Wednesday, May 15, 2013

NSCIA MEETING IN KADUNA



                                         Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, Secretary General NSCIA

The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs held its 2013 National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on 27th Jumaadath Thaani 1434 (7th May, 2013), at the Jama’atu Nasril Islaam Conference Hall, Kaduna, and superintended by His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the NSCIA, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, mni., CFR.


My purpose today is not to report on the proceedings of this NEC meeting or give a summary of what happened. I will attempt to place myself in the position of a Muslim in Nigeria, seeing things from outside, and not as a delegate to the NEC meeting.


Before the 2013 NSCIA NEC meeting in Kaduna, I was inclined to think that NSCIA is nothing but a high-sounding umbrella body doing and signifying nothing; that it is not a match to its Christian counterpart, which, in spite of its internal strife and leadership tussle and the ireful, choleric disposition of its current president, CAN’s voice is loud and clear on all issues affecting Christians; but NSCIA  is  a redundant council, reacting only to issues when they occur, and never proactive; that its leadership does not know or note the efforts of various Islamic bodies in Da’wah; that NSCIA is silent on crimes committed by insurgents in the name of Islam; that this is a docile council, equal to a branch of the government of the day, that has a lot of resources which deplete rapidly devoid of accountability and proper auditing.


This Kaduna meeting taught me a lot of things to the extent that I was tempted to add New to the council’s appellation. I now know that the entire Muslim Ummah in Nigeria, through its various delegates, Islamic organisations and principal officers of the council, are the actual NSCIA. Our efforts in Da’wah, our radio/television programmes, our weekly columns on national dailies, our writings on internet blogs, and our Friday Khutbahs are all avenues of sanitising the Ummah on what we, as Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs do for the advancement of the Deen in Nigeria. There is no NSCIA without the Muslims. We are the NSCIA. Through these forums of Da’wah, as mentioned above, Muslims should dictate the affairs, and take ownership of the NSCIA by assisting the leadership with counsel on what to do concerning issues affecting us. If we say ‘sad things are happening to Muslims’ and prima facie, it is as if nothing is being done, though, Allah knows that the leadership is doing a whole lot, some apparent, some concealed, but, it is also, we, that should stop bickering, and tell the truth to our leaders and proffer solutions to what affects Islam and the Muslims as well as the nation where we reside and call our own.


NSCIA is the coordinating bodies of all Islamic associations and organisations. The meaning of this is that Muslims in Nigeria are the NSCIA; the two are inseparable. We fail when we allow it to fail. Under NSCIA we bring our myriad experiences to bear; what works for Ansarudeen in this area will be merged with how NASFAT handles similar issues elsewhere or how Muslim Consultative Forum deals with certain issues affecting Muslims, and these methods would serve NSCIA in other fronts. This is how it should be. We should put a stop to the habit of sitting down, doing nothing but accusing others of what we are guilty of. We have to make NSCIA what we want it to be.


I also understood that because of the goodwill and access to those in power of the leadership of NSCIA, it does not in any way make it a branch of the government or an organisation of the government. Yes, it a religious organisation, but it is still non-governmental, and as such it should have financial independence for it to be accorded the deference it deserves. We should not, therefore, wait for government largesse to fund the activities of our NSCIA. Let us have a budget of our annual activities and source for the money from us through levies on Muslims, our various organisations and any halaal venture that we may envision for the council.


All the above is doable given the style of leadership of His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar mni., CFR. I was highly impressed with the way His Eminence conducted the proceedings of this Kaduna meeting. There was need to fill in some vacant positions namely: Deputy President General (South), Secretary General of NSCIA, Deputy Secretary General (North), Deputy Secretary General (South) and Treasurer. Most of us were expecting voting in the manner obtained in democracies. I may not be wrong if I say that not all those sitting in the Jamaa’atu conference hall were delegates. Many could be there for the purpose of giving more votes to whomever they preferred for a post. But His Eminence reminded us that Islam has its aegis against political rancour and bitterness through the Electoral College (Majlisush Shuuraa). Thereafter, His Eminence commenced the process of transparent appointment of a 13 man Shuuraa council headed by the Shehu of Borno, to consider nominated members and recommend new officers for filling the vacant positions. This wise, proactive intervention by His Eminence, the Sultan, nipped in the bud any unforeseen difficult situation that might arise if other ways of election were used. The appointment of the Shuuraa members was so plain that everybody was free to nominate or reject the appointment of any member. And when the Majlisush Shuuraa finished and submitted its assignment, the meeting approved it unanimously. This was achieved through the leadership of His Eminence which is guided by Islamic ideals: no bullying, no coercion; everybody was respected, listened to and given the chance to say no to anything that they took exception to.


