Friday, March 27, 2015

VIOLENCE-FREE ELECTION: THE ROLE OF MUSLIM WOMEN

                                                                                      MAMA PEACE


The main auditorium of the Women’s Development Centre, Abuja was the venue, on Sunday 22nd March, 2015 of a National Muslim Women Town Hall Meeting organised by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Islamic Affairs & State House Mosque, Barrister Tahir Umar Tahir. The auditorium was full to capacity with mainly women from various Muslim organisations; there were some men also, not more than 1% of the participants anyway, which included some imams, Islamiyyah school teachers, paper presenters and representatives of the Muslim Students Society (MSS).

I was invited to the event as a discussant in a letter dated 12th March, 2015 and signed by the SSA, Barrister Tahir Umar Tahir himself, which read in part: 

“In continuation of the series of sensitization programmes in order to promote the need for the conduct of peaceful and violent (sic) free elections, I wish to respectfully notify you that my office is scheduled to hold sensitization/town hall meeting for 1500 Preachers, Imams, & Islamiyya school teachers of the FCT, Abuja.

“3. You are kindly requested to be A DISCUSSANT at the event. Her Excellency, Dame (Dr.) Patience Goodluck Jonathan (MAMA PEACE), First Lady, Federal Republic of Nigeria is expected to be the Special Guest of Honour at the event….”

From two other papers attached with the above letter, I understood that the ‘Lead Presenter’ of the paper I will discuss, with four other discussants, was Ustaz Bashir Mundi, who, during his presentation modified the topic to “Peaceful Elections” instead of “Violence-Free Elections”, because, according to him, ‘the former reflects more proactively the broader Islamic objective of spreading peace, love and mercy universally’

What I am trying to establish is the fact that none of the documents sent to me, from the letter of invitation to the conference papers, indicated that the National Muslim Women Town Hall Meeting was a political event or campaign event for any presidential candidate. Given the information communicated to me by the SSA to the President on Islamic Affairs & State House, Barrister Tahir, I came to the Town Hall Meeting with the intention of discussing Violence-Free Elections from an Islamic perspective. I shall revert to this aspect when I discuss the arrival of Her Excellency, Mama Peace, in the Second Session of the event.


Before the First Session of the meeting, Barrister Tahir Umar Tahir made invited speakers at the event to understand the need to ensure formal decorum, quietude and orderliness on the part of the audience in the presence of the Special Guest of Honour, the First Lady. He was very explicit on the exception that some of her handlers took over her coming to the event in order to avert a repeat of the hurling of pebbles at her husband during some of his campaign tours in the Northern part of the country. Barrister Tahir was able to convince Mama Peace, however, ‘that all would be well.’ And on the strength of these assurances by the Barrister, Her Excellency overruled her security details and gave her word on attending the meeting regardless of the consequences.

Therefore, we all resolved to address Barrister Tahir’s concern in our presentations, from the Lead Presenter, Ustaz Bashir Mundi, to the four discussants - 1) Sheikh Musa Olaofe, PhD, Imam, Ansarur-Ud-Deen, Abuja, (who was not present during the greater part of the First Session), 2) Sheikh Nura Khalid, Imam, Apo Legislative Quarters, 3) Yours Sincerely from the National Mosque, Abuja. (I may have cause, in the future, to write on why some people are uncomfortable with my being associated with the Abuja National Mosque, especially in public functions. This is a discussion for another day), and 4) Hajiya Raliat Akinbobola, Federation of Muslim Women Associations of Nigeria (FOMWAN). 

The speeches we gave were in English, Yoruba, and Hausa languages, according the proficiency of each speaker in a local language, but all spoke in English before translating into either Hausa or Yoruba. We devised this method of communication so as not to misinform or leave anybody out as to the seriousness of maintaining order when Her Excellency was around. 

Each one of us tried to show the position of Islam in the deference and honour a Muslim should accord leaders. We emphasised that there was not to be shouting, booing or interjection of abusive words when ‘Mama Peace’ is delivering her speech. Those unruly behaviours we should leave for hooligans and political touts, but this is a congregation of Muslim representatives from various Islamic bodies; therefore, we must exhibit discipline and adherence to the etiquette of public engagement between the leader and the ruled in the presence of Madam Jonathan. 

