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Weaponising religion in Yoruba politics

Weaponising religion in Yoruba politics
March 24
06:40 2019
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In case you missed it, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), an advocacy group, has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint Muslim ministers from five south-west states when he constitutes his cabinet for his second term. Why? The group says because five of the south-west governors would be Christians, that is the way to go — to address the “marginalisation of Muslims” in the geo-political zone. Put plainly, what should determine the choice of ministers from the south-west should be religion, religion, religion, religion and religion. The press release said Yoruba Muslims have been marginalised in ministerial appointments for too long “despite being in the majority”.

I seem to understand the game MURIC is trying to play. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has spent the better part of the last 33 years analysing how many Christians are appointed into cabinets, especially when the figure tends to favour Muslims. They are quiet when it favours Christians. In the aftermath of Nigeria’s membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1986, CAN became more than a pressure group. In fact, it could have been registered as a political party along the line, given the role it played in weaponising religion in the politics of Nigeria. I guess MURIC was propped up as a counterforce to CAN and it is now trying to outCAN CAN.

One problem I can see, though, is that MURIC is not serving as a counterforce to CAN at the national level but has been working very hard to divide the south-west along religious lines. Although I have heard many people describe MURIC in uncomplimentary terms and would want the body ignored or even blacked out of media coverage, the truth remains that it represents a tendency and it is gaining followership. The Yoruba love to celebrate their multi-religious culture and often boast that they cannot be divided along religious lines. However, recent events suggest that this religious harmony should not be taken for granted, not with MURIC on the prowl.

What is MURIC’s complaint? Of the six south-west states, five will be governed by Christians by May 29, 2019. Only Osun state will be ruled by a Muslim, Alhaji Adegboyega Oyetola. Although Senator Ademola Adeleke has won his case at the election petitions tribunal, Oyetola is expected to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. Adeleke, who goes by the name Nurudeen, is assumed to be a Muslim, although MURIC has rejected this claim and once issued a statement saying the dancing senator is a Christian. If Adekele eventually becomes governor, MURIC will have yet another evidence that Muslims have been marginalised in Yorubaland. It will then demand six ministers.

But how relevant is religion in the politics of south-west Nigeria? Is MURIC trying to solve a problem that does not exist? Is the body genuinely worried that if religion does not become a factor, south-west Muslims might be relegated to the background and be denied what belongs to them in the scheme of things? The south-west is the only region in Nigeria that is evenly divided between adherents of Islam and Christianity. While the north is predominantly Muslim, the south-south and the south-east are predominantly Christian. But no one, apart from MURIC, describes the south-west as predominantly Muslim or Christian. You have Christians and Muslims in almost every family.

From my own understanding of Yoruba politics, I would say religion has never really been a factor. Let’s be clear: religion is a very strong sentiment for millions of Nigerians, the Yoruba inclusive. However, when it comes to politics, it appears the Yoruba have managed to keep religion out of it most of the time. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the revered Yoruba politician, was a Christian, but some of his closest associates were Muslims, notably Chief SO Gbadamosi and Alhaji DS Adegbenro. When the Western House of Assembly crisis broke out in 1962, Awolowo favoured Adegbenro to take over as premier from Chief SL Akintola, a Christian. Religion was not on the cards.

In the second republic, it was even more “ridiculous”. There was nothing like the religious balancing of governorship tickets that we have today. The governor of Lagos state was Alhaji Lateef Jakande, and his deputy was Alhaji Rafiu Jafojo. Both were Muslims. There was no CAN noise. The governor of Ogun was Chief Olabisi Onabanjo and his deputy was Chief Samuel Soluade. Both were Christians. There was no MURIC. The governor of Oyo was Chief Bola Ige and his deputy was Chief SM Afolabi. Both were Christians. Nobody even thought about it. Although Chief Bisi Akande, a Muslim, later became deputy to Ige, religion was not the consideration.

The crisis created by Nigeria’s full membership of OIC in 1986 appeared to have snatched this innocence from Yorubaland. The mutual suspicion created at the national level percolated to the south-west, and suddenly the two religions must be accommodated in a governor-deputy ticket, even when nobody really cared about it. Yet, there was a deviation: when Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola was governor of Osun state from 2003 to 2007, his deputy was Mrs Olusola Obada. Both of them were Christians. In a state that is most probably predominantly Muslim, nobody raised an eyebrow. Nobody discussed religion. This is one thing the Yoruba seem to have conquered.

I will even go one more step. Most of those regarded as leading Yoruba politicians today are married to Christians, though they are Muslims. Name them: Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Akande (who lost his wife in 2017), Senator Abiola Ajimobi (the “constituted authority”), Senator Ibikunle Amosun, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, and a host of others. Akande nominated two ministers into Buhari’s cabinet — Prof. Isaac Adewole and Prof. Omoleye Daramola — and both are Christians. Amosun, a Muslim, nominated Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, a Christian, into the cabinet. That is the kind of liberal and convivial religious atmosphere that has shaped Yoruba politics for ages.

