The controversial but usually outspoken senior Islamic cleric addresses some torny political and religious issues in Nigeria. He explicitly asked the Chief Justice of Nigeria to stop trying to dominate other religions by forcing Islamic Sharia law on other religions in the country. He told him rather to focus on restructuring to usher in true federalism like it is practiced in the United States.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria recently called for the amendment of the Constitution to expand the scope of Sharia legal system. What do you think?
What I think we should do is to restructure Nigeria so that areas where Muslims are in the majority like Zamfara and Kano will have their system. Where Christians are more, allow them to have their way.
Law is what governs people and controls them. If there is Sharia law in Borno State, Boko Haram will end immediately because there will be nothing to agitate for. Saudi Arabia is running the Sharia system but that does not prevent them from developing. They have the best roads, hospitals and the latest technology.
They produce some of the highest number of PhD holders in all fields.
Restructuring Nigeria is the most important thing. Don’t talk about Sharia. Each state should have autonomy to do what suits the majority of its population. You cannot neglect religion. It is very potent. If it is used to manipulate the people, it becomes opium but if it is used strictly according to the scriptures, it is good.
In Islam, we are told that Muslims should love Christians. Clerics are not big-headed. Christianity inculcates humility. If your neighbor is a good Christian, you are safe. If your neighbor is a good Muslim, you are safe. A good Christian or a good Muslim will not chase your wife, he will not chase your daughter, he will not come home drunk, and he will not steal your money. We should not fight religion. We should rather embrace religion.
But it should be localized, not nationalized. Let states have their autonomy and rules. Muslim states that want Sharia should have it. If you do that, you will control crime. When Sharia was introduced in Zamfara, the crime rate was low. Go and check police records.
I do not think it is for the Chief Justice of Nigeria to prescribe anything, it is for the National Assembly to restructure Nigeria, but I do not think we have the right caliber of people in the National Assembly to do that. They are not intellectually capable of restructuring Nigeria. Restructuring should happen in the next dispensation. Nigerians should be wise enough to elect intellectuals into government. Three years is good enough for Christians, Muslims and other intellectuals to come together and work out plans. It is just a matter of time. This is a very beautiful country and we can make it what we want. It is time for us to restructure Nigeria.
Should restructuring include amending the provisions of the Constitution on Sharia to cover the whole nation?
Sharia has nothing to do with non-Muslims. Only the Sharia court can handle issues of inheritance for Muslims and not the conventional court. There has to be a way for an appellate court for Sharia cases. Once there is a law, there has to be an end. There should be an end to where the law can reach. If we restructure Nigeria to give every state autonomy, the country will be good. America is as diverse as we are, but the laws of the country are well-rooted. We need a federation like America where the states will have some form of independence.
Nigeria seems more divided now than ever before. What do you think is responsible? Is it politics or religion?
Politics is responsible. Religion unites mankind. If you remove Buddhism from India and China, for instance, there will be chaos. If you remove Christianity, there will be chaos and if you remove Islam, there will be chaos. Religion solidifies. It holds mankind in big blocks so that they can respect each other. Religion is spiritual even though religious leaders exploit people. But there is an extent to which they can go because the scriptures are there. It is all about morality. It is all about good neighborliness and compassion. Religion is never a problem but those who manipulate religion are. That is where the problem is. The division in the country is caused by the political leadership. We don’t have good leaders. We have leadership that still believes it is in opposition. It is structured to be opposing like critics. They are in power, but they still behave as if they are in opposition. I recently heard the Vice President saying they could not tackle poverty because of the past government.
You are in your fifth year of leadership, yet you still blame somebody for not turning things around? Adolf Hitler met Germany in utter disaster but, in a few years, Germany was producing machines to fight the world. It is leadership. The economy is dependent on leadership. We don’t have that. There is crime everywhere. We are spending wrongly.
Recently, President Buhari submitted a request to the National Assembly to borrow another $30billion. What does this portend?
They do not have priorities on development. They want a quick fix. They want to build edifices so that they can say ‘this is what we did’. This is not how an economy is run. Human development indices are very low in Nigeria. Mortality rate is high, and the standard of education is poor. If you train Nigerians, they will do what is right. Our budget for human development is very poor. We are spending where we should not spend because we want to impress.
Talking about education, the North is not making progress in terms of school enrolment. What do you think is responsible for this state of affairs?
Leaders are not investing enough in education. The budgetary allocation for education is low. Since the North has a problem in the education sector, state governments should invest more in education. They should get teachers from other places, improve the quality of teachers and build more schools. Things will turn around in a short time if proper attention is paid to education. We are not spending on education and we are not spending on health. What government needs to do is to create industrial agriculturists. We have arable lands. Government should assist people who want to embrace agriculture. When you give loan to small scale farmers, it does not help. What happens is that after getting the loan, instead of tilling the lands, they buy hajj tickets or marry more wives. They engage in bedroom farming, not real farming.
Prof. Ango Abdullahi recently said politicians and political system have failed Nigerians. Is theocracy an option?
Theocracy died several years ago. The papal authority used to send crusaders to the Middle East, but it turned out a disaster and the Pope lost his authority. Monarchs came out but they lost their authority. There is no more theocracy. In Islam, the caliphate was completely destroyed in 1924 and there are no more caliphates now. God cannot allow you to form a government under his cloak and you will be deceiving people. He will destroy it.
What is your reaction to the recent discovery of torture centres in the name of Islamic rehabilitation centres?
I have been to some of the centres. There was a wrong narration to the stories. Poverty and ignorance in the North have led to an explosion in the use of drugs. Men, women, and children are addicts and there are no government institutions that can handle such things. Out of necessity, families take their children to such centres with the hope that they will be restrained and rehabilitated. It is not a hospital where they can be treated, so they chain the addicts so that they will not harm anybody or themselves. It is the parents of some of these children that want them to be shackled. It is as a result of the absence of government. Government should provide rehabilitation centres to address this huge problem.
During the first four years of Buhari, you expressed disappointment with his performance. Is there any sign that there will be change?
Things have become worse. Look at the border closure. Look at the obsession with rice. This is a government that thrives on propaganda and it capitalizes on the ignorance of its supporters. Things are bad for the people. Court orders have no meaning in Nigeria now because government can ignore it.
Do you sometimes fear that Nigeria is heading towards dictatorship as some people claim?
Nigeria is too big. What I fear is a slide into anarchy. Government seems not able to handle anything. Boko Haram is too big for government. Violent herdsmen are too big for government to handle. All the money that is being borrowed, why can’t they improve the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC? They don’t want to make INEC work because they depend on rigging.
If you were to advise this government, what would you say?
This is a difficult question for me because if you beat a dead horse, will it run? The situation is terribly bad. People cannot feed. People cannot buy drugs. You can no longer trust even your driver to buy fuel for you. He would rather take part of the money to feed his family. Corruption is everywhere because of lack of leadership. We need a new crop of leaders in the country. We need people who are not stained by blood and corruption.
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