Security at the Women’s Development Centre (WDC) on that day could only be compared with what we saw during Mr Bill Clinton’s visit in August, 2000. Soldiers, police, civil defence corps and members of the DSS were everywhere outside, within the entire premises of the WDC, and in the auditorium hours before the arrival of Mrs. Jonathan. I do not blame her security details for doing their job, given the current insurgency challenges in the country, but the whole thing reminded me of how tight the security was during Clinton’s visit to the same venue about 15 years ago.

For this First Session of the Town Hall Meeting under discussion everybody was seated before 11am after passing through rigorous screening of their cars at the main gate of the WDC, and other forms of search through metal /bomb detectors at various entrances into the auditorium. Once you came into the premises of the WDC you could not go out for anything until after the end of the Second Session later in the evening after the departure of Her Excellency, the First Lady. If you went out, you forfeited your chance of participating in the event, because you would not be allowed in a second time. The SSA’s office provided takeaway lunch and water for all participants, there was no reason, hence, for anybody to leave the WDC in search of food.

When some participants wanted to go and observe Zuhr prayers within the WDC at the end of the First Session, they were advised to carry their handbags with them because the security personnel in charge of the auditorium would clear-away any unattended bags. This also reminded me of the airports where unattended baggage will be collected and destroyed by security men. 

The Second Session saw the arrival of the long-awaited ‘Mama Peace’ who was well-received by the audience. Some of the participants even exceeded what our admonitions requested of them; they gave Her Excellency standing ovation as she came on stage waving at the crowd of attendees of the Town Hall Meeting. She got raucous welcome from this full-to-the-brim auditorium. Among the entourage of ‘Mama Peace’ were Her Excellency, Hajiya Amina Namadi Sambo, wife of the Vice President, Hajiya Aisha Bala Mohammed, wife of the FCT Minister, and my sister and ‘mother’ Hajiya Zainab Maina, the Honourable Minister of Women Affairs, among others.

During his Welcome Address to the gathering the SSA to the President, Barrister Tahir Umar Tahir updated Mama Peace on the composition of the audience, representing various Islamic organisations and Muslim women associations. He went further to establish from Qur’anic references what honour Allah has bestowed on womenfolk by, in addition to countless favours, revealing a whole Surah An-Nisaa (Women)  in the their name. The SSA said, President Jonathan has achieved many successes in the areas of appointing women to many positions, robust handling of our security challenges, efficient tackling of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) on the verge of Hajj 2014, and the Almajiri Schools. Barrister Tahir ended his address by reminding the audience of working for peace and respect for their leaders quoting Qur’an, Al-Furqaan, 25:63 to buttress his point. 

I was disturbed and felt betrayed when I noticed, with the prompting of some brothers and sisters at the event, that truck loads of branded campaign ‘gift’ items were stationed and offloaded outside the venue ready for distribution to participants. I wondered sadly how a function meant to discuss peaceful elections would be turned into a campaign avenue for Mama Peace. So, I resolved to address the impropriety of stupefying unsuspecting Muslim representatives by deceptively turning a violence-free elections meeting into a presidential campaign event for Mama Peace’s husband.

‘Your Excellency, Mama Peace,’ I began, when it was time for me to speak as a discussant, ‘I have two requests to humbly make to you. Before you came, we had to intimate the audience on the difference between a political gathering and a religious one, and how to conduct ourselves as Muslim representatives from various organisations in your presence. And, Your Excellency can attest to that from the way you were warmly received when you came in today. Therefore, my first request is to avoid campaigning for anybody, so we can concentrate on the issue of the day, namely, our role in peaceful elections. The conveners should have invited the wives of other presidential candidates in order to make even participation of stakeholders.

‘Your Excellency, Mama Peace, we have not gathered today in order to support any political party or a presidential candidate. This is not the place for the distribution of any branded gift items or money. We are here to discuss peace, period.

‘My second request, Your Excellency, is for you to seize this moment and apologise for those bitter words you directed at us during some of your electioneering assertions which I will not repeat here. That word of apology will remove any rancour that may be lurking in our hearts against you. The Bible says in Matthew 5: 23-24 that if you come to the altar with an offering to the Lord and you suddenly remember that your brother has something against you, you should leave your gift at the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother, then return and make your offering. 

