The authorities of the Obafemi Awolowo University and the staff-controlled Muslim Community have expressed fear that some Muslim students are exhibiting extremist tendencies.
But the students accused of extremism denied the allegation. In interviews with PREMIUM TIMES, they said there was a concerted plot to deny them the right to practise Islam according to “kittab wa Sunnah (Quran and the practices of the Prophet).”
The long-held animosity came to full public reckoning a week ago through a five-page, 12-point statement by the university, one of the first five in Nigeria and which has consistently ranked among the top five in the country.
The statement signed by the Dean of the Division of Students’ Affairs, G.O. Akinola, identified two groups of Muslim students: mainstream Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria and splinter Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria.
The so-called splinter MSSN is the one accused of extremism, disregard for established regulations and norms, and prostitution.
“Note that this splinter group of the MSSN had begun to use the two ‘mosques’ in these (Awolowo and Fajuyi) Halls as a base for their anti-mainstream MSSN rhetorics and doctrinal disagreement on campus, including recruitment of students for their separate teachings,” the statement read.
During a visit to the school in August, Mr. Akinola said, the national leadership of MSSN expressed fears and alerted the Dean of Student Affairs, DSA, to the possibility of “emergence on the OAU campus of an extremist group of Muslim students in a fashion similar to the current Boko Haram insurgency besetting Nigeria”.
The DSA quoted the MSSN leadership as saying, “their strange doctrinal principles and procedures” could lead to the manifestation of Boko Haram.
He added that the ‘splinter MSSN’ was running brothels in the mosques within the hostel. It said female students were locked in rooms within the mosques.
“On this our visit to Awolowo ‘mosque’, we discovered a door leading to one of the rooms in the ‘mosque’ was securely locked from inside and the occupants refused to open. We threatened to force the door open if they refused any further, and after much persuasion, the door was opened and we discovered to our utter amazement that a group of girls numbering about a dozen were locked inside the room either fully or partially veiled.
“Our amazement was that the room in which they were locked or locked themselves was in a male hall, we wondered to no end why purported female students would be locked up in a male hall during lecture hours, no matter the excuse. Before we could interrogate them, some escaped through the backdoor of the room but we were able to apprehend three of them from whom we collected their identity cards.
“At the Fajuyi Hall, we also discovered to utter shock that a group of girls who purported themselves to be students were locked in a room in the ‘mosque’. We interrogated them and they claimed that they were kept there by their leaders who happen to be the leaders of MSSN splinter group.
“It should be noted that the Federal Government, of Nigeria of which Obafemi Awolowo University is an integral part, has not legalized prostitution in Universities. It is pertinent to note also that no female should be camped in a male facility under the guise of religion, as this is tantamount to running a brothel which will breed prostitution; and this is illegal. It is only fit, proper and responsible that any grossly abused university facility be closed down,” the school said.
Shedding more light on the university’s stance, its Public Relations Officer, Abiodun Olanrewaju, added that “We don’t want that (religious extremism) to come to our campus.”
“Students are primarily sent to acquire knowledge. Ife is not for any religious extremism either from Islam or Christianity.”
Mr. Olanrewaju said the school decided to shut the students’ mosques within the Awolowo and Fajuyi Halls because they were being misused.
When contacted, the Chief Imam, Sanusi Abubakar, speaking for the Muslim Community, said the so-called splinter group which controls the two mosques have no regard for him or even regulations of the school.
For years, he said, he had been disrespected by the successive leaderships.
During the inauguration of the so-called mainstream MSSN at the university central mosque, there was a clash between the members of the opposing group and the Chief Imam.
“Young persons who are expected to be the future of Islam are behaving like thugs. Nigeria is a secular state and the university has its regulations and they have to be respected,” the Imam, a Professor of Medicine, said.
“That’s how Boko Haram started,” he added.
ACCUSED STUDENTS RESPOND
When contacted, a spokesperson and Imam for the so-called splinter group, Zakari Bakare, rejected charges of extremism and prostitution against his group.
Mr. Bakare, a student of Pharmacy, said they practise Islam in strict adherence to the Quran and teachings of the Prophet.
On the alleged prostitution, he said it was true that university officials met female students in mosque.
“But it is their section of the mosque,” the student, popularly called Abu Fauzan, said.
Asked why female students were in the male hostel (mosque) at a time not scheduled for any of the five daily prayers in Islam, he replied, “we also asked the officials whether they did not see other female students reading at the Awo Cafe as they were coming to the hall. They said “yes” and we queried why didn’t they accuse them of prostitution.”
The Awo Cafe is just outside the Awo mosque with which it shares the same building.
Abu Fauzan said the female students usually come to the mosques to read.
While explaining his MSSN’s clash with the Chief Imam, Abu Fauzan said the Muslim Community encouraged “not more than 10” students and imposed them as MSSN leaders.
But Mr. Abubakar denied this. He said he did not know any member of the so-called mainstream MSSN before it was registered.
Although the splinter MSSN have been in control of the two mosques and enjoyed support of the students for years, it is not registered by the school.
In what birthed the mainstream group led by Idowu Akeem, some “moderate” Muslim students then approached the DSA for registration, our investigations revealed.
“They fulfilled all the requirements, including having staff advisers, number of student-members required and constitution,” an official said.
The school then recognized the “new” MSSN, having been “duly” registered, and then regarded it as “mainstream”.
“But the group that is more popular, controls the mosques, and has been on ground for long is now regarded as the splinter MSSN because of non-registration,” the official added.
SHUT THE MOSQUES
Following the disagreement between the two groups, university authorities announced a decision to shut down the two students’ mosques.
Contrary to reports, the mosques are still being used, PREMIUM TIMES confirmed.
“The Chancellor (of the university) has intervened and asked that everything should be on hold,” the Chief Imam said.
As at the time of filing the report, the group regarded as “splinter” controls the mosques and leads prayers there.
“Yes, they are the ones controlling the mosques,” the Financial Secretary of the mainstream MSSN, Yusuf Ogundipe, said in an interview. “But we are very hopeful we’ll gain control eventually because we are registered and recognized by the national body.”
Mr. Ogundipe, a final year student in the Faculty of Education, said their rivals “don’t even have right to refer to themselves as MSSN because they don’t accept authority, constitution and programmes of the national body.”
But Abu Fauzan said anything different from “kittab wa Sunnah” would not be accepted by his group.
Other Muslim students who accept the leadership of Abu Fauzan and are in the majority among Muslim students in the university, also indicated the school may be thrown into crisis if the mosques are taken from them
“We are ready to sacrifice anything for our Deen (religion),” said a female Muslim student, who sought anonymity for fear of being victimised.