Nigerian Osun State Governor Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola chats with the Sultan of Sokoto. The Governor delivered a statement on why the northern regions of the West African state are underdeveloped., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Why North is underdeveloped, by Aregbesola
By Our Reporter
Text of Governor of the State of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, at the National Symposium on ‘Islam and Peaceful Co-existence in Contemporary Multi-Religious State’ at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja.
It is my greatest pleasure to welcome you all to this symposium. I am particularly delighted that you have honoured the invitation to be here despite the huge and unyielding demand for your time and attention by other matters.
We are in a time of great test for Muslims and the Islamic faith. This is within the context of the political and religious ferments in the North. Since the September 11, 2001 suicide bombings in the United States by al-Qaeda, Islam has been under heightened scrutiny and veiled – sometimes not so veiled – suspicion from non-Muslims.
The emergence of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North and the death and destruction in its trail have further fuelled what is now called ‘islamophobia’, this is the tendency to portray Islam in violent and destructive light.
To be sure, the history of religion is the history of the contest for the conquest of the human mind. If the mind of man is conquered by a belief system, an ideology or a religion, the environment, with its vast resources, falls in line without lifting a sword. This is the politics by other means. However, this is not the intention of religion; rather, it is the unintended consequence. It is the primary objective of all religions to change man for good and improve his condition in all ramifications.
Indeed, every religion aspires to the ideal. It is not religion if in concept, ideals and vision, it is not superior to man. Thus, in spite of its excesses, religion still offers hope to man as a moral anchor and superior moral authority. It is only in religion that moral codes are express commandments and not mere advisory opinions. Even though there is the natural tendency for homicide and forceful appropriation in man, it is only in religion that the commandments: ‘thou shall not kill’ and ‘thou shall not steal’, have binding force even when there is no secular authority to enforce them and detect and punish their infraction.
Islam, by definition, is submission to the will of Allah. ‘Al Islam’ in Arabic means at once, submission and peace. For it is in submitting to God’s will that human beings gain peace in their lives in this world and the hereafter. The message of Islam concerns God and it addresses itself to humanity’s most profound nature. It concerns men and women as they were created by God, not as fallen beings. According to Abdul a ‘la Maududi, Islam is ‘an all divine messages in one, which envisages a comprehensive and all embracing way of life, catering for the moral, spiritual, social, cultural, political and economic and all other needs of men’.
Central to Islam therefore is relationship. In Islam, mankind is one big family. We all descended from Adam and his wife, Hawaw (Eve). It does not matter that we differ in our ways and choices; Allah (SWT) remains our common God. He is the Lord of the worlds (Rabbul ‘aalameen). The Qur’an attests to this in Surah Al-Nisaai (4:1) thus: “O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women.”
By Islamic standards, the differences among Allah’s creation are in accord with His Divine Wisdom which no man can unravel. That this diversity is a source of strength for mankind is not a far-fetched, man-made narrative. Allah, the Creator, Himself averts our thought to this in Surah Al-Hujuraat (49:13): “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know (not despise) one another”.
Then, in the face of the unsettling reality in our time, particularly in Nigeria, when living in peace in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society is becoming increasingly difficult, some legitimate questions would readily agitate all minds, fair and otherwise. One may ask: Can Muslims co-exist peacefully with non-Muslims? Is it in the nature of Islam that Muslims must live only in an Islamic society? Were Muslims commanded to impose their way of life on others? Can Muslims survive in multi-religious and multi-cultural environments? Does Islam hate the Ahlul Kitaab (Christians and Jews)? Of what significance is Allah’s clear injunction that “there shall be no compulsion in religion”? Surah Al-Baqarah (2:256)
Islam, in principle and practice, respects Ahlul-Kitaab (The People of the Book). Allah did not and never command the Prophet to kill the People of the Book. Rather Islam considers them at different points in the Prophetic Mission as allies. The Prophet never raised his sword against Christians and the Jews merely because of their theological choices. Allah did not direct us to impose our way on them. Rather, He, in His wisdom admonished us in Surah Al-Maaidah (5:48) thus: “to each of you (Jews, Christians and Muslims) We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation (united in religion)”
Admittedly, there were moments when the earliest Muslims and the Christians and the Jews had frosty relationship. However, history bears testimony to the fact that such moments of confrontation between the earliest Muslims and the Ahlul-Kitaab in Madinah were essentially those moments when the Ahlul-Kitaab conspired with the unbelievers to wage war against the Prophet and the burgeoning Muslim Ummah. Beyond that, the Prophet maintained a cordial, peaceful relationship with the Christians and Jews in Madinah. They formed part of the cornerstones which the Prophet used to build the first multi-religious and multi-cultural community in Madinah after his Hijrah from Makkah. It is instructive that model community inspired and led by the Prophet was created on the basis of mutual respect and genuine accommodation.
