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Friday, June 20, 2014

NIGER STATE GOVERNMENT WAS WRONG ON DARUL ISLAM



                                                                 Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu

The Sunday Tribune of 15 June 2014, reported a story on page 7 captioned - How I Stopped Boko Haram in Niger State – Gov Aliyu. The report was on the ‘22nd graduation ceremony ofAdesoye College, Offa where Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, the Niger State Governor ‘explained how he prevented Boko Haram insurgents from having security base in the state by sacking the Darul Islam sect from their Mokwa Local Government  base in 2010.’

In the same report the Governor was further quoted as saying, ‘ “We were proactive in managing Boko Haram insurgents from having a base in Niger State. Imagine having Boko Haram in the middle of Nigeria? A governor must at all times seek ways of protecting the lives and properties of people in his state

Darul Islam had no connection whatsoever with Boko Haram. Darul Islam had been in existence years before the emergence of Boko Haram. I visited the community in 2004 together with the current Archbishop of Canterbury, when he was then known as Reverend Canon Justin Welby, Co-Director of International Centre for Reconciliation. Bishop Welby led a team from Coventry Cathedral, United Kingdom, to Nigeria in order to convene an international conference on peace in collaboration with the Nigeria Inter-religious Council (NIREC). I and Sheikh Muhammad Sani Isa, Imam, Waff Road Mosque, and current Special Adviser to Kaduna State Governor on Islamic Affairs were members of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the Coventry Cathedral-NIREC Peace Conference.

We visited the Taliban, in Maduguri and Yobe, which later metamorphosed into Boko Haram, but actually, we started with Darul Islam in Niger State. The purpose was to reach out to extremist as well as moderate groups so they may key into the peace project and participate in the conference. Therefore, it is apparent from this that Darul Islam was in existence even before the appearance of Boko Haram.

This is what I wrote on these pages in 2010 on our visit to Darul Islam:

‘Darul Islam was more than a mere group; it was a community on the outskirts of Niger State. This was a peace-loving community. Members of the LOC for the Peaceful Coexistence Conference of the Coventry Cathedral were welcomed; with a few introductory remarks to the leader of Darul Islam (Malam Bashir) on the purpose of our visit, we (Muslims and Christians) were ushered into the masjid (mosque) without discrimination. I want to see another group of Muslims in this country that will admit Christian clergy into its mosque for the purposes of dialogue and interfaith discourse! I am saying this because whenever we take Christian (foreign) visitors for the tour of the National Mosque the ignorant among the people would look at us with disapproval, and suspicion. Some even mutter curses under their breath, something about traitors going to Hell and so on.

‘The leader directed a crier to summon people in Darul Islam to the mosque for ‘an urgent and important matter.’ Within 15 minutes, there was no room left for the faithful to sit in the mosque; every available space was occupied. Many leaned on the walls, and many more stood outside behind the windows. Women in complete Islamic attire, and children were at the rear of the masjid; you could not hear even the slightest din. Everything was calm, peaceful. Nobody uttered a word without the consent of the leader (Ameer).
‘With the permission of the leader, I briefly introduced the LOC members to the Darul Islam community, and stated our mission. Later, The Reverend Canon Justin Welby, Co-Director of International Centre for Reconciliation, directed a number of questions at the leader of the community. ‘Sheikh,’ he began, ‘we wonder what will make you choose to stay here, far away from civilization, and basic amenities of modern life.’

‘‘You are right Reverend,’ started the leader of Darul Islam, ‘we chose to be here because we want to be governed by Allah’s Laws. Darul Islam means the Abode of Peace, Islam; whoever comes here will be in peace. We don’t belong to any sect be it Izala, Tariqah, Shia or whatnot. We are Muslims for that is what Allah calls the adherents of Islaam in the Qur’an. We don’t fight anybody, kill or destroy property. Darul Islam has its market, ‘health centre’, a school for our children where they are taught Islaam and what will not harm their faith of the so-called Western Education, and even abattoir. We farm what we eat; we need nothing from anywhere. We are content with what Allah has provided for us here. Our wells are overflowing with water, these Lister engines you see around our mud-built houses are the source of energy that illumines our homes; we are not in need of NEPA. Ours is a modest life. The Governor (Abdulkadir Kure of the time) personally came here to plead with us to leave, that he has earmarked a large plot of land for us within the city. We showed our gratitude to, and prayed for him; we made him understand that we prefer to stay here. He conceded, and left us alone. It may be that he had seen that we pose no threat to anybody; we are peaceful.’’

