The recent surrender of the Afghan government of Professor Ashraf Ghani to the Taliban connotes two very basic facts. The first is that the resolve of the big superpowers can be subjected to a break by persistence and perseverance. The second is that where there is a will, there is often a way.
Even with the tacit support of America and Great Britain for 20 years running, the Afghan government finally caved in on Sunday 15 August 2021 as Taliban forces marched gloriously to take over control of the country’s capital, Kabul.
It was inevitable that Kabul would fall after President Joe Biden assessed America’s commitment to the struggle and decided that the human and economic sacrifices his country had so far made were not worth it after all. He instantly withdrew American military and financial support to Afghanistan, and Britain quickly followed suit. The Taliban took advantage. President Ghani and his men zoomed off before the arrival of the Taliban and took refuge in the United Arab Emirates, some 2, 560 miles away from Afghanistan.
Soon after the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, many Nigerians continued to make references to the situation in that country and tried to insinuate that Nigeria would soon fall into the hands of Muslim Jihadists if the people of southern Nigeria did not wake up from their slumber and deal with the imminent challenges Fulani warriors, with President Muhammadu Buhari’s studied patronage, were likely to pose for the country.
Given Buhari’s penchant for appointing mainly his kinsmen into very sensitive top posts in his government where more than 90% of them are from the core north and are Muslims, many Nigerians became convinced that Buhari had an Islamic agenda. And in some instances, the President made no secret of it. For instance, each time northern Boko Haram terrorists and kidnappers were apprehended, they were never brought to the court of law and tried for treason or similar serious armed offences, the same way agitators for Biafra or Oduduwa separatism from Nigeria were judged. Most Nigerians were very uncomfortable with that.
Why must those Boko Haram terrorists who killed and maimed fellow Nigerians at will, and sacked them from their ancestral homes to become refugees in their own country or in neighbouring countries, be protected by the federal government when those who had not hurt anyone but were merely asking the government to hold a referendum so that the people of Nigeria could determine for themselves whether they still wanted to remain as one indivisible country or go their separate ways because the centre could no longer hold were incarcerated in jail or judged in court for treasonable felony?
As a consequence, the understanding for many Nigerians especially those from the South East, South West, Deep South (South-South) and the Middle Belt became that the Buhari government was pursuing a hidden Islamic agenda with the connivance of some very unscrupulous insiders from the South. But even if that was the case, it would definitely be preposterous to compare the condition in Afghanistan with what is going on in Nigeria.
One reason is that Afghanistan has a population of about 38 million people. This is about 19% of Nigeria’s population. Of this number, less than one percent are Christians. The other 99% are Muslims. It is obviously not the same situation in Nigeria where the Muslim and Christian communities are almost equal in number.
Another fact is that the population of the country consists of about 16 ethno-linguistic groups only: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Aimaq, Turkmen, Baloch, Pashai, Nuristani, Gujjar, Arab, Brahui, Qizilbash, Pamiri, Kyrgyz and Sadat. But both the Afghan national anthem and the Afghan constitution each mentions fourteen of them and the lists are not exactly the same.
On the contrary, Nigeria is home to over 250 ethnic groups, with over 500 languages and a variety of customs and traditions that give the country a great cultural diversity. The three largest ethnic groups are the Hausa with 27.4%, the Yoruba with 21%, the Igbo with 14.1%, and the Fulani with 6.3% of the population. Apart from these, there are other ethnicities like the Ijaw, the Bini, Itshekiri, Berom etc who may not be so huge in number but are very dependable when it comes to action. So, it will not be all that simple to successfully organize a Jihad should this or any other administration think of such a development in Nigeria.
The third point is that the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan does not recognize any Afghan citizen as Christian, except perhaps the few expatriates who live and work in the country. Those who practise Christianity do so in absolute secrecy for fear of government reaction. In fact, there is only one legally recognized Christian church building in Afghanistan and that is the Catholic Chapel at the Italian Embassy which has been in operation since the 1930s.