‘Your Excellency, I respectfully request that you do just that, and I am certain that many people in this hall and those watching this event will relent towards you and even vote for your husband, Mr President on Saturday. Thank you very much.’

Unfortunately, when Mama Peace stood up to speak she failed to seize the moment or grant any of the requests. She said it was not fitting for anybody to ask her not to campaign for her husband’s reelection in an event organised by people who are in their positions ‘by the grace of Mr President and the PDP. If Jonathan is not there, they will not be there. Those who gathered us here are appointees of Mr President.’ According to her, since it is campaign time, she has to seek votes for Mr President.

She then began a vigorous campaign for her husband’s re-election thereby frittering away the chance to be amenable and reasonable. She seemed to think the that world revolves around her. Her utterances betrayed a belligerent nature lurking behind the rustic look of harmless innocence. I wrote earlier about her not so peaceful utterances, the bulk of which I was requesting her to apologise for. Alas, I did not estimate that anyone occupying that position could be so blind to reason. Again, I wondered how ironic her nickname is.



Friday, March 20, 2015

MAMA PEACE?






“Anybody that comes and tells you change, stone that person…Our people no dey born shildren wey dem no fit count. Our men no dey born shildren throway for street. We no dey like the people for that side”
- Mrs Patience Faka Jonathan, 2nd March 2015 in Calabar. 


Froward potentates arrogate undeserving title to themselves; a title that is the antithesis of their true nature and disposition. Pharaoh, for example proclaimed: "I (Pharaoh) am your Lord the Highest.” (An Nazi’aat 79:24).

Conscientious leaders on the other hand do not christen themselves, rather, they allow people to be their own judge and give them such appellations as are deserving of their right conduct.

Islam teaches us (in Hadeeth number 4 of An Nawawi’s collection) that the signs of the Last Day will be: ‘..that you will see the barefooted, naked, destitute herdsmen competing in constructing lofty buildings…’ Of course, barefoot is another word for ‘shoeless’. So, if you see destitute people who could not afford shoes only but yesterday, and who suddenly rose to the position of owning mansions and amassing wealth, then wait for the Last Day.

Whenever these ‘barefooted, naked, destitute herdsmen’ attain a piece of treasure they are not abstemious; they ‘take their comfort in this life and eat even as the cattle eat’ (Muhammad, 47:12); their gluttony is manifested by obesity, as a ‘sign of good living’, as the unthinking folk would say. Thus they lose control of both their weight, and, because they gasp for breath, the tirade of abuse that comes out of their mouths.

There is an interesting hadeeth of the Prophet (PBUH) in Al Bukhaariy’s collection (Vol 2, No. 2508) where he said, “The best of you is my generation, then those who follow them, then those who follow them” ‘Imraan bn Husayn (RA) who narrated the hadeeth said, “I don’t know whether the Prophet mentioned a third generation after the two generations.” Allah’s messenger (then) said,“Verily after you will be folks who betray trust and cannot be trusted. They shall bear testimony without being asked to testify; they will promise without fulfilling their promises. Obesity will be common among them”  It is amazing how aptly these words describe most of our leaders today; words that are a century and a half old! 

I am not a politician. My purpose in this piece is not to campaign for anybody or any political party. To me, the problem before us is beyond politics or individuals. All these evil aspersions cast against the person of Buhari are only devised as a means to the next rung of the ladder of aversion and antipathy  targeted at ‘that side’ and its despised people. If a person who is seeking for your votes today, at a time when they are desperately seeking for reelection, will be bold enough to direct intemperate and vituperative language at the electorate, as we witness from Mama Peace - may Allah help that group of people after the authors of that hate speech win the election!

