Ramadan is regarded as the holy month of Islam. It is a period that gets 1.5 billion people all across the world fasting from dawn to dusk every day. Because of its sacred connotations, it is expected to be a glorious period but this year’s edition has been far from glorious. So many lives have been lost to violent attacks by religious extremists both within Nigeria and globally. As we mark the Eid-Fitri, the celebration of the end of this special month today, we can’t but think over all the sad events. In addition, I want to stimulate Nigerians to think critically about the open secrets the latest Ramadan period has revealed about themselves and their nation.
Is Nigeria an Islamic nation? Why should Ramadan hold so much national significance? Well, depending on the survey you’re quoting, we are 55 – 65% Islamic by population. We’re a marginally Muslim-dominant nation. Anything Islam affects us and that is why I’m writing this article. The Arabs invaded the nation from the north while the Europeans subsequently invaded the nation from the south making the north the Muslim-dominated region and the south the Christian-dominated region. Thus the bireligious nature of the nation, which is till today sharply divided along this religious line, was birthed.
I am not an apostle of ethnic bigotry neither am I an advocate of accentuating the ethnoreligious divisions in the country but I can’t deny the obvious divided nature of the country. That we are not one united people is not news anyway. You won’t read anything new in this article. Rather I want to call your attention to how the just concluded Ramadan has further highlighted the divided nature of the nation.
The first thing we suffered was a brutal attack on our dear National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). This compulsory one-year youth service is a program established and run by the federal government to, among other things, unite the nation. Nowadays it runs in three batches and the commencement times are fixed regardless of any trivial reasons to change them. The opening of the orientation camp avoids public holidays. After all, that’s why they are called ‘holidays’. However, the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) led by Sultan of Sokoto, who also doubles as the spiritual leader of the entire Nigerian Muslim congregation, sharply criticized the opening of the NYSC camp during Ramadan.
To him, asking Muslims who were fasting to report at the orientation camps was a crime against Islam and should not be condoned. He also extended this criticism to the Nigerian army recruitment exercise that happened around the same time. The negativity in this remark is unquantifiable and I won’t waste your screen time criticizing it here but it suffices to say that it generated so much rage among the populace as expected. In the end, life continued and the storm fizzled out quickly but the message was passed — we are not a united nation. Ramadan showed us that some eminent Nigerians and their followers place religion far above national existence.
The next thing we noticed was that Sokoto, a northern state, declared a month-long holiday because of Ramadan. Of course, they have a right under the Nigerian constitution to do so and they followed the due processes in doing it. However one can’t but question the rationality of grounding all public and private primary and secondary schools in a state for a whole month just because the members of a religion were fasting. Holidays are declared for festivals but when did fasting become a festival? And when did religious holidays extend from the usual a day or two to a month? Even though the equal rights of all Nigerians are guaranteed everywhere they choose to live within the country, what happened to the rights of non-Muslims residing in Sokoto state? Ramadan once again told us another truth about Nigeria.
When we thought we had finished cringing about how governments in Nigeria mischievously mix religion with government, we then heard of the Ramadan feeding programs by the state governments in the north. First it was again Sokoto state releasing a sum of ₦751m to run 311 Ramadan feeding centres across the state. This money is from our collective coffers — oil exports and taxpayers’ money. Again while the state had a constitutional right to do this, one can’t but question the rationality behind this action. In a state where all school children were at home, folks could be strolling to a nearby feeding centre to feed full on the bill of the Nigerian government. Note that no southern state has established a similar feeding program but some other state did it in the name of Ramadan.
While you are thinking about what ₦751m can do if invested in a more productive sector of the economy, remember that other northern states did it. Kano state spent ₦300m to buy noodles, spaghetti, etc for Ramadan feeding. Zamfara state similarly spent ₦280m to run 251 Ramadan feeding centres. Bauchi state also spent ₦72m for the same thing. I can go on and on but you get the drift. While you are wondering how a region of the country spent millions of dollars for free feeding during Ramadan, you can’t but feel sorry for this entity called Nigeria. We are simply not a serious set of people.
Enough of governments’ insanity. What about the citizens’ behavior during Ramadan? It was during this same holy month that northerners sang perhaps the most divisive song in the last few decades: they issued a quit notice to their Igbo counterparts. Contrary to the constitution of Nigeria that guarantees the rights of all citizens to live anywhere within the country they wish, these people asked their fellow Nigerians to vacate their own region of the country on or before October 1, 2017. These are people who were issuing a nonsensical quit notice with one hand and observing the pious fasting of the holy month with the other. As at the time of publishing this article, the quit notice is yet to be withdrawn further aggravating the severe ethnoreligious crisis caused by the erstwhile secessionist push by the Igbos.
I don’t know if the next one is funny, sad, or both. Dates are tiny little fruits that Muslims love to consume first while breaking their fast. The Saudi government was magnanimous to give us 200 tonnes of dates as a Ramadan gift. They were meant for free distribution to the internally displaced persons who are victims of the ongoing Boko Haram war in northeast Nigeria. Somehow the dates ended up in the markets for sale. While investigation is ongoing into how this happened, the Nigerian government has apologized to the Saudi government. One more thing we learnt about Nigeria during Ramadan: our corrupt behaviour has sunk into shameful depths!
Let me pick one more before I stop. The education council rearraged the secondary school curriculum to include a new subject that will combine the erstwhile separate subjects, Christian Religious Knowledge and Islamic Religious Knowledge, with Civic Education and Security Education into a single subject called ‘Religion and National Values’. Somehow Nigerians chose to turn this into an ethnoreligious war again. Championed by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and its aluta-conscious leaders, Christians across the country have already staged a cold religious war based on a conspiracy theory that this move by the government is purposed to eradicate Christianity and fully islamicize Nigeria. The fasting Muslims wouldn’t take this lying down. They mounted counterattacks too. As I’m typing this, the war is still raging on.
All of the things I have listed in this article have always been with us even before Ramadan. This Ramadan period just brought them to the fore once more. The glorious month of Islam has ironically exposed the inglorious truths about the nation. To any reflective mind, none of these issues brings joy — governments that are more than willing to distrupt public life for the sake of religious frivolities, governments that are ready to squander, on narrow religious interests, scarce resources that belong to all, citizens who are ready to destroy any weak remnant fabric of unity, folks whose corruption index is better temed ‘fantastic’, and religious leaders who are worse than political thugs.
The only positive I can see this year is that unlike last year that we ended up spending almost a whole week to celebrate the end of Ramadan, we are better off this year. At least, the moon didn’t confuse the Nigerian government this year like it did last year. So we have only tomorrow and the day after as public holiday. However I will spend this break to ruminate on the things the 2017 Ramadan taught me about my country and its people and wonder how a country deep in ethnoreligious nonsense can succeed in anything at all.