Religious Intolerance


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Religious (In)Tolerance and the National Question



Mobolaji E. Aluko, Ph.D.


Christmas Day

December 25, 2002


On the evening of Friday, November 22, I returned to my room in Lokoja’s lovely Fountain Beach Hotel following a tour, along with hundreds of summiteering Nigerian chemical engineers, of Ajaokuta Steel Mills, that amazing monument to Nigeria’s financial prurience.

I turned on to CNN only to hear that the Miss World pageant, to be held in Abuja on December 7, 2002, had been abruptly moved to London from Abuja because of deadly riots in Abuja on that day that had spread from Kaduna that commenced in that city Wednesday November 20.

It was soon followed up in a few days, on November 25 to be exact, by an incredible announcement by an elected official of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the deputy (and then acting) governor of Zamfara State, Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi, of a “Fatwa” (a religious decree) against one hapless style-page journalist, Ms. Isioma Daniels of ThisDay newspaper fame, the alleged November 12 pen-instigator of the riots.

I was stunned.

I had traveled to Kaduna (to “observe” a rather interesting Arewa Consultative Forum ACF summit) from Abuja just two weeks before, and everything had looked peaceful then. My heart sank at the postponement not because I had been denied another round of ogling beautiful teenagers the age of some of my children - my own three daughters, who love watching the Miss World pageant and were excited in far-away Washington DC that it was holding in Nigeria this year, are more beautiful that 99% of the thin, long-necked “ostriches” that pass for international beauties - but because Nigeria had once again done itself a great international disservice that it did not need or deserve.

So what had happened?

The Privatization of Government
How in the first instance did a mere beauty contest become an official government event, despite denials to the contrary? Had previous Miss Nigeria pageants - or Miss Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria MBGN - been official government affairs? Absolutely not!

The fact of the matter is that the failure of a private group (Silverbird Production) to host an event suddenly became a calamitous national failure because of our inability to strategically separate private venture (Mr. Ben Murray-Bruce is CEO of Silverbird, which is co-owned by his older brother Guy Murray-Bruce, and had been angling to host Miss World in Nigeria for 19 years) from public enterprise (the same Ben Murray-Bruce is currently Director-General of government-owned Nigerian Television Authority NTA, heavily promoting his private event “gratis”). The heavy involvement of the First Lady Stella Obasanjo, and the governors of Cross-River State (Donald Duke) and Rivers State (Peter Odili) also did not help matters.

Finally, the Obasanjo government had once announced that it was speeding up the part-completion of the white-elephant-size Abuja Sports Stadium (meant for 8th All Africa Games in October 2003) in order to be able to stage the pageant in the stadium. This desire had to be abandoned when Julius Berger, contractors-extraordinaire and part owners of Nigeria, balked at the break-neck speed that that effort would have taken.

That was how the pageant became politicized - due to the privatization of government - for it gave some people that were politically opposed to government a religious excuse to vent their frustrations.

Once again, violence in Nigeria was given ample opportunity to achieve a purpose: certain people that did not want something to happen made sure that it did not to happen in our country. Once again, a government official in the person of Deputy Governor Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi, in an allegedly civilian and democratic regime, acted with total impunity by inciting to murder a journalist, and so far is getting away with it without even a slap on the wrist.

So one is forced to ask once again the National Questions: whose country is this anyway?

What kind of country is this anyway?

Of Ramadan and Sensitivity
The last time I checked, Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and secular country. At least that is what we are all told, that is what our Constitution says.

What multi-ethnicity means is that we have different tongues, traditions and culture, different modes of dress, in general different ways of living and dying, but all living under one named geographically-bound country, one flag, one anthem and one constitution.

What multi-religiosity means is that we have different gods, different modes of worship, different eschatological views, including views of different destinations in the life hereafter. Secularity of a country means that no matter what your PRIVATE views are, before THE LAW, no one religion is better or worse than the other, and so no one religion should be PROMOTED over the other, or nor would it be acceptable for their adherents to FORCE their views on others.

