Thu. Jun 1st, 2023

By Chris O. O. Biose,

There is a tendency for citizens to try to understand events in the society as they occur without linking them to other events or to events that took place earlier. It is important to recognize the basic fact that the present is an outgrowth of the past.  To understand the present and build effectively upon it, we have to understand the past.  In this way, we gain insight and perspective, which enable us to assume a sensible position on issues of the day.

Bearing this in mind, I hereby present a synopsis of the historical background of the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket adopted by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the 2023 presidential election. This presentation is a summary of an important essay entitled Nigeria: Neither an Islamic nor a Christian Country, published online as NIGERIA WORLD FEATURE on March 7, 2001, in which late Professor Omo-Omoruyi delineated the process of renewed Islamisation, not merely of the defunct Northern Region, but of the Nigerian state, as follows:

1973 –            The Third Military Dictator of Nigeria, General Murtala Muhammed (1938-1976) enrolled Nigeria as a member of the OIC with Observer Status.

1977/78 –      Paul Unongo led opposition against Sharia in the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) that produced the 1979 Constitution for the country. The Middle Belt Caucus at the Constituent Assembly worked out a deal with the Southern minorities to deal with the Sharia issue.

1986 –            Nigeria’s Sixth Military Dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.) converted Nigeria’s involvement in OIC from that of Observer Status to Full Member.  He organised a mission led by late Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, to formally admit Nigeria into the OIC at Fez, Moroco.  The grand plan was to make Nigeria an Islamic Republic in the fashion of Libya. 

1988 –            In January 1988, General Babangida (retd.) unilaterally made Nigeria a shareholder in the Islamic Development Bank (IDB).

1997 –            On June 15, 1997, the Seventh Military Dictator of Nigeria, late General Sani Abacha joined other Muslim countries to establish “Eight Islamic Developing Nations” (D-8 for short), an organisation of eight Islamic countries (Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria).

2000 –            Under President Olusegun Obasanjo, 12 northern states adopted the Shari’a as state religion.

2001 –            On February 24, 2001, former President Olusegun Obasanjo attended the 3rd Summit of the D-8 in Egypt.

The role of religion in Nigerian politics is central to the phenomenon of dominion and exclusion which is one of the perennial challenges of the Nigerian state. It reared its ugly head in the years before independence, forcing the Colonial Government to appoint the Minorities Commission, also known as the Willinks Commission in 1957.

The constitutional guarantees against social discrimination enshrined in the Constitution of the Federation, 1960 and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1963 failed to resolve the challenge. Rather than abate, it multiplied beyond exclusion of ethnic minorities in the country to religious exclusion, gender exclusion and generational exclusion, resulting in the #EndSARS youth protest against police brutality in October 2022.

But the most far-reaching source of control of power in Nigerian history is religion which has far wider implications than the much advertised ethnic and gender exclusion. The promoters of religious domination are far more systematic, consistent, determined and have been extremely nimble in the manner they go about it.

The power of religion to control and manipulate societies is evident throughout Nigerian history. The first and most far-reaching example is the Fulani jihad (1804-1809). The jihadists were relatively fewer in number than their Hausa victims but they vanquished the Hausa and made them subservient to Emirs appointed by their conquerors.

The most profound factors that changed the direction of the history of the Igbo nation in Nigeria were religious. In his book, Things Fall Apart (1958), Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) describes how Christian missionaries from Europe were able to destroy the culture of the Igbo nation by undermining the religion of the people and replacing it with a foreign religion.

A relatively few Christian missionaries from far off lands were able to convert millions of indigenous peoples whom they dubbed as “pagan” or “heathen” in what later became Nigeria. The missionaries made indigenous peoples not only to abandon their culture and embrace foreign culture; some indigenes joined foreigners to taunt fellow Africans as “heathen” and therefore despised them.

The third example is how the Fulani who constitute 6 per cent of the Nigerian population, according to the CIA World Factbook, gained and maintained control of the apparatus of government in Nigeria politics since 1960 and are still using it to establish a hegemony.

The interconnection of religious beliefs with all aspects of human activities is indisputable. However, the republican system of government removes direct control of governance from religious leaders and places decision making about public affairs in the hands of the electorate. By deploying religious power to subvert democracy, some leaders sow seeds of discord and destruction of the state.

Therefore, to try to turn Nigeria into a theocracy as illustrated by late Professor Omo-Omoruyi in the essay cited above and the Sharianisation of 12 northern states since 2000 or distribute public positions on basis of religious affiliation as evident in Nigeria since 2015, is inimical to the emergence of a united and prosperous Nigerian nation-state.

Nigerians have a date with destiny to elect a President free from the virus of religious bias in February 2023. Happily, this positive movement is spearheaded by vibrant section of Nigerian youth population.

It is absolutely impossible for Nigeria to start the struggle for progress of its people as long as it focuses on religion as a basis of decision making. In fact, further religionisation of the Nigerian state will result in utter chaos and perdition such as is the fate of Afghanistan. Even a theocratic state that develops technology such as Iran is engulfed in intolerable level of human rights abuses to enforce religious codes. Nigeria must hands off religion and persistent quarrel on how to share resources. It must shift from religion-based to a knowledge-based society. This is the only way in which it can embrace digital revolution and join the civilized world in the search for human good.

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