President Muhammadu Buhari got Christian faithful scampering for their bible and Sunday School lessons during the week that ended. In an article he published in the UK-based Christian Times, while taking a swipe at his accusers who claim he is Islamizing Nigeria, the President submitted that he too is a descendant of the biblical Abraham. He likened himself to Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the Osogun (now in Iseyin Local Government, Oyo State)-born slave. Crowther, who lived between 1809 and December 31, 1891, you will recall, was a linguist (having translated the bible from English to Yoruba and its dictionary) and became the first African Anglican bishop in Nigeria. He was also noted for having affinity with the Creole, a Sierra Leonean ascendant ethnic group.
Buhari had claimed in the said piece, inter alia: “I stand accused – paradoxically – of trying to Islamise Nigeria while also being accused by Boko Haram terrorists of being against Islam…Fortunately, the facts speak differently from the words of those who seek to divide us from one another. I believe that the messages of the Bible are universal: available for anyone to exercise, and instructive to all. Like Bishop Crowther, I am a descendant of Abraham; unlike him, I am a Muslim. I believe our two great religions cannot only peacefully coexist but also flourish together. But Muslims and Christians must first turn to one another in compassion. For, as it says in Amos 3.3: ‘Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?.. Since my administration has been in power, Boko Haram has been significantly and fatally degraded.”
The Buhari piece is a commendable identification with the Christian faith, perhaps the first of its kind from him since he ascended office as Nigeria’s President. For a Buhari who had on many occasions been spotted in churches diffidently donning his cap, a heretical flout of the known Christian rule forbidding congregants from wearing caps in church, this Christian Times piece will surely go a long way in redirecting straying thoughts of his perceived hatred for the faith.
However, there is the need to interrogate what the President meant by being a descendant of Abraham. What is the component of Buhari’s Abrahamic heirdom and what does he stand to gain therefrom? How authentic is this claim to Abraham’s heirdom? Has Buhari acquitted himself sufficiently to lay claim to this descendancy, enough for him to make a political capital of it in the minds of the people of the world?
Abraham, which originally was Abram, is a Christian patriarch, indeed the sole patriarch from whom the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam find an anchor. He himself being the son of Terah who was the ninth in terms of descent from the man called Noah, Terah had begot Abram and two others, Nahor and Haran. There are three significant narratives that define Abraham. One is the initial barrenness of his wife, Sarah and how she gave birth to Isaac, after an Angelic intervention. The second, in order of significance, is the story of how, in obedience to God, he attempted to sacrifice Isaac, his then only son, to God while the third, flowing from the previous two narratives, is the story of how his life revolves around the themes of posterity and fecundity of land. Perhaps of greater relevance to us here is Sarah’s outburst the moment he gave birth to Isaac. She was said to have named Isaac “a child of laughter” as the Lord had made her laugh and “the world will laugh with me.”
Abrahamic descendancy is tribal, race or religion-blind. Thus, the religion of the claimant is immaterial. Anyone – Jew, Gentile, poor, rich, male or female, black, white, brown, indeed, anyone, can be a child of Abraham and claim his descendancy as his sonship does not depend on physical descent. So why did Buhari, in that piece, have to remind us of his Islamic religion? One other credential for laying claim to Abrahamic descendancy is that the claimant must have the Isaac ability – to make those surrounding him laugh. That laughter must not necessarily be physical; it however must possess the ability to change the landscape, change social configuration of occurrences and generally affect the lives of one’s people positively. The question we as Nigerians must ask ourselves is, is Buhari making us laugh like Isaac’s birth made of Sarah? Is it not making the world laugh at us in converse?
To properly situate Buhari’s claim to Abraham descendancy, there is the need to draw comparisons between his life and Ishmael’s, the first born of Abraham and Isaac. Ishmael was Abraham’s second son through Sarah's handmaiden, Hagar (Hājar) or Keturah who became a major figure in the Tanakh and the Quran,. Historians believe that Ishmael, who later became the Patriarch of Islam, and his mother, Hagar were both buried next to the Kaaba in Mecca. Since Buhari claims Abraham descendancy, he should, in perspective, be said to be talking of the covenant of Isaac and not Ishmael as historical rendition points to the fact that Abraham expelled Ishmael and his mother from his stead. Indeed, the bible recorded God to have said, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son, Isaac" And of Isaac, He was quoted to have said, "in Isaac your seed shall be called", as well as that, God would "make a nation of the son of the bondwoman."
