‘Religious extremism’ brews crisis in Nigeria’s foremost university

Obafemi Awolowo University
Obafemi Awolowo University

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.

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  • Adejuwon Emmanuel

    A yoruba proverb say ” O nbo o nbo awon ni a de de” please let osun state government and federal government take immediate step to nip this approaching catastrophe in the bud now before it is too late.

  • Haba mallam

    An irresponsible university officials that always rush to the press without conducting a proper investigation they tell the whole world that they found prostitutes in mosques what a nonsense. This whole story doesn’t make sense at all.

  • Toughie Man

    The students should practice their brand of Islam at home and not in the university community. If they know what a university is, they will not unnecessarily impose their “kittab wa Sunnah” brand of worship on others. The university is a liberal environment for the healthy cross fertilization of ideas. If the students insist and peace is being threatened which will surely affect innocent student, then the decision to shut down the mosques should be strictly adhered to. Rusticate the students involved and this will surely served as a deterrent to other religious bigots.

  • thusspokez

    My day was going smoothly, until I saw the photo above. Now I am angry and wish I could turn terrorist and dynamite all these horrible! horrible!! horrible!! structures or entrances that one finds at every Nigerian university. And if I were a military junta, I would arrest the architects who designed these eyesores; line them against the wall and shoot them, there! Pardon me for digressing.

  • Gary

    So the Jihadists are now at Ife..the source of the Yoruba nation. And Malam Aregbesola is doing his thing nearby in Oshogbo.
    The Yorubas can continue to delude themselves and wallow in denial about the gathering storm of creeping Islamization in their heartlands.
    Thanks Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, your alliance with the Islamists is now bearing fruit.

  • Tijani Olawale Kazeem Tok

    While some other students are striving hard to get the needed education and possibly come up with solutions to societal problems, you are there wasting away trying to imbibe a foreign culture that would not pay you in the long run. If you want to practice your deen and do sunnah as you claimed, please relocate to afiganistan and go live in the mountains. Leave formal environment if you must practice your primitive religious ideas. Shioor!

    • Haba mallam

      Islamic a primitive religion? Ask the pope in Vatican for better clarification.

      • delta K

        Suicide bomber when be your turn

        • Haba mallam

          Thank you my brother from the Niger delta, but I mean the pope in the Vatican not tom polo from Bayelsa. But thanks away for the avengers definition we already know that.

          • delta K

            Brother to a Moslem ? Tufiaka

      • Tijani Olawale Kazeem Tok

        Which religion detest contemporarism but would rather use the inventions of the contemporary to fight it’s coutse?

    • M. T. OMOTOSHO

      So being a student, to you, is a straight denial of religious responsibility and preference? In as much as one’s religious activities don’t affect you, you have no right to prevent one from full involvement in one’s religion.

      • Tijani Olawale Kazeem Tok

        You are right my brother to the extent that being a student does not strip you of your religious obligations but when those obligations are at crossroad with the institution’s rules and practices, then you have to relocate somewhere else. After all, there are faith based universities all around

  • Haba mallam

    The mere mention of the words Islam, Muhammad, Mosques or Muslims draws attentions from different quarters, some for the right reasons and others mostly for the wrong reasons just to get the opportunity to criticize Islam and score some cheap points, this has now lend us into our academia which you expect to use logic and reason before rushing to the press, just by walking into a hall and finding ladies in a place called mosques without any further analysis of the situation you shut it down and announce to the world that there is extremism and prostitution going on in a mosques sound very idiotic, the two simply don’t mix together, is either extremism or prostitution but not both at least not in Islam. Where is the intellectual engagement in this whole nonsense by the university authorities that are supposed to show restrain and show young minds the concept of tolerance and obedience to constituted authority.

  • Olabode Morounkeji

    what is kittab wa Sunnah? i need more explanations?

    • Haba mallam

      It means the book of the ways and teachings of prophet Muhammad SAW in accordance with the dictates of the holy Quran.

      • Otile

        You have told him nothing so far.

        • Haba mallam

          You wish.

    • Haba mallam

      The question is legitimate, at least you took the time to understand the whole saga before you jump in. Bravo my brother

    • Otile

      Simply stated, it is the “The Satanic Verses” by that Indian man, Salman Rusdie, who fled to Great Britain after fatwa was placed on his head by Muslim extremists for giving in-depth knowledge about Nabi Mohammed.