Recent pronouncements and hate speeches of the consort to the President in the current electioneering make me reflect deeply on the meaning of this verse: ‘O ye who believe! Take not for intimates others than your own folk, who would spare no pains to ruin you; they love to hamper you. Hatred is revealed by (the utterance of) their mouths, but that which their breasts hide is greater. We have made plain for you the revelations if ye will understand.’ (Aali Imraam 3:118)

We no dey like the people from that side’ reveals a lot to us. This hate is just part of the utterance of the mouth. The hostility concealed in her heart against ‘that side’ is greater than what we hear. It is now apparent that Asari Dokubo and his ilk are actually acting a script under the aegis of Mama Peace (not that there is anything peaceful about her utterances and actions) and ‘her people’. It also underscores the reason why the campaign train of Mama Peace cannot travel to ‘that side’ for fear of running over those children that litter the streets. Or is it for fear of the stones she asked to be hurled on those who utter the word of ‘change?’. This woman is anything but peaceful or cultured. She has brought shame upon the title of ‘Dame’ which she adds to her name.

Mama Peace does not go to ‘that side’ to canvass for votes; my respected ‘mother’ overseeing the women’s ministry does that on her behalf, or the hijabite spouse of the VP. The duo is doing better than Mama Peace; at least their command of the English language is better; they do not label anybody as ‘brain dead’, but treat with deference the culture and sensibilities of ‘that side’. You do not hear the childishness that characterises Mama Peace’s speeches of ‘Everybody stayed there for eight years. Now it is our turn; so, we must complete our eight years because God has ordained it.’  Or ‘I am not corrupt…. I don't touch your money. Whatever I have , I worked for it’. Prophetess Mama Peace even said recently that ‘God has told me APC will fail’; and many such nonsense with which we are inundated whenever she appears on the screen.


Also, the duo surpassed what Mr President himself, and his men did when they toured ‘that side’, for they were pelted with pebbles of despair and sachet water in some states, and in all the places they went people shouted ‘Sai Buhari’ in response to ‘Naijeriya!’ - a common parlance in ‘that side’ of asking party supporters ‘who is more deserving to being the president of Nigeria?’ Many speakers in the President’s entourage avoided using that political slogan to avoid the embarrassment of hearing a ‘Sai Buhari’ in the presence of Mr Jonathan. But these two women were so organised that the crowd was ‘trained’ to say the ‘right thing’ when speakers took turns at the rallies and shouted ‘Naijeriya!’, and the chorus deafeningly declared ‘Sai Jonatan!’. Only that one thing was missing during the men’s version of the presidential campaigns of Mr Jonathan - the trucks-full of branded rice, ‘Ankara’/‘Atanfa’ , etc for free distribution to attendees of the rallies. This was visible during the women presidential campaign, and speaker after speaker unabashedly gave the glad tidings to the crowd ‘that Mama Peace has sent these items to you, and more is coming, so you should vote for her husband in the coming elections.’ 

The question here is: were the women gathered and chorusing ‘Sai Jonatan!’ because of their belief in what Mama Peace’s emissaries have conveyed to them, or were they just there for their share of the largesse? 


I wonder what emboldens such haughtiness in Mama Peace when she speaks during her husband’s reelection campaigns as to deride ‘that side’ she hates for bearing and littering the streets with uncountable number of children. If democracy is the game of numbers, is it not expected that politicians will exhibit a certain level of civility and respect when speaking concerning ‘that side’ in order to benefit politically from its demographic capital? Why is Mama Peace so brazenly crude and arrogantly insensitive to the feelings of ‘that side’?

Praise be to Allah, who has given offspring to some people in abundance, female and/or male, and has made others barren, out of His Knowledge (Ash Shuraa 42:49-50).  Those people who have no experience of bearing children of their own should rather implore their Maker to bestow offspring to them if they have not attained menopause already, instead of pontificating on what those blessed with children aught to do or not to do with Allah’s bounty! This is not to defend the way some people all over Nigeria neglect their children’s welfare; it is just that like the Yorubas say, ‘Even if the fox has more than four hundred teeth, it is not fitting for the chicken to comment on that’.

Mama Peace would have done better by tendering apology to the children of ‘that side’ for the criminal negligence of allowing the kidnaped among them to rot in captivity at the hands of Boko Haram. Mama Peace should have been ashamed by the growing number of young suicide bombers from ‘that side’ who were coerced by insurgents to blow up themselves killing and maiming countless others, under the watch of her husband’s government.

