Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, spoke to journalists recently on the religious crisis in the State. In the interview the governor accused the leader of one of the Shiite sects, Islamic Movement of Nigeria, of planning to Islamise Nigeria. Premium Times published the text, which we reproduce below as interview of the week:
QUESTION: There have been a lot of hues and cries over the banning of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) as activists argued that their human rights have been violated. Why did the government decide to infringe on the Shiites’ freedom of association and the freedom to practice their religion?
Gov. El Rufai: The issue of Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) and their declaration as an unlawful society is something that we did with all sense of responsibility. Many media outlets have presented what we did in various ways which are misleading.
What we did was not to ban any organization; we have no power to ban an organisation if it exists, we cannot ban religion or religious practice. What we did is to say that the Islamic Movement in Nigeria is an unlawful society and we derived the powers to do this under the Penal Code that was passed in 1963, so it is not a new thing that we did. The governor can declare any organisation an unlawful society, if it poses a threat to the security, peace and governance of the state. And we concluded, after receiving the report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry that looked into the clashes between the IMN and the army, that the IMN poses a threat to the peace, security and good governance of Kaduna state. That is what we did.
We did not ban Shiism, we did not ban Shiites. We did not say they cannot practise their religion, because in Kaduna state, there are at least two Shiites organisations that we know. There is Al-Thaqalayn Foundation, there is Rasul A’azam Society. These are all Shiites organisations and they are not outlawed. They are not outlawed because all they do is to preach their brand of Islam and they practise their brand of Islam and they are free to do so. Both of them are registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), they recognise the constitutional order in Nigeria, they recognise President Muhammadu Buhari as president of Nigeria. They recognize Nasiru El-Rufai as governor of Kaduna state and they obey the laws of Nigeria and Kaduna state. They have no paramilitary arm, they do not carry arms, they do not block public highways, they do not occupy schools.
The IMN does not recognise the constitution of Nigeria, they do not recognize Buhari as President of Nigeria, they do not recognise me as governor of Kaduna state because they had their governor in Tudun Wada. They have their para military wing, the call them ‘Hurras’. They train them in violation of our laws. They do not accept that any law in Nigeria applies to them. They block public high ways, they occupy schools when they are doing their processions and they feel that to practice their religion, they have to infringe on the right of others. That is completely wrong!
There is also a misconception that IMN is the same as Shiites, IMN is only one out of many Shiites organisations. There is a prominent Shiite organisation with its headquarters here in Kaduna that is headed by Sheikh Hamza Lawal.
Because IMN doesn’t recognise Nigerian laws, they are not registered with CAC, so they cannot be sued or held responsible. They build anywhere they want without approval. They don’t even bother to acquire title to land. Their allegiance is not to Nigerian government, their allegiance is to somewhere else. I want to ask you, if you put all these facts together, what does IMN look like? IMN looks like an insurgency waiting to happen.
The report of the commission of inquiry recommended that we should proscribe IMN because they are not registered, they can’t sue or be sued in their own name. The media should stop referring to the IMN as Shiites because they are just one group out of many others. I will like you to speak with other groups to hear what they think of IMN. The IMN is a political organisation. The objective of El-Zakzaky is to gather enough followers to effect an Iranian type Islamic Revolution in Nigeria and you know what that can cause! Nigeria is not 100 per cent a Muslim country that you can do Islamic Revolution, it is a recipe for crisis.
I laugh when some people that are not informed on this subject are sympathetic to him, talking about human rights. What he has in plan for you, you will not have any human rights. Anybody that tries to say Nigeria will be an Islamic country, do you know how much crisis he is trying to create? That is the agenda. So let us understand this problem.
We remain open to talk to their members like any citizen, not as IMN because they are unlawful and if you claimed to be a member of IMN, it is seven year imprisonment. That is why we are looking for Ibrahim Musa who has signed a statement as their spokesman. We are raising the reward for exposing him to N500, 000. Anyone that knows where he is should tell us so that the police can collect him, we are going to try him for signing a statement that he is a spokesman for IMN after the publication of an order outlawing the organisation.
QUESTION: The crises in Southern Kaduna have been recurrent and there seem not to be an end in sight. Recently, the Centre of Humanitarian Dialogue started a peace-building effort. Will this initiative make any difference?
Gov. El-Rufai: When we came to office, the two problems we faced in the area of security were cattle rustling in Birnin Gwari/Giwa axis and this communal killings in southern Kaduna. We were very concerned about both and we did two things. We needed to understand what was happening in southern Kaduna. We understood cattle rustling and we convened a meeting of all the north-west governors because the problem was centred around the forest ranges of Kuyambana and we felt state cooperation was necessary. We came together and launched an operation to deal with cattle rustling. We were successful because we degraded their ability to do cattle rustling, even though that created a problem of kidnapping, because they moved from cattle rustling to kidnapping we are still facing.