Despite his military background, His Eminence is not dictatorial. He said, ‘We only hear from you to be able to know what to say’; even though the intellect and knowledge that emanate from his words leave you in no doubt as to the discipline of the mind of the speaker, and fact that he has more information on the issue you labour to bring to his attention.


The closed-door meeting lasted for about 7 hours with His Eminence remaining in his seat for 6 hours at a stretch (before going for salaah), answering questions frankly without mincing words, commenting on issues raised by other participants, directing speakers to the microphone after picking the next to speak, and in some occasions, correcting misconceptions and setting the records straight. No weariness or sign of fatigue touched His Eminence, the Sultan. Would that I was a military-trained person! Very few of us endured sitting for that long without moving to stretch our legs or answer the call of nature.


Henceforth, we shall not be silent on political matters. It is high time we asked for our right, and not to wait for anybody to give it to us! Let us encourage and support the good among us to test their popularity at the polling booths. The evil ones should be exposed for what they are and be distanced from public office.


Friday, May 3, 2013

OPEN LETTER TO NHRC


                                       Mr Chidi Odinkalu, Chairman NHRC


Dear Mr Chidi Odinkalu,


As the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC),  I feel more comfortable addressing this correspondence to you than, say, writing to President Goodluck Jonathan for example, who, to mind, is overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges facing this country to the extent that he needs our prayers for God’s guidance on what to do. I have a lot of respect for NHRC and what you are doing in partnership with other civil society organisations for the protection and advancement of human rights in Nigeria. Though the word ‘independent’ is not part of its name, I assume that, under your leadership, the NHRC, in exercising its mandate, is more independent than Jega’s INEC which oftentimes gives the impression of acting at the behest of the ruling party. Doubtless, NHRC and the honourable members of its Board will not betray the confidence reposed in them by assenting to the dictates of anybody in discharging their responsibilities.


You were quoted in the media recently expressing your concern ‘over the killing of over 200 civilians including women and children in Baga, Borno State,’ and also calling ‘for a quick and diligent investigation that will lead to an open and transparent trial of persons behind this avoidable loss of lives and property’. You said, ‘In order to understand what happened, it is necessary to undertake an independent and credible assessment of the situation in the affected locations.’ (LEADERSHIP of Wednesday, May 1, 2013)


This is commendable given the fact that NHRC is a government establishment and the Executive arm of that government is playing ostrich with the actual number of fatalities in the Baga massacre. A motion was raised in the upper legislative chambers of the National Assembly by Senator Maina Ma’aji Lawal in which he averred that ‘between one hundred and eighty and two hundred human lives were lost and numerous others unaccounted for…’  This Distinguished Senator who is from the area also said that he personally counted 220 graves apart from eight other graves he was told were not in the two cemeteries he visited.  A local government official who witnessed burial of bodies said, ‘anybody who says the number of the dead is not up to 300 is not a resident of Baga’.


The Presidential Spokesman Reuben Abati relying on a purported report by NEMA said that ‘they found only 32 fresh graves in Baga while the Defence HQ team said 30 insurgents were killed in action while six more bodies were later found 3 kilometres from the scene of the violence’. But NEMA officials were denied access into Baga until 8 days after the MNJTF ‘fired indiscriminately at civilians, killing hundreds and’ setting thousands of home ablaze.


According to Abati, the Defence Headquarters, in a submission to President Jonathan, stated that the Multinational Joint Task Force’s activities are legal and need to be sustained. There was this mention of mass graves by the Defence Headquarters that ‘some locals were asked if they could take the assessment team to the mass graves where 185 people were allegedly buried, but the people denied knowledge of such graves. The Chairman of Kukawa LGA was approached on the same issue, he also did not know of such graves.’ On item (f) of the report, the Defence Headquarters continued, that ‘The chairman had earlier informed the team that Muslims do not bury more than one body in a grave.’ This is their own manufacture in order to muddle the waters. No body mentioned any case of mass graves in Baga. And this Kukawa LGA chairman was either not contacted at all on this issue or he does not know that Islaam has provision for mass graves if need be. Islaam has stipulated conditions, dos and don’ts during mass grave burials. But in this Baga case there was no such thing. All bodies were buried individually and the Senator said he personally counted them one by one until he recorded 220. There were no mass graves, and nobody mentioned that but this contrived report by the Defence Headquarters!


By the way, if President Jonathan has ordered a probe of the incident and the report of that probe is not yet out, is it not crass prejudice for Abati to predetermine the results by announcing that the number of civilian lives lost was grossly inflated? What explains why the press is not allowed from access to the ‘scene of the crime’?


