Contending interests are frustrating succession efforts for the imam of Okene Central Mosque and undermining the relative peace in the Kogi Central senatorial district, which the hitherto hotbed of violence currently enjoys.
The raging tension over who becomes the chief imam of the mosque boiled over penultimate Friday as skirmishes between the Tijaniyya and Izala sects left scores wounded.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that the struggle for the leadership of the mosque started long before the death of Imam Musa Galadima in April 2019. Imam Galadima, a Tijaniyya cleric, was said to have superintended over the mosque as chief imam for over 60 years. Following his death, Sheikh Salihu Abere, who had deputised as Naibi since 2002, automatically stepped forward and continued as imam, pending the end of the mourning period and his official turbaning as chief imam, which has been the tradition.
However, the expected smooth transition was said to have been stalled by the ambition of Sheik Luqman Musa Galadima, son of the late chief imam, who felt he is more qualified to step into his father’s shoes. The aspiration of Sheikh Lukman, who is also the chairman of the Kogi State Hajj Commission and former lecturer in the Federal College of Education, Okene, is said to have the backing of Izala sect members and enjoys the sympathy of Governor Yahaya Bello.
It was learnt that the intrigues and underground succession moves started when it became difficult for the late chief imam to effectively lead prayers due to deteriorating health.
“At some point in time, the late imam could not lead prayer without two people supporting him. It was at that point that Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Dr Ado Ibrahim, intervened and informed the governor of the health situation of the imam and the need for him to take a deserved rest with full allowances, after serving for 60 years so that his much younger deputy would continue with the rigorous job of leading prayers and other activities.
“At that point, some forces opposed to the deputy, who incidentally is a Tijaniyya, objected, using some of their sympathisers in Lugard House to thwart the efforts of the Ohinoyi to manage the exit of the late imam. That was how the case continued until the imam eventually died,” a source claimed.
He explained that the Ohinoyi, whose obligation is to appoint the imam after due consultation, settled for the deputy, who has been there since 2002 and led juma’at and eid prayers in the absence of the imam for over 16 years.
The Ohinoyi went further to expand the office of the deputy imam by selecting five other deputy imams, representing various towns in Kogi central, to make the central mosque leadership more inclusive.
However, the move by the paramount ruler didn’t go down well with the other group, who insisted that there must be a contest to determine who should emerge.
According to them, the Tijaniya group had enjoyed their share of leadership, having superintended over the mosque for over 82 years, adding that it is the turn of the Izala sect to also have a go at the position. The development had exacerbated tension across the land, with both parties openly confronting themselves at the slightest provocation.
Worried by the development, the Ohinoyi, who is also the national vice president of Jama’atu Nasril Islam and the national vice president of the Nigeria Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, had to reach out to the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad over the succession tussle.
In an interview he granted newsmen shortly after the demise of the late chief imam, the paramount ruler shed light on the raging crisis.
“I am not saying this because of my offices in the Islamic organizations, but because I am a traditional ruler. That seems not to have gone down well with the new administration here.
“It all happened that since the death of the chief imam I was not in a rush to appoint somebody. I still want peace and to do my consultations, though it is my right and if I do it, there is nothing anybody can do about it. But I heard that government is planning to appoint somebody that is not the choice of the people.
“I will not allow that, and I called the Sultan and told him. This is what has happened. I am not going to allow it because there must be respect for tradition and religion. The people even came to my palace to tell me that if government would kill all of them, they were ready to die for this course. The people said government would not appoint anybody unless I do.
“The Sultan has told the governor to stop his plan. He has told him that the person I put there all along, that is Naibi, should continue, and at the right time, we will appoint the chief imam,’’ he noted.
Governor Bello has, however, insisted that the position be democratised, noting that interested contestants will be subjected to a rigorous selection process.
“I have directed and ordered that the position of imamship is still very vacant. The time is not ripe yet because the situation is still very tense, and we cannot afford to go into electing or selecting a new imam at this point. We cannot allow anybody to cause mayhem and insecurity in the land.
“The current Naibi remains the acting chief imam while we take decision in the nearest future. I stand by my position and urge every vested interest to shield their swords and not create trouble for the good people of the district,’’ the governor noted in an interview.
The recent crisis was said to have started on May 8, 2020 following an announcement by the Ohinoyi, that Juma’at prayers would not hold at the Central Mosque because of an intelligence report that there would be an attack. The Friday prayer was, therefore, suspended.
But the state government felt the Ohinoyi shouldn’t have announced the suspension of the prayer without their consent since they are in charge of security. The government, therefore, ordered that prayers should hold on May 15 (the day of the mayhem), saying they would provide security.
Indeed, security agents went to the mosque, but they could not avert the crisis that eventually prevented the juma’at service from taking place. Subsequently, scores of people sustained various degrees of injury.
A civil servant, Malam Abdulsalam Mohammed Bashir, who spoke to journalists on the matter, described it as an unfortunate development.
“I was there when the chief imam entered the mosque to preside over the juma’at prayers. To the surprise of many people in the mosque, Bello Hussaini stopped his pre-hutuba sermon and announced that the acting imam was around, instead of referring to him as the chief imam. This was the cause of the mayhem that lasted for more than an hour before the intervention the police,’’ he explained.
Malam Ibrahim Dadiq Ojivo, the chairman of Tijaniyya Youth Forum, Okene, said the attack was premeditated because, for a long time now, members of the Izala sect have not prayed at the Central Mosque. “They have one mosque situated on the Okene-Auchi road and another one at the Ikaraworo area. They pray by 1pm.
“But on that fateful Friday, members of the Izala sect came early and took strategic positions in the mosque. In the crisis that ensued, one person had a fractured shoulder and deep cut on the head while others sustained various degrees of injury.
They later went to the houses of members of the Tijaniya sect and threatened some of their leaders,’’ he alleged.
Governor Bello had summoned the Ohinoyi and other traditional rulers in the district, as well as eminent personalities from the zone to Lokoja, with a view to finding a lasting solution to the crisis. At the meeting, the governor insisted that the selection would be democratised, but directed that the status quo be maintained until the process is decided and a substantive imam emerges.
The head of security agencies in the state also invited leaders of both parties – Sheikh Lukman Musa Galadima of Ansarul Islam and Sheikh Salihu Abere of Tijaniya – who are at the centre of the battle – for a meeting in Lokoja. They were warned to speak to their supporters to embrace peace or face prosecution.
However, observers believe that peace would be elusive if the state government continues to meddle in religious affairs.
“Since the establishment of that mosque in 1937, paramount rulers have had the prerogative of appointing imams, but because of vested interest, the governor is creating disharmony over an issue outside his purview,’’ Malam Abdulrahaman Adangara, one of the elders in the area lamented adding, “I hope he understands the enormity of the problem at hand?’’