For southern Kaduna, we didn’t understand what was going on and we decided to set up a committee under Gen. Martin Luther Agwai (rtd) to find out what was going on there. What was established was that the root of the problem has a history starting from the 2011 post-election violence. Fulani herdsmen from across Africa bring their cattle down towards middle belt and southern Nigeria. The moment the rains starts around March, April, they start moving them up to go back to their various communities and countries. Unfortunately, it was when they were moving up with their cattle across southern Kaduna that the elections of 2011 took place and the crisis trapped some of them. Some of them were from Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Senegal. Fulanis are in 14 African countries and they traverse this country with the cattle. So many of these people were killed, cattle lost and they organised themselves and came back to revenge.
So, a lot of what was happening in southern Kaduna was actually from outside Nigeria. We got a hint that the late Governor Patrick Yakowa got this information and he sent someone to go round some of these Fulani communities, but of course after he died, the whole thing stopped. That is what we inherited. But the Agwai committee established that.
We took certain steps. We got a group of people that were going round trying to trace some of these people, trying to trace some of these people in Cameroon, Niger Republic and so on to tell them that there is a new governor who is Fulani like them and has no problem paying compensations for lives lost and he is begging you to stop killing. In most of the communities, once that appeal was made to them, they said they have forgiven. There are one or two that asked for monetary compensation. They said they have forgiven the death of human beings, but want compensation for cattle. We said no problem, some we paid. As recently as two weeks ago, the team went to Niger Republic to attend one Fulani gathering that they do every year with a message from me.
So this was the problem, we knew this by August last year and we started taking steps. But what is happening now, I don’t want it to be restricted to southern Kaduna. I noticed that some people are trying to bring religion or ethnicity into it. What about Zamfara State? Are there southern Kaduna people in Zamfara? That is why I considered the statement by the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) as regrettable. Some people don’t understand the burden of leadership. The same Fulani are killing Fulani in Zamfara, it is not about religion or ethnicity, this is a pure case of banditry! They are criminals, their ethnicity, their religion does not matter. Let’s fight the problem, let’s not bring sentiments, sensationalism and division into it. What is happening in southern Kaduna today, in my opinion, has roots in banditry, it has nothing to do with what has happened in the past to a large extent.
It was a small problem that started in Ninte village, Godogodo that could have been handled better by the local communities; but the leaders of the Fulanis and the leaders of the communities did not do it well. I was very sad, I went there. Any life lost in Kaduna state is a burden on me because as the governor, I have to defend the life of every one. As a government, we regret the loss of lives. We regret the destruction of property.
Today in Kaduna State we have arrested 400 people for kidnapping and cattle rustling and armed robbery. All except about five of them are Fulanis. I am Fulani, does it mean I should not have them arrested and prosecuted? I don’t consider them Fulani, I consider them criminals. Whenever I sit with Fulani leaders I tell them that we arrested over 400 suspects and 99 per cent of them are Fulanis and they should ask themselves why is it only Fulanis that are doing this. Is that part of the culture of the Fulanis? Since when did they start carrying AK47 rifles and so on?
From a small problem in Ninte, some people found a way to add fuel to the fire, because it is politically expedient to do so not caring how many people get killed. Over time, the culture of impunity has permeated all segments of society, people think they can do anything and get away with it. There is very weak law enforcement or uneven law enforcement. If you are from this ethnic group or religion, you can do something and get away with it but the other one cannot. There is a mindset that you can take the law into your hands. This is what has been happening and escalating the problem. So it is most unfortunate, but honestly the whole challenge is that of banditry and it has to be addressed.
Secondly I think that those that preach the message that this one is a settler, he shouldn’t he here or this one is of different tribe and religion, he should not live with you, are more responsible for what is happening than anything else. How can you look at somebody that has stayed in a place for 200 years and say he is a settler. How long have you lived there? We all came from somewhere.
The media should not give these kind of people the oxygen that they need to propagate this. Those that think that there is any profit to be made from this kind of narrative and division should go to Plateau State and ask. Jos is quiet, peaceful, because after years of killing each other both sides realised that it doesn’t make any sense. That is why when we went to Samarun Kataf for the unveiling of the apology, we invited the Gbong Gwom Jos, His Majesty Da Buba Gyang, because he has been through it, he has seen it.
We must have peace for any progress and there is no problem in the world that you can solve through violence. Even if you go to war, the war doesn’t end until you come to a table and discuss peace. Why not start with the peace?
For some of the politicians from the southern Kaduna that are trying to politicise this, they should go to Plateau State and find out or talk to former Governor Jonah Jang and find out what happens when you add fuel to the fire of this kind of division.
We are deploying more and more security to the crisis prone areas. It is costing us tons of money at a time when we don’t have resources, but we have to do it because security is the foundation of everything.
There are people that are sending a message, defend yourselves, we will get them; defend yourself is hate speech. You can’t defend yourself if there is a government. We are going to arrest and prosecute all those that pass that message.
The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) has done a lot and they have been very successful in helping bring peace to Plateau State, this is why we asked them to come and help us in Kaduna. We have made a lot of progress with the Kafanchan declaration, but there are people bent on frustrating that and we know them.