The Human Rights Watch (HRW), as reported by LEADERSHIP Thursday, 02 May 2013, in its report on Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, has argued that satellite images and witness accounts on the Baga incident ‘raised concerns of cover-up, as images reveal massive destruction of civilian property from a military raid on April 16 and 17, 2013, in the northern Nigerian town of Baga, undermining the military’s claim that only 30 houses were destroyed’. In the said report, HRW further stated that ‘During security raids in communities where attacks have occurred, the military has burned homes and summarily executed men in front of their families. The Nigerian authorities have also arrested thousands of people in raids across the north. Many of these people have been held incommunicado without charge or trial for months or even years. In some cases they have been detained in inhuman conditions, torture, or killed.

‘The Nigerian authorities have repeatedly denied allegations of security force abuses, labelling those who report such abuses as ‘Boko Haram sympathisers’.


Mr Chairman, residents in almost all the places that the JTF has operated have said that the troops invade civilian homes around 12 mid-night, ask for the whereabouts of the menfolk, and summarily kill any male from the age of 15 upwards. If a single empty can of any brand of soft drink like Coke or Maltina was found in such a raid, nobody will be spared in the household – they will all be mown down and the house set ablaze.


In some cases the entire male teenagers of a town were arrested and taken to the JTF camp in either Maiduguri or Damaturu. They are tortured and even killed; their parents would be coerced to sign an undertaking affirming that their wards were members Boko Haram, and pay N20, 000 to claim their bodies.


Many will remember how it took the efforts of Al- Jazeera television to show that the police killed the leader of the misguided sect, Mohammad Yusuf; and that they killed innocent people including the crippled in cold blood as part of the ‘fight against terror’ in Northern Nigeria. Are we having a repeat albeit more sinister and better executed version of that gruesome event?


I know that the unenlightened, the bigots (tribal and religious), the Islamophobes and hate mongers in our midst will immediately accuse yours truly of either being a sympathiser, sponsor or member of the deluded group called Boko Haram; that is to be expected. Afterall, why did I qualify them in such unendearing terms to begin with? What I do not expect is that those who know better should either be quiet because it is not their part of the country or covertly support the JTF for “giving it to those scoundrels”.


The actions of Boko Haram are haraam for any sane Muslim; and the leaders of Boko Haram do not appear or act sane. Their actions are evidence of their lack of understanding of Islam. Killing any innocent person is a most grievous crime in Islam; even in error. How can anyone then justify killing hundreds, nay, thousands of both Muslims and Christians who have done nothing but being in the neighbourhood of the roving madmen? Every time Boko Haram strikes, Islam is placed on trial and Muslims are seen as guilty until they can prove themselves to be innocent. In an age where truth is the first casualty at the outbreak of any conflict, it is an impossible task. More often than not, Muslims have to rely on right thinking, unbiased non-Muslims to defend them. Some people are not so intelligent as to isolate a crime from a religion.


The most amusing and saddest argument in support of the Baga massacre is that the people of Baga harboured the insurgents and so it was OK to kill them. The military also said Boko Haram men used civilians as human shields. If this is the case, movie lovers and those who know little about military laws would assume that the rule of engagement is to fire at the insurgents even in a dense civilian population. Two American movies; Collateral Damage and Rules of Engagement were used as propaganda tools to explain away high civilian casualty figures in Afghanistan and Iraq. It took Wikileaks to show the world the truth.


The reality is different; people were systematically dragged out of their homes and shot in cold blood. Witnesses recounted how the soldiers were saying aloud on the streets that they would treat the villagers like the insurgents since they could not bring them out. Yet the truth is that if the villagers dared to expose the criminals, they met their end at the hands of the terrorists. If they failed to mention where they hide, they were still executed by the MNJTF! This has been the dilemma of those living in these troubled spots and who have nowhere else to call home. In other parts of the sane world, witnesses are protected from harm but in Nigeria, you are on your own!


All this is apart from the fact that the frequent murder of innocent lives by the security forces has eroded any thoughts of cooperation from the minds of many of the inhabitants of the troubled spots. The world condemned the massacres at Odi and Zaki Biam during the Obasanjo years for the same reasons that some people are now applauding the MNJTF! What has changed is the tribe and religion of those at the receiving end. Imagine for once that Baga is your village and picture uncles and cousins and aunts and grandfathers wiped out because the military found insurgents in the area. You will not fail to see how terrible the crime is.


Mr Chairman, NHRC has autonomy to bring about an independent investigation into what actually happened in Baga. You have vowed to do just that, and Nigerians do not expect anything less from you.