Even the Christians that have been elected governors in the south-west had the support of Muslims. How on earth could Mr. Jide Sanwo-Olu have been elected governor of Lagos without the support of Muslim heavyweights? Mr. Dapo Abiodun is governor-elect of Ogun state with the full backing of Tinubu. Mr. Oluwaseyi Makinde has been elected governor of Oyo state with the backing of key politicians who are Muslims, most notably Alhaji Rashidi Ladoja. In the same state, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala, a Christian, handed his supporters to Mr. Adebayo Adelabu, a Muslim. It would, therefore, be very wrong to say there is a conspiracy to install Christian governors in the south-west.

I am very much aware that the Lagos branch of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) addressed the press sometime in 2014 asking that the next governor of Lagos should be a Christian because Christians had been supporting Muslims since 1999, but those familiar with the story said it was a game arranged by the big masquerade himself who was eyeing a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket. As ridiculous as it sounds, religion was not the motivation for the PFN demand! Fashola was doing well as governor of Lagos and nobody asked whether he was holding the Quran or the Bible on the day he was sworn in. Sure, I support balancing but I won’t kill for it.

However, the controversy over the wearing of the hijab in schools in the south-west is a pointer that the Yoruba are also vulnerable to religious conflict. If you ask me, though, I would think it is just a matter of intolerance and a storm in a teacup. There are churches that ban their members from wearing earrings and even instruct them to wear headscarf — so how is wearing hijab a problem for anybody if not that some people just want to stoke fire? Indeed, if MURIC concentrates its resources on advocating for Muslims in the south-west to practise their religion without let or hindrance, without intimidation or discrimination, it would have my support 100%.

While MURIC has the constitutional right to advocate as it wishes, I would advise, with every sense of humility, that weaponising religion in south-west politics is too dangerous. Northern Nigeria is today sharply divided by religion. The tension is permanent. I don’t envy them. Northerners identify themselves first by their religions before anything else. In many northern cities, it is rare to see Muslims and Christians living in the same area, much less the same compound. But in Yoruba homes, you can have two people sleeping on a bed — one a Muslim, the other a Christian. If religion is, therefore, successfully turned into a lethal weapon in the south-west, who can survive it?

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

BRAIN DRAIN AGAIN

You do not need a stethoscope to diagnose the malignant ailment within the medical profession in Nigeria. Most of the doctors I have spoken with complain about poor equipment and low morale. Even the medical schools are poorly equipped and many of the teachers are directly from hell. So I was not surprised to learn that Nigerian medical doctors have joined the brain drain train. This time, it is not to Canada. It is to Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of doctors recently thronged a popular hotel in Lagos where officials of Saudi Arabia health ministry came to recruit them.  Soon, we will not complain about poor hospitals again. We will be talking about lack of doctors. Unhealthy.

POLL DANCE

Senator Ademola Adeleke, also known as the ‘Dancing Senator’, has been declared winner of the September 2018 governorship poll in Osun state by the tribunal — and many would say it was not such a surprise. The circumstances surrounding the declaration of Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola of APC as the winner were strange — especially how some results were cancelled, thereby forcing a supplementary election. The tribunal declared the cancellation “illegal” and proclaimed Adeleke, the PDP candidate, as the winner. Oyetola will definitely fight all the way to the Supreme Court, but INEC needs to save us this waste of precious time and resources in future elections. Justice.

THE PAWN

The story of Tanitoluwa Adewumi, the eight-year-old Nigerian chess genius in the US, has caught global attention. It is the romantic story we all love to read: a poor, little homeless boy conquering the world with a sling and a stone. Tani has won the New York State Scholastic Primary Championship in his age bracket — and he only started learning to play chess a year ago! Even former US President Bill Clinton has invited him for a handshake. The line that the Adewumis were fleeing from Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria may be suspect, but let us just eat the rice and ignore the stones. Tani could have been hawking “pure water” if he was still in Nigeria. Opportunities.

AND FINALLY…

Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the house of reps, recently wrote to the International Criminal Court (ICC) as well as the governments of the US, the UK and the EU on a “plot” by the federal government of Nigeria “to unleash violence on innocent citizens of Bauchi state” ahead of the supplementary elections. I don’t know if Dogara took the right step or not, but these guys must be getting tired of receiving mails from Nigerians every day. The rate at which Nigerians are writing to ICC, UK, US and EU these days at the slightest provocation must have turned us into a laughing stock. Expect a Nigerian husband to petition ICC soon if the wife is reluctant to open the door for him. Petty.

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