By Murtala Uba Mohammed (PhD)
Dear Reverend, I wish to thank God for sparing your life during last week’s riot in Sokoto City because of the intrinsic value and sanctity of human life as shown to us by our beloved religion of Islam. I have to do that Father, because, rumors went round that a mob had allegedly attacked Sokoto Diocese and killed the bishop. Glory be to the Almighty, the most exalted, that you have not sustained any injury and that it was only windows of the church that were smashed and neither you nor any member of your congregation was injured.
I hope Father would not be angry with me for deciding to throw a letter addressed to him through a public domain, rather than sending it privately to his Most Reverend. Sir, I am only following your footsteps. I know you are used to writing public letters to many of our leaders, including late ones, as you did recently to his Eminence, the one and only Premier of the Northern Nigeria, Alhaji Sir. Ahmadu Bello Sardaunan Sokoto, whose ancestral home and the city established by his grandfather, Sultan Bello, is now serving as your abode.
Sir, you seem to have carved a niche for yourself for being blunt and outspoken; we know you talk to power in the Northern Region in the most audacious way or to put it differently in the words of Professor Edward Said that you speak “truth” to power and the powerful. Sir, your magnum opus, Religion, Power and Politics in Northern Nigeria have not spared any of the respected Northern leaders be he a politician, traditional ruler or religious leader. Sir, forgive us the younger ones if we speak to you in a similar tone because a Hausa have a proverb “mai kwaikwayon shan mai, ya fi mai koyan shafawa” loosely translated, a trainee learns more than what his trainer taught. The Hausa people might not be aware of the Biblical verse which says: a “disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant is above his lord.
Let me not digress from the topic of the letter. I am writing concerning the blasphemy case and the riot that followed it. It is unfortunate that this had happened while you are holding the “Most important Christian chair in the Sokoto Region. Sir, the aura you built around you is that you are a “Peace Crusader”, which is stated as one of the goals of Kukah Centre. One expects you to come out boldly to uphold justice, speak the truth and promote the peaceful resolution of the crisis. Alas, your voice was one-sided. You are well aware of the highly accommodating and peaceful nature of the Sokoto people. It is enough pointer to their tolerance that you could freely come and settle in the city built by the Shehu and establish an institution which aims at unwinding and uprooting all that the Shehu had built two hundred years ago. Even as this crisis was surging, Muslim political and traditional/religious leaders would have definitely assured you of your rights and the rights of all Christians to settle in Sokoto or any Muslim city without hindrance. Shouldn’t such tolerance be reciprocated by the Bishop and his followers? What the people of Sokoto demand, as you work to reduce the strength of Islam by spreading the mission of Christianity is to AT LEAST respect the sensibilities of the people; respect their religious sanctity and personalities, do not subject them to ridicule, teach your followers good manners and the spirit of togetherness. This, disgustingly enough, you have failed to do. You have poisoned the minds of the young Christians around you and charged them with hatred against the majority Muslim population amongst whom they live. By God, how can you then claim being a peace maker? I know that in the case of Deborah, you may not be the person who directly misguided her behaviour. Some zealous Pastors might have been responsible. You are, however, the highest Christian cleric. I may therefore, not be wrong for holding you accountable for the irresponsible utterances of Deborah. Your one-sided statement lends credence to this assumption. Your position cannot be compared with that of the Sultan, who in the spirit of peacebuilding condemned those who took the law into their hands and called for restraint, knowing fully that he himself was deeply hurt by the assault on the personality of the beloved Prophet. The Sultan called his people to order, you called mainly for punishing the killers, pretending that there is no problem, therefore, your silence on the abuse cann be interpreted as tacit approval to rain more abuses on Islam and Muslims and further instigate demonstration in Churches and CAN Secretariat.
For the avoidance of doubt, I stand vehemently against taking laws into ones hand by any group of people. While condemning the killing of any soul not approved by a court of law, I am strongly convinced that she (Deborah) had crossed the red line and it is her filthy action that instigated the unfortunate youth reaction. It was Newton’s law that says every action generates equal and opposite reaction.
Sir, the Sultan has done excellently well by not taking side with the killers; do the same Bishop, don’t just side with Deborah for the Muslims were insulted and enraged by her unprecedented foul words, therefore, remind your fellow Christians that Muslims hold their prophet in the most dearest way, let them teach their children never to insult our Prophet (peace upon him) again; after all we are not gaining anything by insults and curses, we gain by relating in the best of manners. In fact, no Muslim can be considered a true believer if he does not believe and respect Jesus. Your boldness is always against Muslim, this is the right time to probe yourself by showing it to Christians.
Before I bid you farewell Father, let me use this opportunity to call for peace between you and three eminent children of Sokoto. Since you are now in their home region and you are still alive, this is the best time to cease fire with the trio who formed the tripartite stones that hold the Caliphate. Sir, I am talking of Shehu Usman bn Fodio, his great-grandchild Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna and Sheikh Abubakar Mahmud Gumi. Sir, all of them were dead when you wrote your book, which I believed to be an extract of your PhD thesis, but the book is full of a sort of vengeance and hatred towards them. Sardauna, as you insinuated was/is sustaining the wishes of Shehu which is extending the boundary of the Caliphate to the shore of Niger and beyond. This completely counter your dream and the dream of your master Dr. Walter Miller which is to have a ‘civilized North’ which according to him as you quoted in your book is looking “forward to the time not far from hence, when educated Christianized pagans will lead the way… and even encircle the more obstinate and conservative Muslim emirate” (Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria, p4). I think this is the main reason for your fight with Sardauna, because of his zeal to spread Islam, particularly his engagement in mass conversion in Central Nigeria.
Finally, I wish you well as you will be celebrating your seventy year birthday in a few days to come. May we find peace in Nigeria, North, Sokoto and Southern Kaduna as well. Let us hope this will be the last time Sokoto will have this unfortunate incident. Thank you.
Murtala writes from Kano, Nigeria, and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.