Dr Mahfouz A. Adedimeji,
Director, Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies,
University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria
Lecture Presented at the Formal Islamic Programme on the 56th Independence Anniversary of Nigeria Organised by the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) on Friday, September 30, 2016, at the Conference Hall, National Mosque, Abuja
When I received the invitation to discharge this important assignment, I felt a cold shudder run through my spine. I momentarily found myself in the position of Prophet Musa (A. S.) when Allah commanded him to deliver a message. Musa sought excuse by trying to deflect the assignment elsewhere (to Harun) but he stood no chance.
Therefore, like Musa (A. S.), I settled down to the reality and I soliloquised: “O my Lord! Open for me my chest. And ease my task for me. And make loose the knot from my tongue, so that they will hear my speech.” (Q. Taha 20: 25-28)
Having said this, I begin by appreciating the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) under the leadership of His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, CFR, mni, for this opportunity. I also acknowledge with gratitude the critical intervention in the polity that this programme, the first of its kind in the annals of the NSCIA, engenders. I use this medium as well to congratulate all Nigerians on the auspicious occasion of the 56th year of our Independence.
May Nigeria continue to thrive and overcome her multi-faceted challenges!
ON THE TRAIL OF THE TRIAL
It is noteworthy that Nigeria is richly endowed with abundant human and material resources. But as our people say “the bigger the head the bigger the headache,” it appears that the more blessings Nigeria has, the more the trials she faces. The trial of what is referred to as Nigeria today can be traced back to the initial contact with the Europeans about 1480 after which commerce (both legitimate and illegitimate) held sway for about 400 years.
Colonialism was kick-started in our shores by the British bombardment of Lagos in 1851 and the declaration of Lagos a colony of the British Empire a decade after (i.e. 1861). Subsequent conquests brought all parts of modern Nigeria under British Rule, administered first by the Royal Niger Company.
The name Nigeria was first coined and used by Miss Flora Shaw, then a correspondent with London Times newspaper in her January 1, 1897 dispatch. The name stuck with the adoption of “Northern Nigeria” on January 1, 1900 by Brigadier General Lord Lugard, based on Shaw’s suggestion, to refer to the Northern Protectorates of the Royal Niger Company. There was the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914 which signified the birth of modern Nigeria. As if you don’t know, Nigeria became independent in 1960.
Despite the abundant resources that Nigeria is endowed with, which include natural gas, petroleum, tin, iron ore, coal, limestone, lead, zinc, vast arable land and huge human capital, there have always been problems and challenges especially since the time of Independence. Rather than focus on the problems Nigeria faces with a view to solving them together, there have always been agitations or clamour for either restructuring or dismembering her corporate entity on the part of some Nigerians.
Therefore, appellations such as “a Lugardian contraption”, “a mere geographical expression” and “the mistake of 1914” have been used to characterise Nigeria. However, what is certain is that Nigeria is an act of God because whatever happens is ultimately a manifestation of His divine decree. Besides, there is a significant lesson in the situation in South Sudan as the country has not known peace since it broke away from Sudan.
If cutting the head is not the solution to headache, breaking Nigeria up is not the solution to the challenges the country faces. After 56 years of Independence, Nigerians should come to terms with the reality of staying together as a big family, despite the trials. This is even more important in the current Age of Globalisation where geographical borders are being shattered and alliances and blocs are being formed for increased relevance bordering on the age-long aphorism that unity is strength.
THE NATION ON TRIAL
Rather than make a judicious use of our God-given resources, Nigerians over the years through greed and selfishness frittered away several opportunities until the situation became dire. Until recently, when Nigeria became blessed with a leadership that is globally respected for discipline and anti-corruption, what Prof. Robert Rotberg (2004) said of Africa applied to the country.
According to the former Harvard University Professor,
Africa has long been saddled with poor, even malevolent leadership: predatory kleptocrats, military-installed autocrats, economic illiterates and puffed-up posturers. By far, the most egregious examples come from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe – countries that have been run into the ground despite their abundant natural resources. But these cases are by no means unrepresentative: by some measures, 90 per cent of Sub Saharan African nations have experienced despotic rule in the last three decades….Under the stewardship of these leaders, infrastructure in many African countries have fallen into disrepair…. Ordinary life has become beleaguered: general security has deteriorated, crime and corruption have increased, much-needed public funds have flowed into hidden bank accounts, and officially sanctioned ethnic discrimination – sometimes resulting in civil war – has become prevalent.
Thankfully, if this assessment was the case some twelve years ago, the situation is no longer so today as Nigeria is blessed with some men of discipline and integrity.
The problems or trials of Nigeria are diverse and concatenated. These trials manifest in insecurity, terrorism, poverty, illiteracy, youth unemployment, infrastructural deficit, energy challenges, crimes, violent conflicts, social tension and injustice, weak institutions and general frustration, just to mention a few. Unlike the period when the problem of the country was what to spend money on, the situation today is that several states cannot pay their employees due to the criminal theft of our common patrimony by some past vagabonds in power.
