Government Must Never Blink
I must start by extending my condolence to all victims of the recent ‘religious’ riots in Kaduna and their relations. I must also express my barka to those who escaped death by the margin of air. And thin it was indeed. At the same time, I would like to thank all those who tried their best, in various ways and capacities, to bring the madness to an end. They might have contributed in saving the life or property of a dear relation with whom I share blood; an intimate confidant to whom I reveal my worries; a sweet friend to whom I apportion my heart; or a reader with whom I exchange ideas. We are indebted to God, the Almighty, to whom is thanks, before and ever. To Him is the command and to Him shall we return.
But to the perpetrators of the carnage, I say shame on you. Their mission will not succeed. It must not. They have chosen to deliberately use violence amidst an ongoing dialogue. They have attempted to demolish the beautiful edifice that their brethren are building. Woe unto them for the hundreds of innocent lives lost and woe unto them for the enormous property destroyed.
I find it important today to suspend the two remaining articles on our discourse with Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim regarding secular laws and address this saddening event. It has come at a time when we are busy sorting out our differences and building a bridge of understanding and accommodation. My thesis here is that we must go on to demystify shariah and other issues that stand on our path to an amicable resolution of our problems. We have stayed with them for a period that is too long to endure. They have become a load that is too heavy for the nation to support. The cost of this endurance and the price of that stay are too high to afford. Something must be done to curtail both if not make them completely insignificant.
Nigeria is certainly undergoing a difficult period. While we face the challenges of surviving among other nations, we also have to contend with our differences that appear too striking to wish away. Add to this the suffocating indulgence and the irresponsibility of our ruling elite. Nevertheless, we must not abandon our resolve to survive, nor lose our determination to appreciate and manage our differences no matter the degree of their indulgence and the magnitude of their irresponsibility.
It is in this light that I see the ongoing shariah debate as a healthy development. Those who see it otherwise are simply nailed down in the crate of conservatism or are afraid that dialogue and democratization will strip them of their clerical hegemony. If our problem is a wall, let us bring it down. If it is a wound, let us open it and heal it. Failure to bring down the wall would continue to create the barrier of isolation that the enemies of progress require for their survival. And our failure to open and heal the wound creates a crevice for the pathogen to hide and propagate.
We need to break the chains of fear that innervates us to the ground. Let us understand that we are no monsters to one another, no matter our differences. Let us show the understanding that as human beings living in an information age no issue is beyond our public discourse.
The unfortunate happening in Kaduna has every capacity to cause panic among the population. But it must not panic government. Never! This government must not backpedal from the responsibility it owes democracy. This is the goal of the hoodlums. They must not be allowed to achieve it.
I thus wonder at the reaction of the honorable members of the House of Representatives. Zan dana. When the shariah issue started, they were busy chasing their furniture allowance and sorting out their forged certificates. They never bothered to say a word. The president alone was left with the burden of containing the situation. Now that some hooligans have taken the law into their hands in protest against it, the honorable members have suddenly realized that it is their duty to ask the government to seek the interpretation of the courts concerning (only) section 10 of the constitution. This is the section that prohibits the adoption of any religion as a state religion by governments.
The ambiguity of their message did not escape the attention of the President. He replied asking the House to be “more definitive, more specific, more categorical” in its demand. In fact to prove his ability to jump the gun, Mr. President went ahead to say that the constitution allows states desiring to adopt the shariah as a legal system to do so, though, in his interpretation, this should be restricted to aspects of the penal code. I wonder if the penal code is mentioned under the section of the constitution that he was referring to. The President himself is surprisingly not up to date on the shariah issue. What an embarrassing revelation! For example he was talking about coding the shariah. Sani should please send him a copy. There is one already in circulation. Other interested states are fine-tuning it to their taste. (Dani ya kare)
It is important that the federal government has suggested to CAN that the constitutional resort to resolving the crisis is the court, not the streets or pressurizing government. I wish this were made clear to it earlier. The lives and properties lost would have been saved. Though it has tried to be balanced, the federal government, (represented by Mr. President in this case), should resist the temptation, after giving this advice, of speaking with its mouth too wide, out of panic, to allow the legibility of its lips before the judiciary decides finally on the matter.
CAN will not find the court funny either. Issues of its legitimacy will arise if it were not properly registered. It has to also battle with issues like locus standi. It must prove that every Christian in the country is its member and he or she is opposed to shariah. It must establish that there is no way that the constitution could be construed to accommodate shariah law. A proof will be required to show how mere adoption of shariah law tantamount to declaring Islam a state religion. On the issue of fundamental rights however, there must be an evidence of their violation where the shariah has been adopted.
