Persecution of Muslims higher under Jonathan - Oloyede

Date: 2014-10-20

Former Vice-Chancellor of University of Ilorin, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, is currently the Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. In this interview with ADE ADESOMOJU, he speaks on insecurity and welfare of Muslims

As an academic, what do you think is responsible for the falling standard of education in the country viz-a-viz the drop of the Nigerian universities in global ranking?

I don’t know the facts you have but I have a contrary view. I do not believe that the standard of education is falling in Nigeria. I also don’t believe that the ranking of Nigerian universities is going down, that is not true.

In actual fact, I know that there has been tremendous improvement in the ranking, despite the fact that some of the ranking parameters are tilted against developing countries and new universities. When I say new universities, I mean universities established 150 years ago; they are disadvantaged when compared with universities like Cambridge and Oxford; that have existed for 800, 900, 1,000 years. And some of the criteria take that (age) into consideration. All the major rankings that I’m aware of actually show that Nigerian universities are improving rather than declining and you can check them up.

If you start from Times Higher Education ranking to Webometrics Ranking, currently, all of them rank University of Ilorin number one and I’m happy and proud about that. In the last five years, we have come first at least three times during my tenure. And now, the university has returned to that position, which I am very pleased with. Talking generally, universities in Nigeria are coming up; they are improving on the ranking table. It is not true to say they are going down.

In any case, how well ranked is the country? Why are we saying universities must be different from the ranking of the country? When you rank the countries, what is the position of Nigeria as a country? Definitely, universities are better than the country itself. When countries are ranked, what is the position of Nigeria? What is the position of the country, when banks are ranked; when different sectors are ranked? You will find out that universities are definitely performing better, when compared with other sectors. This is not to say that there is no room for improvement. But to say that the universities are going down is not true, they are rather improving.

How are Nigerian universities improving when major stakeholders in the education sector such as the Academic Staff Union of Universities keep complaining that the university education in the country is not well funded?

To me, you are putting together two unrelated issues. Any worker agitating will have to put facts together to convince you that you have to do more. I agree with ASUU that government should fund education more than it is presently doing. But that is not to condemn what is on ground as if nothing is being done. As far as I am concerned, we are not doing badly in terms of funding, salary structure and remuneration and conditions of service; I don’t think we are doing badly when compared with our counterparts across the world.

What I know, as a matter of fact, is that agitation comes when you compare the remuneration of university workers, particularly academics, with the remuneration (either legal or illegal) of other people that are not as endowed or as tasked as the university lecturers. They say ‘if a local government chairman could earn this, why would a professor earn less. If a federal permanent secretary should earn this, why should a professor earn less?’ I do not see any justification for a professor of any university, particularly a public university, earning anything less than what a federal permanent secretary earns. In fact, professors were earning more than permanent secretaries during the country’s independence.

Maybe things have changed because of the increase in the number of professors and so on, but there is room for improvement and I’m not against improvement. What I am saying is that we are not doing poorly. Government should encourage academics by improving on the welfare of academic staff.

Are other aspects of the university system, like research, laboratories and libraries also not seeking government’ attention?

I believe that resources are being made available. It’s just that Nigerian government is not organised. If the Nigerian government is organised and if they could put together some of the things they do in pockets, you will discover that the government – in terms of funding federal universities – is not doing poorly. Take into consideration what TETFUND (Tertiary Education Trust Fund); what the PTDF (Petroleum Technology Development Fund) provide. There are so many interventions. It is just that they (government) are not coordinated. The government appears to be doing everything at ad hoc level. I have been the President of Association of African Universities, so I have a global view of what is happening in Africa. I know that as a matter of fact, many countries in Africa are trying to copy our TETFUND. There is GETFUND in Ghana now, the equivalent of our TETFUND. And I have seen that many countries in Africa are agitating to be paid as much as Nigerian lecturers are paid. That is not to say that Nigerian lecturers are being sufficiently paid, there is room for improvement, but it is not as poor as people make it to appear.

