Dr. Nafiu Baba Ahmed, is a lawyer and Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria. In this interview with ABDULLAHI HASSAN, he warned that his organisation would not support power rotation between the North and South in 2023, insisting that the side with the largest population of voters should have it. He also spoke on the need to extend the implementation of sharia laws to Southwest Nigeria because of the predominance of Muslims in at least four of the six states in the zone.
Many Nigerians don’t know the difference between your organization and Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, can you educate them?
Quite honestly, many people mistake Supreme Council for Sharia with Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs is an extension of Jama’atul Nasirul Islam, JNI, because previously JNI was an umbrella organization for all Islamic groups in the country and it is led by Emirs with Sultan as president. During late Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki, it was extended, and late Abdullateef Adegbite became the Secretary- General. Gradually, the Southwest Muslims considered the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, SCIA, as umbrella organization. But SCIA is largely made up of Emirs led by the Sultan. So it has severe limitations because all the Emirs including the Sultan are all appointees of government, so when the issue of sharia came up around 2001, we felt the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and Jama’atul Nasrul Islam cannot take the mantle of leadership of protecting the interest of Nigerian Muslims particularly for canvassing sharia as right for Muslims because they tilt towards the interest of government for fear of losing their position or status. So we formed the supreme council for sharia in Nigeria. We approached Supreme Council for Islamic affairs and told them that you know your limitations, you cannot handle the issue we can handle though we can partner. Later, we parted ways because we realized that they wanted us to get clearance from them for anything we want to do, and of course, they cannot engage in any controversial issues that will entail criticizing government policies even if those are against the interest of Muslims. We parted ways and took our independent path. In short, SCIA and our organization are two independent bodies. Sometimes, we get united when we agree and we sometimes part ways when we disagree on some issues that concern Muslims. In other words, Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs is more of governmental control while Supreme Council for Sharia is entirely private. It brings all Islamic groups together where there is an issue at hand especially critical issues affecting Muslims and Islam regardless of what the government will feel about it, once it is on teaching of and commandment of Allah.
Would you say that the purpose of setting up your organization has been achieved because not all the states in the North practise sharia law , and where it’s practiced , it’s not really effective?
When the issue of sharia came up, a lot of devoted Muslims who know the true teaching of Islam were excited about it because it is a long dream; when and how we can format our lives to conform with the teaching of Islam, sharia. Nigeria since colonial history was considered to be a secular state, which means that Nigeria is a country with no any single religion adopted as law of governance. But we do not believe that there is no any authority that will reject religion in its affairs. In any case, it could be a self deceit to do that after all government has engaged in matters relating to religion all the time. It is a half-truth to claim that Nigeria has no business with religion. So Sharia is the right of all Muslims. It does not affect the right of other non- Muslims to that extent, we felt that we need to take necessary steps to ensure that the dream is actualized. A lot of governors that time did not understand it or did not like it for political reasons. In other words, they didn’t want to be seen as too religious but because of the pressure, a lot of governors were forced to adopt it. For example, the Kano state governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; he had no choice than to adopt it, though he did not believe in it, and he did not like it, he had no choice than to bend to the wish of the people while necessary structures like penal code were fully adopted. The penal code inherited from Northern Nigeria in at least ten states were amended to suite the provision of sharia. To that extent, I can say Sharia was successful because the laws were there only, we needed people with political will and commitment to the people to ensure that it is implemented.
Secondly, the feeling that sharia was going to violate or tamper with the right of non Muslims is false. There is need to understand that sharia only affects Muslims. So all these issues had been cleared. We can say that the implementation of sharia was successful, but the argument could be the absence of leaders with the political will to fully implement it. Even the first governor who muted the idea and started it , did not have the commitment , he was saying one thing but doing another thing differently. We thank God, Allah has helped his religion by getting sharia back as right of Muslims. We have got some institutions which some religious groups are fighting against, like the Islamic economic system, Islamic banking and Islamic insurance. These were some issues that were rejected before but now accepted as best system. The movement for sharia has succeeded , at least it is now a reality. The question of implementation is a different thing. I am not saying it’s a total success but it has to be gradually. It is common to any struggle, if you go through the life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), you will discover he has passed through difficulties in preaching and other tests but eventually, he succeeded. As at now, we have scaled through the first stage, that those who believe that Nigeria is a secular country are beginning to change, the Muslims are beginning to accept the Sharia as Muslims while non-Muslims have understood that sharia is the right of Muslims, not theirs. You see, Sharia can operate in isolation with certain societal values, and system or laws, for example, Usery (Riba).