So, beyond rhetoric and the need for a man perceived as an Islamic irredentist to be given a voice in a major Christian tabloid, how much of Isaac has Buhari been since he became the Nigerian President, to be able to have the right to appropriate Abraham’s descendancy? While Buhari and his government have tried frantically to showcase their strides in the fight against the insurgency of Boko Haram, it is on record that the insurgents have always seen him as a comely ally. In 2012, the leadership of Jama’atul Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, also called Boko Haram, had named him among six prominent northerners they trusted to mediate between the group and the Federal Government. There was never a word of repudiation of this alliance from Buhari. Boko Haram had also further demanded that, to observe ceasefire, government must heed its demand of arresting and prosecuting the ex-Governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. Earlier, Buhari had come across as sympathetic to the insurgents by attacking the Gooluck Jonathan government of favouritism by allegedly unfairly attacking the insurgents but dealing with the Niger Delta militants with kid gloves. While his government collected $1 billion to arm soldiers awhile ago in fighting the insurgents, over a hundred of them were killed in Mekele recently by a Boko Haram which Buhari told the Christian Times had been “significantly and fatally degraded.” Will Isaac, a son of laughter, bring this kind of unmitigated sorrow on the faces of the families of the killed soldiers? Is that in conformity with Buhari’s averment that “Muslims and Christians must first turn to one another in compassion”?
Let us, for once, assume that Isaac, the son of laughter, was in the Aso Villa today, would he inflict the kind of Buhari’s ethnocentric and nepotistic tendencies on the people of Nigeria? You will recall the lopsided appointments of security chiefs and his latest demonstration of this abiding vice in his appointment of Mr. Yusuf Magaji Bichi as Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS) as a replacement for Mr. Matthew Seiyefa, who had been appointed to act in that office by Yemi Osinbajo, the then Acting President. You will also recall how he appointed former Minister of State for Finance, Hajia Zainab Ahmed as replacement for Mrs. Kemi Adeosun who resigned her appointment. Till today, Ogun has no nominee in the federal cabinet. Will Isaac, the son of laughter, be this insouciant to equity and good governance? A few days ago, Buhari reduced the fees payable by students for JAMB exams but removed this goody with another hand by asking striking lecturers to go back to duty as he had invoked the no-work-no-pay rule. So when will the students who pass his reduced fee JAMB enter the said universities where lecturers are on strike?
My take is that, Buhari comparing himself to Crowther is a great equivocation. If you read the piece dispassionately, what Buhari was saying essentially is that he and Crowther are what Yoruba call obakan (siblings of same father but different mothers) as he belongs to a branch of Isaac while Crowther belongs to Ishmael’s. Captured at the age of twelve years, alongside his mother, toddler brother and other family members and indeed his entire village of Osogun by Muslim Fulani slave raiders in 1821, Crowther was sold to Portuguese slave traders. He was widely read, bagging a doctorate in Divinity from Oxford, eventually studying Latin, Greek and Temne. He also married a Muslim schoolmistress, Asano (formerly Hassana, a Muslim). He gave birth to a second daughter named Abigail, who later married Thomas Babington Macaulay, Crowther’s junior associate and got, as a product of that union, a grandson in the person of Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay, a Nigerian nationalist, politician, engineer, architect, journalist, and musician, Macaulay was the founder of Nigerian nationalism and a foremost player in ending colonial rule in Nigeria.
If you critically read that piece by Buhari in the Christian Times, you would notice a frenetic attempt by him at postulating the universality of man and singleness of faith. However, because Buhari’s aim of writing the piece is not genuine but political, you would also notice gross equivocation riddled with it. For instance, while in one breath, Buhari was preaching the universality of faith in Abraham, he quickly cancelled that proffer and repudiated it by stating stiff-neckedly that he is a Moslem. If you decide to write for a Christian newspaper of the Christian Times hue, can you also be pardoned for using that forum to divide the faiths? Yes, Islam says Abraham was a Muslim. This is why the Ileya sacrifice is essentially a clone of Abraham’s offering of his only son for sacrifice. Why then distinguish yourself from the same universalism of faith that you initially espoused? From this, you will realize that what Buhari did is akin to approbating and reprobating at the same time, as the lawyers say; saying, for instance, that humanity is one but also not one.
