Ishaq Akintola is a Professor of Islamic Eschatology at the Lagos State University, Lagos. He is also the director of a non-governmental organisation, Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC. Never known to shy away from fighting for the downtrodden, particularly when they are muslims, Akintola has always advocated for a better Nigeria.
In this interview with SAKIBU OLOKOJOBI, he speaks about the achievements of MURIC, the need for muslims to take interest in politics and his support for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration. Excerpts:
What would you say is the focus of your organisation, Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, and how well have you been able to achieve your goals?
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MURIC has a focus in the area of human rights, particularly as it concerns muslims. For some time, muslims have been denied their Allah given fundamental human rights, both privately and publicly. When I say privately, I mean as individuals and when I say publicly, I mean at different levels of government – local, state and federal. For instance, a muslim, who is working in a company, may not be allowed to observe Jumat service; he may not be allowed to go out to observe solat on Friday. Some are tied down to the computer or to some other jobs they are doing because they have to finish their job as directed by their bosses. They would not allow them to leave for solat at the required time until that solat is over. There have been occasions where students have not been allowed to participate in solat because their examinations have been set for that period. Even national and international bodies are known to have violated these rights. Bodies like WAEC, NECO and some other examination bodies within and outside the country have also violated rights of muslims. Their time-tables are made in such a way that it becomes impossible for muslim candidates to observe solat. Whereas, when you juxtapose it with what happens in Christendom, it doesn’t exist. This is because Sunday is work-free and they don’t need to ask their bosses for permission before they can go to church.
Muslims are compelled to seek permission like slaves before they can worship their creator. That is why one of the cardinal demands of MURIC is a work-free Friday in Nigeria. This is because this was the position ab-initio. It was the colonial master that came and changed the arrangement. Islam came around 1085 – before Christianity and before colonialism. So, Friday had been free. Thursday and Friday had been the weekend; in Arab countries today, Thursday and Friday are the weekend. But when the colonial masters came about 800 years later, they changed the system and instead of considering the muslims who had been practising this for hundreds of years, colonial crooked sense of justice was such that they only thought about themselves and their religion which is Christianity. So, they abolished the work-free Friday and ruled that Sunday will be work-free.
Saturday was not work-free. General Gowon was the one who added Saturday to the weekend in 1973 just because Victoria Gowon, his wife, was a Seventh Day Adventist. He did it with fiat, without anybody raising objection. The Seventh Day Adventist was just 700,000; they were not up to one million. Up till today, they are just a minority in Christendom. It was done just because of the Seventh Day Adventist. Up till today, the Muslims have been calling for a work-free Friday and they are yet to get a response.
How well have you been able to achieve your goal fighting for the rights of muslims generally. On the call for a work-free Friday, I know you have been quite quiet over that for some time.
We’ve not been quiet concerning the general issue of the fundamental human rights of muslims. So, our activities continue. On the issue of work-free Friday, we have not been quiet because we have spoken out on several occasions; we have made demands; we have made appeals and we campaign vigorously for it. Up till this year, we issue statements relating to work-free Friday. You may have missed some of our statements on that. On our advocacy, Almighty Allah has been very helpful because a lot of our dreams, through our struggles, have come to reality. Take for example the case of Firdausa Amasa, the muslim lady who was refused Call to Bar around November 2017. MURIC took it up and of course, with some other muslim groups. MURIC was in the forefront. We took it to the House of Representatives, we took it to the media – the conventional and the social media; we took it to the radio, television… At the end of the day, the lady was called to Bar wearing the hijab. It is a great achievement because it is instructive; it has formed an antecedent; it has formed a policy. The Law School cannot prevent anybody from wearing hijab henceforth because a precedent has been set.
Apart from that, what else have you achieved?
I don’t have a record off hand, so, I may not be able to give all. There was the case of a Lebanese company in Ikoyi in Lagos which was not allowing its muslim staff to worship on Friday. The staff wished to go out of the company’s premises to attend Jumat service, but the company stopped them from doing that. Not only that, the company demolished the make-shift structure they used as mosque. MURIC set in; we made some noise, and of course, the company simmered down and apologised. Their manager visited our headquarters, offered apology, took pictures with us. The following Friday, the company allowed all muslims to worship; the company has also given them better space within the premises to be observing their Zuhri and Asri prayers. There have been many more. From the different messages we get from muslims everywhere, we can say that Nigerian muslims are very proud of MURIC.
You have recently delved into politics, and on some occasions, taken sides. One wonders if as a muslim organisation you are supposed to be partisan or deeply involved in politics.
An Islamic organisation is not a triangular entity; it is not a triangular entity that would just be holding meetings, be moving from meetings to preaching, then to their houses. MURIC is a dynamic organisation. We don’t only react to issues, we are proactive. We are not conservative; we are not reactionary; we are visionary; we see beyond the surface. So, we know that it is politics that shapes policies; muslims are making demands; they want good welfare; they want this, they want that. Who are those who make or draft policies? Who will improve the lives of the people? What is it anywhere in the world that defines the welfare of the people? It is politics. Of course, we known man is a political animal, but it goes beyond that. Even women play politics in the kitchen; we play politics in our matrimonial homes; between husband and wife, there is politics; between parents and children, there is politics. It goes beyond that with us. The moment you turn your back on politics, and you want the welfare to improve, people who have no vision will take over. Since you are not there, having turned your back or turned a blind eye, you cannot complain. For instance, muslims are demanding Sharia, we demanded Islamic banking; we demanded a lot of things which have been denied. Who are those who are going to take the decision? Who are those to make the policies. For it to be democratic and procedural, you have to go through the National Assembly for instance, or the State Assembly. How do you go through the Assembly if you do not make comments or say anything concerning politics? Who will be voted into the State House of Assembly and decide the fate of the people in that state? Those who will be voted into the National Assembly, who will take decisions on something like Sharia, Islamic banking, work-free Friday and hijab in schools and so on must be properly enlightened; they will not be properly enlightened unless a group like MURIC speaks. If the good people don’t get involved in politics and in government, bad rulers will rule them. Because we have allowed bad rulers, that’s why we have no light, we have no good roads. Our roads are the best killers in the whole world. That is why we don’t have drugs in hospital.