Under the Taliban, there are very strict citizen restrictions. For instance, it is impossible to live openly as a Christian in Afghanistan. Quitting the Islamic faith for another was considered as a shameful act and Christian converts faced serious consequences if their new faith was discovered. Either they had to flee the country or they would be killed. That, certainly is not the situation in Nigeria. While a lot of Nigerian Muslims are located in the northern states of the country, the majority of Christians are predominantly resident in the south. But in practically every state in Nigeria both Muslims and Christians live side by side and do business. Their level of interaction is high and it is difficult to see how that relationship can be easily destroyed by Fulani militants.
Indeed, the Nigerian census for 1963 showed that 38% of the population was Muslim, 36% Christian while 26% came under other faiths. But today, the figures must have considerably varied. Nigeria is said to have the largest population of Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa – but we must also consider the fact that in the north of the country, the Hausa ethnic group is mostly Muslim and if truth be told, they are not the best friends of the Fulani who conquered and enslaved them in their own land, even with their superior numerical strength. So, it is doubtful if they would ever join forces with their conquerors to fight against those who would otherwise save them from the ordeal of being slaves in their own country, should a Jihad ever happen.
In the south, the Yoruba tribe of the West is divided among Christianity, Islam and traditional African religions. The East is predominantly Christian with a negligible percent of them practising authentic African religion like their western counterparts. Now, assuming a war breaks out between the Muslims and the Christians, where are the non-conformists who neither believe in Islamism nor in Christianity pitch their camp? We also need to consider this.
One other factor that will make a jihad very difficult in Nigeria is the fact that both Muslims and Christians are scattered all over the country and they can be found in every state. There is no single state in Nigeria that hasn’t got a sizeable number of Muslims and a sizeable number of Christians. So, from where would a jihad start, in the first place? If we take a state like Kaduna where attacks on Christians have become rather glaringly bizarre in recent times, there are Christians who would rather die for their Christian faith than give it up for another. These Nigerians will be delighted to fight for what they believe in. The case of Leah Sharibu easily comes to mind. Today, that young girl has become an instant world celebrity because she preferred death to renouncing her faith.
President Buhari promised the country on Twitter that he would do his best to extricate the young girl, kidnapped by Boko Haram insurgents from school from her abductors with immediate effect. Nearly three years after, Leah is still in the den of her captors. She is still a captive. But let us not make any mistakes about it. It is pretty obvious that out there, there are many more Leahs in every state of Nigeria waiting to be made by fate, willing to stick to their religious beliefs at any cost.
Even among Nigerian Muslims, there is no consensus, should the Buhari-led government of Nigeria have a hidden agenda to Islamize the country or be considering a Jihad in Nigeria. The case of Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky is a typical example. On 12 December 2015, the Nigerian Army massacred more than 750 Muslims in response to what they said was an assassination attempt on Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai whose convoy passed by a makeshift roadblock near a Shiia mosque. The dead included members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria.
The attack which was carried out by the Nigerian Army targeted the home of Sheikh El-Zakzaky for more than two consecutive days. As a result of that attack, men, women and children were executed with excessive force. Their bodies were left in the streets to rot. Some were piled on top of one another in an attempt to create mass graves. The injured victims were burnt alive. Among those killed were Sheikh El-Zakzaky’s three sons, Hammad, Ali and Humaid.
In April 2018, the Kaduna state government charged Sheikh El-Zakzaky and three others to court, despite an order in 2016 by the Federal High Court that the embattled leader and his wife be released and compensated by the government. The court awarded the cost of N 25 million as general damages to Ibrahim El-Zakzaky who must be released unconditionally to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) within 45 days. The IGP was ordered to convey El-Zakzaky and his wife to an accommodation provided by the government. The court also awarded N25 million damages to Mrs El-Zakzaky, making it a total of N50 million as general damages.
Despite the judgment delivered by Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, the Federal government and the Kaduna state government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Nasiru El-Rufai respectively refused to obey the 2016 court order. El-Rufai went ahead again to file an eight-count charge against El-Zakzaky.
Counsel to Sheikh El-Zakzaky, Femi Falana, SAN, prayed the court to quash the charges against the Islamic cleric. And in September 2020 in a court session in Kaduna, Sheikh El-Zakzaky dismissed the charges against him as ‘rubbish and nonsense’ .