I wonder if the elections had been held in February as originally scheduled, and if there was no fear of card readers and angry voters who would surely boot out an inept and corrupt regime, would anyone have bothered to liberate the towns of ‘that side’ from the murderers who, until the elections were close, were merely ‘dem dem’ killing and kidnapping ‘dem dem’. One day, the ‘bloods that are sharing in Boronu will answer’ and ‘diaris God’ even on ‘that side’.   


Friday, March 6, 2015

THAT PRESIDENTIAL MEDIA CHAT (2)


Since I wrote on the president’s media chat two weeks ago, many things have happened. We saw on live television, our first lady inciting her husband’s supporters to stone those who are chanting ‘change’. She likened those calling for change to bus conductors and said that PDP members are not bus conductors.
We have been treated to more death wish tantrums from Femi Fani-Kayode and Governor Fayose of Ekiti State. General Buhari spoke at Chatham House, where a rented crowd of hecklers awaited him as well as a crowd of his supporters. Buhari gave his lengthy speech standing despite Fayose’s insistence that he was lying ill in hospital as part of his wishes on Buhari. Sahara Reporters was able to find out that the professional protesters were all loaded onto a bus from Manchester to London for the job. A rumoured amount of $20,000 was earmarked for the whole show of shame.
We have also seen many successes reported from the troubled areas of North East. The men of the armed forces have suddenly become good again. Just after Jega was forced to postpone elections and just when it became clear that the issue most people scored Jonathan low on was insecurity, the president began to act. He started wearing the uniform of a commander in chief. He started visiting the places he once said were too dangerous because “Boko Haram will just shoot at us”. It became quite evident that a lot of politicking was responsible for the lacklustre performance of our gallant men and women of the army and air force in the past. 
A superficial look at these successes would suppose the victories are a plus for the president but this could not be farther from the truth. On deep introspection, you would wonder why only after the 6-week delay in the elections did our men start performing. You would wonder whom the president and those who sat on the resources required to fight the enemy were trying to fool. You would imagine what could have been if these people were honest and serious with the fight against Boko Haram ab initio. 
He started making surprise visits to the displaced and dispossessed and we begin to see unprecedented spending on projects for the youth, Nollywood and the music industry as well as pensioners- people he largely ignored before the postponement. 

