Ismail Omipidan and Abdullahi Hassan, Kaduna
Sheik Yusuf Sambo Rigachikun is the deputy chairman, Council of Ulamas of North’s foremost Islamic group, Jama’atul Izalatul Bidi’a Waikamatus Sunnah (JIBWIS). The group is one of the largest Islamic societies in Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. The group in January announced its endorsement of President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term of office. But another leader of the group, Rigachikun, came out to challenge the position, insisting that the action of the group amounted to a “betrayal of trust”, prompting Sunday Sun to go after him in Kaduna.
In this exclusive interview, the Islamic scholar explained why he took the position, quoting relevant portions from the Qur’an and Hadith to support his position. Excerpts:
Sheik, let’s start by asking you why we see more clerics today engaging in partisan politics?
Yes, it is true that we, the religious scholars are involved in partisan politics now than before. But do not also forget that many clerics from both the Christian and Muslim divide played a significant role in bringing this government in 2015. In Islam, leadership is part of the teaching and worshiping, it is part of our role not only to preach for the election of good leaders, but also to participate in the production of a good leader. It is, therefore, unjust to hear a Nigerian leader asking clerics to stop taking part in partisan politics at this point in our political history. I know very well many Islamic and Christian clerics fought very hard to ensure that Buhari won the election in 2015, particularly, Dr. Ahmad Abubakar Gumi who lunched a foundation in his mosque demanding every Nigerian Muslim to contribute money for the success of Buhari. Similar thing happened in some other organisations. I think it would have been good for Buhari at that time to ask the clerics to step away from partisan politics, but he did not do that, why asking them now to stop their involvement in partisan politics? To me, the charge would amount to injustice against clerics or religious scholars, especially those of us that have been well known in the system. You see, politics as far as we are concerned, is built on the fundamental principles of Islam, right from the time of Prophet Muhammad to his four successors, Abubakar, Umar, Uthman and Aliyu. Secondly, politics is built on the teachings of great patriots like the late Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, who associated himself with both Islamic and Christian clerics to guide his administration. You can see his legacies, like A.B.U, New Nigerian Newspaper, NDIC, Aviation College, and NNDC, to mention a few. Third reason for our involvement in partisan politics is based on the advice of our great scholar, the late Sheikh Abubakar Muhammud Gumi, who insisted that we shall participate actively in politics. So, I think there is no reason whatsoever for anybody to challenge our participation in partisan politics.
Recently, your organisation came out bluntly to declare support for President Muhammadu Buhari, but later you countered the declaration by asking people to support Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. What does this indicate? Is the group divided or what?
Yes, it could be read as disunity or faction. My declaration is personal, as a Nigerian and Islamic scholar, although we have a faction of Izala group with headquarters in Jos, which is headed by Sheikh Alhassan Jingir and I am his deputy. And there is a Kaduna faction led by Malam Abdullahi Bala Lau. So my views on the BBC interview were personal and it does not represent the interest of Izala. Of course, I have more followers and supporters. I think the position of Kaduna faction to support Buhari is absolutely wrong, because Izala as an organisation represents the diverse interest of followers, as such the position taken by the Kaduna faction to support Buhari may not necessarily represent the political interest of entire Izala followers. However, my position is clear and it is based on my personal assessment, association and interaction with Alhaji Atiku Abubakar for more than 30 years. By my conscience, training and exposure in life, I choose a candidate based on what he can deliver or what he has delivered to the people as well as his contributions to my religion. For example, I know personally that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has been contributing to Islam tremendously. I could recall sometimes, more than 20 years ago, when I used to go to Adamawa for Ramadan Tafsir, (Qur’anic commentaries) in Yola or Jimeta. I visited a town called Koma, and discovered that their central mosque was leaking, when I returned to Jimeta I approached Atiku Abubakar with the request to renovate the mosque, he accepted. In fact he told me that he has built more than 100 mosques in almost all district heads’ palaces in Adamawa State. He renovated the mosque and provided them with all facilities. In Ganye Local Government Area alone, Atiku Abubakar built many mosques and Islamic schools. In fact, his religious impact extends up to Cameroun Republic; this is apart from universities and colleges that have been built. Atiku built or assisted to build schools and also supported many Islamic programmes and activities. So, as an Islamic scholar, my passion and interest will be captured on this area of religion which will influence my choice. I also read from the saying of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) that ‘the best among people is the one whose people benefit from him most.’ Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has established Gotel Radio and television stations, and Bottle Water company that is called Faro water that provide jobs to more than 50,000 people in Adamawa State, as well as other companies in Nigeria.
Let me tell you, recently, Adamawa State government confirmed that Alhaji Atiku organisation is second to government in the area of employment. So as far as I am concerned, people are benefiting from Atiku Abubakar more, so he is my choice. In fact, as I said, I have chosen Atiku Abubakar, and I had access to him even when he was the vice-president and I had a good time with him especially whenever I forward a request of our communities, he listened to me on whatever I advised him. For God’s sake, the person you can meet easily and advise him on people’s problems and he listens and accepts the advice, can you compare him with somebody who does not listen to anybody, but instead, relies on his illusions to misguide him?
How do you mean?
In the Holy Qur’an, Allah has told Prophet Muhammad, that ‘Those people that are supporting you, they are doing so because of mercy of Allah, but if you are too rigid to them, they will have run away from you. Therefore, if your people offend you, forgive them, and if they commit sin, seek for Allah’s forgiveness against their wrong doings, on any issue, do seek their advice on whatever you table before them. And also submit everything to God.’ This has clearly indicated that a good leader is he who listens to advice all the time and accepts the best out of it.
