By Turaki A. Hassan:
For many devout Christians, the idea of combining the practice of their faith with active partisan politics is so antithetical that the mere thought of it is seen as a sign that one has backslidden from pure Christianity.
This is because active partisan politics, especially in Nigeria, is said to be a dirty game and adjudged to be associated with the things that Christianity vehemently preaches against: lying, covetousness, stealing and mentioning God’s name in vain ; amongst others.
Therefore when a group of politicians under the aegis of Northern Nigeria Christian Politicians converged on Abuja penultimate Saturday to honour the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, David Babachir Lawal; many critical observers were quick to dismiss it as an incongruous gathering. Not a few also wondered aloud the capacity of politicians to hide under any guise to advance their cause.
But when Speaker Yakubu Dogara was given an opportunity to speak there was no room for political rhetorics, he hit squarely at the very issue that has continued to draw the northern part of the country backward: distrust among Christians and Muslims.
According to Dogara, rather than accentuating the areas of division among the various groups, ethnicity and religions in the north, what politicians of every colour and creed should do is to emphasise our common humanity and our areas of strength thereby underscoring the miracles that will be performed if all of us: Muslims, Christians, other faiths and the diverse ethnic nationalities come together to further our collective aspirations of building a better society and country that all of us would be proud of.
He noted that these faith based prejudices are not stereotypical of the north and are indeed a latter day phenomenon adding that there are many among our Muslim brothers who sincerely believe that the Christian community in the North deserves a fairer deal and more equitable patronage. According to him it is the presence of those with such disposition and the dogged efforts of some such leaders who worked in the spirit of unity in his support, that resulted in his election as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“There are those who said look, time has come for the North to go back to those days of Sardauna where those who call themselves, or are referred to as the core North, will deliberately fashion out ways of patronizing their Christians brothers in the North,” he said.
Dogara, who praised the efforts of some notable northern Muslim political leaders in cementing the hitherto fractured relations between the two dominant religious groups in the north, admitted that had northern Muslim leaders prevailed on their Reps not to vote for him, he would never have emerged as Speaker.
It is his belief that the support he got from northern Muslims and the appointment of Engineer Lawal as SGF by President Muhammadu Buhari, is sending strong signals to all northern Christians that there is now as open invitation to them from their Muslim brethren for a renewed friendship that will foster unity and religious tolerance in the region, as in the days of the late sage and Premier of defunct northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto.
As the speaker noted, one can say without fear of contradiction that it takes only a person of President Muhammadu Buhari to appointment a Lawal, a Christian from Adamawa state as the SGF, which is the first time such a plum position is ceded to northern Christians despite strong opposition from those who believed in maintaining the status quo.
“It may interest you to know that among Sokoto State Members, we lost only two votes. If all the Members from Sokoto State alone had decided to vote for my opponent, there is no way we would have won that election. And in Zamfara, we lost one vote. But what does that speak to us? It speaks volumes: Its an invitation to all of us to go back to the ways of our founding fathers. What ways? When we used to work together and when we used to live together as brothers and sisters. That is the only way that we can live in peace which is a key ingredient for development. Without peace, we cannot even practice our religion. And as long as we don’t enjoy peace in our region, there is no way that we will experience development because even if we are developed, lack of peace will destroy it. Syria is a case in point. So that is the challenge before us. As they open their arms to embrace us, we should also open our arms to embrace them so that we can write a new political history” he told the gathering amidst thunderous applause.
Speaker Dogara also used the opportunity of the occasion to send a message to other Nigerians who think that their nests can be better feathered if Nigeria is dismembered into smaller units.
Sounding deeply religious as he always is, the speaker told the audience at the packed main hall of the International Conference centre that those who habour such sinister thoughts had better perished them as God did not make a mistake in creating the Nigerian nation.
He said: “For some of us who think Nigeria is a mistake, or that the North, having aggregated so many ethnic groups and then two dominant faith, is a mistake, I want to advise us to have a rethink.”
According to him, “the one who put together Nigeria and the North is God and He has a purpose or reason for putting together the North or Nigeria that way.
Therefore, anyone fighting for the disintegration of this country will not succeed because I believe God has a plan for Nigeria and likewise, anyone fighting to eliminate any faith in Northern Nigeria or for the destruction of Northern Nigeria will not succeed because I believe God has a plan for northern Nigeria too and until God is done with his plan, the north will remain as it is and similarly Nigeria will remain as it is. If anyone can upturn that, it means he is greater than God”. Gladly no one is greater than God.
Instructively, the emergence of Dogara as speaker, though supported by many prominent northern Muslim leaders; as he himself acknowledged in his speech, one man stood out among them all, and that is Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who worked tirelessly along with the others to bring about the present leadership of the House so as to give a sense of belonging to northern Christians in the APC government.
Indeed, the unity and northern nationalism that existed in pre-independence Nigeria up to the end of the first republic; which has continued to remain a reference point and is being preached and talk about till today, was brought about by the two prominent leaders of the time-Sardauna and his friend and confidant, Sir Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, the first and only Prime Minister of Nigeria.
Coincidently, whereas Dogara, hails from same place as Tafawa-Balewa, Tambuwal is not only from Sokoto just as Sardauna but he is also the governor there.
It is worth recalling that just as Sardauna was able to galvanise support and rally people from all ethnic and religious groups in the north and even appointed northern Christians such as Sunday Awoniyi, Jolly Tanko Yusuf and others of blessed memory as his close aides and associates, Tambuwal too, seems to be threading Sardauna’s noble path in his time.
It can be recall, with nostalgia, that on August 18, 2014, Tambuwal who was then Speaker of the House of Representatives along with the then Sokoto Governor Aliyu Wamakko, on the invitation of Dogara, visited Tafawa-Balewa to lunch constituency outreach programme and projects embarked upon for his Bogoro/Das/Tafawa-Balewa Federal Constituency; which was the first of such visits by any top ranking northern Muslim political leaders in our recent history.
They went not for politicking but with a strong message: peace and unity.
When he mounted the rostrum to speak at the event, Tambuwal reminded the people of the long term relationship between Tafawa Balewa and the Sokoto caliphate which started with the late Premier Sardauna and Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and urged the people to embrace peace. Less than one year after, Dogara, with the support of Tambuwal and others became Speaker of the House of Representatives.
This is why the speaker appealed to his Christian brethren to, as a matter of necessity, reciprocate the gestures extended by our Muslim counterparts and forge a new era of northern unity as it existed in the days of Sardauna and Tafawa-Balewa.
Not only that, he also had a strong message to the rather disparate Christian groups in northern Nigeria, “your growth will remain stunted for as long as you fail to provide a leadership for yourselves that is focused and ready to lead.”
“We really need leadership and this event speaks to leadership. Without leadership, you cannot achieve anything. And if we thought in the Christian community in the north that progress is automatic, then we are mistaken.”
“Alexander the Great said something which was quite true of his time and even now. He said he is never afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep but that he is always afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion. So that tells you that without leadership we cannot make progress.Leadership is so central and important that with the wrong leadership we won’t make progress.Therefore, as a community, we cannot afford to just stay without leadership, without organisation, without a platform where we articulate visions and how we can pursue them and hope that we can make progress. If we do that, we will be deceiving ourselves”.
It is Dogara’s conviction that working together, we can forge a strong union and take back the region to the good old days when it was the envy of others.
Indeed, no other Christian who was not a politician would have been able to deliver such a poignantly blunt message to politicians without ruffling feathers as Speaker Dogara.
Hassan is the Special Adviser on Media & Public Affairs