‘To fast-track development, clergymen must always hold politicians accountable’


Sheikh Al-Imam Abdusemiu Ajani Al-Kilany is the Chief Missioner of the Islamic Education and Faith Initiative, Magodo GRA, Lagos. In this interview with ZAINAB ONI, the cleric bares his mind on the anti-corruption crusade of the Federal Government, religion in Nigeria and the attitude of politicians to the electorate after getting into positions of trust. Excerpts:

Uba Group

What has been the role of Islam in politics?
Whenever election comes up, whether at the state level or Federal level, you see politicians patronising pastors in the churches and Imams in the mosques. We share experiences with pastors in the church, many of whom are my friends and who are colleagues in the vineyard of God, whether through the Quran or the Bible.
Recently, I came back from the United States where I attended a summit with a couple of Pentecostal church pastors from the Redeemed, Mountain of Fire and the likes. One of the things that we discussed that is really affecting us as professionals safeguarding the word of God is that we are also being dragged into the mud through the way the politicians, both male and female, patronise the clergy for prayers to get into key positions of governance, while promising to take care of their communities and the members that are downtrodden.
The poor come to us on different occasions. One of our callings is not to share confidential matters. Now they will come and by the mercy of God, we will pray for them, pastors too will pray for them. In fact, in most cases, they seek prayers from the two sources at the same time, thereby prostituting through religion. This shows that they are highly interested in securing these political seats. But the amazing thing is that once they get into office, you can no longer have access to them. In fact, they would give you up to three phone numbers, which will not be available later on and in case the community needs help or youths need to be engaged, unfortunately they will not be there again to assist.
Let me say out of 10, you hardly see one of them again. I think Nigerian politicians have not yet got to the level of maturity. During my student days in the US and UK, I had access and the opportunities to see how politicians run political offices. I have seen a situation in the County of Manchester, where a 12-year-old boy from Trinidad and Tobago accosted the county officer, who is like a local government chairman in Nigeria, and complained about his school being flooded and within the next two days, the problem was fixed. You know this shows the entrenchment of sound and mature political institution that they have over there. Whereas in this country, you don’t really have the opportunity to reach this people directly, despite our being opportune to have nurtured democracy. So, I am looking for such an opportunity to present itself.

clergymen are being dragged into the mud through the way politicians patronise them for prayers to get into key positions, while promising to take care of their communities and members that are downtrodden, only to do the exact opposite afterwards

Secondly, the clergy are also corrupt because of the monetary favours they get from all these politicians without questioning the source of their wealth. Is it the money for the prayers that they need from the clergy or the money they have got from the position of governance that they are yet to be elected into or selected to? I have been having issues with some of them. Look at the league of Imams and council of chief Imams and ulama to which I belong at the state and national level, by virtue of one’s position, you know these are the issues that cut across. There was even a time we had to call ourselves to ask what was wrong with us. Should we continue to take money from them and get on the pulpit every Friday lambasting them? We are also culpable, we need to ask them where did you get this from.
In the churches, tithes and offerings are paid. But we are not so fortunate in the mosques like that. Our Zakkat and Sadaqqah are not buoyant enough, not even Fisebilillah. So, these are the challenges. I think the most important thing for us is to rededicate and reconstitute ourselves and let our politicians know that whatever they vow or promise must be done. They shouldn’t forget that, because I see political offices as a service and not a place to celebrate or amass wealth.

There are allegations that President Buhari plans to Islamise Nigeria. What do you think about this?
We have a group called OIC- Organisation of Islamic Conference, which came up when Babangida was in power. Since then, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) have been working together and we have been having issues that Nigeria is a secular state. But we continue to tell everybody that is highly lettered and enlightened that Nigeria will never be termed a secular state but a multi-religious state. We have many religions but the two predominant religions are Christianity and Islam. Now, I don’t think there is any way a particular religion will now want to dominate the other. In fact, statistically and demographically, we cannot even ascertain the number of Muslims and the number of Christians. It is just sparingly different, even in the core North. In Kaduna, for instance, we still have core Christians. We have them in Taraba, Adamawa, Kebbi; that means we are intermingled, even in the Southwest that you and I belong, where inter-religion marriages take place. This means we have fostered love and brotherhood amongst ourselves. So, religion should not be an instrument of disunity, as far as this country is concerned. Despite the fact that we are a multi-religious state, you will be surprised that it has yet to reflect in our national polity and national rebirth that we are religious. US has about 70 religions, yet you can never hear of religious violence. So, what is our problem? The issue of Islamiza tion stems from the phobia for the Boko Haram and we have been telling people that this group is not a sound or pristine Islamic group. For instance, the last Eid- kabir that Muslims all over the world celebrated was on Monday, but the Boko Haram released a video claiming that their own Eid-Kabir day was on Tuesday. Where did they get that from? Eid-kabir, as far as I am concerned, is being celebrated on the same day all over the world, even in Saudi Arabia. Only Eid- Fitri can be celebrated on different days in different countries due to weather conditions and other elements. So, how can Boko Haram’s Sallah day be different? Then, it means they are not technically Muslims. Slaughtering people in broad daylight is wrong. There is no compulsion in religion, give everybody a fair treatment. On that note, I don’t want to believe anybody wants to Islamise Nigeria because it won’t be possible if they make any attempt to do so.

What is your position on President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against corruption?
I see it as a laudable effort, but I must say that it is not a battle that he (Buhari) can easily fight all alone. It is a fight that has to be all-embracing, taking along all the strata of the society, including the downtrodden, because here we are talking about a decadence that has really eaten deep into the fabric of the society. Every sector of the society is culpable, the clergy inclusive, whether in the church or mosque, everybody is culpable. I see the president as a lone fighter, so to say, because among the cabinet that he constituted, he never knew that there were still some of them not in tune with his philosophy of governance. Their own orientation and ideology differ from what he has in mind as a leader and as a leader you are a driver who is driving a vehicle in which you need to take along other passengers with you. They must follow your route in order for your people to arrive at the same destination at the same time just like the Promised Land in the Bible. And I think that inspite of our dreaming or fantasizing or imagining the Promised Land, we have yet to arrive there in Nigeria.