Would you agree that the abduction of the Chibok girls is a setback to the drive towards bridging the education gap between the southern and northern parts of the country?

I agree, it is a setback to development. It is a sad thing that it has happened. I also believe that God will reveal those behind this. I believe there can be miscreants who claim to be Muslims who might be part of it. But definitely, from what we can see, it is more than the ordinary. You can see what happened with the President of the Christian of Association of Nigeria’s jet. Even a fool will not believe the story being put forward by the Federal Government concerning the arms deal in South Africa. Many traditional leaders have told me on enquiry that they have seen aircraft – helicopters – dropping ammunition and food for these militants (Boko Haram). And they believe that there must be an official hand trying to use this so-called insurgency to cause maximum damage to Islam and Muslims in Nigeria. But as God will have it, we have seen what happened in South Africa.

Despite the stories being peddled by the Federal Government and some religious leaders, I think everybody who can see and think, will see that there are so many non-Muslims who have been arrested doing one violent thing or the other. Once those who are not Muslims are arrested, it is immediately dismissed by Marilyn Ogar of the Department of State Security. When it was the case of a former Governor of Borno and a former Chief of Army Staff, you could see that DSS did not mince words in quickly acquitting one and leaving the other, because the other man is a Muslim. You cannot get to the root of this crisis, if you think this is a religious thing – ‘the Muslims are the one’ – and you want to do everything to demonise Islam and the Muslims in Nigeria. God will continue to expose them, as He has exposed them in South Africa.

It is gladdening that there are still some sane people in this country, despite the fact that they are Christians, who have been able to speak the truth about what is really going on – that people are using Christianity in Nigeria to commit irreligious crimes; they are using religion for irreligious purposes. What these flying pastors do is that because they have created the image of men of God for themselves, security men are not critical of them. Their planes are very good materials to be used to commit all sorts of atrocities across countries of the world. I do not go for the claim of money laundering (in South Africa), I know that the Almighty Allah wanted to expose the evil they are doing.

Who are the people you are referring to?

Who are the people? It is clear for you to see. How can the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria transact such business with an aircraft belonging to the President of CAN? There are so many things to be looked at. The fact that the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs is keeping quiet is because we are still studying the situation. At the appropriate time, we will come out. We are not fools. What is happening in Nigeria now is that, they want to create the impression that Muslims are violent. But God has started to show those behind Boko Haram. Eighty per cent of those who have been killed by this Boko Haram are Muslims.

I am not persuaded any way but some people are trying to bring this ex-militant – Mujahid Dokubo-Asari – into it just to show that maybe a Muslim was involved. I don’t believe he is involved. I am not speaking for him. Go to South Africa, you are a journalist, and find out the names of the two Nigerians who were involved. Whe the press talks about these people; they deliberately do not inquire into the names of these people and they are now talking about Asari-Dokubo.

You seem to believe that the purchase of arms from South Africa were not meant for the fight against Boko Haram.

If they (arms) were to be used in the interest of the nation, it (the transaction) would have followed the correct procedure. A religious leader’s aircraft would not have been involved; the Federal Government has many aircraft to be used. They can tell that to the marines. The impression they have is that Muslims are stupid; they are docile; they don’t know what is going one. I think that is wrong. The fact that we keep quiet does not mean we are stupid.

What is then the solution?

That is why we, as Muslims, don’t have confidence in the Federal Government of Nigeria to be fair to us. On this matter, what we believe we should do is to call on an independent international body to look into it.

Which matter?

The whole Boko Haram saga: who are those arming Boko Haram and what connection does that have with what is going on in South Africa? You will recall that when the first bombing occurred in Abuja, many accusing fingers were pointed to some Muslims; that they must have done it. Somebody was caught in South Africa, he happened to be a non-Muslim. He has been convicted but it is played down because he is not a Muslim. Many Christians have been arrested; you remember the episode of the Federal Ministry of Information; you remember the Bauchi episode; you remember the Osogbo episode. These are non-Muslims who were caught unleashing or about to unleash violence on people. But because they were non-Muslims, the issues were not played up. But there are hundreds of Muslims who are being detained; who are being persecuted simply on the suspicion that they are Boko Haram, whereas, the real Boko Haram are left to go about to perpetrate what they are perpetrating in this country.

