20 Nov 2002
The Religious Hypocrisy in Northern Nigerian Politics
There are very brilliant people among the Nigerian elites but some of these elites have employed their intelligence to deliberately move Nigeria backwards. The politicians have been the worst offenders. Nigerian politics is rife with deceit, duplicity and outright manipulations. Yes, the manipulation of religion in Nigeria stands clearly as a case study.
The craze for Sharia (Islamic legal Code) in northern Nigeria today is a myth created by political opportunists that lack basic programmes to sell to their oppressed people. These dubious politicians have learnt from Karl Max’s assertion that ‘religion is the opium of the masses’ and are doing their best to overdose the wretched masses with the ‘opium’ while they steal the resources of the nation. I am convinced that these champions of Sharia in Nigeria do not believe in the stuff themselves. They are only in romance with Sharia because they can employ it selectively to manipulate their way up the political ladder within certain circles in the north.
Why do I say the champions of Sharia do not believe in it? In order to appreciate my claim, let us go down the memory lane. During the constituent assembly (constitution drafting body) debate of 1978 on the issue of Sharia, people like Shehu Shagari (former Nigerian President) walked out chanting ‘No Sharia, No Nigeria’ because their proposals relating to sharia were not reflected in the constitution. Some of them vowed that the issue would be tabled again to the national assembly that will emerge from pending elections. Behold, elections came and went and Shagari became president and his party controlled the national assembly. I waited patiently for Shagari and co. to bring up their ‘burning issue’ for debate but they cunningly kept mute for over four years before his regime was swept away by Buhari in a military coup. Buhari, one of the most draconian military rulers credited for churning out many decrees also cunningly omitted to decree on Sharia during his rule. He and Shagari knew that introducing the Sharia debate at national level would have a destabilising effect on their regimes-hence the silence.
It is most dishonest for them to come out today in support of Sharia just because they know it is a good tool to destabilise the Obasanjo government in place. It is on record that Shagari started a merciless war that was concluded by Buhari against the Maitatsine Marwa violent Islamic sect. I think if such a band of religious terrorists were to emerge in the north today, these former heads of state will tacitly support them judging from their recent pronouncements. Politicians with no viable programmes for their relatively backward states are the ones fanning the Sharia wind that is currently blowing in northern Nigeria. While their counterparts in other states are struggling to build schools, roads and hospitals to appease their populations and solicit for re-election, the governors of the Sharia states are obviously hoping to ride on the back of Sharia to any political office. Before these champions of Sharia contemplate contesting elections for the presidency of Nigeria, let them ask Shagari, Buhari and Babaginda why they failed to advance the cause of Sharia during their respective terms as presidents. If they are honest, their reply will probably be ‘Old boy, we use this thing selectively as a political weapon’.
The picture that is clearly emerging from the sharia saga in Nigeria is that of a legal code that is being employed once more to oppress the poor. Look at the few examples of victims of the legal system that have made international headlines. They are indeed an embarrassment to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Having lived in Northern Nigeria, I can attest that only the poor can even lay claim to lifestyles that suit the Sharia code. For the rich and the powerful, theirs is as far from sharia as the lifestyles of other non-Muslims. Yet, as we shall continue to observe, it will mostly be the illiterate poor whose limbs will be cut-off or who will be stoned to death in the name of Sharia. Thanks to the weakness of the Obasanjo regime, the hypocrites in religious garb are having a field day in Nigeria today.
Copyright ã 2002 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah [e-mail]