Col Muammar Gaddafi (Rtd), the former Libyan Head of State, once suggested that Nigeria should be divided into the Muslim North and the Christian South. He was obsessed with his ambition to be made the King of Kings of Africa, which will have its capital in his home town of Sirte, Libya and adopt arabic as its language. The Dictator believed that a united Nigeria was his greatest obstacle to achieving his utopic dream of being the King of Africa. In his delusional world, if the Muslim North is separated from the Christian South, he will be able to align the Muslim North to back up his ambition. Unfortunately for him, he was not aware that Nigeria was more united in its religious diversity than his country was divided in its religious homogeneity. Nigeria is still standing while Gaddafi was brutally murdered in the streets of Sirte, his home town, by the hands of fellow Muslims whom he was trying to instigate against their Christian brethren in Africa for his selfish ambition. His country has become shredded by warlords into pieces with the United Nations trying to sow up the remnants together. In the world of karma, whatsoever you sow, you reap.
Let us first of all note that the former Libyan leader failed in his bid to scatter Nigeria based on religion because he displayed great ignorance about the religious configuration of the Nigerian Nation. There is nothing like the Muslim North and Christian South. The Northern Nigeria is as religiously multi-faceted as the Southern Nigeria. The Northern States of Benue, Plateau and Taraba are predominantly Christians. Kogi, Nasarawa, Kwara, Abuja, Kaduna, Niger inhabit considerable number of Christians to the ratio of 50-50 in some, 60-40 in others and 70-30 in the remainder. The far Northern States, even to the caliphate, have appreciable population of Christians, living peacefully with their Muslim brothers. Is it not a puzzle that the woman, known as Mama Boko Haram, is from South East, but became a Muslim by marriage? On the other hand, in the South, particularly, South West, the ratio of Christians to Muslims is almost 50-50, while the South South and South East are predominantly Christians with the presence of few Muslims. This heterogeneity existed before the advent of colonialism. In the ancient traditional society, when force was a legitimate tool for the spread of religious beliefs, no one religion was able to overrun the whole of the territory today referred to as Nigeria.
Britain colonized this country. In 1914, it amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates together under the name Nigeria. Britain is largely a Christian nation and is responsible for the foundation of the political structure we have today. According to Mr Harold Smith, who was posted by Britain to the department of Labour in Nigeria and was in charge of the then capital, Lagos, between 1955 to 1960, the political structure of Nigeria was skewed to favour the North because they were more amenable to British rule more than their counterparts in the South. This should teach us a lesson. Politicians, worldwide, are more interested in loyalty and servitude than they are interested in religious affiliation. A predominantly Christian country built a country and skewed its structure to favour a section that has majority of Muslims simply because that section was more respectful and docile to its leadership. Nobody blamed Britain for trying to islamize Nigeria simply because it is a Christian nation. If Britain were to be a Muslim nation, the religious bigots would have been asserting that the reason why Britain did it was to islamize Nigeria. The two most powerful Northern leaders were made the Knights of the British empire. That was why they were referred to as Sir Amadu Bello and Sir Tafawa Belewa. The impact of their relationship with a Christian nation was obvious as some inner caucus of the regime of Sir Amadu Bello, including his secretary, Chief Sunday Awoniyi, were Christians. There was no evidence that throughout their regime, they did anything to islamize Nigeria. In his 1959 Christmas message to Northern Christians, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the Northern region said, “on an occasion like this, I always remind people about our firmly rooted policy on religious tolerance. Families of all creeds and colour can rely on these assurances. We have no intention of favouring one religion at the expense of another. Subject to overriding need to preserve law and order, it is our determination that everyone should have absolute liberty to practice his beliefs”. He has been the most powerful northern Nigeria Muslim leader to date. If he protected and preserved the secularity of the north before independence of Nigeria, I wonder who among his political offsprings will attempt to islamize Nigeria after independence.
In order to ensure that Nigeria was not dominated by any religion, our 1960 independence constitution, which was mutually negotiated and agreed on by the North, East and West, through their leaders, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sir Tafawa Balewa, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and written under the supervision of Britain, recognised Nigeria as a secular state. The provision continued to appear in all our constitutions till date. In 1999 Constitution, Section 10 provides, “the Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion”.
