The above quotation is an axiomatic Yoruba adage that can only be faulted at one’s own peril. The dastardly massacre that occurred at a Catholic Church, in Owo, Ondo State, penultimate Sunday, which devilishly terminated dozens of human lives, was a vivid reminder of the altruistic feature of the above quoted Yoruba adage.
Because of the special intuition with which they are distinctly endowed, elders are classified as sages of their respective times. Their utterances and actions are mostly influenced, not only by their exposure to a wide range of events and occurrences, but also by the experiences which they were privileged to have garnered, for years, through that exposure. Thus, the combination of their past experiences with those of the present, in their life’s odyssey, is capable of giving them a futuristic vision that can make them ‘pseudo prophets’.
Elderliness, in certain distinguished human beings, is not necessarily due to old age. It is quite possible for a middle aged person or even a relatively younger one, to be classified as an elder because of the wisdom with which he is naturally endowed, based on experience.
Given the understanding of the above analysis, it becomes convincingly acknowledged that one of the foremost elders in Nigeria, today, is His Eminence, Dr. Muhammad Sa‘ad Abubakar, CFR, mni, the 20th Sultan of Sokoto, who is also the President General of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA).
This exemplary monarch is one of the three charismatic Sultans in the entire world today. The other two are those of Oman, in the Gulf Region of the Middle East, and, Brunei in the South West of Asia. However, the peculiarity of Dr. Muhammad Sa‘ad Abubakar as the only Sultan in Africa, can be vividly seen, in the combination of certain distinguished qualities, in him, which are not common in his peers.
Incidentally, despite the royal blood in him (which was not known, even to many of his close friends and associates, until he ascended the throne of his forefathers in 2006, came to accentuate exemplary humility. Before he became Sultan, he was only seen, among his kinsmen, either as an ordinary military man or a common diplomat. It took the contents of a well researched thesis which he wrote on ‘Conflicts and Peaceful Resolutions’, during his postgraduate studies, to expose his naturally endowed leadership qualities. And, that was one of the factors that gave him an edge over other contenders for the exalted seat of the Sultanate at the most appropriate time that Nigeria needed a national bridge builder.
Voice of Reason
Perhaps, the devastating specter of terror that is now implacably chasing the ghost of Nigeria, would not have arisen if the Nigerian government had been akin to the ‘words of the elder’ in him, when he first started to dish out those words of wisdom.
As far back as October 3, 2011, this Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), had delivered a lecture entitled ‘Islam and Peace Building in West Africa’ at an international forum. It was not surprising that the echo of that lecture widely reverberated through the international media waves, across counties and continents of the world. The lecture was delivered at Harvard University, in the United States. When that lecture was published in this column a few weeks after its delivery, 11 years ago, it was re-entitled ‘A Voice from Harvard’.
In the 33 page historic lecture, His Eminence enumerated the causes and effects of violent crises in the West African sub region with particular reference to Nigeria. He blamed such crises on three major issues: (1) Political struggle for supremacy between the elite and the poor masses, especially in democratic dispensations
(2) Bad governance on the part of the ruling class and
(3) Primordial ethno-religious sentiments in most countries in the region.
The most prominent of these three issues, according to His Eminence, is bad governance which often engenders corruption, joblessness, poverty, exploitation, mutual suspicion and general bitterness in the land. Yet, today, 11 years after that lecture, Nigeria is still roaming aimlessly on a mission of uncertainty in her pursuit of an unreachable oasis that is a mirage in a wild desert.
For the benefit of those who did not read the article, as published in this column, at that time, here is another opportunity for reading it in a summary form.
“….Many people (outside our country) consider Nigeria as a theatre of absurd conflicts and interminable crises. They may be justified in holding this view. With the Jos crises festering for years, with post-election violence and suicide – bombings, it is difficult to think otherwise. When we consider Nigeria’s population of more than 150 million (at that time), which was about half of the population of West Africa, its over 250 ethnic and language groups, its regional and geo-political configurations, its landmass as well as its diversity in religion and culture, we may be constrained to reach different conclusions.
Nigeria may, after all, be a paragon of stability which, as God Almighty has willed, shall undergo all the trials allotted it early enough in its national history.
But, in all fairness, systemic ethno-political and religious crises, like the ones we have witnessed persistently, in recent years, or are witnessing currently, the conclusion will be that, though we do not have a long history, as a country, the short one we have has been quite turbulent. These crises began in the late 1980s, following the intense competition for power and influence, especially among the Western educated elite. The Kafanchan crisis of 1987, in Southern Kaduna, was quickly followed by that of Zangon Kataf and others, all in the same vicinity.
The democratic dispensation, which began in 1999 also came with its own set of problems, the most visible one being the Shari ‘ah crisis and the first Jos crisis which led to the declaration of a state of emergency in Plateau State.
Primacy of Politics
“….We often witness the primacy of politics in almost all conflicts in Nigeria because of the primordial culture which we inherited. In the struggle for power and political supremacy, we exercise no restraint in aggravating the socio-religious and ethnic cleavages, which characterize the geo-politics of the Nigerian state. It should not be forgotten that the second Jos crisis of November 2008 was also ignited by a botched Chairmanship election in Jos North Local Government.
The second dimension to these crises, especially in Kaduna and Plateau States, is the indigene/settler dichotomy, which is yet to be addressed properly by the Nigerian state.