  • Nkem

    Messrs University Authorities. What are you accusing them of? Is it extremism or prostitution. Please be clear about the case you are making. I thought you are supposed to be a community of intellectuals. Define the problem clearly so that we can know how to deal with it. You are sounding as if you are desperately trying to clutch at possibilities, throwing disparate charges in the hope that at least one of them would stick. Like EFCC.

  • Galantman

    This country has suffered and is still reeling from the effects of extremism. The Government should investigate and deal a deadly blow to ALL sorts of extremism before it matures to loss of live, limbs and property. Enough of this evil

  • Simeon Nigel

    The Arabs invented Islam religion whilst Christianity was invented by the Romans, which is today Italians and veticans. Both of these two religion inventors; i.e. Arabs and Europeans, never mis-used the very tenents of their both invented religions, but we Africans (especially Nigerians by Northerners and now their Western Yorubas are copying up these days those foots-steps of their Northern brothers/sisters in deadly crimes). Here in Africa, inclusive Nigeria, religion has become an easy ways/virtues to committing all sorts of inhuman atrocities and destroying our good system of government. In Nigeria today, the whole Nigeria police practice this:- If you are not a Northern moslems, promotions to the next rank inside is a long “day dream” for non-moslems police officers, and so likewise in the whole of Nigeria military establishments. This is too bad and extremely deeply absurds that for every Nigerian to witness or openly seeing top security agencies’ officials considers their religion, especial Islamic beliefs, well above the whole of national interest. An example, Retired Colonel Dasuki, former NSA, often applies islamic religion well above entire national interest. The evil President and General Ibrahim Babangida registered the entire nation, Nigeria, into OIC- (World Islamic organisation) and what is happening today? Is this:- (1) Fulani Herdsmen today’s rampagening in every parts of Nigeria communities, while leaving a huge trails of overts killings as also Boko Haram massive killings and open slaughetring inside the entire North-East region areas having three states, that eventually decimated the whole of that particular region areas, which today is the breeding sources for Nigeria today’s painsful economy woes and insecurity in the entire landscape of Nigeria and massive unemployment armies of Nigerian youngmen and women which hence yearly wastages of human resources potentials ever known as the highest recorded bad news than any country in our planet earth. This is all due to religious begotry and human madness ever seen before in any country breeding out from Islam religion in Nigeria.

  • Rominiyis

    Until the country Nigeria practice true secularism it will continue to have religion problems.

  • M. T. OMOTOSHO

    You are no different from the person you are replying. Where are your captured territories? Is that the right word to breed love for a nation in dire need of reasons for continued togetherness. If this nation is to progress, we have to learn to love and tolerate each other on various divides: tribal, religious, political, etc.,. My friend, Simeon Nigel, was talking as if he is not a Nigerian. So, to you, the source of Nigerian economic crisis is Islam, right? Your country failed to diversify its economy, failed to strengthen its military force to keep its citizenry safe, failed to see beyond its nose and save for rainy days. You don’t blame religion for our woes but rather blame ourselves. Developed nations have their crisis too ( like shootings and incessant clashes between Black and White in USA) but they are wise enough to keep their problems under control. As a nation, we have to take responsibility for our actions and inactions. If this nation will be great, together we’ve to decide.

  • Raymonbell

    It is kind of interesting reading this story from the “OAU Management”, “Muslim community” “Mainstream” and “Extremist”. I graduated from OAU less than two years ago, and this entire story is what I have heard right from my first day in the University. I remember my first day at Muslim Community orientation, one of the organiser told us the mosques are used as a place of prostitution. As a new student seeking adventure, I remember rushing to the mosque the next morning to find a prostitute, but I could not find any, at least throughout my 4+x years in the university. Later I asked a senior colleague, who happen to be a Muslim, he told me all was a lie that as time goes on I will understand the politics on OAU Muslim community.
    In less than three months I did realise to an extent, it is a battle of influence over MSSN leadership. While the students want to appoint their executives, the Muslim community wants to select their stalwart. This controversy escalates repeatedly and the heat of the moment is towards the end of every session. Despite repeated intervention from various Muslim bodies, the “Extremist” won’t bulge neither will “Muslim Community”. The new mainstream MSSN is quite new, and I will like to believe they are the creation of Muslim Community, as a machinery of their agenda.
    I think the Vice Chancellor understands better, hence, placing an embargo on the moves of the Division of Student Affairs (DSA). Also, I believe fussing the “splinter group” with “extremism” is just a way of generating public support for the Muslim Community. Anyone who chose to take sides may need more insider information, as stories distributed on news media are grossly incomplete; this is just ways of generating public support. If you ask me, why will DSA publish internal memoranda on national dailies?