Are you saying President Buhari does not listen to advice?
There are two things that impress me about Atiku Abubakar; the first was the time when Abacha offered him a ministerial appointment, while his mentor was in detention, the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. He called me and sought for advice. I told him that ‘sir, do not accept the offer because of your intimacy with Shehu Yar’Adua. If you accept the position, people will read a negative meaning to it. So, forget the appointment.’ He later accepted the advice.
The second episode was my intervention in the political crises in Taraba State when Alhaji Idris Waziri was nominated as a running mate to Rev. Jolly Nyame, before he was later denied the position by some politicians. Idris Waziri took the matter to court and, of course, we felt bad about what happened to him. I, Malam Abdullahi Bala Lau and Abdulkarim Buba asked him to withdraw the case, he did and later I went to Alhaji Atiku and pleaded for pardon on his behalf. He accepted, and subsequently, he was appointed Nigeria’s Ambassador to Pakistan and later a minister of Commerce and Industry, all with our influence. This is what happened; these people are alive, including Malam Abdullahi Bala Lau, leader of Izala, Kaduna who by the way chose to drop Alhaji Atiku Abubakar with all what he benefited from him. All these people know who Atiku Abubakar is very well.
Have you encountered President Muhammadu Buhari before? What kind of person is he?
As a Nigerian, every person will give account based on what he knows or experience. I lived with Alhaji Atiku Abubakar for a long time, but to God who created me, I have never had any interaction with President Muhammadu Buhari for an hour before. But I urge you to speak to some of his closer associates among the Islamic scholars, maybe they can give you details about his character, I am talking of persons like Sheikh Abdullahi Bala Lau, Sheikh Yakubu Musa Katsina. But Sheik Abdullahi Bala Lau was close to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and he benefited a lot from his favour as both an Islamic scholar for the purpose of Islam and at personal level.
You said you were part of those that brought Buhari’s government to power, would you say he has done well so far?
From my own understanding, it is not impressive. You see, naturally I like to see a leader fulfilling any promise he made. My greatest worry at the time we fought for Buhari was the issue of Boko Haram. How they were killing people and destroying property. We expected Buhari to end Boko Haram within the shortest possible time as he promised. Unfortunately, up till now the government is still battling with Boko Haram. Not long ago, I watched on television the Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima with Borno traditional rulers, who went before President Buhari, shedding tears on the state of insecurity in Borno. This clearly shows that government has not solved Boko Haram saga. Secondly, Zamfara State governor last year came out in the media appealing to President Buhari to declare state of emergency on Zamfara State because of the incessant killing in the area. President Buhari led a protest against hike in price of fuel during Jonathan administration and insisted that Jonathan must bring it down for the poor masses. But President Buhari increased fuel price from N83 to N145, 000 almost 100 per cent. Honestly, I am not impressed with Buhari’s non-fulfillment of promises, especially on these issues listed already.
Another pathetic situation is the kidnapping. President Buhari spoke about farming, but failed to provide security to many farmers who are killed daily by rustlers and kidnappers who also demand for huge amount of money as ransom. Most victims had to sell their farms to pay for ransom. Also, I believe that there should be a balance between North and South in terms distribution of resources and execution of capital projects, in this wise again, the Buhari’s government is a disappointment.
Are you saying that the decision of Kaduna Izala faction to support Buhari’s candidature is wrong?
O yes, as I said earlier, the decision is absolutely wrong and a betrayal of trust and infringement of the rights of the followers , because the group represents the diverse interest of people , why should the decision be taken without the consent of the majority of the followers who are supporting different political parties and candidates? Let me be frank with you, the factionalisation of Izala group was based on this selfish interest of some scholars. The Kaduna faction who declared this support knows what they will gain from it. But I did not speak on behalf of Izala, Jos faction despite the fact that my personal interest , opinion is supported by most members, instead I allowed everyone to go by his choice. Another sad story about this declaration is that the Malam Abdullahi Bala Lau and his group , go and investigate as a journalists when we were campaigning for Buhari in 2015, this Izala faction led by Malam Abdullahi Bala Lau was campaigning for Goodluck Jonathan’s candidature. Some people were even thinking that the reason they are supporting Buhari candidature this time around perhaps is because of their involvement in shady deals during the Jonathan administration, though I don’t bother about this speculations, I stand for the truth and I believe in credibility and competence.
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was recently quoted to have said that he will accept the result of the election if it is free and fair, while President Buhari said it was impossible for him to lose based on his national popularity. As an Islamic scholar, what is your take on these two views?
Yes, Atiku said that he could only accept result of the election if it is done fairly and according to the rules. Let’s weight these statements on the scale of justice and find out who is on the right track.
You see, Allah gives power to which He wants and He takes it from whoever He wishes. So, if we can understand this, how can somebody who doesn’t have knowledge of hidden secret of Allah overrule his success? I think it is an encroachment into Allah’s divine powers, a great mistake for any believer to make that kind of statement. Success and failure is divine power of Allah.
It is barely one week to the presidential election, your final word to the electorate?
The message I have for Nigerians is to conduct themselves orderly and protect their votes as their only rights. They should vote the good leaders who will help them when they need help, youths should avoid political thuggery or violence. We shall continue with prayers to almighty Allah to keep this country in peace and prosperity.