Besides, many ethnic groups in these conflict areas see the other ethnic groups as foreigners who should not enjoy the full rights of bona fide residents. Incidentally, most of the disenfranchised Nigerians in these crises happen to be Muslims. Whereas as Nigerian citizens, people have full right to reside wherever they wish and pursue their legitimate businesses without let or hindrance, this fact is never taken into consideration in the actions and reactions of conflict instigators.
After all, no one can be a settler in his/her own country.
The third dimension of Nigeria’s ethno-religious crises in any region is its potential to become a systematic national crisis. When a person is killed in any of the areas of conflict, his co-religionists, especially in cities and towns react violently and begin to kill anyone they think is related to the killer(s). This often triggers further reprisals from other parts of the country where victims come from. It took a lot of efforts by the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), which I co-chair, and other state authorities, to treat each crisis independently and reduce the risk of systemic reprisals.
“…The fourth dimension of Nigeria’s crises is poor leadership and the bad governance usually associated with its management. Many of those charged with authority in the states where these conflicts occur are also parties to the crises. They make feeble efforts to control the violence and do so only when much of the damage might have been done…
The Promise of Dialogue
“….When I became the Sultan of Sokoto in November 2006, some of the major problems I found on ground were the after-effects of the riots, especially in Kaduna, Jos and some parts of the North East as well as a disturbing atmosphere of mistrust, fear and hostility, especially between the leaderships of Nigeria’s two major religions: Islam and Christianity.
To resolve these knotty issues, we chose the path of positive engagement, which we thought would engender meaningful discourse, improved communication and understanding as a way of changing the dynamics of the conflicting situation of our environments to that of mutual trust and confidence…
“…Understanding the multifarious nature of Nigeria’s ethno-religious crises should strengthen our resolve and determination to deploy all the energies and resources at our disposal to see to their resolution. Our inability and reluctance to take meaningful action have become a challenge not only to our common humanity but also to our self-worth.
I must point out that it was also our view that inter-faith action should transcend conflict resolution. For it to be effective, it must affect the life of the common man. NIREC floated the Nigeria Inter-Faith Action Association (NIFAA) to take up this challenge and, it has been very active in the control of the dreaded tropical disease: Malaria. We also find that we must act together to address issues related to electoral reform, good governance and anti-corruption. I am also glad to state that the goodwill and understanding which these activities were able to generate, have given impetus to the development of inter-faith dialogue to a new level. I always remember, with happiness, the seminar organized by the CAN in April 2010, on ‘Knowing Your Muslim Neighbour’, where I presented a paper on the topic. The Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) gracefully reciprocated by inviting CAN members to its formal meeting in Kaduna, where the CAN representative gave a lecture on Islam in the eyes of a Christian and both Muslim and Christian scholars, gave inspiring responses on the scriptural basis of mutual co-existence. Despite serious setbacks in recent months, many of us remain committed to this positive engagement and to the promise that dialogue offers the resolution to Nigeria’s ethno-religious crises.
‘’…Understanding the multifarious nature of Nigeria’s ethno-religious crises should strengthen our resolve and determination to deploy all the energies and resources at our disposal to see to their resolution. Our inability and reluctance to take meaningful action go to challenge not only our common humanity but also our self-worth. It is, therefore, important for us to appreciate, first and foremost, the importance of consensus building within the polity, with a view to ameliorating the current state of political polarization in it. The Nigerian political class must be able to speak and understand one another as well as to develop a minimum national agenda to chart the way forward. The political class must also be able to open dialogue on a variety of national issues, including the perennial problem of power rotation and willingly enter into agreements that they can honour with dignity….
“….Also, governance, at all levels, must translate into tangible benefits for all Nigerians, regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliations. Nigeria has the resources to make life more pleasant for its people. It is equally imperative to address the poverty problem as well as the needs of the youth population both in all the geo-political areas of the country. In a situation where over 50 per cent of our population is jobless at less than 19 years of age, we are definitely sitting on a time bomb much deadlier than that of Boko Haram, unless we take urgent action to defuse it….
“….Furthermore, there should be renewed determination to address both the Jos and Boko Haram sectarian crises. The Federal Government must take seriously its security responsibilities and effectively contain these crises. But beyond that, a genuine dialogue must be initiated, to begin healing festering wounds and to bring genuine understanding and reconciliation amongst the entire people of Plateau State and beyond. The social dimension of the Boko Haram cannot also be resolved by the mere use of force. This is the reason why I have consistently suggested dialogue and education to counteract its message, especially those aspects dealing with modern education.
Millions of Muslim pupils are already outside the school system.
Millions more will definitely follow if urgent intervention is not undertaken to enlighten the younger generations. And the question I have always asked is What kind of society can we build in the 21st century when our youth turn their back on science and technology and are unable to produce the next generation of doctors, engineers and other specialisations necessary for sustaining the socio-economic development of the society?….
“….Finally, we should not neglect the impact of the international environment on Nigeria’s ethno-religious crises.
The happenings in the United States, Iraq, Afghanistan, Norway, Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France are as current and relevant as the events in Jos, Maiduguri and Abuja (at that time). We must preach tolerance internationally and moderately. The fight against extremist groups should never be perverted to become a fight against Islam and its doctrines. We should all remember that in the final analysis, it is not what the perpetrators of violence do that really counts. It is the actions we take, individually and collectively, that would (eventually) shape the fate of humanity….”.
More from that lecture may be published as may necessarily be required, in the near future in sha’Allah.
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