The Federal Government should deeply look inwards. The persecution of Muslims must stop in this country. We want a country that is just to all; a country which everybody will be proud to be a member of. A situation where you are using agencies of government to persecute and suppress a group will not work.

But there is a forum where the Islamic body meets with the Christian body, especially on the issues of Boko Haram and insecurity in the country.

We don’t meet on Boko Haram. We don’t meet on terrorism. Let me tell you, we have the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council but for now I don’t want to talk about that. You cannot continue to play politics with religion. What is happening now is that we are playing politics with religion. Religious leadership in Nigeria has been infiltrated by crooks and criminals and they are just using religion as a camouflage to commit atrocities against this nation and the citizens. You can imagine that if what happened in South Africa had involved a Muslim, by now, the Muslim would have been arrested. Look at the people who were accused of either kidnapping or of Boko Haram membership; military will destroy the whole house, even if the landlord is not living there. What’s the offence? ‘You have given out your house to kidnappers or Boko Haram, so we must destroy.’ Why would that not apply in the case of the aircraft now? Is it because that there is no Islamic link to those who were found?

Has the Muslim community ever raised these issues of alleged persecution before the President or the government?

When you raise issues, what happens? Did we not raise the issue that Muslims were marginalised in the case of the National Conference, where only about one-third or less of the chosen members were Muslims? Didn’t the President promise us that he was going to rectify it? Did he do anything? He didn’t do anything simply because the religious contractors might have advised him that he should not do anything. After he promised us, did he do anything?

Would Muslims also complain about marginalisation over appointments into public offices?

It is obvious. You are journalist, go and find out what is happening in the military, the police and in public service. Go and see where a Muslim chief executive is removed and look at who replaces him; where a Christian is removed, look at who replaces him. We are not fools. For the fact that we are not talking now should not be taken as if we are ignorant. We are keeping quiet because we know that we have to pay some price for national security. It will get to a point that the government will know that Muslims are not fools in this country.

Have you noticed the alleged marginalisation and persecution under the current administration?

It is pronounced under this administration. It is particularly pronounced. Go and do the analysis yourself. You say you want to empower minorities, why have you not appointed a minister from the South-East who is a Muslim? Why have you not appointed a minister from the South-South who is a Muslim? But you can go and search for a Christian in Borno; you can go and look for a Christian in Sokoto. Is that not selective searching? God has started in His own way of revealing the evil. I am sure that at the end of the day when we get to the root of what is happening in this country, people will know that some people are committed to the destruction of this country.

What about the allegation that the Islamic body has not been doing enough to seek the release the abducted Chibok girls and end the terrorism in the country?

What would we have done? We have issued statements so many times. All Muslims are now being treated as culprits. The fact that you are a Muslim, makes you a suspect even if you do nothing. There was poor construction in that church in Lagos and the building collapsed. And when they were looking for reasons, they said it was Boko Haram – ridiculous claim. Some of these stories are offensive to anybody who is reasonable. The Federal Government has to reassess itself, be upright and just.

What is the Islamic community doing to help to tackle terrorism?

As far as we are concerned, we believe that we need an independent body to assess who are Boko Haram members; who are their sponsors? They started with a story that it is because the northerners have lost political power but that is not selling now.

What do you think is the implication of the spate of insecurity and the perceived marginalisation of Muslims on the 2015 general elections?

I don’t know about that. 2015 or not 2015, my prayer is that God will see this country through whatever it is. That is what we are saying; whether it influences it or does not influence it, we are not religious politicians, we are just religious people. Those who are active politicians and camouflaging as religious bodies, we leave them to their conscience. As far as we are concerned, religion is not the issue. We are a country that has come together as a multi-religious state.

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