Sharia, Violence And Nigerian Politics

by Tokunbo Awoshakin

As the year 2003 races towards Nigeria, the entire world is waiting to see if the country will at last be able to have a smooth transition from one democratically elected government to another. To be sure, military leaders midwifed the previous transitions. First in 1979 by then General Olusegun Obasanjo regime to Alhaji Shehu Shagari and in 1999 by General Abdulsalami Abubakar to the same Obasanjo, who had become a civilian.

The Nigerian political terrain at these occasions was quite different from what we have today. While some people may argue that the issues on the political agenda at that time are still relevant today, there is no denying that such issues, like power struggle to correct alleged and obvious marginalisation, as well as political struggle for resource sharing have become marginalized over the years.

Those familiar with how politics is played in Nigeria do not believe that since President Obasanjo got a chieftancy title in Abia state and his deputy, Abubakar Atiku, got another chieftancy title in Osun states, it automatically means that ethnic sentiments and violence will be thrown out of the political bag of tricks come 2003.

True, many of the old and tired players have refused to retire to allow younger people have a go at steering the wheel of the nation. The present situation whereby these baldheads want to continue to rule the country may make a casual observer conclude that nothing has really changed in the configuration and expectation of who should lead Nigeria in 2003.

As a matter of fact, a situation whereby Alex Ekwueme, Mohammed Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and even Olusegun Obasanjo still want to come back as president of Nigeria in 2003, makes one wish Sani Abacha was also alive to join the group. Now if you get the sarcasm in that statement, definitely something has changed in the caliber of political leaders Nigerians need today.

Another card in the Nigerian political game which used to be dealt under the table but which is now being laid face up on the table is the religious card. Although there was religious violence in Zaria and environs at some point before and during the last two transitions, they now seem like child’s play compared to what Nigeria has witnessed recently.

Will the sudden emergence of Sharia play a major role in the Nigerian politics of today and in the determination of how the 2003 election be shaped? The answer to this question is more apparent than obvious. First a quick analysis of other factors.

Nigeria today is still one where the gap between the rich and the poor is as wide as ever. Poverty is no longer restricted to people’s homes it now resides on their faces. Corruption still bestrides the nation in defiance of the annual exercise by Transparency International. The top universities in the country remain shut, as government and teachers cannot reach an agreement on a decent salary for the teachers. It is almost like a calculated attempt to keep the students away from the labor market, which is already saturated by unemployed graduates. With one doctors’ strike after another and lack of basic health care facilities, public hospitals in Nigeria are today, sometimes the fastest way to a morgue.

Violence has also become proliferated. Militia group violence, religious violence, armed robbery violence, kidnapping in the Niger Delta and the series of structural violence that trigger the other forms of direct violence are part of the bits and pieces in the Nigerian political scenery today.

This deplorable state may sound like tunes from a broken record as politicians, including the present president and previous ones who want to come back, begin their electoral campaigns and make political promises. Expectedly, the state of the Nigerian economy will also be on the manifesto and Nigerians will hear a series of economic formulas.

Ha! The Nigerian economy and all these other social problems… How are they related to the issue of Sharia and the coming elections? A first attempt to answer this question is to give a simplistic overview of the Nigerian economy. The economic advisers of the present administration have argued that ours is an economy that is becoming globalized to enable us participate favorably in the international market place.

The privatization of almost all-public services in Nigeria and even the proposed privatization of the National Theatre are part of the effort. Similarly, the proliferation of Information, Communication Technology (ICT), especially Internet café, instant messaging, electronic mails and mobile telephones as well as the monopoly given to Microsoft are all supposed to make Nigeria and Nigerians active players in the new world.

So, gradually but steadily, successive Nigerian governments are becoming weaker and weaker. The control of the economy is gradually coming into the hands of transnational businesses. Soon, and perhaps it is already happening, private groups will assume the legitimacy of the Nigerian states.

Among these private groups, hoping to seize the legitimacy of the Nigeria State is the group that has steadily brought the issue of Sharia to the political front burner in Nigeria. Now, that statement has no semblance with the unedited statement about the holy prophet in the THISDAY Newspaper publication that led to the violent killings last November. Rather, it is a thesis that is open to political, academic and logical analysis. It has no disrespect what so ever to the Islamic faith.

First, it is increasingly becoming obvious that the methods of the group using Sharia as a political tool in Nigeria is one of systemic labeling of the other. They give the people of the other religion in a supposedly secular state the tag of being kefir (unbelievers). The moderates of their own religion get same tag. Their method is that of mass elimination of the other from a particular area or region of the country and the seizing of the economy of such region. Using violence to achieve these goals is never ruled out.

Their methods are also in sync with the goals. Theirs is also an identity politics but an erratic one. As obvious from the pronouncement of the political leaders in this group, their political agenda is predominantly the opportunistic use of the claims to state power.

Theirs is a politics of exclusivity. It features the constant creation of the sense of fear and insecurity. Unlike the cosmopolitan framework that is enthusiastic about the differences in identities, theirs is exclusivity of an extreme kind of religion. This group is adept at the use of psychological discrimination against the other but lack a set of principle or ideology.

International organizations now link Sharia as it is enforced in Nigeria to human right violations including repression of women in a barbaric judicial system. The Miss World/Thisday episode also serves as a good pointer to just how much this group has weakened the legitimacy of the present administration which was unable to deal with the issue when it first reared it’s head.

So as 2003 rushes towards Nigeria and politicians prepare their strategies for elections, the private groups that introduced Sharia and have been promoting it in the last three years are getting ready. While politicians in the other region of the country are busy impeaching their deputies, the overt leaders and covert moneybags behind the Sharia agenda are now attending political meetings and giving pseudo-political speeches in mosques.

This group has tremendous financial resources and the post September 11, 2001 world order with it’s apparent identification of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism as the new global enemies will work for their cause. Hundreds of thousand of youths that are without jobs in Nigeria may once again be used for the privatization of politics and violence in the coming election.

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1 comment

Sabella Abidde March 1, 2005 - 5:01 am

The “old and tired players have refused to retire to allow younger people have a go at steering the wheel” because the young are now masters at the art of thievery, ineptitude, corruption, and clientelism.

I never stop to wonder: for a country that was once on the tack to being the doyen of the black race…how did we end up where we are as a nation, and as a people? How did we get to be a failed state? We are not yet Somalia; but we are getting there. What went wrong?

Sabella O. Abidde


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