With respect to this Miss World pageant therefore, those who first demanded that the Miss World contest date be shifted from the Ramadan season - and it was, by one week - and then even afterwards proceeded to violently demonstrate under what I believe is a pretext to have it cancelled as they wanted all along - and it finally was shifted, by one continent - violated our Constitution. Those who acceded to these requests one way or the other actually violated our Constitution.

Let us face it: If the Miss World pageant was immoral during Ramadan, then to pure religionists, it would be remain immoral BEFORE and AFTER Ramadan. It was therefore ILLOGICAL to shift the pageant SIMPLY because it was Ramadan, for that was bound not to satisfy those who made the original demand. Once you acceded to that request, you immediately opened your flank to additional demands.

Knowing what we know now, once that date was agreed to be moved by Silverbird Production and the Nigerian government and the Miss World contest officials, the location should also have been moved from Abuja right away to more secular, less-Muslim Lagos, Port-Harcourt or even to Calabar - to almost certainly spare us the senseless deaths in Kaduna and Abuja! At least we are wiser now.

Mind you, I admit that multi-ethnicity and multi-religiosity demand that people are sensitive to each other’s idiosyncrasies and vicissitudes of life - but within limits. The first order of business however is to TEACH and LEARN other people’s codes, habits and mores, either through direct instruction (in and out of the classroom) or through direct contact. Any learning process however is a lifelong, continuous experience, which means that you may violate those sensitivities periodically. Those periodic violations however should not mean death.

NO one however wants to live perpetually with another person who demands SENSITIVITY all of the time, and who wishes to have one to learn ALL of his sensitive points, otherwise he or she turns violent, leading probably to your death. I would rather not live next to that person - and would vote with my feet, if I had the choice.

That is, the infraction of a learning process should not be death, and I would rather learn elsewhere.

This is what some of our Muslim folks, particularly up North, now seem to be implying. The emphasis is on “some” here, before a fallacy of hasty generalization creeps in again.

Must it be: “Learn ALL of our sensitivities NOW, or else we will teach it to you VIOLENTLY NOW”? Is that not the relationship between master and slave?

That is the only conclusion I can come to. That is UNACCEPTABLE if we are to continue together as a nation.

Of Insults, Mohammed and Jesus Christ
Take the issue of insulting Mohammed that was laid on Ms. Isioma Daniel’s doorstep. She wrote as follows in This Day (I repeat it here because I do not believe that 99% of Nigerians even know what was written; I did not get to read it until 200 people were long dead in Kaduna and Abuja, and I do not believe that the hundreds of marauding “almajiris” in Kaduna and Abuja read it either!):

Excerpt of This Day newspaper Tuesday November 12th
And she [THAT IS CURRENT MISS WORLD NIGERIAN AGBANI DAREGO] got it [THAT IS HER WISH OF NIGERIA HOSTING THE MISS WORLD 2002 CONTEST ]. As the idea became a reality, it also aroused dissent from many groups of people. The Muslims thought it was immoral to bring ninety-two women to Nigeria and ask them to revel in vanity. What would Mohammed think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them. The irony is that Algeria, an Islamic country, is one of the countries participating in the contest.

Even more ironically, Miss Turkey of the (Islamic) Republic of Turkey eventually won the 2002 Miss World contest in London, to succeed Miss Nigeria!

But that is a diversion…..

Please note that the capitalization and italicization in the above quotation from ThisDay are mine, but the words (save the caps) are Isioma Daniel’s.

Ok, it is most likely that Isioma Daniels is some young, naïve or careless Christian girl, or at the very least a non-Muslim. Ok, suppose one Hajia Aisha Daggash, a young Muslim girl writing in The Trust had written, as imaginatively speculated recently by Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, that:

The Christians thought it was immoral to bring ninety-two women to Nigeria and ask them to revel in vanity. In all honestly, if God were today choosing the Virgin Mary, He could have chosen to do so from one of the contestants to give birth to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Let us skip the self-righteousness of those Muslims who would state that NO Muslim would write that way. Would Christians IN NIGERIA have gone burning and a-looting today and tomorrow because of that? Absolutely not! After all, when the Virgin Mary became pregnant, was that suspicion not PRECISELY what Joseph (to who she was betrothed) had, that his beautiful Mary had become immoral and was carrying someone else’s baby, until God dissuaded him otherwise in a dream?

