By Fola Ojo
The pronounced death-decree on the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, doesn’t make him start to shake and shiver. The threat of doom and demise on the state chief executive does not one bit make his adherents begin to fidget and be fearful of the “doom” to come. If the recent surreal forewarning from one of Nigeria’s very many apostles has the backing of divinity, then this sitting governor, father of five and husband of three wives must now be diligently putting his house in order.
Should el-Rufai begin counting days as he writes or rewrites his will? Should he commence fasting or take a quick trip to the Holy Land in Mecca and say his last prayers? If you asked the Apostle and thousands of those who believe his voice is God’s, they will respond with a loud “AMEN’. El-Rufai is in a spiritual loggerhead with all manner of men loaded with imprecatory words and songs of war. These are men who despise the governor for his recent belligerent stand on religious freedom in Kaduna.
The death-wish troop captained by the Apostle from Edo State has unequivocally declared that the governor will “die after 14 days” if the proposed bill to muffle preachers through licensure is not rescinded. I squat up laughing at the banters between these two authors-the author of a lousy bill, and the author of a laughable death-decree.
But for Christians in Nigeria, especially those who make northern states their mission fields preaching faith in Jesus Christ, this is not a laughing matter. When pastors and Christian workers are butchered in cold-blood in the name of religion, it is not a laughing matter. When firsthand savage slaughtering of human beings by extremist religious sects liberally takes place, it is not a laughing matter. What is going on in Kaduna now is ridiculous, senseless, time-wasting and resource-squandering bickering over religion defined by German philosopher Karl Max as the “opium of the people”.
El-Rufai stirred the hornet’s nest. A few months ago, he sent a bill to the state House of Assembly prescribing amongst other things that every preacher- Muslim, Christian and otherwise- must be licensed in his state before free speech can actually be free. A quick peek at Section 12 of the bill reveals in part that: “A person shall be guilty of an offence who, in contravention of this law; (a) preachers without a valid licence…” Section 13 is the punishment section which prescribes a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or a fine of N200,000 or both; and have his licences revoked.
Jama’atu Nasril Islam, the Islamic umbrella body in Kaduna, fired the first shot challenging the governor. The Christian Association of Nigeria, eternally suspicious of religious moves like this, initially watched the in-house family feud between the JNI and the governor from the sidelines. It has now joined in the battle. As far as el-Rufai is concerned, there is nothing new about the bill because it was first enacted in 1984 after the Maitatsine religious uprising of 1982.
Governors have come and gone in Kaduna, but el-Rufai is a radically progressive leader in every sense of the word. Some call him the revolutionary needed for such a time as this in Nigeria; while others tag him a man set to destroy the temple with no plan to rebuild. There are a handful of Christian leaders who perceive him as a sneaky High Priest of hate who daily furtively salivates to see Christians and Christianity go into extinction in all of Nigeria. Is this governor the Priest of hate or a champion of change? It depends on who you ask.
El-Rufai is the first, probably the only Kaduna governor in history and one of very few in the North, whose cabinet composition cuts across ethnic and religious barriers. He has Christians and Muslims on his team; and men and women who are non-indigenes. He gave this warning when he swore in his cabinet last year; “You were selected based on your education, capacity, integrity and track record. You were not appointed to represent your LGA, religion or ethnicity. You were appointed to serve the eight million Kaduna citizens.” El-Rufai is cerebral. But I wonder why he is picking a losing fight over religion.
Section 4 of the bill in the Kaduna State House of Assembly loudly embraces the Christian and Islamic faiths as state religions. But Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution which has an overriding supreme stance over any state law states that: “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State religion.” Why then must el-Rufai seek obedience through flagrance disobedience of Nigeria’s constitution? Why must he attempt to break one law to make another? How many Alimajiri kids roaming the streets of Kaduna will this bill educate? How much food will it put on the table of millions of hungry Kaduna citizens? How many sicknesses will this bill cure and how many hospitals will it build?
I agree totally with some of the efforts of the governor expressed in the bill. If he is apprehensive of a possible terror build-up in the name of religion, it is his duty to keep the people of Kaduna safe. Manipulating and fraudulent preachers litter the Nigerian streets and no one is putting them on the leash. Nuisances are on the Christian and Islamic pulpits, and miscreants have taken over our holy temples. They extort and brainwash; the results of which lead to uncontrollable religious mayhem especially in a place like Kaduna. Yes; fleecing preachers and murderous Imams must be flushed out; but should the government barge into that territory? Licensing a preacher is seen as a calculated attempt to take away religious liberty. That informs why the Edo Apostle may have been angered with that puerile pronouncement of death on a fellow man he has no power to create.
In a lighter mood, I do observe. El-Rufai now wants the Apostle to tell the world the exact minute that death will swing by his house so he can get ready for the august visitor in April. Who knows when who will die? The governor, like the sentencing Apostle, and like all mere mortals, will die one day. And God may not give an advance warning. Governor el-Rufai will not die in 14 days! Something else will. The bill that was sent to the House of Assembly will die its natural or unnatural death and el-Rufai will live to perform its funeral. Thereon, everyone will take a deep breath and stop brawling over religion which is not Nigeria’s problem at this time.