We all will recall that when the Christian Byzantine Empire defeated the Zoroastrian Persian Empire, the cheering news was announced to the Muslims who were then in Makkah via Qur’anic verses. Is it not instructive that the first person to confirm the authenticity of Prophet Muhammad’s Prophetic Mission was a Christian priest, Waraqah Ibn Nawfal who was a cousin to Khadeejah, the Prophet’s first wife? What is more, when the Prophet was faced with unimaginable persecution in Makkah, the best option left to him was to encourage some of his companions to seek refuge in Abbysinian (Ethiopia) under a Christian ruler whom he adjudged just and fair in his dealings.
Muslims accord respect to the places of worship of Muslims, Christians and Jews. Mosques, Churches, Synagogues and Monasteries, where the name of Allah is exalted must be protected by all Muslims. Such houses are sacred in the eyes of Islam. The attitude of Islam to these places of worship is better amplified by His counsel in Surah Al-Hajj (22:40) thus: “And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and exalted in might.”
In practical terms, Muslims need to learn from the glorious conduct of Khalifah Umar (R.A.) and Salahudeen Al-Ayyubi when they both took control of Jerusalem during their reign as leaders of the Muslim Ummah. They destroyed neither Churches nor Synagogues. Rather Muslims were permitted, if need be, to pray in them. Besides, the Christian and Jewish inhabitants were accorded respect while nobody imposed Islam on them.
But what do we see today? With wanton destruction of Churches and Mosques and the thoughtless killing of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, isn’t Islam now a victim in the hands of those who claim to be defending Islam?
It is worrisome that some Muslims, through their conduct, have given the impression to the world that Jihad is a weapon in the hands of barbarians and a tool for mob action. Or how else would one describe those who wage a war that is thoughtless in its basis and indiscriminate in execution? Yet we know from the Prophetic history that Jihad is not a war of hate; it is not a war of destruction; it is not an indiscriminate, random war; it’s not a mandate that can be appropriated by every Tom, Dick and Harry.
To those who only believe in imposing Islam on others, Allah (SWT) asks a poignant question: “If it had been your Lord’s will, they would all have believed - all who are on earth! Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe?” Surah Yunus (10:99) I believe it is incumbent on us Muslims to let the world know the essence of Islam, that it is peace, and that it requires of us good relationship with our neighbours, which way neighbour is defined in spatial, economic, religious, political and social senses.
My case is unique. I am from a community and region where people of different faiths have to coexist. I also happen to preside over a state peopled by adherents of different faith. Indeed, this has been the case for the past 200 years. In my own family, there are Christians; as Ijesa, I have a proud heritage of renowned Christian clerics and an epicentre of Pentecostal revival and evangelism in the mid 20th Century. Religion therefore is a no-go-area for me.
However, there is still something about the North, the current rampage and violence that is not religious and definitely not Islam, which has to be urgently addressed – the environment of deprivation and hopelessness that fuels the rage manifested in violence and other destructive behaviours that is tearing our nation apart.
There is a current travelling round the country that I want to address. All of us – the rest of the country – feel indifferent about the plight of the North. But we should feel concerned. Whether as a nation or individual, we should indeed be concerned about how the people in that troubled region live. That is the main point about good neighbourliness.
Whoever says there is no peculiar poverty in the North is certainly uninformed. The Human Development Index (HDI) from the North is frightening. It is so low and has been so for the past 20 to 30 years. One even wonders why it has not influenced specific action from government. If we are really talking about eliminating this scourge as a nation, then we must pay special attention to that horrible situation.