There is a controversy over the elimination of death penalty in the constitution of Nigeria, what is the position of your organization?
Well , the position of Islam I guess is the same position with Christianity, because when the controversy arose, I could remember when UN passed a convention against violation of human rights, by eliminating death penalty, Muslims and Christians rose against it, a lot of Christians believe that it should be as it is in the bible; an eye for an eye , truth for truth. Criminal law, law of retribution is there, they are borrowed from religious teachings; both Bible and Qur’an to act as deterrent, if you kill a person intentionally. If you are not punished, then it will be an encouragement to perpetuate the act. So Islam is strongly in support of the death penalty and that is our position. If you kill a person intentionally, you shall be killed.
Though, in Islam, there is a provision for pardon, you can say we pardon you in lieu, then you pay some amount as “ Diyya’’. It is a criminal case against a state but those aggrieved, the relations or parents of the deceased are right owners of the negations. You see, with weak laws, we can see the impunity. People are always killing people, the soldiers take criminals and shoot them, nobody is saying anything. So impunity has become part of the Nigerian psyche, unfortunately. From religious perspective, death penalty should remain.
Some people argue that your group was set up to promote Islamic extremism, what do you have to say on this?
People are entitled to their opinion and point of view, and no matter what we do, some people cannot get over their personal prejudices, bigotry.
You see, we’ll be going against the teaching of Islam if we insist on Islamizing Nigeria, because the doctrines of sharia in the Qur’an is that there is no compulsion in Islam. The Jews would have been finished, wiped out from the earth, but the protection they received from Islamic teachings saved them. They were allowed to retain their religion. The Christians in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria have been Christians for over 1000 or 2000 years living with Muslims, there was never a time when attempt was made to compel them to join Islam. They are protected because they had scriptures. It is not true that we are trying to Islamize Nigeria, it is a statement based on prejudice, and desire to give us a bad name. We are not concerned about that, our concern is to protect right of Muslims and project it in limelight.
Whether some people saw it that way or not, it’s not our business because there is nothing you can do with some people’s perception, no matter, good or bad.
Would your organization want to see sharia practiced across Nigeria, in the 36 states?
No, no. You cannot implement sharia in Cross River, Akwa Ibom or Enugu, Anambra or Ebonyi. It ‘ll look absurd, and it’s against the teaching of Islam. We’ll live together with those states who are predominantly Christians because that is how God wants it and told us what to do. We respect people’s religion as I respect my own.
Our mission is to see the implementation of sharia in states that are predominantly Muslims. In the North, seven states, Southwest, four states, only Ondo and Ekiti have lesser Muslims numbers. Even if it is implemented in those states only Muslims will be applied to.
Police recently rescued some children from Kano city allegedly kidnapped and converted into Christianity in one of the states in South- East. How do you react to that?
Well, the issue of kidnapping is a new phenomenon. If you were to reverse the situation, Muslims, kidnapping one or two of Christian children, the world would have been shouting about it. But the Christians have been doing it and government of Nigeria is not doing anything. We are happy that the police have made moves and intervened to ensure that the children had been taken back to their parents. But up till now, we have not seen any report stating that the suspects have been arraigned before court of law. This has been the practice in Nigeria, the government allows it for political reasons. Our own brothers; Muslims in position will not do anything. That is the tragedy in Nigeria. Government must put a stop to this because if they do not , it can escalate to unfortunate situation. The recent cases that involved children from Kano, Gombe, Bauchi ,Kaduna and others is a continuation of what has been going on for a long time. A few years ago, a church in Benin went and took children from the Camp of Internally Displaced persons (IDPs) in Borno and Yobe states to Benin city in Edo state. We sent people who met in the church and some of us wanted to interview some of the pastors on why the children were converted to Christianity and indoctrinated against their religion and people, but the government has not done anything. Unless the government responds to its primary responsibility by being fair and just, as well as protecting the right of individuals in respective of his or her religion, it is a recipe for crises. So we appeal to government, before people begin to take laws into their hands , those apprehended in committing the act of kidnapping should be punished so that people should know and learn lessons. A similar case happened 15 year ago, in Plateau state. After the massacre of muslims in Yelwan Shedam in 2004, the Christians took away over 250 girl children as booties. We at the Supreme Council for Sharia, have taken up the case to all security agencies, we even met Jonathan when he was acting President, and the then National Security Adviser.We also wrote several letters to the Inspector General of Police but nothing was done. They were taken as slaves and forced to convert to Christianity all in Plateau state. Any government that allows this will not achieve meaningful progress in peaceful co-existence. There can never peace without justice.
