The Sultan Bello Mosque Kaduna has been enmeshed in leadership crisis owing to the appointment of an Imam for the mosque, considered one of the biggest Islamic centres in Northern Nigeria.
The Nigerian police had to be drafted to the Mosque last Friday after the two camps involved in the crisis allegedly threatened violence.
Crisis began when Ahmed Gummi, son of late Islamic scholar, Abubakar Gummi, appointed an interim Imam pending when he said “a democratically elected Imam will be appointed”.
However, the leadership of Jama’atu Nasril Islam, JNI, appointed its Secretary general, Abubakar Khalid, as the new Imam.
The Imam’s stool became vacant after Mr. Gummi fired the former Imam, Balele Wali, for what he described as an “act of abomination against the mosque”.
Since the appointment of Mr. Khalid, the supporters of the two leaders have engaged in war of words with each camp claiming the leadership of the mosque.
PREMIUM TIMES caught up with the two leaders for an exclusive interview. We also spoke with the police on their handling of the crisis.
Interview with Dr Khalid:
PT: What is the situation at the moment?
Khalid: Well, the situation at the moment is calm but it is really unfortunate for this to happen. It shouldn’t happen, but because there is unfortunately issue of terrible ego and incessant quest for power and leadership from somebody who hasn’t any wherewithal to have that power but rather try to usurp authority and power unilaterally from legally constituted authority of JNI under the leadership of his eminence, the Sultan and other Vice President Generals of the organization.
How can somebody from somewhere come and claim that he has the power to come and appoint an Imam while he doesn’t belong to any of the structures of the organization that owns this thing and that he is going to do his own in a manner that is not in tandem with the Islamic teaching. He said that it is democracy so we should come and line people to vote.
That was not how it was done.
PT: What was the tradition in appointing an Imam?
Khalid: The tradition and the practice right from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), is that he used to appoint Imam, so did Abubakar, so did Umar, so did Uthman, so did Ali. There was never in the history where it was election that was done. These are the distortions and the misleading interpretation being done by Dr. Gummi and he wants to impose his unilateral, unacceptable and misleading interpretation of the text.
This is because he is talking with uninformed public with the inner teachings of the text, the Qur’an and the hadith and part of what he was saying was that ‘praying behind an imposed imam is unacceptable. Imposition by who? The hadith worked against him because he is the one that wants to impose. But, the leadership of JNI did the right thing by the rules of JNI and by even the authority from the government because there are documents and it is said the difference between knowledge and ignorance is record.
PT: People will want to know what document you are referring to?
Khalid: The Emir of Zazzau can produce a document, which shows that he has the wherewithal to appoint after being ratified by his eminence (Sultan of Sokoto). And we asked him (Mr. Gummi) when he was appointed or who even gave him the power to appoint Imam.
He said ‘no, it is the generality of the people.’ During the life of Prophet Muhammad, was he calling people to come and line up and vote? So these are the distortions.
PT: Are you saying that, traditionally, appointment of the Imam at Sultan Bello was never done through voting?
Khalid: (Not) at all. The leadership does it after consultation. Names of people will be proposed and they have a consensus to now come and be the Imam.
PT: How did you emerge as the Imam of Sultan Bello?
Khalid: Of course after consultation. How can I just emerge from the blues? I think it is important to relate this information. One, I am the Secretary General of the JNI. By the powers conferred on me as the Secretary General of JNI under whom the mosque is under, whom the board of the mosque report to, if I notice skirmishes, wrangling and misunderstanding, I can on my own move to take over in order to broker peace. I, on my own, have this power, let alone the stakeholders. The Vice President General of JNI in Kaduna State is the Emir of Zazzau and the President General is the Sultan of Sokoto. Emir of Zazzau cannot unilaterally appoint, there should be consultation.
PT: That means you will be there until peace is brokered?
PT: For how long will you be there?
Khalid: Well, the leadership will determine that.
PT: What in your view led to the rancour that brought about your emergence?
Khalid: The hatred and instigation of Dr. Gummi. Because there were videos a fortnight ago where he instigated his followers to come and besiege the mosque and they did. When I came in and saw miscreants and hooligans trying to cause chaos, I said no, I am not supposed to be part of this; therefore, let them do what they want. I allowed them and they did what they wanted and he was clapping and shouting and said they are victorious and so on.
Then on Thursday, we were with the Commissioner of Police trying to mediate and I told them that I am willing to step down immediately if the appointing authority withdraws the appointment. But, as long as there is nothing like that, then it is uncalled for.
PT: Was Dr. Gummi part of the meeting?
Khalid: Of course he was. He said no he did not agree and insisted that his will must be done.
The commissioner said ok, since there is a stalemate, then they will do what they are supposed to do in trying to provide security. In the evening he ( Gummi) said police has connived with the Secretary General to cause this and that.