There is a current travelling round the country that I want to address. All of us – the rest of the country – feel indifferent about the plight of the North. But we should feel concerned. Whether as a nation or individual, we should indeed be concerned about how the people in that troubled region live. That is the main point about good neighbourliness. The present conflict is just one possible consequence of the continued neglect of the problem in the North.
Addressing poverty, unemployment and education are critical. Education does not necessarily imply going to school and acquiring a particular certificate. Education is universal. Irrespective of the type, it must be about cultivating the intellect and equipping people with the capacity to apply mind to existential problems in a rational way and come up with solution.
Addressing poverty is not reducible to giving them handout alone but empowering people in a way that their creative energy will be channelled towards wealth creation and self sustenance. Employment must mean full and equal opportunities for all, irrespective of sex. There is no way a society will make women unproductive and be sane or economically viable! This is what is happening in the North.
Islam does not support that! Were it so, Iran would not have had the resources it has now. Not even Egypt, Morocco and Algeria. These are Muslim countries which know that half of humanity cannot be unproductive. In the case of the North here, economic disempowerment of women means that about or less than one-third of the adult males sustain that society. There is no way there won’t be problem. Why it is even worse there is that at their infancy and maturing ages, the elite have been socialised into sustaining a lifestyle out of sync with economic productivity. For a long time, this anomaly has been encouraged by the dysfunction of the Nigerian state which places distribution above production. However, sustaining this lifestyle wholesale is increasingly becoming difficult after they lost control of the central power. This means that the elite are no longer satisfied, not to talk of the crumbs that come to the masses. This is largely responsible for the boiling and roiling in the North.
This must first be engaged at the level of ideas. Their universities and clerics must come to realise that women fought in the war of the Prophet. Therefore, if women participated in the war of expansion, they too should allow their women to work. I must charge their intellectuals, both religious and secular, to make this possible. Women must be empowered to work. There must be specific programmes to empower women in a way that will not harm their faith. The children must be properly equipped to blend into contemporary life. If you do all of these with genuine federalism, I do not see why they will not live the way they ought to live, for as long as the lives of other Nigerians will not be threatened.
This is where I will lend my weight on the call for the establishment of a federal ministry to attend specially to these matters. The point has been made that the issues of poverty, unemployment and education are at the heart of governance. If a new ministry is to be created, are we not indicting the existing governments at the state and local levels and cynically encouraging them to be irresponsible? Other less charitable have argued that setting up another ministry amounts to promoting the culture of blackmail since the standard response to crisis in any part of the country now is to attack it with a bureaucracy.
Like I said earlier, the problem of the North is unique. In the West here, we have the advantage of a developed society where there is economic productivity and the proceeds of this is used by the affluent people to bear some responsibilities to their families. Had it been we were left alone with the government, there would be crisis here too! Now, imagine that many of our people are not economically viable to cater for their families, nuclear and extended. Is there any government that can even meet all the needs?
Secondly, the problems being encountered in Nigeria are created by the Federal Government and to that extent it must be involved in their resolution. The essence of a central government is that it is there to support the weakest unit. If indeed we want peace for ourselves, we must not leave the unit that will draw us back to itself. If what is going on in the North continues unchecked, honestly, we are doomed! This brings me back to the point I raised at the beginning about why it is wrong to be indifferent to the plight of the Northern people.
Federal scholars are agreed that the major aim of federalism is the sharing of opportunities as well as challenges. This is where the strength of a federation lies – that no part is left alone to its problems. As long as we remain a federation, this rule must apply. The strong must carry the weak until the weak becomes strong.
I want to prick the conscience of this nation to awake to the reality that whatever it will take to address the situation in the North must be faithfully done. It must not be viewed as a sectional thing. It is a section that has a great potential to contribute to our national development.
True religion cannot be silent in the face of crisis. True religion must be part of the solution to a crisis. Regardless of how it arose, truly religious people must enlist themselves faithfully in the resolution process.
I must thank you once again for your esteemed presence and for being part of the solution to a problem capable of rendering the nation asunder if not urgently addressed.
I thank you for your kind attention.