By Muhammad Ajah
On Friday, July 21 2006 at the Prince Palace Hotel, Nkpokiti axis of the Presidential Avenue, Enugu, an event took place that keeps in memory the former and pioneer Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA and former Secretary-General of the Jama’atu Nasril-Islam (JNI).
It was three-day conference tagged, “Understanding Islam: Creed and Tenets”, conscripted for eminent professionals from across the country to seek ways of developing da’wah in the east and giving the Muslim minority the sense of belonging.
The conference was, however, well attended. The then president of the National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO), Engr. Muhammad Lawal Maidoki with a host of youth leaders from across the country was there. Prominent Muslim leaders, Islamic scholars and professionals from the Southern part of Nigeria graced the event.
Two side attractions occurred. The then NACOMYO president told the secretary generals of both NSCIA and JNI to their faces that the Muslim youths have been disappointed by the two bodies and that the youths were ready to take over from them. But then NSCIA scribe, Dr. Abdullateef Adegbite jokingly asked him where their weapons were and the youth leader replied that it was with Allah the Almighty. That was about 12 years ago. How old now are the youths who were present in that event and those born thereafter!
The second attraction was the absence of the then Enugu state governor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani who did not also send a representative. Dr. Adegbite was very furious about the development. He wondered why, after the invitation letter and many reminders to the governor as the host state, Nnamani did not attend or send representation. Though he threatened to challenge the attitude, nothing was heard afterward.
However, in his remarks, he described the governor’s absence as an indication of the state government’s negligence of Muslims of the state and their activities. He wondered if the governor was oblivious that the state and the country were multi-religious societies, adding that if the governor could not carry the Muslims along in his state, how he would manage the larger Islamic society at the federal level. He said the attitude was a confirmation of reports of total negligence and psychological torture drifted upon the Muslim minorities in the Southeast and South-South geo-political zones of the country where their existence and welfare are not recognized by authorities of the regions.
“I am personally not happy that the Enugu state governor who was invited to this occasion is neither here by himself nor by representation. It is quite unfair and we protest, criticize and dislike it. We think he wants to be the president of Nigeria which is a multi-religious nation. This does not go down well with us and we will write him over it. We want a democracy that gives hope to all segments of the state. We have heard of the negligence of Igbo Muslims by their state and local authorities and this confirms it”, he squeaked.
Adegbite, however, called for peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims in the Southeast in particular and Nigeria at large to ensure equal progress and development in the country. He appealed to various state governments of the zones to observe equity and fair treatment in dealing with Muslims in their respective states, noting that Muslims should be given employments in the civil service and be appointed into political offices in the region as that will enhance peace, order and security in the land.
“We also want Islamic organisations and well endowed Muslims across the country to assist Muslims from this part of the country. There are many Mosques that have been under construction for many years awaiting support for completion. Islamic schools are very much needed and facilities for da’wah promotion are very necessary”, he averred.
The then NACOMYO leader, Engr. Maidoki urged well-meaning Muslims in the country and in Diaspora to sincerely come to the aid of the Igbo Muslims who rather than tasting the dividends of democracy are receiving otherwise. He said there was urgent need for the state governors of the eastern Nigeria and wealthy Muslims in the country to recognize the existence of the Igbo Muslims and care for their welfare and activities and not the lips services usually offered through the media houses.
Justice Bashir Sambo and Justice Abdul Qadir Orire called for moral and material support for Igbo Muslims of Nigeria as well as other parts of the world. Orire blamed the Arab nations for the various problems facing the Islamic faith and observed that Muslim nations have given in so much to worldly chase thus the inflictions from their enemies as stated in the Holy Qur’an. He lamented that the best Jihad which was the control of self desires from worldly things has been neglected.
In his keynote address, the commissioner for Religious Affairs, Zamfara state, Hon. Ibrahim Wakkala appealed for the unity of Nigerian Muslim Ummah regardless of ethnic and socio-political differences. He urged influential Muslims to make great sacrifices for their brothers and sisters in the Southeast, noting that honesty, trustworthiness and steadfastness were needed to achieve the aims of liberating Islam and Muslims. He reminded the leaders of the Ummah to fear Allah and know that they have been placed above others to display mercy and justice and carry the poor and needy along, advising them to be firm in discharging what the Almighty has bestowed upon them as trust.
In his lead paper on the challenges of Muslims in the east, Sheikh Haroun Ogbonnia Ajah traced the arrival of Islam to the region to the 19th century through the Igbo Eze division of Nsukka in the present Enugu state and some parts of Owerri capital of Imo state. According to him, the real Islamic da’wah in the hinterland started aggressively in the late 50s through late Sheikh Ibrahim Nwagui who established the present Islamic Centre of Eastern Nigeria on October 28 1958 with its headquarters at Enohia Itim, Afikpo, Ebonyi state.
Sheikh Ajah said that although there was no official record of the population of the Muslims in the east, there are well-concentrated Muslim communities in their minority nature scattered across the whole zones. A good number of them, he noted are with high education, quality professionalism; some are seasoned Islamic scholars and practicing politicians. “But they are living in poor conditions with a very high level of denials by their immediate communities. They are discriminated against. They face economic hardship and they are denied gainful employments to the civil service and political appointments.”
In his analysis, he identified the challenges that have formed themselves into constraints such as the unfortunate Nigeria-Biafra civil war of 1967-70 and the sudden death of Sheikh Ibrahim O. Nwagui (1976), the forces of Christianity with its intense activities including establishment of missionary schools, hospitals, churches, bible classes and study, computer centres, orphanage home rehabilitation centres, scholarship schemes and awards, conferences, seminars, workshops, retreats, caravans as parts of the problems militating da’wah in the area.
He included lack of survival opportunities to Igbo Muslims, non-availability of Islamic structures, the western propaganda, incessant religious and ethnic crises, non-indigenous manipulation and exploitations and the eastern government’s conspiracy against Islam and marginalization in various facets of the national life.
On the way forward, he called for a fundamental research and data generation, survey of occurrences at developing good practices, opportunity, management, knowledge and information dissemination and total dealing with the aforementioned problems in addition to effective implementation of da’wah processes and consolidation in the east.
Other speakers such as the Chief Imam of the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka Mosque, Sheikh Adam Abdullah Idoko and the former chairman of Abia State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Alhaji Suleiman Ukandu urged the well-to-do Muslims to come to the aid of the Igbo Muslims and the propagation of the religion. They said that advancing the cause of Allah in that part of Nigeria required extra-ordinary manpower and funding because history showed that both Christianity and Islam are strangers in the area, but the Christians have dominated the place through heavy support from their brethren both home and abroad.
However, many of such conferences had been held in Port Harcourt and Uyo without practical and positive effects on the development of Muslims of the regions. It is, therefore, expected that the leadership of the two apex Islamic organizations, NSCIA and JNI, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede and Dr. Khalid Abubakar Aliyu respectively should intensify efforts to uplift the Igbo Muslims as well as Muslims of the Southeast and South-South, because what their predecessors Dr. Adegbite and Justice Orire witnessed was just an eye opener of the level of negligence, frustration and denial meted upon followers of the Islamic faith in the regions.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org