Should we expect MURIC therefore to mobilise for individuals or parties for political posts?
MURIC will not mobilise for a political party or individual. We will mobilise for integrity. Only integrity can lead Nigeria to Eldorado. For good governance, you need somebody who is credible; that has nothing to hide. Nigeria already has a good leader in the person of President Muhammadu Buhari. I call him a good leader because we already have good governance in this country. The evil that used to happen in the country in the past 16 years, has stopped to happen since 2015. The leakage in public treasury has been blocked; the “yam eaters” are now very careful. You cannot eliminate corruption overnight. Those who had not been called to order before are now hiding. Some governors have been jailed; some judges have been sent to jail; nobody ever queried a judge before; Nigerians had been complaining that we only hear of stolen billions, but nobody was ever arrested. Now, we are getting people detained, prosecuted and imprisoned. I also said we have a good leader now because this is a leader who believes in simplicity; he lives a simple life; he is not a billionaire and he is not looking for billion. Nobody has been able to point accusing fingers at him like they did to Abacha; like they did to Babangida; like they did to so many others; like we did to Jonathan; like we did to Diezani Alison-Madueke.
Talking about the fight against corruption, the general complaint is that the government is being one sided in the battle. He has not been able to prosecute those under him said to be corrupt. We have the case of Kemi Adeosun, former minister of finance and the NHIS boss. How would you react to that considering your description of Buhari as a man of integrity?
That does not touch on the integrity of the leader. And even those cases… Take the case of Kemi Adeosun for instance. These are loopholes that corrupt people deliberately looked for in order to use it against the government. You are blaming a woman who never lived in Nigeria until she was 35 years old. The law says if you are above 30, you do not need to serve. That was what Kemi Adeosun understood. If I was born like that, that is what I will understand. Nigerians are being unfair to that woman. She is not like Diezani, she is not accused of stealing money. The allegation against this woman is petty; it is mean; highly unfair. To tie that to the integrity of Buhari is highly ridiculous; laughable. The thieves, who are gathering now are just too eager to look for faults in the Buhari regime. The achievements of Buhari would have been much more than this and the opposition would not have been able to assemble the way they are doing if the gang up and the coup de tat which was carried out against the government from the Senate and the House of Representatives did not succeed. I think it is too petty and infantile because in other climes, the intention is to make the country great and not just a tiny cabal to be excessively rich. What they do is, if party A is in government and the problems are electricity, bad roads and bad healthcare. Party A will take one and tackle it vigorously. In the next election, if Party B comes in, it would tackle another problem. They interchange; they don’t pull each other down. But in Nigeria, it is not the case. People voted for Buhari and he came into government, but people want to stop him right from the beginning. That was what the Senate President did, that was what those in the House of Representatives did. Who delayed budget for seven good months?
The opposition is not looking at a greater Nigeria; the opposition is looking at a greater tiny cabal and greater capitalist group. They want to continue to empower the powerful ones who are oppressing the common man. That is what MURIC is fighting. Let the poor Nigerians enjoy the dividend of democracy. That is what the Buhari administration is working towards.
A lot of welfare programmes are there. Look at the school feeding programme; nobody saw it as beneficial, but the truth is that millions of people are enjoying it. Look at the poor graduates being given N20,000 on a monthly basis. Nobody is talking about that. There is an investment programme going on. I’m not a government official but I read a lot about them, I see them on the television. I think the press should focus more on these programmes instead of repeating the lines of the opposition who are not interested in promoting Nigeria. They are in government for 16 good years and they did nothing. The roads became terrible under them, hospital got bad under them; there is no railway under them. By December, I read that the Ibadan-Lagos railway will start functioning. These are areas the press should concentrate on instead of repeating the lines of the opposition.
How prepared would you say the government, INEC and the politicians generally are for the 2019 general election.
This is where I am going to be a little pessimistic. No political party has been able to convince me that their party chieftains have started behaving democratically; they have not accepted the principle of live and let’s live. Party chieftains are fighting one another over their candidates. This is narrow and selfish. It is parochial. I think our political leaders should be more careful. They should think more of Nigeria and not more of their own influence. It is now a case of ego. Governors want their own to be there. Go to Ogun, go to Lagos, go to Niger, go to Zamfara. The political atmosphere is not clean enough; it needs some purification. People lack party discipline. This is where we need to look at before the 2019 election.
Do you see INEC as being prepared enough?
Can I speak for INEC? No, I don’t think so. We cannot know what is at play in INEC –how prepared they are or not. However, its officials, when it comes to the issue of fairness, are good to go. INEC has worked hard, it has a reputation and that reputation has not been smeared in anyway when it comes to fairness and justice.
Sir, what would you say to round off?
I will urge Nigerians to be careful about those they vote into the Senate and the House of Representatives. The National Assembly can make or mar the next administration. It is very crucial for Nigeria’s survival.