It’s of great concern to all the good people of Borno that the commissioning of the biggest and historic central mosque in Maiduguri is being overshadowed by needless dirty politics.
To say that the completion of the mosque after over 30 years, courtesy the efforts of His Eminence, Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbai el-Kanemi, and Borno State governments, is not a source of pride is an understatement.
The attainment of this great feat, however, is jeopardized by the activities of some political actors in Borno State to the buildup of the commissioning. The Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, under whose administration the mosque has been finally completed, has invited the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saad Abubakar to commission the mosque.
From its face value, the Sultan’s invite looks so harmless and innocent. But a critical deciphering into the intendment of the invite will avail any observer of a calculated attempt to use the historic event to ridicule and spite the great people of Borno, their history, culture, and spiritual antecedents.
There is no denying the fact that the Sultan is the scion of the Islamic Caliphate of Sokoto established by revered Sheikh Usman bn Fodio in 1804. On the hand, Islam was adopted as a state religion nearly 1000 years before the birth of Sokoto Caliphate. Talking about spirituality, Borno, not Sokoto, is the headquarters of Islam in western Africa, only to be followed by the old Ghana empire.
It was recorded that Islam was adopted by the Sayfawa Dynasty around 1068. By the end of the 11th century, during the reign of Mai Umme (later known as Ibn ʿAbd al-Jalīl) Kanem-Bornu became an Islāmic state. Due to its location, it served as a point of contact in trade and religious evangelism between North Africa, the Nile Valley, and the sub-Sahara region.
Not only that, the invitation of Sultan to the historic event is a money-guzzling venture, in which the scarce public resources of the state will be needlessly expended for his logistics which include chartered flights, among others. This is coming at a time our people who were deprived of decent living were dying in IDP camps because of malnutrition, disease and psychological trauma.
When the Central Jumuat Mosque of Damaturu was completed it was commissioned by Shehu of Borno himself as the head of Kanem Bornu Empire, the Chief Imam of Borno, as well as Sheikh Shareef Ibrahim Saleh Al-Husseini, an erudite scholar of Hadith, as well as Sheikh Abubakar El-Miskin. If Damaturu people, which was part of Bornu Empire could honour the above eminent Islamic personalities of Bornu, it this beggars the question why Borno state government is not doing same. Instead, it is honouring the Sultan of Sokoto whose Islamic Caliphate was established about 700 years later.
The good people of Borno’s protest of the Sultan’s invite was also precipitated by the fact that the Sultan had never stepped his toes in their state in the last 10 years of Boko Haram insurgency. That is their anger. They were forsaken by the “spiritual leader” of Nigerian Muslims when a murderous Boko Haram sect unleashed terror on them.
According to the North East Nigeria Recovery and Peace Building Assessment (RPBA) report in 2016, the impact of Boko Haram conflict in the region cost $9 billion (three trillion two hundred fifty-three billion five hundred million naira).
The data said Borno was worse hit by the crisis with a loss of $6 billion (two trillion one hundred sixty-nine billion naira).
The report said the region suffered damage worth $3 billion in housing alone. No fewer than 20,000 lives were lost while 1.8 million people were displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency.
It was surprising that when all these atrocities were going on for 10 years, the Sultan was nowhere to be found. He neither contemplated coming to Borno for condolence or any event that will give solace to the grief-stricken people of Borno. Why is he coming for mosque commissioning and at our state coffers expense now? This is insulting to the collective senses of Borno people.
Surprisingly, the Sultan has carved a niche for himself in frequenting other states for other reasons. Only last week, the Sultan was in Bauchi for the meeting of the Catholics. Before then, he was at various times in Taraba and Benue states. But he never deemed it fit to visit Borno, the epicentre of the lethal insurgency; nor mobilise other northern traditional leaders to identify with the Borno people when Boko Haram was at the peak of its murderous rampage.
For the past 11 years that the Sultan was on the throne, we can’t remember him personally donating a dime for the completion of the mosque, or mobilising other Hausa traditional rulers to do same. While the mosque remained abandoned, the biggest individual donation was N200 million by Alhaji Kashim Imam.
If there is any glory to share over the completion of the mosque, the Shehu of Borno, Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbai el-Kanemi, should take a large chunk of it, if not all. It was the Shehu, who after his coronation in 2009, made the completion of the abandoned mosque a priority.
During his coronation, the Shehu agonized over the absence of a central mosque edifice in Maiduguri. He said the non-existence of a befitting mosque has been a source of shame to the people of Borno state where Islam was established over 1000 years ago.
As a result of that, the Shehu continued to make contacts including appeals to then Governor Ali Modu Sheriff for the state government to foot the required bill for the completion of the mosque which had reached about 60 percent completion before it was abandoned.
On March 11, 2011, the Shehu’s dream came to life as the contract for the completion of the mosque was signed between the committee set up by the state government and A.G Ferrero and Co. Ltd at the cost of N876, 835,257.87 with a completion period of 60 weeks.
If Governor Shettima is embarking on this needless odyssey for political reasons, then he better read the clear handwriting on the wall that this is unacceptable and demeaning. The Borno governor is acting a script that was once tried but failed in the past. In the early 1960s, the Premier of Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, also a scion of the Sokoto Caliphate, wanted to subsume Borno under the caliphate. To achieve that plan, the premier arranged a meeting between Sultan Abubakar III and Shehu of Borno Garbai, the first ever between the leaders of the two empires. Kanem Bornu Empire extended to Chad, Sudan up to the Red Sea, we therefore wonder why such a monumental empire with and long years of history, be subdued under a new caliphate.
The people of Borno, in all fairness, should be treated with all decorum and respect. The Sultan doesn’t seem to understand that philosophy. For instance, while NIREC, an interfaith body is co-chaired by the Sultan and the national president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the other bodies such as JNI, NSCIA and the council of northern traditional rulers, is solely headed by the Sultan. What stops him from co-chairing the three bodies with the Shehu of Borno? Is this fairness?
The message is clear: the good people of Borno will protest this. The governor should know that whenever the advert of the commissioning of the mosque is aired on the Borno State Television Corporation, elders and youths would be heard discussing the issue. The Sultan’s invite is becoming one of the most unpopular decisions by the incumbent Borno state government. The verdict of the great people of Borno is: The Sultan can’t be a fair-weather visitor. He was not a friend in need, therefore, he can’t be one indeed.
Comrade Ali is of Concerned Borno Progressive Citizens