By C. Don Adinuba —
Nigeria is a perfect example of what Samuel Huntington, the late preeminent Harvard professor of political science and international relations, called a cleft society. It is a nation where two global religions, Christianity and Islam, are present in equal measure. Add to it our inherited African traditional religion, and you would have what Ali Mazrui, the late Kenyan scholar of global renown, called Africa’s triple cultural heritage. This condition has profound implications. Yet, there are innumerable moments when we have heroically overlooked primordial cleavages in the quest to build a modern nation.
My well-received article on the dangers of sectarian politics which are currently promoted in high quarters in view of the 2015 general election provides verifiable examples of such great moments in our engagement with history but also advocates that the nation build on this foundation.
The reaction of my old friend, Femi Fani-Kayode, the erstwhile minister of aviation who is aggressively cutting the inelegant image of a religious polemicist, is thoroughly wrong-headed. Femi calls my instance “great illusion”. He could well use those words against all citizens who advocate peaceful co-existence. If there is a Nigerian who understands the role of sectarian politics in Nigeria, it is Matthew Hassan Kukah, the polyvalent intellectual who shepherds the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto and who wrote an excellent doctoral dissertation in 1990 at the University of London on religion and power politics in northern Nigeria. Yet, Bishop Kukah is a major campaigner for a peaceful Nigeria. His progressive frame of mind has enabled him to become great friends with the Sultan of Sokoto and leader of the Nigerian Muslim community. No wonder, Sokoto has been spared all the religious crisis in the northern part of Nigeria.
When a reporter who did not understand the Hausa language wrongly reported a few years ago that former head of state Muhammadu Buhari had asked that Muslims should vote for only Muslim candidates in elections, Kukah, who speaks excellent Hausa and was present where Buhari allegedly made the call, quickly issued a detailed statement correcting the correspondent’s sensational report. An ordained minister of God, Bishop Kukah is guided by the scriptural injunction: “… you shall know the truth, for only the truth shall set you free” (John 8: 32).
Femi’s response to my article is perfectly in line with the electoral map drawn up by Peoples Democratic Party strategists, based on the country’s religious geography, to remain in power beyond 2015: appeal to the fears of Christian communities in the Southeast, South-south, Southwest and the minorities in the North; then use the power of incumbency to grab as many votes as possible from Muslims. Pastor Ayo Oritsejeafor, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, appears enthusiastic to play the game of religious polarization. It does not matter to such polemicists if Nigeria became another Lebanon, where Christians and Muslims have been fighting in the streets for decades, with all the colossal consequences. Leading political figures on both sides of the divide are frequently assassinated. On February 14, 2005, Prime Minister Rafic Hariri was bombed to death alongside 21 others as his motorcade was entering St. George Hotel in Beirut. The bombing was done by a Hezebollah militant, according to an investigation by Captain Wissam Hassan, who himself was to be assassinated.
Femi’s article catalogues what it regards as historical grudges against Northern Muslims by various groups and peoples in Nigeria, including “Igbo Christians”. The inclusion of “Igbo Christians” is opportunism writ large. When has my old friend become a defender of the Igbo people, playing Don Quixote, the hilarious character in the 17th Century Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes who fights imaginary enemies over his adored mistress? Only last year, Femi penned two widely circulated articles against Ndigbo which fell short of calling for genocide against them. The two articles may have been lifted from the pages of Mien Kempf, one of the most racist and hateful works of all time written by Adolf Hitler whom Femi adores. In the second article, Femi makes a show of how his Yoruba people have over the centuries had deep relationships with the north, all in the attempt to justify why the rest of the country should unite against so-called Igbo hegemony. The politician, who is now calling for Christian unity against northern Muslims, did not remember last year when he was mobilizing anti-Igbo sentiments that at least 99% of Igbo people are Christian! What happened to his sense of Christian solidarity only a few months ago?
There was a nationwide umbrage when President Goodluck Jonathan held a meeting with Fani-Kayode on April 8, 2014, in State House, Abuja, because the latter has been standing trial in the court for corruption. A lot of analysts felt that the meeting was a signal to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to end Fani-Kayode’s prosecution in exchange for support in the 2015 re-election bid. Admittedly, I was disappointed, too, but for a different reason. The president of the Federal Republic should not be in cahoots with an enemy of a substantial swathe of the Nigerian humanity, namely, the Igbo. The office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should be an embodiment of values, integrity, patriotism and nationalism as well as peaceful co-existence.
All these religious polemicists, ethnic irredentists and other centripetal forces around President Jonathan are doing him no good. They are not making it possible for Jonathan to seek re-election on the strength of his achievements, or lack of achievements, in national security, electricity supply, excellent healthcare system, petroleum development, etc. We are rather treated to a litany of primordial sentiments like “it is the turn of a Christian or minority to be president for at least eight years”. Perhaps if not for the distracting presence of these fellows, President Jonathan would have long ended the insurgency by the Boko Haram terrorists. Mubi, the second largest town in Adamawa State and the hometown of the chief of the defence staff, Air Marshall Alex Badeh, would not have fallen so easily to a an invading band of only 64 Boko Haram marauders. Mubi’s capture by the rag-tag fighters has compelled even leading PDP members like Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Champion newspaper publisher, to publicly raise the alarm that the south-east could easily be overrun by the terrorists anytime soon.
Put succinctly, were it not for the distractions of political careerists imposing themselves on The Presidency and creating the impression that Jonathan has a parochial agenda, no one would be wondering if Jonathan is the right and fit person to be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
To prevent the looming danger, both the PDP and its government must distance themselves from all those stoking the fire of religious hatred, sectional antagonism and ethnic cleavages. By the way, how do Vice President Namadi Sambo and PDP national chairman Adamu Muazu, both practising Muslims, feel to see fellow party men use the religious bogey against adherents of their own religious tradition?
Could the PDP and its government now go in a different direction?
Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.