Why didn’t you approach Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN instead of insisting on government to solve the problem?
You see our experience with CAN is more with leaders. The leaders are not religious. Because they will you tell untrue stories, with their prejudice or defend their faith. In Islam if we are wrong we accept when somebody tells you, you are wrong. It is necessary for government to come in because it is either they are defending or trying to justify what’s happening. In fact the government of Plateau state and leaders of Christian churches have all denied it yet it is an undeniable fact. So of what use if we engage them? We had no option than to inform the state to protect its citizens. Save the right of these girls and their parents who have been in grief for 15 years.
What should be the role of religious leaders in Nigeria’s politics?
I can only speak about Muslim leaders. My own view on the kind of role they should play, because I have seen the role of the Christian leaders, now let me talk about my own perspective. We had a governor, a Christian cleric in Taraba state who died, who had numerous cases with EFCC. We have had another one in Plateau who is claimed to be a religious bigot. They had bad records. Their religious teaching or faith has not impacted on their leadership role as leaders. In my view, Muslim leaders should not engage in partisan politics ,seeking political office. This is against the background that the democracy we practice harps on perpetual division within the society through political parties that are struggling for power. This is bound to cause a division. If a respected Islamic scholar contests for position under a particular party, then others will begin to see you from that party, not as a scholar or clergy; whatever you say, they will look at it from party angle. What they should do is to remain as successor of Prophet who teaches and stands for the truth and justice irrespectiveof whoever, whether the government or the governed. Tell the people what and how they should live. That is their role and any move to join partisan politics will cost them their respect and reputation. But equally, they should actively be involved in ensuring the emergence of credible leadership at the different levels in the country. If scholars remain with true teaching on the religious doctrines, they will exert serious influence in determining who is to be what in politics, rather than going to governors’ offices for favour.
What’s your view on Ruga settlement and the controversy it generated?
There is nothing new about Ruga settlement, but the people of the South and a section of Christians have made up their mind on the issue and this is very unfortunate. There is no any tribe that has the adaptability to settle anywhere in the world like Fulani. The communities have been living in peace with them. All of a sudden, problem cropped up which has social and political undertone. The political undertone now; is that people saying we don’t want Fulani to live in our area because of their religious background.
With the expansion of population, the colonial government drew grazing areas for the cattle and there was never any problem. But with the growing population, a lot these lands had been taken away. When they move they have no choice than to allow animals pass through farms. There is nothing wrong with the concept of Ruga. It is just animal husbandry in an organized way. It’s an important aspect of agriculture which is the main stream of the nation’s economy. Some people are against it because of the people involved. Governors of Benue, Taraba and to some extent Plateau were against it because of the Fulani tribe only. Fulani had been living in many settlements for years, Mambila zone in Taraba state is typical example of an area where Fulani live for years but what happened, many were killed there for no reason. So you see when government allows people to be killed with no reason there is tendency for violence.
Do you support power rotation or zoning arrangement between the North and the South?
My view and that of my Council and other Muslim organizations we relate with is that democracy is a game of numbers. Henceforth, we’ll not associate with any political party that seeks to subvert the fundamental principles of democracy which is numbers. Why should the majority accept minority leadership just for a principle of zoning. Let anybody qualified to contest for any position or feels he has sufficient numbers of support and credibility get it, so be it. We’ll not support any zoning. Anybody that comes with parochial thought of zoning or rotation, we’ll reject. Any credible person, be he Hausa, Yoruba or any person could canvass for support and free to be elected. The argument of the advocates for rotation does not hold water , it is self-serving and I feel that they don’t have the numbers so the only way for them to scale through is hide under this, with negative propaganda. Nobody can intimidate us , we ‘ll never accept this arrangement.
If you meet Buhari today, what will you tell him?
Well, I know President Muhammadu Buhari very well. With all sense of humility, I personally, the Council and affiliate groups worked for Buhari more than any political party with the help of God to attain the position of President. What I will say to him is that I pray for him to succeed and strongly urge him to have the fear of God. He should not allow political expediency to dictate decision; fairness and justice should be his guiding principles.