In the video he said they should go and disrupt the prayer and that was what they did. He instigated, he caused chaos , he caused rancour. I think the government will have to do something about this.
PT: We understand he had a meeting with the Kaduna State Governor. Were you part of the meeting?
Khalid: I wasn’t.
PT: Did the state government contact you on this matter?
Khalid: No, but I hope maybe they will contact me.
PT: It was alleged that you mobilized the police, locked out worshipers from the mosque and ordered that they should be tear-gassed. What is your take on that?
Khalid: Laughs. This is a mere false claim and a blatant lie.
PT: Sultan Bello mosque has been a symbol of pride to the Izala sect because of its founder, late Sheik Abubakar Mahmud Gummi. With this crisis, do you think the sect has not been further polarized?
Khalid: Certainly, it didn’t polarize Izala in anyway because this is an act that was singularly taken by a person without any consultation. But, I think it is important for somebody not to be over ambitious because you cannot become a leader from the blues. You have to go through the rudiments of training stages.
PT: People are wondering, are there any economic, financial or worldly gains of being Imam of Sultan Bello Mosque?
Khalid: I don’t know. You go and investigate and find out. Ask those who are over ambitious to come to the place. I am talking about the school of mallam (referring to late Sheik Gummi),the school of mallam is different. We want an individual to stand on his own to show us his own pedigree, to show us his knowledge, to show us his own contribution to the society, to show us his scholarship, not microphone and the market of mad people; I mean the social media and internet where you can post whatever garbage. That is why I didn’t reply him until this Friday. The school of mallam is a distinguished school, school of honour, respect, patience, forgiveness and scholarship, not a school of instigation, not a school of discontent and disrespect to constituted authority.
PT: As the Secretary General of JNI and a party to this crisis, people say you are a judge in your own case. What is your take on that?
Khalid: Well, I am not a judge in my own case. It is Dr Gummi who deposed the Imam and who took his right to lead prayers and wanted to appoint whom he so wishes.
Dr. Gummi’s response
In his response Dr. Gummi blamed the police for allegedly taking sides. He also vowed to sue the police and any other person implicated in the alleged attack on worshipers who, he said, were tear gassed outside the mosque premises.
PT: What is your reasons for saying that the Imam in Sultan Bello should come through a democratic process?
Gummi: First of all, whatever you do you need to have an objective. Whatever you do especially at this material time is anything that can bring peace and stability. That is our goal. You can never have peace and stability without consensus and agreement. Those days of impositions are over. We have to realize this. We have to consult stakeholders, dialogue with them, and then there will be peace and stability especially at this critical time when the nation needs stability.
Without stability, the first victim is economy. So, anything that will pitch people against people should be avoided. The best way to avoid confusion is to maintain the status quo. But once you want to introduce some change against what the people are advocating, then you are starting a problem. So, in the whole problem, I have seen that we have two schools of thought, the old school and the new school of thought. The new school of thought which entails democratization of affairs of people and I can say exactly that is the Islamic perspective. Allah in the Holy Qur’an Says ‘There affairs is by consultation.’ The Holy Qur’an is categorical; the hadith is categorical that whatever you do you have to consult the people.
PT: But you were alleged to have misinterpreted a hadith that said that the selection should not be done through voting but …
Gummi: Sorry, that is the ignorance that they display. Everybody trusts the prophet. So, if the prophet will tell a woman, marry this man, because of her trust of the prophet, she will marry him. But, now which leader do you trust to the extent that he will tell this to you and you will do it?
That is why now you cannot marry out until when she agrees. That is consensus. So, you will not tell me because the prophet did that, that you will agree. Where are the trustworthy leaders that we trust that can do this? No, you go back to the basis, that is selection and the Sahaba (prophet’s direct followers) did this. People select what they want, the woman selects her husband.
PT: It was also mentioned that, Dr Khalid was appointed as an interim Imam because of the crisis at Sultan Bello Mosque…
Gummi: There is no crisis at Sultan Bello Mosque. They came to instigate crisis because we are praying normally. What happened to the previous Imam is an abomination and it is not possible again to present him. Prayer is the pinnacle of worship in Islam. When you say Allahu Akbar, you ex-communicate with people. So, this Imam is praying in front of people and he was struggling for microphone. So, it is an abomination on that Mosque because of its pedigree and heritage, we cannot afford to be presenting him as our Imam.
So, we told him you have to go, you have done something that is not redeemable and when he left, there was peace until when this anti-gene(sic) came into our Mosque. Look at the consequence. So, I am very disappointed with the Nigerian Police when I saw them taking sides, attacking innocent people praying. We have recorded them and every person involved in this crime, we will take him to court, we have our evidences. People are taking laws into their own hands. Police are not instructed to attack innocent people.
