2015: Governor Elechi at it again

When in September 2010 I wrote an article entitled: On Governor Elechi's religious tolerance which was widely published by many print and online media organizations, I made uptight effort to establish the cordial relationship between the Christian majority and Muslim minority of Ebonyi state especially since 2007 when the governor took over the leadership of the state. I praised the cordial relation between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria both in Christian and Muslim dominated states, a development I urged every citizen to rejoice with. I equally wished all the executive governors and chief security officers should work harder to instill the spirit of religious harmony or sustain hard-earned peace and unity among all dwellers of their states.

I was quick to recall years of religious crises in Nigeria mostly in precarious states. I also expressed hope, respected and identified with the Interfaith Establishment set up by the Federal Government and co-chaired by the highest authorities of the Islamic and Christian faiths in the country. I quote: “Due to the foresight in establishing this great and fruitful national body and its achievements within the short period of its existence, there have now become several areas where one nuclear family has Christians, Muslims and pagans and they live in peace and harmony. This has portrayed Nigeria to compete among the comity of nations highly revered in terms of religious tolerance, unity and cooperation in recent times. This spirit of religious tolerance and coexistence should permeate the states and rural areas and be taken seriously by custodians of the major religions as well as the political elite. It is laudable that many state governors across the nation have imbibed this spirit and are doing their best to carry all segments of their citizens in their political train irrespective of religious, social and political differences.”

I recalled a serious misunderstanding that was mismanaged in Ebonyi state under Governor Elechi. Though the non-Christians and particularly the Muslim minority have largely complained of acute marginalization leading to feelings of neglect and compassion, the governor on 18th September, 2009, was alleged to have openly banned Muslims in the State from using the microphone to call to prayers – azaan – in all the mosques.

The governor was reported to have been misinformed by one of his commissioners that the Muslims' call to prayers disturbed people's sleep and therefore must be stopped. Despite many pleas by prominent Ebonyi Muslims, the governor reluctantly yielded to the plea that the volume be reduced to the barest minimum.

Till today, there has been no public pronouncement on the petition writers and there has been no significant benefit for the Muslims from Governor Elechi. No sincere Ebonyi Muslim can beat his or her chest and say Ebonyi Muslims have been treated fairly in Elechi administration. The only thing his government can boast of is the sponsorship of few Muslims to Hajj. Governor Elechi has not deemed any Ebonyi indigenous Muslim qualified, even those who fought with the PDP in 2007 and 2001 to elect him as governor, for appointment as commissioner or even special assistant. Governor Elechi has not seen it necessary to give a very little attention to the Eze Ndi Muslim 1 of Ebonyi state. With his eight years of governance winding up, Governor Elechi has not felt the impulse to ameliorate the pains and pangs and denials the Muslims are silently suffering under his government. How many times have the Muslims complained to him of their being marginalized in the state's affairs and what does he want them to do since they did not choose to belong to Ebonyi state by themselves just like himself?

In another article, A Letter to Governor Martin Elechi, I took time to extol the good works of the Governor. But the simple but bitter truth is that Ebonyi Igbo Muslims have been denied by Governor Elechi. All the Muslims of the state cannot work in the Pilgrim Welfare Board or go to hajj under government-sponsorship. What they need is food and sustenance. They need to exercise their constitutional franchise to vote and to be voted for, to qualify and be appointed, to apply and be accepted and to be considered and recommended as citizens of Ebonyi state. They need to be awarded scholarships like their counterparts. They need to be carried along as every other citizen. They need recognition; they need harmonization, they need integration; not deprivation, not frustration, not stigmatization and not suppression. Simply, they need the freedom of expression, religion and social life of Ebonyi people.

Instances abound that make Ebonyi rates as purely anti-Muslim. It seems there are calculated but unwritten anti-Igbo Muslim policies in the state. In Imo state, the former Governor Chief Achike Udenwa appointed Imo state indigenous Muslims as senior special assistants, including even a woman. His successor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim followed suit. His successor, Chief Rochas Okorocha has done the same. In Abia state, the former Governor Chief Orji Uzor Kalu appointed not less than six Muslims as special assistants in his cabinet. The same was done by his successor, Chief Theodore Orji. Check Anambra and Enugu, similar things are happening. In Ebonyi, it is a world of frustration and political denials for the Muslims. Former Governor Dr. Sam Ominyi Egwu left the Muslims to fight over the leadership of the Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board as if it is only hajj that the Muslims can do in their lives. He may have appointed one or two northerners to serve as special assistants on northern matters or cattle market. How glaring this high level marginalization of Muslims has been endured for too long? How painful a people who chose to worship God in their own chosen way in a religious-free society like Nigeria have been relegated to second class citizens of Nigeria?