The first independent government of Nigeria was shared by a northern Muslim Prime Minister and a Southern Christian President. This government was truncated by a coup led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, a Christian, in 1966 which brought Major General Aguiyi Ironsi, a Christian to power. The regime of Ironsi introduced the unitary system of governance in Nigeria, in line with the military command structure. The counter coup which toppled Ironsi’s regime came in 1966 and this culminated in the civil war that was fought between 1967 to 1970. The man who led the killing of Ironsi was Theophilous Danjuma, a christian from Taraba State. The beneficiary of the overthrow of Ironsi was Yakubu Gowon, a christian from Plateau State, who governed Nigeria for 9 years. The officer who received the surrender of Biafra was Olusegun Obasanjo, a christian from Ogun State, who succeeded Gen Murtala Muhammed, a fulani, as Head of State after the latter was killed in a military coup led by Col Dimka, a Christian from Plateau State, which terminated his six month regime as Head of State of Nigeria. In 1979, Nigeria wrote another constitution under Obasanjo. The two principal members of the constitution drafting committee were Prof Ben Nwabueze and Rotimi Williams, Christians from Southern Nigeria. They were responsible for the very strong centre we have today. The 1999 constitution we operate now is largely predicated on the 1979 constitution. It is obvious that Christians were largely the architects of our modern Nigeria and the argument of islamization of Nigeria is a ruse.
The turning point of the fallacy of islamization of Nigeria came in June 12, 1993, where a Muslim Head of State, cancelled a presidential election won by a Muslim-Muslim ticket of Chief MKO Abiola and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe simply because the Muslim Head of State did not want to leave power. The lesson here again is that leaders take decision to satisfy their selfish agenda not based on religious affiliation. What other best chance to purportedly islamize Nigeria than that opportunity given to a Muslim Head of State for two Muslims to occupy Aso villa yet he cancelled it. He had earlier cancelled the primary elections of the two political parties, NRC and SDP, won by two prominent Muslim Northerners. I recall that many Christians were in the forefront to ensure the victory of the Muslim-Muslim ticket. Some fought even with their lives towards the actualization of the mandate after it was cancelled. I remember Pa Alfred Rewane, Abraham Adesanya, Frank Kokori, Ebitu Ukiwe and the NADECO family. Eventually, when the dust of the cancellation settled, it was Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, that became the eventual beneficiary of the annulment of June 12 and emerged President of Nigeria, in a calculated attempt by Nigeria to compensate the South West for the death in detention of Chief MKO Abiola, the winner of the June 12 election and finally exorcise the haunting ghost of June 12 from the political firmament of Nigeria. .
During the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Gov Sani Yerima of Zamfara State, imposed sharia law in his State to punish offenders by cutting off their hands. Obasanjo ignored him and dubbed his move “political sharia”. If Obasanjo were a Muslim and allowed a Governor to unilaterally declare sharia law in his state, the separatists would have gone to town with the fake news that it must be a grand design and conspiracy by the leaders to islamize Nigeria. Meanwhile, it was simply political adventurism by a Governor. This became obvious when he cut off the hand of a thief and received international condemnation for it. He never cut a second one when he realized that his decision was unpopular.
My friend, religion is not our problem in Nigeria. Our problem is corruption, pure and simple. Politicians are not the best of Christians or Muslims. They even display the qualities of fetishness better. I hear more about oaths before dreadful shrines among them than scriptures. When they gather to share money, they hardly disagree based on religion. When President Buhari appointed Prof Ibrahim Gambari as his Chief of Staff, some anarchists and bigots re-echoed their timeworn arguments that he made the appointment as a way to achieve his islamization of the country. One can forgive the former Libyan leader in his ignorance about his characterization of Nigeria because he is a foreigner and was carried away by his ambition to rule Africa, but what does a Nigerian stand to achieve by peddling this unfounded and baseless fallacy. We have to start interrogating issues in this country to put them in proper perspective for the next generation to know the truth and for this generation to get its acts together in order to build a prosperous nation that will accommodate all of us. Sir Ahmadu Bello said it all when he declared, “we are people of many different races, tribes and religions, who are knit together by common history, common interests and common ideals. Our diversity may be great but the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us”.