“We are continuing to follow developments in Nigeria closely…delegation of the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom have travelled twice in recent years to Nigeria, in 2000 and 2003, to assess religious freedom conditions first hand” – Angela Stephens, Assistant Communications Director, U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom
“I assure adherents of other faiths that government will guarantee the security of their lives and property” – Katsina Governor Umar Musa Yar’Adua (quotation culled from BBC News, 1st August 2000)
“They are confused” – Vice President Atiku Abubakar (reacting to the news that he is still Nigerian Number Two Citizen. 8th Jan 2007)
Following Governor Umar Yar’Adua of Katsina State’s sudden adoption as PDP Presidential Flag-bearer for 2007 in the best political chess match ever witnessed in Nigeria’s young democratic process, many political commentators were left browsing through their historic books to understand the end game of PDP and more importantly, OBJ’s Master Plan. President Olusegun Obasanjo recently in New York told Nigerians in the Diaspora, that Yar’Adua is the only man that will “keep Nigeria on track” but the untold story about the shy governor is shocking, frightening and worrying, to the extent that Western countries have placed Nigeria on their watch list and following the political development in the country with greater interest.
If Nigerians could only be honest with themselves, they know that Umar Yar’Adua will be the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria except he is just another riddle in the whole masterplan of the present Commander-in-Chief. That aside, It is common knowledge that rigging and exchange of ballot boxes are natural phenomenon in Nigerian politics. A clear evidence of this happened recently during the PDP Primary Election held in the City of Ife (South-West) Nigeria.
Honourable John Olawole Fasogbon on the 25th of November 2006 was re-elected to represent its ward (Ife Chapter) after securing a vote of 1,425 and was issued with the INEC certificate. The result was announced on local and national media in Nigeria but the decision was changed by powerful political stakeholders in Osun State and Barrister Albert Adeogun was declared the PDP nominee for the ward. In an exclusive chat with the integrity magazine from Nigeria, Honourable Fash made it clear that he was battle-ready to claim his crown, “I was robbed of my mandate; the electorate gave me their vote but I was pushed out by a few people in the corridors of power… Where are the true defenders of democracy in Nigeria when this is happening in their backyard and they are speechless….” Whilst, the leadership of PDP are aware of this incident, nothing is being done to correct the injustice and there are many examples of this type of undemocratic process going on.
If this is the picture of PDP democracy, then Nigerians are definitely heading for a period of political uncertainty where leaders are only interested in fulfilling their own desire rather than addressing the needs of the people.
In the wake of the New Year, Umar Yar’Adua made clear what will be the priority of his government. Following in the footstep of his political godfather, President Olusegun Obasanjo, he said corruption will be top of his agenda with no mention of addressing the root of corruption. While his intention might be genuine, his assertion clearly reveals that his political foresight is myopic and needs to be re-engineered to look at the big picture affecting majority of Nigerians. Yar’Adua needs to know that what is needed in Nigeria presently is addressing the suffering of Nigerian people; food, job and security.
While Yar’Adua was concerning himself with issues of less importance to the masses of hungry Nigerians, his counterpart in the other side of the continent with similar ambition to become the next Prime Minister in the UK, Gordon Brown, was outlining his foreign policy priorities which included a pledge to educate Africa’s children for free. The UK Chancellor Gordon Brown wrote in the Guardian Newspaper that “…education for all makes not just moral and economic sense, but strategic sense too”.
Gordon explained that his decision to pledge universal free education within a decade in Africa was based on his personal experience during a visit to Nigeria where religious extremists lured poor pupils with basic schooling but indoctrinated them “filling void created by our failure act”. As far as the UK Chancellor was concerned, the situation in some states in the Northern part of Nigeria was a good breeding ground for extremists by default and our dear governor, Umar Yar’Adua, happened to be one of the few praised for his good work in Katsina State. So, let’s examine his work in the area of religion and determine if Gordon Brown’s comment is true or false.
The fifty-one year old governor of Katsina state is better known as the younger brother of the late Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua who was the Chief of General Staff and second in command to President Olusegun Obasanjo, when he was military head of state before he handover to the Shehu Shagari NPN Party in 1979.