No Muslim has been a commissioner in the South East of Nigeria, especially in Ebonyi state that can arguably be described as the home for the largest Muslim population in the region. No Muslim from the region has ever been considered qualified for a ministerial appointment at the federal cabinet. No Muslim from the area has been found worthy for appointment as state chairman of agencies and parastatals or chairman of governing board of federal agencies, commissions and parastatals. This is in sharp contrast of what is happening in the north and west. In the north and west, Christians have been governors, ministers, commissioners, chairmen of boards and paratatals, local government chairmen, councilors, senior special assistants and a lot more. Can some patriots explain why this marginalization should go on unchecked? Can any Nigerian counter this claim with facts? How real is freedom of association to religion in the South East according to the Nigerian constitution? Why is Ebonyi state so unique in this religious war against their own people? Some people may unwittingly respond that the same marginalization is meted against Christian minority of the north. It may well be unconvincing that most of the fight/killings of non-Muslims are often more politically motivated than religious. However, the politics in Boko Haram is an eye opener for those who can see, even if they are afraid to talk.

As if this is not enough, the governor has begun an overt move to subvert and suppress the Muslims from contesting elective positions in the forthcoming general elections. I often wonder who is upholding the spirit of religious tolerance and unity of the Nigerian people. I have wondered the more how elderly Nigerian people who are supposed to be elder statesmen can play to the gallery in such sensitive matter in Nigeria, knowing full well the dicey nature of religion in the country. It baffles me most that despite all complaints, the situation has remained the same. Towards the end of Governor Egwu-led administration, vehicles were donated to various Christian clerics and organizations in the state. It was a laudable gesture that attracted the commendation of many Ebonyi citizens. No single Muslim leader or Islamic organization was found worthy to benefit from the kind gesture. And so it has been throughout Elechi's two tenures which will wind up in less than a year.

Even the Eze Ndi Muslim 1 of Ebonyi state, Alhaji Muhammad Obiahu Ajah, whom the governor claims to recognize, has been a denied figure. The Muslim leader has been under torture by some elements who want to forcefully collect his land. But it is a known fact that in Abia, the state governor, Chief Theodore Orji donated a Hummer Bus to the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Muslims have politically benefited under his government. In Rivers state, both the apex Islamic organizations the Jama'atu Nasril-Islam and NSCIA have buses donated to them by the state governor. In Edo, the former governor, Chief Lucky Igbinediom appointed more than two Muslim commissioners in his cabinet. And so has the present governor done.

Contrary to this practice in the South East, governors of core northern states have appointed indigenous Christians in their cabinets and have recommended members of the Christian minority in their respective states for federal appointments as ministers. Nenadi Usman, Isaiah Balat, Boni Haruna and many others are just very few to mention, including those in the Senate, House of Representatives, Heads of federal government agencies, commissions and parastatals. The questions that demand answers are: What is the crime of Muslims of Igbo extraction? Is it that they do not have qualified persons? Or that they are victimized by their own people for being Muslims? Or….

I recall a bitter experience over a decade ago when I applied for a job at the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) at zone 3, Abuja. The commissioner in charge of Ebonyi, Enugu and one other state of the South East was said to be from my state Ebonyi. Long after I had submitted my credentials without response, I made frantic effort to personally see the commissioner. But all my effort was to no avail. Luckily to me, I came one day and sat as normal in the waiting room. Two of the staff in the commissioner's office discussed. One of them, innocently thinking that I do not understand Igbo, revealed that the commissioner had warned them not to allow me to come into his office. She quoted the commissioner as saying, “What does this man want here. Does he think that this is Sharia state or he wants to implement Sharia in our state.” I was shocked at such observation from a federal commissioner but I pitied the staff who revealed this information innocently. I knew that if I had opened up, it may cost her her job. I left the office and petitioned the then chairman of the commission, Alhaji Ghazali. But alas, there was no positive response. It was a bitter experience indeed. And if not for the strength of faith, one would have gone crazy. But God dey o!

To sum it up, Governor Elechi has undone the Muslims in his administration. The azaan saga was one. The denial of Muslims from the 2010 Hajj was second. The refusal to appoint Muslims in his cabinet is three. The neglect of the Ebonyi Muslim leader to torture and health hazard is four. The manipulation of religious politics is five. And…. With this kind of situations where some governors aspire to go to the Senate where they will be representing their people under a national umbrella, one begins to wonder if the spirit of Nigerianism would not be compromised by those whose had tinkered religious politics in their local assignments. It is a general observation for all aspirants to national positions whose occupants should be Nigerians in words and actions.

Muhammad Ajah is an author, publisher and socio-political analyst. He can be reached via [email protected]

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Articles by Muhammad Ajah