Following the announcement of the historic judgment at the Kaduna High Court, supporters, followers and sympathizers of the eminent Sheikh came out en masse to celebrate the verdict. On 28 July 2021 Nigeria’s leader of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, was finally vindicated by a Kaduna High Court of the eight-count charge. El-Zakzaky and his wife, Malama Zeenah Ibraheem, who had been in detention since December 2015, according to the presiding judge, Justice Gideon Kurada, were found not guilty of any of the accusations leveled against them. The judgment put an end to the 2,055- day illegal detention.
A statement released by his only surviving son, Mohammad Ibrahim El-Zakzaky shortly after his parents regained their freedom read: “After expressing our profound gratitude to Allah, the Almighty, we wish to also express our appreciation to all those who stood by us during this ordeal that has lasted two thousand and fifty-five days (2055) – nearly 6 years. I, along with our entire family, wish to especially thank those men, women and children who stood firm in the face of injustice, risking life and limb to demand justice and freedom for them, (his parents) both inside and outside this country. Of special note are the heroes who marched daily in Abuja nonstop for 5 years, a monumental act of sacrifice seldom heard of and certainly unprecedented in the history of Nigeria.”
Sheikh El-Zakzaky and his wife Malama Zeenah have regained their freedom. Nigerians look at the implications of their detention in case there was a plan to invade Nigeria by the Arab world of Buhari’s dream. First was that El-Zakzaky’s case attracted worldwide attention. Under the watch of the ruling APC party during which the Zaria Massacre was executed, the government and its party became globally touted as a party that was known for human rights violations. The Zaria Massacre further exposed Nigeria and its authorities as a country that woefully failed to protect the rights of religious minorities, a development that was capable of denting its public image on the global arena.
As a signatory to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other human rights charters, the consequences could be serious. Yet El-Zakzaky’s case appeared like an attack by one Muslim sect on another sect, posing the question of whether or not an all-round-Muslim unity to fight side by side in a Jihad can still be guaranteed as sustainable after all that experience El-Zakzaky and his family and followers went through during their ordeal with the Nigerian army? It is doubtful.
Despite this fact, people still want to know, if only for the sake of just knowing, whether the number of Muslims in Nigeria is greater than that of Christians.
The verifiable point is that for a long time, the Muslim north has continued to claim numerical superiority over other ethnic indigenes possibly because of their ownership of an expansive land mass. For that long, they have lived under such possible false illusions. They have continuously evaded every attempt to conduct proper and credible census figures that would help in the equitable distribution of available resources because they don’t want the truth to be told about their real number. And stupidly, the southerners always believed in them and often conceded that the north had a superior numerical strength. Politics, we might say. But this is a matter that has continued to generate loads of tension across the country and which could stretch to a breaking point if it is not looked into at a time like this.
Many Nigerians still remember what happened on Thursday 17 October 2013 during the presidency of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Chief Festus Odimegwu was the Chairman of the National Population Commission at the time. During the period, Nigeria was scheduled to host a national census. Odimegwu made a press release about his intention to give Nigeria the most credible census figures the country ever had since the 1914 amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates.
Chief Odimegwu was criticized for reports credited to him, claiming that the country had not had any credible census since 1914. He had blamed the irregularity on the distortion and falsification of figures for selfish and political reasons. “No census has been credible in Nigeria since 1914. Even the one conducted in 2006 is not credible. I have the records and evidence produced by scholars and professors of repute; this is not my report. If the current laws are not amended, the planned 2016 census will not succeed,” Odimegwu was reported to have said.
What happened next is important because it points to the consistent fear of the northern oligarchy to do things in Nigeria the proper and transparent way – even in a disguised military dictatorship that parades itself as democracy.
After Odimegwu said he was poised to give the country credible census figures, the then governor of Kano state, Rabiu Kwankwaso went to the Presidential Palace to threaten President Jonathan. He said he would stop all Kano residents voting for the People’s Democratic Party if Chief Odimegwu was not relieved of his post. Kwankwaso had much clout in Kano state and was loved by his people when he governed them. So, Jonathan summoned Odimegwu and told him he went “too far” by announcing his plans to give the country reliable census figures without first “consulting the presidency”.
