not adapted to the peculiarities of their religion.
Yet, if freedom of speech means “allowing all citizens to express their opinions on the political, social and economic issues of the day,” then an average of 93 percent of world Muslims support it. The true essence of democracy lies on the tripod of good governance, accountability and the participation of the people. In this wise, it is no different from the ideals of a genuine Muslim society.
The House of Representatives shall continue to support this kind of conferences because we believe in their inherent goodness and because they offer the people the opportunity to give their perspectives on critical national issues. As elected representatives, we know very well the value of equal representation, not just of people, but of complexity of opinions as well.
It was Aristotle who said, “A state aims at being, as far as it can be, a plural society composed of equal and peers.” And because we represent the various multi-religious and multi-ethnic federal constituencies, we are forever conscious of the need to cater for the needs and aspirations of all hose within the federation. This is engendered by a legal and political framework that provides a level playing field for all citizens. In our role as lawmakers, therefore, we shall continue to ensure that all people are treated equally irrespective of their beliefs or ethno-cultural origins.
I therefore urge all Muslims to continue to express their views freely, as guaranteed by the democratic system that we now practice. As good Muslims and responsible citizens, however, we must strive to conduct ourselves peacefully and respect the views of others because this country belongs to all of us equally and we share equal responsibility towards its sustenance. As a country we must strive to make dialogue the default means of resolving conflicts. The truth is that without justice there is no peace and without peace there can be no progress of any sort.
I therefore appeal to leaders of all persuasions to be mindful of the way they respond to issues. Sometimes the utterances of many leaders leave much to be desired and do fatal damage to the psyche of the followers. In this regard, let me also appeal to all participants at this forum to be mindful of other people’s feelings and to be as civil as possible in their discussions. As Muslims let us use this opportunity to enlighten the world about our capacity for rational discourse, our ability to advance human progress and our enduring resolve to engender peace.
I urge Muslims to continue to rededicate themselves to the great Islamic values of patience, perseverance and the use of just and legal means to realize their legitimate aspirations. In these trying times, we all have a duty to do everything in our power to encourage dialogue and understanding among Nigerians and to distinguish between true Muslims and pretenders who are agents of violence and terrorism.
I am confident that his country has enough room to accommodate our diversities, our differences and our socio-cultural and ethno-religious challenges. The more we talk about about them, the less we will fight over them.
(REMARKS BY RT. HON. AMIKNU WAZIRI TAMBUWAL CFR, SPEAKER, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, AS THE SPECIAL GUEST OF HONOUR AT “THE NIGERIAN MUSLIMS AND DEMOCRACY CONFERENCE” ON SATURDAY 14TH April 2012)