It will interest government to note that there is a shift in positions of Nigerians regarding the shariah. There seem to be a better understanding of the issue today, both in substance and extent, than say in 1977. It is no longer seen as a national issue to be discussed on the floor of the national assembly, but something to be debated upon at the state level. Christians in Zamfara, for example, now know better that it does not mean their molestation or denial of rights. And our learned practitioners know that the latitude of our constitution is wide enough to accommodate it.
Even among the Christian clergy, there are those who understand that the shariah is calling for the return to the same virtues preached by the commandments. They are thus not against it any longer. Some have even dared to say so in public. Even the members of CAN secretariat that appear to be vehemently opposed to it are doing so, by my judgment, as a result of pressure from below. Meet with each of them individually, they are ever ready to share your concern about the evil of secularism and its demoralizing effects. More interesting however is their willingness to accommodate the shariah once it will not interfere with their practices. But in public, as the legacy of CAN would demand, they must be seen spitting fire in consonance with the tradition of Bishop Okogie.
The reaction among Christian elite is even more encouraging. Almost all my Christian lecturers in law hold the view that it is constitutional for states to adopt the shariah, or any type of law for that matter, in agreement with our principle of federalism, that does not infringe on the fundamental human rights of citizens. Those that are not legal practitioners have adopted a wait-and-see strategy. They argue that if their rights are not trampled upon, why should they give a hoot?
Nigeria needs to be salvaged from the abyss of decadence in which it has found itself. Every government institution is in ruin. Malam Saleh still sleeps with one eye open. Muslims are saying that the salvation does not lie in the Godless doctrines of secularism that inculcates selfishness but in putting into practice the commandments of God regarding social justice, universal brotherhood and freedom. Thank God that Nigeria is a federation not a military cantonment, a democracy not a dictatorship.
The carnage in Kaduna should therefore be seen as a frantic attempt to destroy this important bridge by those who feel threatened by dialogue. They also think only violence can stop shariah. Its perpetrators are afraid that reason is gradually conquering our misunderstandings. But this is a conquest that must be taken to its logical conclusion. It must be allowed to achieve the objective of mutual understanding that is essential for our co-existence.
Kaduna seems to be a different state altogether, among other states of the federation. Some of its people believe that violence is the only solution to their self-imposed economic deprivation. On this occasion, not even a plea from the deputy governor, a Christian for that matter, could convince them to eschew violence when they forcefully broke into the government house and dragged him out to address them. But they have nothing to lose. I am sure that when the sad event is investigated dispassionately, it will be found that those who started the crisis do not have a single shop along Ahmadu Bello Way apart from roasting corn and pealing sugarcane. Their victims are innocent Muslims and Christians who are honestly trying to earn their daily bread and using it to feed their families, not to waste it in on alcoholism. The bitter truth is that envy does not impoverish the rich, nor does it make the poor wealthy. Only hard work and self-discipline could change fortunes, not blowing windscreens, burning shops or hacking people. The earlier we realize it the better.
It is wrong to think that the shariah issue will die in the federation, not even in Kaduna State, by causing carnage in a state capital. I will be surprised if it will die in the country even if all windscreens in northern cities are smashed or all their shops are burnt. It will remain a fundamental issue that this nation must address. If the intention was to terrorize other governments in the North, it has only sharpened their resolve. The dust of the madness in Kaduna did not settle, when Sokoto, for whatever reason, finally announced its adoption of shariah.
Governments must not forget its democratic credentials. They must realize that shariah is a popular demand of the people in areas yearning for it. And no democratic government, state or federal, will choose to suppress it except to its own peril. Don’t say I did not tell you, when the next elections are around.
I have a word for our religious leaders on both side of the religious divide in a forth coming article titled Managing Religion. Their performance is below expectation, in my view. They need to be reminded of their duty in checking the excesses of their followers. In conclusion of the present however, I would like to say that we await the outcome of investigations into the crisis and wait to see how government will make good its promise to punish, for the first time, the perennial perpetrators of such carnage. I agree with the view that if those responsible for similar crisis in Kafanchan and Zangon Kataf were made to feel the brunt of the law, the recent one would not have taken place. However, we would like to appeal to all parties involved to abstain from violence and endure on the path of dialogue. The aboriginal behind the carnage must not be allowed to succeed. And there is one way to do it: when terror has the courage to stare at government, the government must never ever blink.