It is a compelling reality that many Nigerians are feeling the pangs of pains occasioned by economic recession in various ramifications. However, on the rationale behind the trials, the toils, the pains that our people are going through or feeling, Allah provides the answer in the Glorious Qur’an (At-Talaq 65: 8-9):
How many populations that insolently opposed the Command of their Lord and His messenger, did We not then call to account, to a severe account? And We imposed on them a severe punishment. And then they did taste the result of their conduct, and the end of their conduct was perdition.
TOP THREE TRIALS
Nigeria, our dear country, is interesting. There may be 55 countries in Africa and 195 countries in the whole world (excluding the ten countries that many people do not know like The Republic of Lakotah, Transnistria, Barotseland, Chinland, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Balochistan, South Ossetia and The Sovereign Military Order of Malta) but there are no two countries like Nigeria. Apart from being the largest country of the black race in the world, Nigeria’s religious identity is unique in the sense that the two major faith communities are close in number.
According to the current CIA World Factbook (last updated on September 20, 2016) Nigeria has a population of 186,053,386 people with Muslims constituting 50%, Christians 40% and adherents of indigenous beliefs constituting 10%. The almost equal number of the two major faith communities is a trial that Nigeria continues to pass through. In other words, religion is a major issue that is made to generate unnecessary tension in the country as a result of unnecessary rivalry.
Ethnically, the country is also diverse such that we have about 250 distinct ethnic groups and over 500 languages. At the end of the day, though linguistic identity is one major pedigree of nations, we speak diverse languages and the English language takes the ace. So, while the French speak French, the Chinese speak Chinese, the Germans speak German and the Arabs speak Arabic, Nigerians officially speak English. Therefore, ethno-linguistic diversity is construed by many Nigerians a trial, or a reason accountable for the state of the nation. Yet, the mere fact that the Somalis speak a single language does not make their country peaceful and progressive.
There is another interesting peculiarity about Nigeria and this appertains to taste, which is fueled by corruption. This is summarised by a Nigerian who posted on the social media thus:
Funny Nigerians, when they loot money, they keep it in Switzerland. When they fall sick, they go to Germany. When investing, they go to America. When buying mansions, they visit London. When shopping, they go to Dubai. When on holiday, they visit Paris or the Bahamas. When educating their children, they select Europe. But when they die, they all want to be buried in Nigeria? Please help me ask them, is Nigeria a cemetery?
Fortunately, the corruption profile of Nigeria is reducing drastically, thanks to the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Government in waging war against it. From being the most corrupt country in the world some years back, Nigeria is fortunately not in the list of the ten most corrupt countries just a year after Change.
In essence, apart from other problems Nigerians contend with, ethnicity, religion and corruption are hydra-headed problems and top three trials that put Nigeria at the edge of a cliff.
FAITH TO THE RESCUE
Ordinarily, Nigeria is a religious country judging from the commitment of many Nigerians to their faiths. However, the extent to which faith reflects in our character and actions leaves less to be desired. The bitter truth is that both the religious and irreligious people contributed immensely to the rot, decadence and mess that the present government is trying hard to clear. Many people who claim religion are chichidodos.
In his critically-acclaimed novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), Ayi Kwei Armah tells us what the chicidodo is:
Ah, you know, the chichidodo is a bird. The chichidodo hates excrement with all its soul. But the chichidodo only feeds on maggots, and you know the maggots grow best inside the lavatory. This is the chichidodo.
The world still remembers how certain characters used the garb of religion to siphon the money meant for the procurement of arms to fight criminals and thereby secure precious lives and property.
For the purpose of this presentation and its constraints, there are five ways in which faith and sincere belief in the Almighty can help to rescue Nigeria from her present challenges. It is incontrovertible that for change to occur, we all have to change as Allah tells us in the Glorious Qu’ran (Q. Ra’d 13:11): “Allah does not change a people’s lot unless they change what is in their hearts”.
Many Nigerians are blinded by their ethnicity and it is as if they consciously selected the ethnic groups to which they are affiliated. But religion makes us to realise that ethnic differentiation is just for identity formation. For the ethnic jingoists, the world is for them only and there should be no space for others.
Just as nobody chose his parents, no one chose to belong to any ethnic group. In the Glorious Qur’an (Al-Hujraat 49:13), the Islamic faith makes us to understand the rationale for ethnic plurality. According to the Almighty Allah, “O mankind, we have created you male and female, and we have made you nations and tribes so that you may know each other, surely, the best among you is the most pious.”
One concept Nigerians have to imbibe is “ubumtu”, which loosely translates as “I am because you are” and denounce this virus of selfishness as evident in the innocence of an African village.
The story was told that an anthropologist proposed a game for a group of African children. He put a basket full of fruits near a tree and told the children that whoever got there first would win the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all took each other’s hands, ran together and then sat enjoying the fruits. When he asked them why they ran like that as one of them could have had the fruits, one girl replied, “How can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?”
Nigerians must learn to run together regardless of their ethnic differences.
