A major issue during the week, was the advice by a member of Nigeria Interreligious Council (NIREC) and former national director of legal and public affairs, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Evangelist Samuel Kwankur, to the northern leaders to caution former Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, to refrain from inflammatory statements capable of setting Nigeria on fire.
Kwankur was reacting to statements credited to the former governor in which he allegedly told his audience before handing over to his successor that the Islamic dominance in Kaduna had come to stay and had been successfully replicated at the federal level.
El-Rufai spoke in Hausa. I only have a passing understanding of the language. But those that are versed in it allege that he had sniggered that the emergence of Bola Tinubu had silenced CAN, the umbrella body of Christians in the country, and that he would ensure an uninterrupted Islam-dominated government in Kaduna and at the national level for the next 20 years and beyond.
Now, in a highly volatile and religion-sensitive setting as Nigeria and especially a complex entity as Kaduna, the remarks by the former governor are uncalled for. They are not edifying. At his age and the positions he had held in the past, as governor and minister of the Federal Capital Territory, El-Rufai should be seen and addressed as an elder. Elders are cautious and measured in outing and utterance.
Age and position mellow the activism in one and make him sober and reflective. But this does not seem the case for the former governor. In fact, it can only take those not familiar with his antecedents to be surprised that he could be associated with the careless comments attributed to him. He is free with words and deploys them at will, not bothered at the consequences.
On the alleged Islamisation comments, he was on familiar track. Recall that, as a governor, he had, in flagrant disregard to the complex cultural and religious sensitivities of Kaduna, appointed a fellow Muslim, Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe, as deputy and carried on as if it did not matter. He even encouraged his successor and protégé, Senator Uba Sani, to follow the odious step.
For El-Rufai, a man of brief size and height, controversy seems second name. He courts it and revels in it, even at the cost of public good. He is never tired of playing games with important issues. To him, everything is politics and politics is everything.
Recall when he threatened international election observers that they would be evacuated in body bags, if they ventured into the country to monitor the 2019 presidential election. Recall, also, when he claimed being asked to offer bribes by senators during his screening for ministerial appointment, during the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, but when pressed to provide evidence on his claims, he chickened out, saying God was his witness.
Once on this space, I had noted that the former governor acts the good boy when it suits his agenda and hits hard when he has an interest to pursue. He has not deviated from that path. For him, scruples are matters of convenience to be observed when necessary but can be discarded, if need be. He is shrewd. And cold! The trend now is the scramble by leading members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for appointments at the centre. El-Rufai is equally on heat, sort of, in that regard and needed to court the attention of President Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima, his fellow Muslims.
Of course, there is nothing wrong in his aspiration for any job or position that animates him. He is also free to support any candidate of any religious persuasion that excites him. They are all within his constitutional rights. The beauty of democracy is plurality of views and opinions. It is a game of numbers but certainly not without principles and guidelines. El-Rufai should not be allowed to re-write those rules while pursuing his personal interest. He cannot be allowed to create the bubble and move on, as he has always done. He should be stopped from his antics before they do enormous harm on Kaduna State and the country at large.
Kaduna was the capital of the defunct Northern Region and the seat of government from where the late Premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello, provided people-oriented governance to the region. Till date, it remains the pride of the North and every northerner of note. Nigeria has always passed for a secular state where no particular faith has dominance over others. There is no state religion. The situation should remain so.
The danger in the careless comments by El-Rufai is that they are capable of setting the country on the edge. The immediate past Muhammadu Buhari administration did not manage the diversities in the country very well. It rather widened the major fault lines among the citizens on ethnic and religious grounds. El-Rufai was close to the government and a visible ally to Buhari. A system with people like him in the drivers’ seat can hardly make progress.
Tinubu and Shettima need to be on the watch. The controversies and contentions surrounding their emergence are yet to settle. They also have the huge tasks of national healing and reconciling the various tendencies in the land. Nigeria has witnessed so much waste of its citizens over avoidable circumstances to allow petty issues as religion and choice of leadership burden it more.
Recent reports by the people of Southern Kaduna, under the aegis of Atyap Community Development Association (ACDA), that 518 people have been killed, 20 villages ransacked, 18 burnt down, and thousands of victims rendered refugees across many communities from 2017 till date, over the persistent attacks and killings in Atyapland in Zangon Kataff Local Government Area of Kaduna State should matter to the new authorities in the state and Abuja. El-Rufai was the governor at the time. The figure speaks volumes of what lies ahead if he is allowed to forge on with his Islamisation agenda.