The 2023 general elections was arguably the first time Muslim communities and leaders of notable organisations came out in their numbers to endorse a gubernatorial candidate in Lagos State; the commercial nerve center of Nigeria.
The Council of Ulama’ (Muslim scholars) and divisional Imams in the state charged their congregations from the minbar (pulpit) for the re-election of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu of the All Progressives Congress, APC, against what they termed “occupationists’ nefarious claims”, and in the overall interest of the president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Interestingly, Governor Sanwo-Olu is a Christian, but his running mate, Dr. Kadri Obafemi Hamzat, the incumbent deputy governor, is a Muslim; unlike the Christian-Christian ticket that was obtainable in Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Edo, Rivers and some North-Central states.
The public endorsement of the Sanwo-Olu/Hamzat ticket by the leadership of the Lagos Muslim community came on the heel of a keenly contested presidential election where the candidate of the relatively unpopular trade union-backed Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, defeated the ruling APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in his stronghold, Lagos.
Prior to the presidential election of February 25, Muslim News findings revealed that only the Lagos State Muslim Community under the leadership of Prof. Tajudeen Gbadamosi, had publicly endorsed the candidacy of the APC guber candidate, Sanwo-Olu.
The endorsement was held alongside the President-elect, Tinubu (then candidate of the APC in the presidential race) at an interactive session, attended by representatives of other notable Islamic organisations, including Ansar-UD-Deen Society of Nigeria, in Lagos.
Tinubu, a two-term governor of Lagos, is the second Muslim from the southwestern region of the country to have contested to be president of the most populous black African nation. He paired alongside a fellow Muslim, Senator Kashim Shettima, a northerner, who governed Borno State, northeastern Nigeria for eight years, as his running mate.
Their combination triggered mixed reactions and angered a section of the Nigerian populace, especially the Christian leaders who took to hate-speech and subsequently mobilized against Tinubu’s candidacy. They assiduously worked for the candidate of the Christian-Igbo dominated Labour Party, Peter Obi, a two-term governor of Anambra, southeastern Nigeria, at the presidential polls.
The ethno-religious sentiment worked for Peter Obi, who became a phenomenon, winning all the five Eastern states and additional seven states including Abuja and Lagos, where some Igbo apologists considered to be NO MAN’S LAND, with the claims they also have right to govern. This section of Igbos are mostly supporters of LP’s Obi and they are famously known as ‘Obidients.
Basking on the euphoria of victory recorded at the presidential election, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, a Yoruba-Igbo man, with the Labour Party believed he could plot to capture Lagos, a southwest State in the gubernatorial election held on March 18 by the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC. This changed the apolitical stance of many Islamic organisations, their leadership and the Imams, to declare support for Sanwo-Olu, in the interest of the president-elect, with a view to rescuing the commercial nerve center of Nigeria, from the ‘occupationists’.
‘A vote for Sanwo-Olu is a vote against occupationists’ became the slogan’
Speaking on the first Friday after the presidential election during a thought-provoking Khutbah at Ansar-Ud-Deen Central Mosque, Surulere, Lagos, Sheikh AbdulRahman Ahmad broke his age-long stance of refusing to publicly side with any political party or candidate as he canvassed for the return of Sanwo-Olu and his running mate, Hamzat.
“Sanwo-Olu is not a Muslim, but we will cast our votes for him in the next guber election. This is because we have no animosity against Christians or non-Muslims and Allah does not forbid us from being good to people who treat us fairly, except for those who threaten our existence, treat our religion with disdain and rob us of our land, culture and heritage. Such candidates do not stand a chance”, said Sheikh Ahmad as he addressed Muslim faithful.
Sheikh Ahmad described a vote for Sanwo-Olu as a vote against occupationists, saying that the 2023 elections had been characterised by ethno-religious sentiments by some unscrupulous elements.
“We all saw what happened during the presidential election. They (the Christians, Igbos) didn’t vote Tinubu. Muslims were the ones who voted mostly for him in Lagos. Now is not the time for lamentations or blame game. Let’s attend to the pressing issue on the ground first, we all know what is at stake right now,” he noted.
Several other central mosques in Lagos also dedicated their Friday Khutbah to sensitise their members on their civic duties regarding the gubernatorial and state assembly elections.
‘We voted for the lesser of two evils’
Muslim News was also at the Lekki Central Mosque, Lekki, Lagos, where the Chief Imam Jamiu Ridwan similarly said supporting Sanwo-Olu during the gubernatorial race is about “choosing the lesser evil” in the interest of Islam and in the overall interest of the president-elect.
According to him, concerning our position in the forthcoming governorship election, for Islamic public interest, we have to support our president-elect, the overall leader of Nigeria (Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu), after President Muhammadu Buhari. In this case, Lagos State is very key and important to the nation. So, any governor who will support the president, especially in Lagos, being the commercial capital of the country, would be the one that will get our support, because indirectly, if we support APC in Lagos, we are also supporting the president-elect.
Secondly, there is a threat to the patrimony of the Yoruba nation. We can only join hands and swell up the rank of the incumbent who has some level of popularity than joining some of our brothers who do not have such support and popularity. It will be in the public interest, as well as the Islamic interest to choose the “lesser of two evils”. In this case, we have to support Sanwo-Olu.
“This is the position of the Lekki Muslim Ummah and IMC – Island Muslim Community, including Eti-Osa, Ikoyi, Victoria Island and that is our position, ” he noted.
‘Why we changed our stance to support Sanwo-Olu’
It became interesting when one of Nigeria’s leading human rights organisations, Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) also declared support for Sanwo-Olu, months after opposing the choice of a Christian governor in Lagos.