Whoever is behind the idea of writing that piece for Buhari must have had in mind its signification. Bishop Crowther was a revered Yoruba Christian. He was also grandfather of Nigeria’s nationalism, being the grandfather of Macaulay. Was Buhari trying to preach Nigerian nationalism in this piece? But, all his actions in power and out of it are antithetical to what Macaulay stood for. In 1944 Macaulay co-founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) with Nnamdi Azikiwe. He was made its president. History tells us that the NCNC was a patriotic organization which was meant to solder Nigeria into one and defoliate it of every stripe of ethnicity. Indeed, Macaulay died in 1946seeking to unite Nigeria, having taking ill in Kano but later died in Lagos. His reported last words were said to be: "Tell the National Council delegates to halt wherever they are for four days for Macualay and then carry on. Tell Oged to keep the flag flying.” In converse, Buhari established the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), known to be a majorly Hausa/Fulani party. Aside the shibboleth written on his behalf in the presidency by his Goebbels, it is not known that he has ever painstakingly talked about Nigerian unity but pursuit of the ascendancy of Hausa/Fulani hegemony.
Perhaps, the Buhari piece in the Christian Times is an attempt by the President to become a Nigerian after all. He is welcome to the gate of a Nigeria of the 21st century where though tribes and tongues may differ, in brotherhood we should stand.
Church, mosque and Ajimobi tax man’s sledgehammer
The binoculars of the world were turned towards Oyo State last week when Governor Abiola Ajimobi, on Tuesday, introduced levies on churches, mosques, and other business organisations in the state. According to the government, the levies were imposed as part of its efforts to generate funds for the assistance of security agencies. The question had been since then, why would churches and mosques be subjected to taxes when, for centuries, Nigerians had been made to believe that any attempt at upsetting the apple carts of religious status quo represents an infernal attempt to stomp on the sacred groove of religion?
The truth of the matter is that, religious organizations that we knew from ages past are no longer what they are today. The history of religion is that it forged a partnership in progress with society, towards solving issues of contemporary society. Indeed, churches/mosques helped groom obedient citizens so that governments didn’t have to spend unnecessary funds to modulate the mind of the citizenry for the purpose of conformity to rules. They were thus handmaidens of government in many regards.
Today however, churches/mosques have become enterprises and the major reason for their founding is making money. Like Jamaican reggae musician, Max Romeo, sang, stealing in the name of the Lord is on the ascendancy while “my father’s house of worship has become a den of thieves.” The church/mosque is not different today from the world it claims it wants to fumigate and that is why those who embezzle collective funds run to churches/mosques to pay their offering/tithe, enabling church/mosque leaders to fly all over the world in the latest jet and automobiles. Church/mosque leaders, rather than seek to end the misery of the world, add to it by exploiting the downturn in global economy to their advantage. They make their congregants zombies who have no critical minds of their own. While industries are far between, churches are on the upswing and people are made to believe that if they invest in the church/mosque, the hereafter is guaranteed.
Ideally, now that the economy is hitting the canvass, the church/mosque should go into its sacristy, bring out the money it had filched off the people over the years and help congregants to weather present economic storm. For instance, no one should go to church/mosque today without being fed and given money for survival. No, they are still deepening the misery of the people.
This is why I give kudos to the ingenuity of the Oyo State government, tax-wise. This decision cannot be an attack on religion or a remiss attitude to it but a realistic assessment of the present situation, the fact that the church makes stupendous money from our circumstance and should also be made to contribute to the wellbeing of society. for instance, because the church/mosque failed in its duty of moulding the mind, there are several rogues and criminals walking the streets. It should be made to contribute to attempt at curbing the menace. The next step is to ask the church/mosque to open its books for the tax man to look into. What we have now is not a church/mosque devoted to building kingdoms in heaven where mote devours not but greedy charlatans who profit from the economic grief of the world. Let the tax man take a chunk of that earning, please.