Travails of Igbo Muslims and the way out, By Muhammad Ajah

Posted by News Express | 23 December 2018 | 2,678 times

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•Muslim faithful during a prayer session

There used to be a controversy over the existence of Muslims of Igbo origin. But that was very long ago. Now, the controversy should be on the number of Igbo Muslims of Nigeria and not in their existence because they are in existence. Igbo Muslims are in every state or every local government of the Igbo territory. But there is yet no assurance that they can be found in every Igbo village. Anyone who claims that they are not in existence is living in the very long past, because history shows that they had started reverting to Islam in the early 1900. Investigations show that those who put up the claims, even from among the elite and advanced Igbo people, are evidently doing such as the bases to deny and suppress them.

It is quite unfortunate that in the 21st century, when civilisation in all ramifications is permeating all nooks and crannies of the world with freedom of association having become a universal trend, the Igbo people or say, majority of them would still stand against their own people who adopt a different way of relating with God:  people who believe in Islam. Though Christianity is the predominant creed in Igboland, Islam has been in Igboland for over one hundred years. However, both Christianity and Islam are not the original religions of Ndigbo. The Igbo were all traditional worshippers. That is why it beats imagination that they could stand against another religion which is universally accepted. Of very recent, after all, IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu has openly introduced Judaism, which is being accepted by Ndigbo. So, why should Igbo Muslims be a case?    

Igbo Muslims have been in minority, indeed. They are scarcely heard of in the sphere of governance. They are actually not recognised by their political and by extension, their socio-cultural elite. Some of them even hide their faith whenever they are in their homeland for fear of being tackled, heckled or even frustrated by their people. Some of them have, on that account, deserted Igboland: to live, procreate and manage life outside. It is worrisome! It is uncalled for! And, it is disheartening. The Igbo should not deny their own people on the basis of adopting a different way of worship. They should, rather, decipher between Islam and Muslims. They should dig deeper to understand what Islam stands for and what some Muslims do with or in Islam.

Because of their minority and orchestrated impoverishment and suppression by the local and federal authorities, Igbo Muslims have lived in fear, disarray and disunity. Every member had resulted to seeking different ways of survival. Some towed the honourable ways while others indulged in other mean methods, including begging and fallacious tendencies. Though some are true, the frequency of persecution reports by new converts to Islam from the Igbo has often created scenarios of religious caricatures in the eyes of northern and south-western Muslims. That is by the way. There are such scenarios within the majorities.

Igbo Muslims had been disunited for too long, and it had caused them heavy losses as a tiny entity. Now, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, they have agreed to speak in one voice through the South-east Muslims Organisation of Nigeria (SEMON) and to align themselves with Igbo agenda, even while promoting the unity, peace and progress of Nigeria. They recently met in a national summit in Enugu State, headquarters of the defunct Eastern Region/South-east geopolitical zone of Nigeria, to deliberate on the theme “Igbo Muslims in Nigeria: Challenges and Opportunities”. The Enugu State governor ignored the invitation sent to him as well as the appeal to pay him a courtesy call. And, as normal, the question remains: Who are these people called Igbo Muslims?  

Daily Trust newspaper reported SEMON as decrying marginalisation of the minority Igbo Muslims by both the state and federal governments, which had never had any positive plans for them, saying that its members had always faced threat of disqualification in any electoral process, in addition to the fact that they are denied appointments by governments. “In the history of Nigeria, no Igbo Muslim has ever been appointed as minister, ambassador, or even vice-president. This is not the same treatment other religious minorities are receiving in Nigeria.” It is a pathetic situation for the Igbo religious minority group.

In a 12-point communiqué issued at the end of the summit, signed by the national executives of SEMON and endorsed by state representatives and elders, they resolved to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari and each of the governors of South-east states, as well as other socio-cultural and religious groups in Nigeria, such as Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Muslim Ummah of South-west Nigeria (MUSWEN), the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Jama’atul Nasiril-Islam (JNI), among others, to seek integration and foster unity in Nigeria.

They lauded Igbo leaders’ efforts in defending the cause and interest of the people in Nigeria, but expressed concern over their exclusion at meetings and plans; a political strategy they doubted would be productive for the development of Igboland and the nation, especially as the South-east seeks the presidency in 2023. However, for the progress of Igbo Muslim Ummah, they tasked SEMON to continue to advocate for equity and fairness for their members and cooperate with governmental and non-governmental organisations that mean well for Igboland, Nigeria and for Ndigbo Muslims. They agreed to promote Igbo culture, including Igbo dress and language, and to institute leadership of Igbo Muslims in each of the five states of the South-East and in such a way that the organised leadership can operate like the emirs in the north and obas in South-West Nigeria.

Present at the summit were Igbo Muslim leaders, politicians, political activists, scholars, academicians, legal luminaries, traditional rulers, entrepreneurs and SEMON’s executives and representatives in the five states of the zone. Also present were the federal commissioner of the South-East on the Board of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Alhaji Ibrahim Ezeani; executive secretary of Enugu State Pilgrims’ Welfare Board and deputy national secretary (South) of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Sheikh Adam Abdullah  Idoko; the 2019 gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN) in Ebonyi State, Chief Dr Haroun Ogbonnia Ajah; HRH,  Offor of Umuofor Kingdom and chief Imam of Oguta in Imo State, Dr Abdul-Fattah Emetumah (was represented); a senior lecturer of the Federal University, Lafia, Dr Suleiman Ogah; Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Governor of Abia State, Alhaji Musa Iheakaram; the South-east Director of National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Arc Zubayr Usman Ugwu, and secretary-general of Anambra State Muslim Council, Alhaji Sani Ejor.

Other prominent Igbo Muslims who graced the summit were the South-east coordinator of Federation of Muslim Women Associations of Nigeria (FOMWAN), Hajiya Ruqayyah Ahmad Mika’il (represented); chairman of Imo State Muslim Council, Alhaji Yusuf Nwoha; the guest speaker, Alhaji Suleiman Afikpo, PhD; director of Islamic Centre, Enugu, Alhaji Musa Ani; director of Islamic Centre, Afikpo; Ustaz Isa Christian Friday Okonkwo; board members and state executives of SEMON, as well as legal and security teams of SEMON led by Haroun Ezeh, a lawyer, among others.

Muhammad Ajah, an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance, writes from Abuja; e-mail:

Source: News Express

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