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Ethnicising religion in Nigeria

His Royal Highness, Alhaji (Eze) Shiittu K. Ejiogu, the Ogbuji 1 of Ogbujioma Autonomous Community in Mbaitolu Local Government Area of Imo state, who was…

His Royal Highness, Alhaji (Eze) Shiittu K. Ejiogu, the Ogbuji 1 of Ogbujioma Autonomous Community in Mbaitolu Local Government Area of Imo state, who was formerly a member of the Catholic Church in his area, accepted the Islamic faith about a year ago. He alleges that he has, since then, been vilified and persecuted by his subjects. According to him, a campaign of calumny including damaging publications has been targeted at him under the incitement of a few but influential individuals who vowed to deal with him. The ruler added that he was at a time falsely accused of casting aspersions on members of knight of St. Mulumba in order to put him at logger heads with the leadership of the church. Alhaji (Eze) Ejiogu further explains that he had been dragged to court several times, stating that the Chairman of the South-East Council of Traditional Rulers had to intervene on one such occasion before the matter was withdrawn from court.

Some of the reasons why the community is unhappy with him, explains the traditional ruler, “Include their malicious allegations that he (Alhaji Shittu) received the Sultan of Sokoto in his palace and that he travels too often to the northern part of the country as well as the Middle East including Pakistan. They also claim that the traditional ruler has made fortunes since he became a Muslim, upgrading his palace and launching a jeep. The community has therefore strongly advised Alhaji (Eze) Shittu, in an alternative, to go to where Muslims are in majority (such as the north) and become a ruler over them. Otherwise, they will dethrone him.

One finds it amazing that an average non-Muslim Nigerian in this age, when all revealed religions have reached the most remote part of the world, still sees Islam as synonymous with the north (the gateway through which it came in to Nigeria); or with Hausa ( the predominant tribe and culture in the north). For the community of Alhaji (Eze) Ejiogu, Islam is, thus, a religion revealed only to the Hausa community of the north, which is to be embraced only by them. By this nescient definition of Islam, it would amount to an abomination for an Igbo man or Woman to speak Arabic which many also consider to be a religion rather than language.

It is relevant here to remind the Ogbujioma community that Islam is a universal religion as stated by Allah (SWT) in Qur’an 34:28, “We have not sent thee but a universal (messenger) to men, giving them glad tidings, and warning them (against sin) but most men understand not”. Islam, as God’s revelation through the holy Prophet (SAW), was not meant for one family or tribe, one race or set of people. It was meant for all mankind to whom, if they turn to God, is a message of glad tidings of His mercy, and if they turn away, is a warning against sin and inevitable punishment. The story of Ustaz Amin Igwebe told in the Weekly Trust edition of March 21, 2009 is also a case of an Igbo man who faced persecutions for accepting Islam at a tender age of twelve.

It appears some Nigerians are not aware of the provisions of section 38 (1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which states “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance”. One wonders the basis upon which a traditional ruler must be dethroned for the simple reason that he accepted Islam as a religion. Islam, it must be noted, is not a religion that interferes with a Muslim’s socio-political role either as a ruler or a leader. More so, Alhaji (Eze) Ejiogu is not the first to embrace Islam from among the Igbo people of Nigeria. We thus wonder why his situation is different.

We admonish the traditional ruler of Ogbujioma community, Alhaji (Eze) Shittu to remain resolute in his faith. Persecutions should not demoralize him to abandon Islam. Prophet Ibrahim (AS) faced a more severe harassment but never felt hurt because of his firm belief in Allah (SWT). Even when he was thrown into fire by unbelievers, he was protected from the blazing fire. Allah (SWT) states in Qur’an 21:69 “O Fire! Be thou cool, and (a means of) safety for Abraham”. This column calls on the co-chairmen of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) to, as a matter of responsibility, take up this matter in order to protect and preserve the fundamental rights of the traditional ruler. May Allah (SWT) detribalize the hearts of Nigerians so that no religion would be seen to be the exclusive property of a section of the country, amin.