However, the two term governor of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was the fifth governor in Northern Nigeria to adopt the controversial Sharia Law for Katsina State.An approach that led to the loss of lives and property across the nation and which was declared unconstitutional by the Attorney General of Nigerian Federal Government and Minister of Justice, Mr Kanu Agabi (SAN) when he declared that the practice of Sharia by these states was a clear breach of the constitution because they contravene section 42(1) (a) of the 1999 constitution. Kanu Agabi also went further to say at that time that, the affected states have thus been advised “to take steps to secure modification of all criminal laws to exclude imposition of punishments which may infringe on the rights of Moslems to equally with other citizens. As explained by the Minister “equality before the law means that Moslems should not be discriminated against” and therefore, should not be subjected to punishment more severe than would be imposed on other Nigerians for the same offence giving the resulting implication of a operating legal system that imposes discriminatory punishment, is deliberately flouting the constitution, which is damaging to a orderly and disciplined society and with grave implication such as isolation of the country or affected states at the international community…”
The PDP Presidential flag-bearer, Governor Umar Yar’Adua, according to the assertion of the Attorney General of Nigeria committed the greatest sin against Nigeria constitution by violating the law of the land and endangering the lives of other Nigerians residing in Katsina State.Should we now say that anyone who introduces Sharia law amongst Muslims who desire to live under such law is fanatic? The answer definitely in “No” but the sensitivity to the way in which the implementation is managed is what will reveal the true intention of the sponsor of the initiative.
However, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 2006 Annual Report with recommendations on U.S. policy for the President, Secretary of State, and Congress with regard to CPC countries, as well as other countries where the United States can help to promote freedom of religion or belief and Nigeria was placed its Watch List. In February 2006, at least 120 Muslims and Christians were killed in four days of sectarian violence across Nigeria and Katsina State was one of the states where protests over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were held. Whilst, Governor Umar Yar’Adua promised that non-Muslims would not be affected by the introduction of Sharia law in Katsina State. The contrary was the case, in April 2001, the Katshina Arts and Musicians Association wrote to the Katsina House of Assembly protesting the arrest and detention of Sirajo Mai Asharalle. Asharalle was arrested by the state-sanctioned Rundunar Adalci vigilant group while performing music at a local function. The performance of music and dancing was banned under the Sharia law introduced by Katsina state.
A report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial in 2005 listed, the case of March 2002 where a Sharia Court in Katsina State sentenced Ms. Amina Lawal to death by stoning for zina which a higher court upheld the judgment in August 2002. Though, on appeal in September 2003 the Katsina State Sharia Court of Appeal (by a 4-1 majority) overturned the conviction. Yet, it revealed the fears of Human Rights organisations that if not for the publicity generated in this particular case, there was the likelihood that she would have killed. According to Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow at Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom “The March 25 decision not to stone a woman to death for adultery was based only on a technicality and does nothing to reverse or moderate sharia“.
However, all the above cases happened when Governor Umar Yar’Adua was meant to be the custodian of Nigeria Constitution. Though, the assertion is in no way inferring that Umar Yar’Adua is an extremist Islamist just because he happened to be the governor when couple of innocent Nigerians were slaughtered like goats because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
While it must be said that Governor Umar’s financial record is something to be proud off, the freedom of religion is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Nigerian Constitution and it is the duty of the Nigerian public office-holders not to discriminate against other faiths which Governor Umar Yar’Adua said he adhered to but information on record actually reveals the contrary because on May 15, 2001, the Government of Katsina State reportedly directed 38 of the 41 churches in Katsina City to relocate or face demolition. The relocation area was to be to designated “Christian zones” according to Compass Direct (June 1, 2001). Also in May 2001, an Islamic court in Katsina State ordered the removal of the left eye of Ahmed Tijjani, who was found guilty of partially blinding a friend during an argument.
The U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom also observed that over 10,000 Nigerians have been killed in religious unrest since President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999. The big question now is simply, “Is it possible that Governor Umar Yar’Adua can turn Nigeria into an Islamic State” and some political commentators argued it is possible. Apostle Oyewole Olusegun, the editor-in-chief of Defence Times Magazine (UK) told integrity magazine that, “Governor Yar’Adua has done it before at state level and except he is stopped now, there are possibilities he will attempt it on federal level because he (Umar) has all the necessary contact in the Middle East to assist him…” He went further to indicate that Nigeria’s foreign policy will be greatly changed if Umar Yar’Adua becomes President because “his perception of Middle East will be different and there is likelihood of a clash with the Americans on that front” explained Oyewole Olusegun who is also the author of the forthcoming book entitled “Bush in God’s hand”. He also pointed to a report submitted to U.S. Congress predicting that Nigeria will not exist as an entity in 15 years time and that it is sad that nothing is in place to examine the reality of such research or address it.