Chief Festus Odimegwu and ex-President Goodluck Jonathan
Jonathan reminded Chief Odimegwu that census matters in Nigeria were “very sensitive issues” and asked him to choose to resign rather than get booted out of office after such a meritorious career which the country recognized by knighting him with two of the prominent orders of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) and Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). Rather than concede to be sacked disgracefully, Chief Festus Odimegwu resigned and that was how a credible census was stalled for 15 years, since Nigeria had its last one in 2006.
Addressing State House Correspondents in the Government House, Abuja after his meeting with President Jonathan, Governor Kwankwaso said: “I also raised the issue of the Chairman of the National Population Commission headed by one Festus Odimegwu. We are not happy about that appointment, and think that it was a mistake. He had only one thing in his alcoholic industry all his life. And my guess is that he’s taking a lot of his products and that is why we feel that his appointment is a mistake because he cannot be the Chairman of NPC and at the same time attack what his predecessors have done.”
On that Thursday, 17 October 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan accepted the resignation of Chief Festus Odimegwu as Chairman of the National Population Commission, NPC, and promptly appointed Sam Ahaiwe, the Commissioner representing Abia State in the Commission, to act as Chairman pending the appointment of a substantive boss. The appointment was made known in a statement by the Special Adviser on Media to the Secretary of the Government of the Federation, Sam Nwaobasi.
The last detailed census in Nigeria was in 2006, and it documented that there were slightly below 140.5 million people in Nigeria. Now, it is estimated that about 198.137 million people live in Nigeria. So, unlike the situation in Afghanistan, it will not be easy for any Muslim Jihad to take place successfully in Nigeria, no matter how long they wait.
On the contrary, the chances are that separatist agitations will become louder and clearer for the country to tear apart and allow each ethnic group go its separate way. Such agitations have already taken root in many parts of the country, including in the north.
For instance, there is a recent letter to the Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero, signed by Nastura A. Shariff, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of an organization called the Coalition of Northern Group. The letter was dated 3 June 2021 and titled “Alert on unfolding scenarios for destabilizing of Nigeria”. In the letter, the Coalition of Northern Group said among other things:
“The threat grew more existential with revelations of catches of arms meant for the Boko Haram insurgents routinely smuggled into the country and intercepted by the Nigerian authorities, traced to Igbo merchants. Evidence also abound of how IPOB's incitement to mass atrocity and possible genocide against the North, and outright rebellion to the Nigerian state, manifested in the ugly incidents of the#EndSARS protests resulting in attacks and killings of security personnel, non-Igbo residents in the East and arson across Western States like Lagos. The attacks went on literally unchecked climaxing with the cold-blooded massacre of 19 innocent members of a pastoral family in Anambra and more recently, the gruesome assassination of Dr Ahmed Gulak in Imo.
“The typology of the current disturbances spreading across all northern states where the fissures between ethnic and religious groups are much more accentuated, suggests a wider plot to cause greater national instability by first diminishing the northern economic, political and educational viability. It began with an exponential increase in the level of drug addiction and substance abuse driven by outside forces and players particularly Southeast traders and "pharmacists" who are the main sources of the substances and drugs that target the North.
“There is also an established correlation between the arms trade and drug trade in the north, both of which are intended to cause the disintegration of the region and bring about its weakening from within. The Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) is convinced that the bulk of the support for the violent Biafra agitation coming from the younger generation of the Igbo in the fifty-year bracket with pent up jealousies against the North and its people, are direct results of the dangerous indoctrination and radicalization by their forefathers, political and religious leaders over a long period.
“We are also convinced that the dimension of the current agitations and disturbances that have been ongoing ceaselessly since 2017, are aimed at rendering the country practically ungovernable, and ushering in anarchy and instability thereby occasioning an inter-regional crisis possibly leading to civil war or general unrest that could portend towards the breakup of the country.