God in His awesome power did not kill Joseph for his thought, and similarly some Muslims should not threaten to kill Isioma Daniels or anyone else for speculating about the possibilities of His servant Mohammed’s amorous predilections.

Or is Mohammed no longer human? Is that what this is now coming to, that the Prophet Mohammed is no longer to be regarded as a human being, with human predilections?

Let the fanatical Muslims in our midst tell us that, so that we can elevate Mohammed to the spiritual realm, devoid of human feelings, elevate him - heretically, that is, in Muslim terms - to God himself.

Mind you, as a Christian, I do not believe that Mohammed is God’s prophet, just as Muslims do not believe that my Jesus, whose birth I celebrate today, is Christ the Son of God. So our faith-lessness in each other’s central religious beliefs cancel out. My sensitivity is shown however by not coming to proclaim loudly my non-belief in the prophet-hood of Mohammed in a Muslim mosque, and similarly the Muslim lack of faith in Jesus as Christ should be laid outside the gates of a Christian church, not within them.

But we should not maim and kill each other because of that. God can fight his own battles, and it is only devils who think otherwise. Only those whose god is weak who believe that they must fight his or her battles for him, and maim and kill his creatures at the drop of a hat or phrase.

Of Fatwa Constitutionality and Non-Muslims
Can anybody in society, even the President of Nigeria, just get up and pronounce a death sentence on anybody for an alleged infraction against his god or his god’s prophet? Without any legally sanctioned offence or trial thereafter? Absolutely not - for that is unconstitutional, illegal incitement to murder, which is unacceptable in modern, civilized society.

Unless of course we all accept that currently Nigeria is a Byzantine, uncivilized society dressed in questionable modern garb.

That incitement to murder is exactly what Alhaji Mamudu Aliyu Shinkafi, Deputy Governor of Zamfara Sate, did to pronounce a Fatwa against Isioma Daniels for her irreverent turn of phrase.

I am not EVEN prepared to discuss whether Alhaji Shinkafi is religiously qualified to pronounce a Fatwa or not: that is to be left to be discussed AMONG MUSLIMS in a MUSLIM STATE.

But first Isioma Daniels IS NOT A MUSLIM, and secondly Nigeria is NOT A MUSLIM STATE. So what are we talking about? Even if Isioma Daniels were a Muslim, you should not simply be able to sit ANYWHERE in this our country, whether in your mosque or your government house, and pronounce a FATWA against any citizen of Nigeria without being arrested.

So what the heck are we talking about when the Sultan of Sokoto, sitting atop the Muslim association Jamaatu Nasril Islam (JNI), announces on November 28, that he has annulled Shinkafi’s Fatwa against Isioma Daniels, or when the Federal government MEEKLY announces that the irresponsible Shinkafi should be ignored? Is that all? Are we to be grateful to them for such “reasoned” band-aid, feel-good pronouncements? Should Shinkafi NOT BE ARRESTED, TRIED and JAILED/FINED to teach Nigerians a lesson that INCITEMENT TO MURDER is not acceptable in our society? What finer opportunity could we have than to use the loud and public violations of the constitution by a Deputy Governor to teach unacceptable behavior?

Aha, the 1999 Constitution again! Being Deputy Governor, Shinkafi can hide under that detestable Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, which protects the President, Vice-President, Governors and Deputy-Governors - all 74 of them - from criminal and civil prosecution!

It is this kind of timid, constitutionally-approved approach to certain misbehavior in our country that makes one to ask the legitimate questions: Whose country is this anyway? What kind of country is this anyway?