In November 2012, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation held its official launch at Transcorp Hilton with Mr Tony Blair himself in attendance. Also present was Bishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury Designate at the time. Others were President Goodluck Jonathan, represented by the Minister of Housing, Ms Pepple, His Eminence Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar III, Sultan of Sokoto, His Royal Highness, Estu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, Most Reverend Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Anglican Archbishop of the Province of Kaduna and Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President, Christian Association of Nigeria. During question time, I had the floor, and I said:

I’m happy His Royal Highness, Estu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar is here. Let me remind Bishop Welby of Darul Islam, a peaceful community in the outskirts of Niger state that hosted us during our fact-finding trip, and allowed us to dialogue with its members in their mosque. It will interest the Archbishop of Canterbury Designate to know that the peaceful community he visited no longer exists today. It has been wiped out, its men, women and children banished and their dwellings levelled to the ground.’ I mentioned many things concerning our visits to Taliban in Yobe and Borno states as well as other issues concerning the final report written by the Coventry Cathedral.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Designate was grieved by that gruesome banishment of a peaceful community. He later sent me email in which he stated his thoughts on Darul Islam and the ill-treatment they received on the expulsion.

Boko Haram kill Christians and Muslims who do not share their views; they do not dialogue with them. How could the Niger State Governor boast of stopping Boko Haram by expelling, from their dwellings, a people that had nothing to do with Boko Haram? The ‘sacking’ of Darul Islam was not analogous to preventing ‘Boko Haram insurgents from having security base in the state…’ It was rather a heartless exhibition of the antithesis of a civilised society where those who choose to be different are respected. Darul Islam was in every inch similar to the Amish Christians in the United States of America, where members farm what they eat, children go to school within the community, and people there have less to do with the modern world. You have the equivalent of these two in the many ‘camps’ along expressways across the country. There is a camp of the Hindu Guru Maharaji sect along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway; there is a complete mini town for the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), the Winners’ Chapel and Deeper Life Church along the same road. Some have banks, hospitals, hotels and filling stations in them. They employ a large number of people and they pose no threat to anyone just like Darul Islam.

The security forces sent to banish Darul Islam pounced on the inhabitants at dawn while they were in the mosque for the Fajr prayer. Though there were Muslims among these uniformed personnel, they did not have the courtesy of going into the mosque to speak to the people on their ruthless mission. They ordered them out of the mosque. What an irony! A Christian delegation was admitted into the mosque for dialogue, but Muslims who should also be observing the Fajr prayer at the time could not go into the mosque. They told everybody to come out, and told them that the government was not comfortable with the existence of that community. No other charges were made. No mention of Boko Haram at all or of anybody harbouring members of the dreaded sect, as the Governor stated in his Offa address. No weapons of any sort were recovered or discovered. No hate messages or deviant ideologies were evidenced in their recorded lectures, utterances or deeds, just plain ascetism.

These people were ordered by the security agents to huddle together while guns were trained at them and a group of the agents went into each room of each dwelling in the camp and ransacked them for alleged weapons. Just as Bush did in Iraq, they found nothing, because there was nothing to be found.

I have my reservations against the Darul Islam group and their hijrah method; that is not what I set out to discuss, it is that these peace-preaching, peaceful people would be tarred with the same brush as the maniacal, evil and deviant group called Boko Haram that is riling and unfair. It stretches the truth too far and I think it was just to score an unnecessary political point.

The topic of the Governor’s address should have been ‘How I Supported Boko Haram’, because you expelled a whole community that had its means of livelihood, made hundreds of able-bodied men jobless, and, by that, you created a handy resource for Boko Haram recruitment!

In every group of religious people, we have those willing to go to the fringes if the conditions are right. It has always been the duty of their spiritual leaders and the political leaders to keep them in check before they become a violent fanatical group. It was, and remains, the duty of the governor to watch out for potential troublemakers. To that extent, he was right to investigate the group and ascertain what threat they posed to peace in the state. Where I believe he went off course was to scatter these people forcefully when nothing was ever recorded against them. The rallying head of the group now absent, His Excellency has given the less religiously educated among them a chance to explore means of squaring the perceived injustice meted out on them - just what Boko Haram recruiters will love!

No nation let alone a state ‘in the middle of Nigeria’ can honestly boast of stopping lunatics of the ilk of Boko Haram, Al-Qaida, etc. America has not succeeded in its war against terror, as there are bombs, kidnappings, and killings everywhere - Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, etc. – billions expended without abatement of the crises. In addition, no state in Northern Nigeria is immune from the atrocities of Boko Haram. It is not fitting, therefore, for the governor of any state to claim stopping a band of fake jihadists that could strike as and when they want.  

Expelling Darul Islam was a shameful operation, not something to be proud of or what could be used for cheap political aggrandisement.

My advice to His Excellency, Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu is to concentrate on leaving good legacies in Niger State, giving his electorates better life and good infrastructure, rather than making apocryphal speeches. After all, well done is better than well said!


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