As earlier indicated, many Nigerians proclaim religion without actually understanding it or manifesting faith. The fundamental teaching of all religions in the world is love. Take our religious differences for example, if we have the right attitude, we will appreciate that the purpose of all religions is to be good.
In Islam, the Prophet (SAW) told us: “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” The same message is in Christianity where Jesus (PBUH) said, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7: 12). Also, while you have “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary” (Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a), you have in Buddism, “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” (Udana-Varga 5:18). The same idea resonates in several brands of the African Traditional Religion. It is by having religious understanding that we can tackle the problems and overcome the trials and challenges of today.
The need of the day is therefore resonant in the words of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: “There are good men in every land; the tree of life has many branches and roots; let not the topmost twig presume to think that it alone has sprung from the mother earth; we did not choose our races by ourselves; Jews, Muslims, Christians all alike are men; let me hope I have found in you a man.”
Anyone who is not good has lost the right to being faithful.
During the heady days leading to the commencement of the Second World War, European countries started to re-arm themselves militarily in preparation for the dire situation ahead. However, Frank Buckman jolted the sensibilities of world leaders that military re-armament was not the only solution to the impending calamity. He therefore launched a campaign for moral re-armament at the East Ham Town Hall, London, on May 29, 1938.
The opinion of Buckman has assumed greater importance in our world today. According to him, the crisis confronting the world “is fundamentally a moral one.” Therefore, “nations must re-arm morally. Moral recovery is essentially the forerunner of economic recovery. Moral recovery creates not crisis but confidence and unity in every phase of life.”
Nigeria today is facing moral Armageddon. There are heart-rending crimes committed with impunity by many Nigerians as if there is no accountability. Evils that could have brought complete destruction upon people are now a living reality in shrines where human beings are slaughtered, camps where young girls are impregnated with their babies sold like common commodities and all forms of social anarchy.
Faith offers us a platform to reset our priorities with a view to knowing that we are vicegerents of the Almighty Allah on this earth and we are all accountable for our actions. Faith has the key to make Nigerians know the purpose of life, which is to worship the Creator and serve His creation.
Negation of Obsessive Materialism
There is a need for value orientation among many Nigerians. There is an incredible level of obsession with material wealth, against all norms and ethics of religion, us. This obsession makes many people become selfish, greedy, hence corrupt. The world has been shocked by the humongous amounts of money stashed away by those who have been privileged to occupy some positions of authority in this country.
Faith has the potential to make us return to a life of simplicity and sincerity. Faith makes us to realise that whatever we meet in this world belongs to this world and at the end of the day, everything we assemble is subject to the destruction of time. If time destroys everything, as I will soon highlight, what is the essence of the mansions and other property Nigerians corruptly amass?
In his book, the The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), Albert Camus presents us the dilemma of man and the futility of his toils. He compares man and his existence to the life of Sisyphus who spent all his life rolling a big stone up a high hill. Sisyphus started his day rolling up the stone with all his nerves and energy and when he eventually succeeded in rolling it to the top of the hill, the stone would roll down. An unfortunate man, he would start again and the stone would roll down after a lot of sweat and toil. Sisyphus was doing this everyday – rolling up the stone, stone falling, rolling it up again and again – until he died. Sisyphus worked quite hard but what did he achieve?
Having material things is good but being desperate to have them at the expense of morality is bad. It is the obsessive materialism of a few Nigerians that has led to corruption, the devastating consequences of which negatively impacts on the country till now. Faith in God would make one realise that we came with nothing to this world and we are leaving with nothing.
Realisation of Life’s Vanity
In his book, The Truth of the Life of this World (2005), Harun Yahya tells us that time destroys everything: “A fruit gradually darkens and finally decays from the moment it is plucked from its branch. The scent of flowers fills our rooms only for a limited period. Soon, their colours fade away. The prettiest face wrinkles after a few decades: the effect of years on skin and the greying of hairs make that pretty face no different from those of other elderly people….In brief, everything surrounding us is subject to the ravages of time.”
If one is conscious of this, one would not destroy. If Nigerians have the faith to realise the vanity of life and the ultimate uselessness of killing, stealing and destroying, they will be more reflective.
Contrary to the apocalyptic prediction that Nigeria would end last year, the country emerged stronger and better. The outcome of last year’s election was not by accident. It was faith at work as Nigerians worked and prayed hard believing that they deserve a better deal from their leaders.
Today, Nigeria has not attained its full potential and life is difficult for a vast majority. But with faith in the Almighty Allah and the confidence reposed in our leaders, Nigerians will emerge victorious. With commitment to peace and development, patience and productivity, the trials of today will become manifest as blessings in disguise.
Lastly, if Nigeria appears to be a nation on trial, trials are part of life and they serve five purposes. They are to direct, inspect, protect, correct and perfect the tried.
May Allah (SWT) direct our course, inspect us with mercy, protect us from harm, correct us with His forgiveness and perfect our faith in Him.
Thank you and jazaakum Llaahu khayran for your kind attention.