PT: But, the police said 14 suspects were arrest and will be charged to court.
Gummi: Yes, Alhamdulillah.
PT: Are those people arrested from your own side?
Gummi: No, no, no. They know from which side they are. The Jama’atu people confessed it is their followers that even caught them. You see every follower coming into the mosque is screened. The worshipers showed 10 coming in with weapons in front of the police without being screened. So, they surrounded them. That made the police to arrest them and we have pictures of them.
PT: Who locked out the people from the Mosque?
Gummi: It is the other side that locked the Mosque. That was why people were forced to pray outside.
PT: When you say the other side, are you referring to Dr. Khalid?
Gummi: Yes, Dr Khalid side. They locked the Mosque and people started praying outside. When they started praying they threw tear gas at them.
PT: What is your take on prayer behind an unacceptable Imam?
Gummi: Null and void
PT: But, you were alleged to be the one who wants to impose an imam to the mosque…
Gummi: Which impose, whom did I impose? We said let the status quo remain until when people select their Imam and it is the congregation that selects the Imam. I am not going to impose anybody. We have three conditions for the Imam to be accepted. One; there is a heritage in the school for more than 30 years. Since 1962 there is a school in the place, there is a movement in the place, you cannot come and bring somebody from outside and bring confusion. Is it not part of good governance to do things that will bring stability? For instance now we have Tijjaniya Mosque, can I impose on them an Imam from the Izala? Can I go to Kano and impose on them an Imam from Tijjaniya? No, please we want peace and stability. This Mosque has been calling for peace and stability. This mosque has been calling for emancipation of the people who are enslaved; that people should not bow down for human beings and we should never be allowed to be governed by rigged election. Before the appearance of even this opposition, in that mosque, I taught people how to gather money to protect their votes because now power belongs to the people. This is our mission. So how can you be teaching people who have power, then somebody will come with a paper that he is sent? We will not accept him.
PT: What will be the way forward?
Gummi: The way forward is simple; let Dr Khalid withdraw his troops back to his base. Simple, there won’t be any problem.
PT: What is the outcome of your meeting with the governor?
Gummi: He said he will consult the Emir of Zazzau and other things, then we see a way out of the problem. This is what I requested more than two weeks back in front of the Commissioner of Police. This problem can be solved by bringing the Sultan into the picture, bringing the Emir of Zazzau into the picture , we sit down and it can be solved. But the meeting was never organized. The police commissioner knows about that, the Permanent Secretary, SSG’s office knows about that, because it is a message I conveyed to the government directly.
PT: What about the Emir of Zazzau?
Gummi: I tried to contact him through his aide. They gave me appointment on Tuesday, but we could not meet. But, the Emir knew that, I want to see him concerning Sultan Bello, and then suddenly we heard that he has appointed somebody else.
PT: Are you aware of the traditional way of selecting Imam for Sultan Bello mosque?
Gummi: What tradition? There is no tradition. What we follow is Islam and Islam that is where we say go back to Islam and not tradition, go back to sunnah.
PT: Was there any time such tradition was challenged before now?
Gummi: No tradition. Lawal Abubakar appointed the last Imam. Then if the Emir wants to endorse, it is good; the governor wants to endorse, it is good; the general public wants to endorse, it is good. But he has to come from within so you don’t bring problem.
The former imam is a student of my father. It is just a mistake he made that shows he is not serious with the issue. That is why we cannot present him. We are worshiping God, we are not worshiping anybody. In my own case I am not going to appoint anybody like Balele Wali was appointed by Lawal Abubakar, no. I said in this mosque, in this chair, that next time your vote should count. We floated an organization,’ Your Vote Your Pride’. We did a lecture, my own turn is people should select who they want so I said let’s have a catchment area. We are worshiping God, so we want the Imam to be very close to the Mosque 24 hours, there is a reasonable person close. So, I said Angwan Rimi, Angwan Kanawa, Angwan Shanu. I gathered people, the scholars and asked them to please filter and select a candidate for us so that we can come into the Mosque democratically and elect. What is wrong with this Islamically? What is wrong with this constitutionally? So, it is just a show of strength. But what I am disappointed if your show of strength will lead to attack of innocent people, then that is a crime then somebody has to answer. I know they will answer with God, but here on earth too, they have to be disgraced.
On his part, the spokesperson of the police in Kaduna State, Aliyu Usman, denied the allegation of tear gassing and attacking worshipers.
He said the police were drafted to the mosque to forestall the
breakdown of law and order in view of the leadership crisis in the mosque.
He said the police called the two factions and had a meeting with them twice to no avail.
“Police is neutral, we do not have the power to decide who the Imam should be as there is an authority saddled with that responsibility.
“All we did was provide security of lives and property,” he said.