So many thoughts would run through your mind and the only explanation that makes sense is that someone is seeing imminent defeat at the polls, which will be conducted by a chairman that cannot be bought and decided to buy time to try and fix all what he deliberately left undone before. I believe Nigerians have gone beyond that. You cannot do in six weeks what you left undone for six years. 
The picture is getting clearer on the issue of removing Attahiru Jega as the INEC chairperson too. The Senate summoned Jega to give account of INEC’s preparedness for the elections and he did. There was a flurry of questions on the same issue of permanent voter cards (PVCs) and the electronic card reader. Any keen observer would note that the particular senators that the Senate President, David Mark called to talk were those close to the president and who opposed the use of the card reader. At one point, Mark called on two senators from Bayelsa in succession. After all the grilling, Jega gave a good account of himself and his Commission. There was a motion by George Akume of Benue state to invite the service chiefs to explain why they could not protect Nigerians during the elections as originally scheduled. That has not happened so far.
The impression you get is that the president and his men are averse to anything that would improve the quality of the voting process. How else does anyone explain why anybody would oppose the use of a machine that would eliminate impersonation, multiple voting and multiple registrations? Why is there a consistent noise about using temporary voter cards (TVCs) in place of PVCs when we know any half-wit can produce the TVC from a cheap printer in no time?
The answer is obvious: if you can stop the INEC from using a system that will verify ownership of each card, then you can clone PVCs or TVCs and do the usual rigging.
Ekitigate also shed light on why the ruling party and the president have been insisting on using soldiers for elections as against all known international standards for conducting free and fair elections. The denials and twists in the tale are enough to tell any intelligent person that there is some truth in that audio recording.
At first, Fayose denied being in the audio and said that voice altering software was used to mimic his voice. Then he later admitted that he was in the audio but that he was merely trying to prevent the army from rigging the election in Ekiti state in favour of the APC candidate. Musiliu Obanikoro who was very prominent in the audio recording also similarly denied any involvement and later said something similar to what Fayose said. Our President said it is a fabrication and dismissed it. The army has not thought it wise to investigate the very serious crimes against the state that that audio recording captured for posterity.
In two weeks, many awful things have happened but that is not what I want to write about. I want to continue with my assessment of the presidential media chat but there have been many distractions. Distractions I could barely ignore.
One of the serious questions the president was asked was why he kept going from one church to another during his campaigns. He said the churches were the ones inviting him. He said the Muslims have not been inviting him to their mosques and that was why he has not been seen in Muslim gatherings. The president’s claims are not entirely true.
Firstly, he went to churches on his own. When he went to Pastor Enoch Adeboye’s church, he was not invited, the same for Bishop Oyedepo’s church. Oyedepo said in the video of the president’s visit to his church that he had no idea that the President was coming. In short, it was impromptu. He also travelled with a retinue of senior Christian leaders, including Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the CAN President, to Israel for them to pray for his victory at the polls and to pray for Nigeria. There were also serving ministers and a few governors on that jamboree at the nation’s expense.
Secondly, the Muslims have often invited the president but he always sends a representative. He did not visit Muslim groups until he was vying for the position of president again. We have heard about 12billion naira bribe for certain ‘mallams’ to cajole their flocks to support the president. If true, this is the worst thing that has happened to the nation. The newspapers have been awash with stories of another 7 billion naira to CAN members as part of the bribing spree. There has been no serious denial of these weighty accusations.  
As many commentators have pointed out, the current president has been the most divisive president this country has had the misfortune of having. He routinely uses religion as a political tool. He goes into churches and uses their pulpits to spew forth accusations and complaints. He issues policy statements from the altars and his vice is no better. 
Namadi Sambo was caught on video telling people not to vote for Buhari and Osinbajo because PDP was more Muslim than APC and that Osinbajo has 5000 churches he controls. He urged the largely Muslim crowd not to vote for a Christian party like APC. He claimed to be a good Muslim and that Namadi, his name, was short for Namadina (meaning belonging to Madinah, the city of the Prophet of Islam). He proceeded to recite Suratul Faatihah to prove his bona fide. Allah is the Greatest! “The Medinite” could not read the seven verses correctly.
I became alarmed when the president answered the question on corruption and his quoted statement that, “Stealing is not corruption”. His answer has become the stuff of inglorious legend. He defended his statement and went on to draw parallels between corruption, goats, and yams. He succeeded in convincing hitherto sceptics that he has no serious plans to tackle corruption, the greatest source of the waste of our money and other resources. 
This same president said at a campaign rally that Buhari jailed Jim Nwobodo for stealing money that was barely sufficient to buy a Peugeot car in 1984. He asked indignantly, “How much did Nwobodo steal?” 
To answer your question Mr President, Nwobodo could not account for $5.1 million and that is a lot of money. In fact, contrary to what you said, that amount would buy you over 400 Peugeot 504 cars back then. In today’s dollars, when you adjust for inflation, that is $11,471,662.18. Let us approximate that to $11 million. In today’s naira, that is about 2.4 billion naira. You can still buy 400 of the latest Peugeot 508 cars with that money sir!
Perhaps why this amount looks insignificant to His Excellency is because the new corruption figures under his watch are in the trillions. The daily oil theft that the president appointed the criminals from his region to prevent has almost reached the same as the daily oil sales. Almost half of what Nigeria produces in a day gets missing. Yet Tompolo and Asari Dokubo have been given multibillion naira contracts to protect the oil. 
These are aside what gets frittered away by the officials running the state oil corporation and our petroleum Ministry. You read about 10 billion naira spent yearly on private jet charters. The figures are simply overwhelming.
Would that His Excellency could take the admonition in this verse:
“O you who believe, be persistently standing firm for Allah as witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just, for that is nearer to righteousness. Fear Allah, for verily, Allah is aware of what you do.” (Surah Al-Ma’idah 5:8)
The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) also said, Verily, those who were fair will be in the presence of Allah upon pulpits of light, near the right hand of the Merciful, the Exalted, and both of His sides are right (being equal in honour); those who practiced justice in their rulings and with their families and in all that they did.” (Source: Saheeh Muslim no.4493) 
We are watching, the world is watching but above all else, Allah is watching and He is swift in reckoning and firm in retribution.