- Planned demolition of mosques causes tension
From WOLE BALOGUN, Ado-Ekiti
On Tuesday, April 4, 2017, some angry Muslim youths disrupted free-flow of economic activities when they marched on streets of Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State capital, to protest what they alleged as attempt to oppress the Muslim community. They were protesting against the notice, handed out by government, to demolish a mosque built inside the NIPCO Petrol Station, Adebayo Road.
Apparently as part of efforts to bring sanity to the chaotic situation with which sites of some petrol stations in the state have been approved which endanger life and property, the Ministry of Lands and Housing, on Monday, April 3, marked the mosque, with seating capacity of 500 worshippers, for demolition. It explained that worshippers coming there could be infected with cancer through the radioactive emission of the fuel in the station and are also prone to harm in the event of a possible fire-outbreak.
Earlier, government had withdrawn licenses and taken possession of some petrol stations cited in residential, business and school areas.
The government took the decisions following the recent fire outbreak in a petrol station, Strive Energy, in Oja-Oba area of the state capital, which razed shops, buildings and destroyed wares of 21 shop owners. Eighteen out of them were compensated by the petrol dealer.
he development generated controversy with conflicting views from varying quarters, particularly politicians. They alleged that Governor Ayodele Fayose was fighting his perceived political foes ahead of the 2018 governorship poll. Muslims faithful also decried alleged deliberate plot to oppress the Muslim community while oil marketers appealed to government to sheath the sword.
Commissioner for Lands and Housing, Mr. Taiwo Otitoju, explained rationale behind government’s action: “The government wants to make whoever comes to a fuel station to be as safe as possible. What the government is saying is that it is not safe to have a place of worship inside a petrol filling station, whether a church, a mosque or even a shrine.
“The reason behind the move is the recent fire outbreak at a petrol filling station in Ado-Ekiti. We want to ensure that there are as few people converging at or around petrol stations as possible. With a church or a mosque at a station, the tendency is for people to gather there from time to time and it is not safe. So it is for the safety and security of the people of the state.
“We have to notify the people affected and we have done that. It is also noteworthy that these people applied for the construction of petrol filling stations and building a place of worship there may not be necessary. Yes, there could be offices to service the station and a few other concerns but not a worship place.”
But the angry youths, who protested under the umbrella of National Council of Muslim Youths Organisations (NACOMYO), insisted that government has other intentions beyond protecting lives for planning to demolish the mosque. They said that the mosque was built by a petrol dealer, Alhaji Suleman Akinbami, within the premises of his petrol station and donated to Muslim community as a religious obligation.
They marched from the Central Mosque at Oja Oba to Odo Ado to brief the Chief Imam of Ekiti State, Alhaji Jamiu Kewulere, before taking a detour and moved to the palace of Ewi of Ado-Ekiti, Oba Rufus Adeyemo Adejugbe, and to Adebayo Road, where the mosque was located.
The Chief Imam assured the youths that he would continue to liaise with government for peaceful resolution of the issue: “Islam is a religion of peace and we have respect for leadership. I beg that you allow the Muslim leaders to look into this matter. We do not want you to take laws into your hands, because this state belongs to all of us.
“We are going to meet with the governor to actually get the true position of things. We will do all that we need to do for peaceful resolution of this issue.”
Faulting government’s reasons for the demolition, the Coordinator of NACOMYO in Ekiti, Tajudeen Ahmed, said: “The proposed demolition is curious and we see it as an attempt to further oppress us. We are not violent people and we believe in leadership. We want to plead with Governor Fayose to reverse this action. How can a mosque located behind a petrol station constitute a health hazard to worshippers?
“Besides, it has been in existence for over a decade and if it can affect the worshippers, what would then happen to those selling the product? If truly this issue is not having political undertone, why did the government fail to issue requisite notices? Islam is not a riotous organisation, we will continue to dialogue but this action is worrisome.”
Meanwhile, Akinbami, who is also Secretary of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), has been having running battle with the governor over the latter’s attempt to demolish petrol stations built in residential areas.
He claimed that what the cause of the tension was the letter he received from government informing him that four mosques, which he built in his petrol stations in Ado-Ekiti, were to be demolished:
“Before the government gives approval for citing petrol station anywhere in the state, there are procedures. We first approach the Ministry of Lands and Housing and make some huge payments there.
“We also approach the Ministry of Environment who, after evaluation, gives certificate of impact assessment. Once the state government gives its approval, we then approach the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR).
“As the secretary of IPMAN in Ekiti, I can tell you that all the petrol stations in the state got approval for their operations. If there is anyone not yet approved, may be it is just starting.
“Also, let me use this opportunity to tell everyone what happens around the world, even in this country. Go to Osun, Ondo, Lagos, Oyo, even Edo states, there are mosques inside the premises of petrol stations.
“I want to appeal to government to temper justice with mercy. I am not a politician and I am not working for any politician. There may be politicians among our members in the association but doesn’t mean that we are all politicians.
“We obeyed the governor when he ordered that we vacate the Mosque inside the NIPCO petrol station in Adebayo area of Ado-Ekiti. I don’t pray that the issue get to a level where we would seek legal action. I am only performing my religious obligation by building mosques for Muslim worshippers.
“However, the President General of the Supreme Council For Islamic Affairs (SCIA), for South-West, Delta and Edo, Sheik Jamiu Kewulere Bello, its state chairman, Yakubu Sani and state chairman of the National Council of Muslim Youths Organisations, (NACOMYO), Mr. Tajudeen Ahmed, met with Fayose for amicable resolution.
Bello told the governor: “We appreciate your immense support for the Muslim community in Ekiti. It was with your support and that of God that we got the position we have as leaders of the community in the South-West, Delta and Edo. Your decision to bring fortunes to all shall be rewarded. Though, we were surprised that one of our mosques would be demolished, but we know you have a listening ear and there must be a reason for your actions. You gave me one condition under which we can discuss and I called the NACOMYO, we discussed and they supported that the mosque should be used according to your directives.
“You own us and you are our authority, and we should be able to obey and we are all supporting you. People have been calling me on this matter and I have been explaining to them that there is no problem and that the matter would be resolved.”
Fayose responded: “I would have sent security operatives to enforce the order to demolish the mosques but because of the respect I have for you (Bello). If there is any government that has paid attention to Muslims in this state, I am one. I made the first Muslim chairman in Ado Local Government Council. I asked others to step down for him. I have Muslims in my government as Special Adviser and all that.
“There were some shops in Atinkankan belonging to some CAC clerics but were built on wrong part of the road, I demolished them. I am demolishing some shops built by my own mother. When she called me I told her that I would demolish them. No sentiments. I support Muslims my father’s Muslim name was Jimoh.
“Any mosque built for private use will not be demolished. But when hundreds are going there, the mistake of one man can cause big tragedy for all. Government’s intervention is not to demolish but to ensure that the mosques are not used for commercial, public use, once the traffic is too much, it is not allowed.”