By Ochereome Nnanna
THE announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari that Nigeria will join ISMAT, a Saudi-led military coalition of Sunni Muslim countries fighting rival Muslim factions in the Middle East is capable of destabilising Nigeria and unsettling its already seriously challenged unity in diversity.
It is not only against the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but more than that, it is liable to reduce Northern Nigeria and the nation a whole to a theatre of Muslim proxy wars as we see in Yemen, Syria, Libya and other countries.
President Buhari Many of us had warned, during the campaigns, that electing Buhari would put Nigeria in danger of its neutrality to issues of religion being undermined, given his avowal to carry the torch of Sharia to all corners of Nigeria.
Although he has often said that no one can Islamise Nigeria, his intention to drag the nation into the 34-member ISMAT is, more than any other thing, an assumption that Nigeria is already a Muslim country, which it is not.
The first sign that Buhari would drag Nigeria into the petty but dangerous quarrels among factions of the Muslim faith showed in December 2015 when the Nigerian Army responded to a roadblock mounted by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (the Shiites) by killing hundreds of its members, flattening its enclave in Zaria and taking away its leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky without putting him on trial for any offence till date.
In spite of the outrage this provoked from amazed Nigerians and the human rights community, the Federal Government has been cool and unbothered by this crackdown, which elicited a call from Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani to President Buhari to register the concern of his country.
The Army said it had to act the way it did to avoid a situation whereby the Zakzaky group would constitute itself into another insurgent group like Boko Haram. This explanation probably helped in keeping many Nigerians quiet, but the warning from Shiite Iran betrayed the sectarian dimensions of the scorched earth killing of an ant with a sledgehammer.
The plain truth is that majority of Nigerian Muslims (including Buhari) belong to the Sunni sect and do not see eye to eye with the Shiites. The danger of what happened was that Iran probably saw the action of the Nigerian Army which obviously had the backing of the President as official persecution of members of their sect.
Shortly after this bloody incident, President Buhari started his many forays of official visits to the Arab world, ostensibly to rally their support to salvage the sagging prices of crude oil in the international market.
On February 23rd 2016, Buhari had initially and wisely shown his reluctance in directly involving Nigeria in the coalition of Muslim countries fighting Islamic terrorism with this statement: “even if we are not part of it we support you”. But surprisingly, he made an about-face after meeting with Saudi King, Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz.
He now was quoted as saying: “We are part of it because we have got terrorists in Nigeria that everybody knows which claims they are Islamic” (referring to Boko Haram).
He then added that those (like us) who oppose his intention to send our troops to join ISMAT are “religious bigots” and challenged us to go and fight Boko Haram.
Buhari is making it seem like joining ISMAT to fight Islamic terrorists is just like Nigeria joining ECOMOG or any other military alliance to confront a collective threat. This is a very myopic and dangerous assumption.
In the first place, Nigeria is not qualified for ISMAT membership. There is no data to prove that Muslims are the majority in Nigeria. Even if they are (which I seriously doubt) it does not automatically make Nigeria a “Muslim” country.
Senegal, with over 90 per cent of their population being Muslims does not classify itself as a Muslim country. All member-states of ISMAT are Muslim countries.
Secondly, they are of the Sunni tradition. So, it is like forcing Nigeria to take sides in a conflict between Catholics and Protestants (such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) against the UK when the former was still involved in its insurgency to force Britain to grant independence to Northern Ireland).
When it comes to quarrels between foreign powers, Nigeria has a subsisting policy of non-alignment. Nigeria only joins peacekeeping operations under the auspices of the United Nations and its regional subsets such as the African Union and ECOWAS.
Nigeria never joins or openly sides with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) or their rivals, the Warsaw Pact. In fact, Nigeria’s neutrality and independence was forcefully asserted by the students’ uprising against the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact barely two months after independence in 1960.
I wonder what the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs exists for if not to advise adventurous presidents like Buhari to stay away from committing the country the way he wants to. Nigeria is not a Muslim country.
The constitution makes it clear that Nigeria does not have any state religion. Regrettably, successive Muslim presidents find it difficult to respect this constitutional principle. Apart from General Ibrahim Babangida sneaking Nigeria into the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and Buhari taking us to ISMAT, you see things like the Islamic figurines in our national currency called ajami in Arabic. You also see the motto of the Nigerian Army written in Arabic and translated to our common lingua franca, the English language as “Victory Comes From God”.
Reverend Father Matthew Hassan Kukah in one of his books disclosed that our presidential villa (Aso Rock Villa) built by General Babangida, is a Muslim architecture – in a country that constitutionally does not have state religion! Are these taunts obviously meant to provoke the non-Muslim Nigerians or challenge them to do their worst? Yet, Buhari will come out and proclaim: “no one can Islamise Nigeria”.
Beyond the constitutional issue, the danger of Buhari dragging us into ISMAT is that if care is not taken, Northern Nigeria will soon become a theatre of proxy wars between Shiite sects sponsored by Iran and their Sunni counterparts financed by Saudi Arabia and backed by Buhari’s Presidency.
If we allow Buhari to send a contingent of our troops to help the Saudis to fight their Iran-sponsored enemies in the Middle East, nothing stops Iran from financing and arming Muslim groups to destabilise Nigeria. Already, we do not know who is sponsoring these so-called “Fulani herdsmen” who have been waging wars against communities in the North Central and Southern parts of Nigeria without Buhari saying a word, let alone taking decisive steps to eliminate these people and protect our citizens as he swore an oath to do.
Unfortunately, Nigerian students, who rallied nationwide and successfully stopped Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa from signing the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact with Britain seem to have lost their consciousness, if not their conscience.
The National Assembly must step in and stop Buhari before he lands us in something people never bargained for when they voted for him.
Let us control his eagerness to make Nigeria a Saudi satellite state, or the Islamic kingdom’s area of military influence, with its attendant consequences for the survival of Nigeria as a single entity. Take this from me: if Buhari ignores our rejection of his move to take Nigeria into ISMAT, we will have more Islamic terror groups operating in pockets of enclaves all over the North as soon as Boko Haram dies down.
By then, Buhari might even no longer be in Aso Rock to face the consequences of his unilateral action.
Buhari MUST be stopped from taking Nigeria to ISMAT!