Thus the targeting of the North and its people for attacks and irreverent treatment by IPOB and the Eastern Security Network, emboldened by the active support of all Igbo leaders, aim at sparking off retaliation in the North with subsequent attacks to be perpetrated against Northerners in the South-East, thus making it even more likely to insist on dividing the country.
“In the light of the observations and inferences drawn above, the CNG hereby arrives at the following inevitable positions:
a. that with the dimension taken by the Biafran agitation that involves attacks and destruction of public utilities, national security assets and personnel, and violence against fellow Nigerians from other parts of the country particularly the North, it has become no longer reasonable to expect us to continue having the Igbo as a federating partner.
b. The fact that the strength of the Igbo agitation rests on youth who are mainly below the ages of 50, with diseased mindsets induced by their forefathers and encouraged by their political, cultural and religious leaders to take up arms against the Nigerian state and northerners, confirms that the nation's unity is definitely negotiable.
c. It is therefore unreasonable for those older Nigerians who are mostly above 70 to insist that the unity of Nigeria is sacrosanct whereas the people executing the dangerous Southeast secession agenda are almost entirely below 50.
“Committed to constitutionalism, peace, security, fair play, decent patriotism, love of our country and fellow citizens and respect for elders, CNG hereby urges you as respected leaders to: 1. Act to get the Nigerian state and other critical stakeholders and international players to accept the reality that the only remaining option to avert a civil war and bloodshed is for the Igbo to be allowed to have the Biafra they have used intermittently for decades to destabilize the nation and deny peace to other components of the country.
2. To take urgent steps to check the mass movement of people from the proposed Biafra land into the vast interior of the North as well as the permanent nature of that migration. 3. To set up a machinery for the final evacuation of all Biafra indigenes from the North to their new country and for the safe relocation of all northerners from the South East.
“Finally Sir, we submit that the level of anger elicited by the activities of the IPOB and its sponsors at home and in the Diaspora has reached the inevitable point where the Igbo must be separated from us by invoking the relevant statutes on self-determination entrenched in various international conventions and treaties to which Nigeria is a signatory. And for the avoidance of doubt, the North should no longer be expected to be restrained from paying back any further act of aggressive provocation on northerners living as minorities in any part of southern Nigeria. No one needs to be reminded that a destabilized Nigeria also comes with negative
consequences for peace and security in West Africa sub-region as well as Europe and the US and the rest of the global community. As such the North shall no longer be disposed to relating as Nigeria with the violent Igbo secessionists nor relate at any diplomatic level with a Biafran nation that may emerge now or in the future.” The Emir was yet to act.
But what the Buhari government has adopted as strategy for a hidden agenda, if any, is to make the country so hot and difficult to live in that people are literarily willing to run away and not be there to defend their ancestral lands should an invasion of the Fulani of West Africa ever come to take place. And to a great extent, their trick is catching up on many unsuspecting Nigerians, especially the younger ones under 50 who should stay behind to defend their ancestral land should any invasion take place. As of today, ask any youth from any state of Nigeria and they all have the same answer. “I want to leave this accursed country”. They mostly don’t know it but these are the ones Muslims overseas dismiss as “useful idiots”. They help to make it so easy for their enemies to come in and take over their ancestral lands by demanding to flee their country even before anything serious begins to happen.
On a final note, it must be explained that Islam is not by any stretch of the imagination a violent religion as many tend to easily dismiss it. There are rogue elements in every religion. Even in Christianity, there are bad eggs. Armed robbers could dress like reverends or imams to rob. They can dress like religious leaders and ask you for a lift, only to stab you and take your car away from you. No real Muslim can ever see a Christian as a threat to his religion. And the reason is not farfetched. True Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet of God. And if they regard Jesus as a prophet of God, they have no reason regarding followers of Jesus as infidels. It doesn’t make sense. So, when the fake Muslims come up with their trouble, they should be easy to identify and deal with for who they are – fake Muslims. With all these going for Nigeria, I think the experience of Afghans will be most herculean to implement in this part of the world no matter what tricks they come up with or how long it takes them to do what they think they have to do. Compared with Afghanistan, the case of Nigeria is different.