The whereabouts of Isioma Daniels
And may I ask: where now is Ms. Isioma Daniels anyway after all of this? At last news, I heard that the Federal government was asking for her report to the nearest police station - I guess to explain her irreverent turn of phrase? Is that not incredible, that even the President Obasanjo was imputing blame on the reporter for the deaths in Kaduna and Abuja?

What happened to journalistic freedom of expression; acknowledgement of the human ability to err and apologize later, and the milk of human kindness of accepting such an apology? This is even after her newspaper had published effusive apologies over her irreverent infraction, even after its offices had been razed in Kaduna and its circulation banned in Kano, and even after Isioma Daniels had expressed remorse.

At last news, I understand that she has beat it to the United Kingdom (from where she had just returned before her mishap) or to the United States to save herself from “Fatwa” fanatics.

In short, for an irreverent turn of phrase, she has effectively lost her citizenship of Nigeria, because of an article that 99% of Nigerians had not read.

What then does the citizenship of a country count for when you can lose it so readily?

I really wonder.

I had a belly-laugh when Prof. Jerry Gana deposed painfully that the flight of the 98 beauty queens from Nigeria and change of venue to London was an “international conspiracy” against Nigeria. Was it not an “international conspiracy” to abruptly bring the pageant to Nigeria in the first instance, among all our many problems, simply because the reigning queen was Nigerian? Were we Nigerians consulted, whether staging a beauty contest was our priority at this point in time? If 97 other countries each saw a citizen on theirs imperilled in what appeared to be a fanatical reaction to a pageant, did Gana think that, like Nigeria, they would just leave their citizens to in such harm’s way?

If Nigerian Isioma Daniels had to ESCAPE from her own country on account of her own fears for her life, what do you expect a British or French or Turkish citizen for that matter to do? What does Gana think embassies in foreign countries are there for - is it to intimidate their citizens, as ours sometimes do abroad, or to protect them, as ours rarely do?

Prof. Gana should chuck his conspiracy theory.

The best that Ms. Isioma Daniels can do for the suffering citizens of Nigeria is to return to Nigeria, apologize personally for the fact that her phraseology caused offence and subsequent deaths that she did not intend - and then assert that she has a right to continue to live as a citizen of this country, her mistake notwithstanding. The security forces of Nigeria should protect her too.

Any other permanent flight by her is both cowardly and unpatriotic, except of course she views this escape as that of a former slave from a punishing (Muslim?) master, in which case I wish her great new beginnings in her newly adopted land. Any other behavior by government means that our citizenship in Nigeria is not worth even half-a-penny.

The Political Angle of all this Mess
There is of course a political angle to all this fine religious mess. It is tied around the locations of Kaduna and Abuja. After all, there are Muslims, fine devout and possibly quite fiery ones too - in Kano and Katsina and Borno, not to talk of in Ibadan and Abeokuta and Lagos.

So why did those other Muslims in Katsina and Borno and Ibadan and Abeokuta and Lagos not burn and loot over Miss World? So why are there always violent religious uprisings in Kaduna? Why did this particular complaint over Miss World become a Christian/Muslim war in Kaduna and Abuja? After all, This Day newspaper is not subtitled The Christian Bugle, Isioma Daniel’s pen-name is not Sister Perpetual, and the Miss World contest was not being organized by the Redeemed Church of Christ under Overseer Pastor Adeboye!

So which one ”consigned” Christians in all of this? Inquiring minds want to know!

The fact of the matter is that Kaduna is the political nerve-center of Northern Nigeria, created purposely to give a geographical center-of-gravity to the political cohesion and hegemony that the Sardauna Ahmadu Bello desperately sought for the North. Unfortunately, due to various political circumstances since the 1966 untimely departure of the Sardauna, coupled with the volatile politico-religious dichotomy between Northern and Southern Kaduna State, that cohesion is now constantly being threatened.

The current real or imagined attempt at some level of independence by the hitherto politically-favored “Northern” son of Southern (Yoruba) extraction - that is President Olusegun Obasanjo - and his resolve to extend his presidential stay beyond 2003 is particularly not helping matters. It would appear that any attempt to yank the ropes of that ridden horse is acceptable, even if 200 Nigerians die doing so in Kaduna and Abuja.