Director of the Muslim rights advocacy group in Nigeria, Prof. Lakin Akintola had in April 2022 kicked against the endorsement of Mr. Sanwo-Olu’s re-election, saying it was against the principle of rotational governance
Barely a year after the opposition, Prof. Akintola issued a statement where he joined the Lagos Muslim Community and the Council of Ulama (Muslim Scholars) to endorse Sanwo-Olu/Hamzat for second term.
Muslim News gathered that many Muslim organisations that had supported candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Dr AbdulAzeez Adeniran otherwise known as Jandor and the Action Alliance (AA) Mr. Tope AbdulRazaq Balogun before the presidential election (who are also Muslims) rescinded their decisions to move in a single direction.
They rallied support for Sanwo-Olu, in the belief that it’s better to have a Christian who is friendly to triumph, than to allow Igbos who have shown deep animosity for Islam.
One of the fears of the Muslim community was that the presidential candidate of Labour Party Peter Obi was nursing an ethno-religious agenda, saying, when he visited Lagos, Obi only focused on communities dominated by his fellow Igbo Christian brothers. He ignored communities in Muslim-dominated area, even when his running mate, Dr. Datti Baba-Ahmed is an Hausa/Fulani man.
This action did not go down well with the Muslim community and it further strengthened their fears against the Labour Party, dominated by Igbos.
‘Withdrawal of support for other Muslim candidates’
Muslim organisations withdrew their support for Muslim candidates, and mobilised votes for Sanwo-Olu. They calmed the aggrieved Muslim youths who had thought the Muslim leaders should have supported Muslim candidates in the race.
The Grand Mufti of the Conference of Islamic Organisations in Nigeria, CIO, Sheikh Dhikrullah Shafii, in an interview with Muslim News said while the efforts of the two Muslim candidates in the race were acknowledged and appreciated, the Lagos State Muslim Community decided that Muslims in Lagos should cast their votes for Sanwo-Olu, noting that their decisions are guided by their core principles of upholding the pristine message of Islam – justice, equity, fairness and returning good with good.
According to him, In Islamic jurisprudence, there are minor and major mischances or risks, saying: “Stripping Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Lagos off Tinubu, the president-elect is a major one. For that reason, we won’t allow that to happen, especially seeing the ethno-religious sentiment that played out during the presidential election. We’ll guard against it.
“Whoever wants to do otherwise or work against our collective interest as an Ummah is free to do so, after all, that is why it is called democracy. But whoever accepts that the Chief Imam of Lagos is a revered scholar of the Deen and accepts Sheikh Dhikrullah Shafii, Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Ahmad and all the divisional Imams across Lagos as honorable people won’t do otherwise. Whoever accepts that all the above-listed lmams as well as other notable scholars who were part of the decision as the leaders of the Ummah in Lagos and believe they are on the path of Sunnah will know that these are honorable people who don’t give in to compromises.”
“That’s our collective decision as an Ummah. In fact, it was the thrust of our Khutbah last Friday, and Allah (SWT) says Muslims will not take a collective decision or arrive at a unanimous agreement on a matter, except that Allah guides their decision. We considered the interest of Muslims and that of Lagos in entirety in making a choice and our decision stands.
In the same view, the Executive Chairman of Lagos Central Mosque and Baba Adinni of Lagos State, Sheikh AbdulAfeez Abou said: “It is true that we have Muslims contesting against Governor Sanwo-Olu; our interest lies in the continuity of the developmental agenda started by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the state governor. We support him, the presidency and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) retaining Lagos, the infrastructural development in Lagos State would be fast-tracked.
“We also considered Governor Sanwo-Olu’s passion for the growth of the state economy coupled with an experienced deputy, Dr. Kadri Obafemi Hamzat. Our conclusion is that Lagos should continue to be entrusted in the hands of experienced personalities.
“Our declaration to support the governor for a second term was to see the progress of the state not stunted and that the dream of Asiwaju Tinubu for the state comes to fruition. Tinubu’s blueprint for the state has over the years made it an envious one for others to emulate.”
‘Muslim women held house-to-house campaign for Sanwo-Olu’
The one week extension of the guber poll by INEC to March 18 gave the Muslim community opportunities to mobilise for Sanwo-Olu’s re-election. Their womenfolk, under the Coalition of Muslim Women for Asiwaju (COMWA) weren’t left out, as they embarked on a massive awareness mobilisation from mosque to mosque, canvassing more votes for the second term of Sanwo-Olu.
The group’s National Coordinator, Alhaja Rasheedat Adebari said the governor has done so well for Lagosians and Nigerians at large in the last four years, including the issuance of circular for Muslim students to wear hijab in schools, in line with the Supreme Court judgment.
She said: “As a Muslim body, we have come out to join millions of Lagosians to pledge our support for Governor Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, who has done wonderfully well for the people of Lagos State in the last four years. The Governor deserves our support for another four-year tenure because under him, Lagos State has witnessed massive development and he has touched the lives of many Nigerians with his policies.”
True to their words, they mobilised women and encouraged those who have Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, but did not come out to vote during the presidential election to exercise their franchise at the guber polls.
‘Muslims gave Sanwo-Olu/Hamzat landside victory’
The votes of the Muslim bloc contributed massively to the landslide victory recorded by the APC candidate. At the end of the day, Sanwo-Olu scored 762,134 votes to beat his closest challenger Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour of the LP who garnered 312,329 votes.
The Muslim community joined the good people of Lagos to rejoice with Governor Sanwo-Olu on his re-election, reminding him of his campaign promises for a better and peaceful Lagos.
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