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28 Sep 2017

Fighting Islamisation of Nigeria

Foremost Punch Newspaper columnist, Abimbola Adelakun has addressed the issue of islamisation of Nigeria which has reared its ugly head in the Nigerian polity.
The Christian Association of Nigeria is, for the billionth time, raising sanctimonious alarms against the perceived Islamisation of Nigeria.

This time, the charge is that the Federal Government wants to sneak in an “Islamisation” agenda through floating a Sukuk Islamic bond. CAN, with a righteous indignation, claims that Nigeria is a secular country and the government ought to be taking a neutral stance in matters of religion. It argued that that using legal mechanisms to promulgate the issuance of Sukuk is tantamount to a violation of the secular spirit of the Nigerian constitution and should, therefore, be nullified.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, reportedly responded that the bond was necessitated by the need for the inclusion of those whose religion opposes interest-yielding initiatives. Mohammed’s response — and the responses by Muslim Rights Concern and National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs- shows that perhaps what Nigeria is dealing with, is not so much a religionisation but a lack of ideological anchor. Nigeria seems unable to decide which mammon it wants to worship — secularism (in its ideal sense) or multi-religiosity. Consequently, its liberalism is selective; calibrated to pander to a political base as it is politically expedient.

That said, it is almost laughable that CAN, after profiting from the politics of religion in Nigeria, now insists Nigeria is a secular country and religion must be divorced from our cultural life. The body could have been more credible if they made a case for secularism during the last administration and cautioned President Goodluck Jonathan when he was virtually making policy pronouncements from the pulpit each time he visited one church or another. Jonathan should have been “neutral” on matters of religion and not grant some church leaders, as it was reported by the media, waivers to import items into the country, or publicly kneeling before them, or ship them to Israel for prayer meetings on our national kobo. CAN’s president and Jonathan’s so-called spiritual adviser, Pastor Ayo Oritsejeafor, almost turned Aso Rock into an extension of his church. Did CAN consider such a blatant display of religiosity a form of Christianisation too? If a Muslim president had done all that Jonathan did, CAN would have yelled Islamisation!

 CAN should know that both Christians and Muslims in Nigeria want the same thing — their religious culture being the dominant one. Historically, as the Abrahamic religions have a totalising tendency, both religions will relentlessly strive to usurp each other and their animosity will probably never cease. In Nigerian terms, it means that our elites will garner goodwill based on which religion they subscribe — or pretend to- and while in office, they will have to play the sides that guarantee them winning the next election.

The easier solution would be to argue for a society that is genuinely religiously neutral, but no one has managed to achieve that ideal just yet. Even the societies that once took it for granted that they have “killed” God have regressed to the primacy of religion to settle old scores. It turns out that God was never dead; he only went into a remission. While I understand that CAN needs to manage its own space in the polity, and their constant cries of “Islamisation” is a tactic of achieving this, I think they need to do better than this habit of crying wolf frequently.

CAN, indeed, has been fighting Islamisation for a while. It pushed back when, in 1986, the military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, tethered Nigeria to the Organisation of Islamic Countries as, supposedly, an observer nation. In 2014, CAN asked people to fast and pray for 31 days to combat Islamisation. While it drew many examples from the tense political situation in the country — Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, the religious debacle in Osun State- it also pointed out that the governorship candidates of the South-West APC were “80 per cent Muslims” even though Christians constitute about half of the population in the region.

During the 2015 election, one of the biggest fears peddled around was that Candidate Muhammadu Buhari, if he became President, would Islamise Nigeria. Last year, a prominent lawyer in the country contended that the staffing of Nigerian security agencies with Muslims was proof that Islamisation was creeping into the country and would soon override our national character. The menace of the Fulani herdsmen too has been bandied as an example of impending Islamisation. When Buhari included Nigeria in the coalition of Muslim-Arab nations to fight Islamic terrorism, it was also allegedly part of “Islamisation.”

Last year, when the National Assembly proposed to amend laws to increase the jurisdiction of Sharia Courts of Appeal regarding criminal cases, it was further cited as evidence of looming “Islamisation.” On the supposed project of Islamisation and the financial sector, we have been here before. In 2011, when the idea of Islamic banking was advanced, CAN alleged that it was part of the treacherous plot to Islamise Nigeria. Then CBN governor, Lamido Sanusi, a Muslim Fulani from one of Nigeria’s Islamic enclaves, was branded a proponent of Islamisation even though Nigeria had a Christian president. Six years later, we are still fighting against the Islamisation of the Nigerian financial sector. Earlier this year, CAN cried out that the Christian Religious Knowledge and Islamic Religious Knowledge have been synchronised in the school curriculum, and that it would lead to “Islamisation.” Lawmakers had to accede and reverse what was an otherwise sensible initiative.

Nigeria, meanwhile, is not the only country where the fear of Muslims is raging. On a global scale, Islamophobia is trending in the hearts of the people who are convinced that Muslims are coming to put an end to their civilisation. Current acts of Islamic terrorism have enabled societies which themselves have practised some of the most atrocious acts around the world to tuck in their own unpleasant history and unleash the feral instincts of their being against others’ unfolding history.

Today, the foreboding cry of “The barbarians are at the gate!” has been replaced by “The Muslims are at the gate!”That moral panic is shaping political terrains and ideological re-configurations around the West. In countries like India and Myanmar (former Burma) too, Muslims are being persecuted and hunted down like animals. Nigeria is implicated in this global wave of Islamophobia through the particularities of her own history and culture.

But is Islamisation a legitimate fear in Nigeria that warrants CAN making ear grating cries of “Islamisation” at every turn? I doubt it. While CAN keeps pointing us to the examples of countries that were systematically Islamised over the centuries, it seems to forget that our historical trajectories are different. Years of colonialism and Christianisation have not totally eroded our pre-colonial cultural instincts, why keep frightening us with spectres of a country where we will be forced to bow before the same God? Even western nations, with migration of Muslims into their region, can never be fully Islamised. Cultural contact with masses of Muslims (and any religion) will reshape western culture one way or the other but a world dominated solely by Islamists is not going to happen.

There are too many contending forces to make this a possibility. Islam itself is not static; it is going through what some critics have called a “westernisation.” Recently, Saudi Arabia just allowed women to drive (shortly after allowing them to vote) and some of their conservatives think they are acceding to western criticisms on women’s rights. East or west, the world is undergoing changes, and the terms under which Islamisation can happen are no longer that simple.

If CAN wants to maintain its share of public space, it should devote its energy to more urgent issues of social justice and not this pathetic plaint of “Islamisation.” When you live in a country where your life is discounted, where prospects of self-fulfilment and self-realisation are scanty, “Islamisation” is the least of your problems. How worse can Islamisation be for a Nigeria already living in a dystopia?

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