Virtually all elected Muslim politicians, with the exception of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, boycotted a conference organised by the Nigerian Muslims and Democracy Conference, an amalgamation of all Muslim organisations in the country, held Saturday at the National Mosque Abuja.
The theme of the two day conference was ‘The political future of Muslims in democratic Nigeria’.
A former chairman of the House of Representatives’ committee on foreign affairs and a stalwart of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Usman Bugaje, presented the keynote address.
In his brief presentation, the Sultan of Sokoto and the spiritual head of all Muslims in Nigeria, Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar, said gatherings such as the conference only attracts people with genuine concern for the development of their country. He said what was required was not quantity, but quality of attendance.
“As a gathering of Islamic organisations, I believe all Muslims are well represented here, what matters is not the number, but the quality,” the Sultan said.
The Sultan said all Muslims like other citizens of the country have a civic responsibility to air their views and to participate fully in all forms of debates that could lead to the development of the country.
“Discussions and debates generate ideas and promote understanding, and also provide opportunities for consultations,” he said.
In his remarks, Mr. Tambuwal urged Muslims to continue to re-dedicate themselves to the great Islamic values of patience, perseverance and the use of just and legal means to realize their legitimate aspirations.
The speaker also cautioned religious leaders, saying they should always be mindful of their public utterances.
“I appeal to leaders of all persuasions to be mindful of the way they respond to issues. Sometimes the utterances of many leaders leave much to be desired and do fatal damage to the psyche of the followers,” he said.
Mr. Bugaje, in his presentation, said the greatest asset of Muslims in Nigeria was their population size, adding also that based on the voter registration exercise conducted by the Independent National Electoral commission, INEC, prior to the 2011 general elections, the North West and South Western part of the country accounts for nearly 50 per cent of registered voters.
He also argued that about 60 per cent of voters fall within the age bracket of 35 years and below and questioned why a population such as this would fail to get their say in the country’s democratic process.
Mr. Bugaje also quoted copiously from the Quran and said Islam had provided a culture of good governance and accountability as a necessary tool to all Muslims.
“Muslims are held to a culture of governance which has placed premium on transparency and accountability,” he said.
Despite the numbers and religious values however, Mr. Bugaje said Muslims in the country had failed to take their rightful place.
He subsequently, outlined three major reasons why Muslims had failed to exert their influence in the country.
The first, he said, is conspiracy.
“Many Muslims believe that there are groups lurking somewhere busy planning for their downfall, and they often discuss them with the resignation of faith,” he said.
He said in politics, it is a ‘daily menu’ for such conspiracies to happen, because it is a game which politicians play, and in competitive games, conspiracies are to be expected.
The ACN stalwart said conspiracy can only be an obstacle to those who lack the capacity to compete.
The second factor affecting Muslims, according to Mr. Bugaje, is their agonizing attitude especially over their leader’s failures, without doing anything about it.
He conceded that leaders across the society have failed the people, but agonizing over it, he said, is not the solution.
Mr. Bugaje recalled that Otthman Dan Fodio was prompted into asking for change during his time because of leadership problem and he succeeded.
He also said that when the people of Egypt became fed up with their leadership, they trooped into Tahrir Square and demanded change and they got it.
“They refused to take the failure of leadership as excuses to allow their country to go down,” he said.
The third factor, he said, is complacency on the part of Nigerian Muslims.
“The uncomfortable truth is that we have simply been complacent, we have been laid back, content with our situation, unable to aim higher even when we have the capacity to do so,” he added.
In his contribution, the former governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Shekarau, said people should place more interest on the kind of persons they elect into the legislature across all tiers of government, as according to him, it is only an effective legislature that could check the excesses of all persons with executive powers.
Mr. Shekarau cited the example of the National Assembly and wondered why a collection of nearly 500 persons representing the populace failed to check the excesses of presidents.
None of the Muslim governors or ministers attended the opening session of the conference despite being invited.
A source, who is also a member of the organizing committee, said most of the governors promised to attend but neither turned up nor sent representatives except the governors of Zamfara and Yobe states who were represented by top officials from their states.