From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Muhammed Nuru Khalid, also known as Digital Imam, is the outspoken Imam of Apo Legislative Quarters, Abuja. In this interview, he accused northern leaders of suddenly going mute about insecurity in the North.
Some days ago, the United States government blacklisted Nigeria for religious intolerance. What does that portend for the country?
It’s a wake up call for Nigeria. It’s also a call for improvement and not indictment as being perceived by some people. The US government, in my opinion, was simply calling on Nigeria to improve on religious freedom and tolerance. I am not saying we are doing badly in that regard, but there’s a lot of things that we are supposed to do that we are not doing, and some others that we are supposed to improve upon to guarantee religious freedom.
Some Muslims in the South claim they are being attacked by the majority Christians while the otherwise is the case in the North. As a top religious leader in Nigeria, do you think this is true?
I can only say that there is element of emotion in that claim. We are always being carried away by our emotions in Nigeria, particularly, when judging religious matters. If not, we are one and we are supposed to be one. I am standing as a testimony that we can be one. I am a Muslim Imam and I often visit churches for religious meetings, and each time I go there I always get warm reception. It means we can change the narrative if we want. Let’s think of Nigeria first, let’s think of humanity first before religion. I am a human being before being a Muslim. If you take my blood and go to any laboratory, you can’t trace if the blood belongs to a Muslim or not. The same is applicable to every other blood. That is what we are supposed to be thinking. Let’s think of humans and Nigeria first. On Sundays, Christians go to church, and on Fridays, Muslims besiege the mosques to worship the same God, the maker of the universe. We should consistently discuss how we could attract divine intervention to our problems, not what we are doing which is inviting more troubles to our lives. If religion is not made to solve our problems then it is not a good one.
Do you think Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) and other groups are doing enough to strengthen or promote religious unity and tolerance in Nigeria?
Neither NIREC nor any other religious group is doing enough if we are talking of religious tolerance in Nigeria. We have to do more. Everybody must do more until when there is total religious tolerance in Nigeria. We must get to the point that no one should be intimidated because he or she belongs to a particular religion. Now, what we are seeing in Nigeria is that sometimes you won’t get a job irrespective of how good you are in that profession and the qualities you have because you belong to a particular religion. That’s the highest level of intolerance. We should find a way to correct that.
Nigeria is gradually being enveloped by insecurity. What is the government not doing rightly to contend insecurity, especially in the North?
Federal Government is not getting a lot of things right. They really have to sit up and do more as quickly as possible to save Nigeria from total explosion. I don’t think when the former President Goodluck Jonathan was in power, we were this silent in national issues, particularly security and corruption, like we are today. When former President Jonathan was in power, we the North, the Muslims, were always shouting and talking about the state of the nation, particularly as regards perceived corruption and insecurity which is fast consuming us all now. Why are northern religious, community and political leaders not talking about the deplorable state of the nation now. Are we politicking with the insecurity and unending bloodletting across Nigeria especially in the North? We must amplify our voice so that the Federal Government will do the right thing as regards insecurity, corruption and general socio-economic development. If you look at the position of those who are checkmating the security of this nation, who are they? Are they not northerners? Are they not Muslims? Why are we having this kind of carnage in the region?
Insecurity was one of the things used against former President Jonathan’s government. Do you think the propaganda then was right or what they saw when they entered the government was not what they thought?
I think they over-emphasized the issue of insecurity. You can’t campaign with the issue of security and at last you find yourself in the office and you can’t do anything. They expected something while they met a different thing.
Does it mean that they were never ready for the task of governance?
No, I can’t say that they were not ready. However, I can say that they found what is beyond their expectations when they acquired power and entered government.
Now party politics has started, do you think it’s a misplacement of priorities?
It is not misplacement, but lack of priority. We don’t have priority in Nigeria, if we have, we will address security and economic issues that are affecting Nigerians badly. You can’t play politics with security neither will you do that with the economy. You can’t sectionalise security. Many people think the security issue is just a thing of the North, saying that, after all, my state is in peace, but this is a wrong perspective. You have to understand that even if your state will stay forever in peace and the other part is not in peace forever, your economy will be negatively affected. Your development will also be affected because the money being used to tackle insecurity in some parts of Nigeria could have been channeled to infrastructural development. So, security is everybody’s business.
Are you in support of the call for sack of the Service Chiefs?
No, I’m not in support of the sack of anybody, but I’m in support of justice. But if doing that is the way to get security, we should do it as quickly as possible.
If you are found in the table with Mr. President, what will you suggest for him concerning the economy?
I will tell him to wake up to his duty. If our economy is in trouble, our security is in trouble, nobody will say he is doing enough. He had to do more, let him remember he was not satisfied with what former President Jonathan was doing, how can somebody be satisfied with what he is doing now?
Can you compare what we had then and now?
I will say that there was injustice in criticising Jonathan. We over criticised him or the ruling party then.