I stand to be corrected on that score.

Furthermore, by bringing the religious riots to Abuja, that capital city has lost its virginity as the central, secular capital city of Nigeria. As again Dr. Walter Ofonagoro recently speculated, such riots are likely to occur again and again in Abuja once the first one occurred successfully.

This former belief of centrality, secularity and insularity from strife of Abuja was what the Ambassadors of US, the UK and France wanted Mr. Ben Murray Bruce (according to an interview given by Bruce himself) to test, when they hauntingly told him on the morning of that fateful day that the Miss World contest was moved to London, that if by 2 pm after Friday mosque prayers there was no religious riot in Abuja, then the contest could stay in Abuja.

Why they said so, what they knew ahead of time and when they knew it was then a puzzle to the hapless Ben Bruce. Within hours, Abuja failed the test: the Miss World contest was moved to London following mayhem and deaths in Abuja - and now we REALLY know Abuja as a Northern Muslim city.

Or is it not?

No wonder that the distraught Miss Lithuania, when she was departing Nigeria for London, noted apologetically that nobody told her that Nigeria was a Muslim country!

Or is it not?

An Un-Fizzled Sharia Law
I have so far not mentioned the extended application to criminal cases of Sharia law in Nigeria, the political hot potato that President Obasanjo and the National Assembly refused to handle, and which Obasanjo had hoped against hope that would “fizzle” out.

In fact, presaging the whole Miss World saga - and leading to boycotts by Miss World contestants from several nations - had been international outrage expressed over the death sentence by stoning against one 30-year-old Ms. Amina Lawal in Katsina State for having a child out of wedlock. The sentence for adultery was first pronounced in Bakori lower court on March 22, 2002, and confirmed on appeal in Funtua on August 19, 2002.

Her situation would have derailed the pageant entirely had ruffled feathers not been somewhat calmed by Obasanjo who “assured” the world through a statement to reporters in Abuja on August 24, 2002 that Amina would not be executed - otherwise " if for any reason she is killed, I will weep for Amina and her family, I will weep for myself, and I will weep for Nigeria."

Great assurance indeed!

The fact of the matter is that had the Executive and the Legislature shown intestinal fortitude and brought a case on the criminal application of Sharia in some Northern states in Nigeria to be heard before the Supreme Court, then the legal political and religious fog which we currently are in would probably be much clearer now, and maybe we would have been spared the recent killings in Abuja and Kaduna.

A Country Living On Borrowed Time, Afraid Of The National Question
The examples of the Soviet Union and more recently of Ivory Coast show that a country can appear to be stable - only to dissolve into political and religious strife in the twinkling of an eye.

The Miss World riots show that Nigeria is a tinderbox, an unstably equilibrated country, sitting at the edge of a precipice. The upcoming 2003 elections - if they ever happen - will give ample more opportunities to confirm this statement. I am not being alarmist, but merely being realistic.

We need to talk in a systemic and fully participatory manner at a Sovereign National Conference about what ails our country, about what it should mean if we must continue to have Nigeria as a sovereign nation, what its constituent federating units must be, and the relationship both between them and to the center. We need to discuss the role of ethnicity and religion in the political arrangement of this country, and how we can INTENTIONALLY grease the inevitable friction between various ethnic and religious groups.

Increasingly, it appears that more and more people, some surprising such as former Heads of State Yakubu Gowon and IB Babangida, are coming to the same conclusion, and expressing it publicly. They are welcome to the fold, their semantic differences (Sovereign or not) notwithstanding.

Until we convene that Conference, many more Kadunas and Abujas will unfold, and many more missed opportunities, whether of the Miss World variety or more substantive ones, will be our lot.

Let us pray.

Have a wonderful Xmas day, and a Happy New Year - and remember the departed and the bereaved of Kaduna and Abuja of the Miss World riots.



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