Islam in Nigeria and the current political situation
|Culture – Political Analysis|
Question: Is there any historical information about the advent of Islam in Nigeria and how it was ruled under Islam? What is the current political situation there?
Answer: Historical perspective: (1) Islam entered the northern region of Kanoo in Nigeria very early in the middle of the seventh century and from there it spread to the Hausa and al-Faulani regions in the north and central Nigeria. This spread was a result of trade activity. In the middle of the tenth century, it spread and became prevalent through the scholars of jurisprudence from Spain. These regions became an Islamic ‘Imara and were referred as the ‘Uthmani Khilafah or the Sokoto khilafah after ‘Uthman Danfodev and he ruled for close to a hundred years until the British annexed it in the year 1904 C.E. During the same period another Islamic sultanate was establish by al-Rabih bin Zubair and was called the Borno Sultanate. The Maliki school of thought is prevalent in the Shari’ah courts of Nigeria and most Muslims there are sunnis. Islamic Shari’ah laws are partially applied in 12 of the regional provinces of Nigeria.
According to the statistics of the 2006 census, the population of Nigeria exceeds 140 million a majority of which are Muslims. Various statistical estimates have put the Muslim population share between 68 to 78%.
The geographical area of Nigeria is approximately 1 million square kilometers and it is the 32nd largest country in the world in terms of land area.
(2) Nigeria was first discovered by the Europeans at the hands of the Portuguese traveler John Alphonso D’mizi in the 15th century C.E and was followed by the visits of other travelers such as the Dutch, the British and French which was followed by the European traders who used the port of Lagos to ship around 7 million Africans between 1450 and 1897 C.E. to exploit their labour and work in Europe.
In 1885 C.E., the British declared the West African region as colonies under its tutelage and this declaration was globally acknowledged. In the following year, the Royal Niger Company under the leadership of Sir George Tompan Goldie declared the regions as its territory and in the year 1900 C.E. this region came under the direct control of the British government.
Between the period 1900 to 1904 C.E., Britain was able to eliminate the Islamic rule and consolidate the various regions which later came to be called as Nigeria.
(3) It was not until the year 1914 that this region was referred as Nigeria which was given by the British to the regions between the Gulf of Guinea to the south, the Great Saharan region of Chad to the north, Benin to the west and Chad & Cameroon in the east. The British colonialists had established three colonies in the northern, southern and the Lagos regions.
The British colonialists adopted different approaches to rule the various regions: in the southern and the Lagos regions, they used the typical colonialist method which they were using in their other colonies; a salient feature of this was to take along the Christian missionaries in order to convert the local people to Christianity.
But since Islam was predominant in the northern regions, the British allowed the Muslims some degree to self-rule under the British supervision. Thus the colonialists were able to isolate the Muslim majority from the pagan Christian minority in the south so that Islam does not spread to the southern region and remains a divided heterogeneous country for long-term British influence.
The British colonialists used two means to consolidate is stronghold on Nigeria: First was the Shell Company’s monopoly on Nigerian oilfields from the very beginning of oil business. The Shell Company continues to enjoy a monopoly over 40 to 50% of the total oil production in Nigeria. The second tool which the British used was the Christian missionary work which allowed them to convert roughly 40% of the local population.
(4) In terms of population, Nigeria is one of the top eight Muslim countries, it is a member of the OIC as well as the British Commonwealth since 1963. Yet it is a divided nation with no distinct identity. It has some 250 ethnic tribes the biggest three being Hausa and al-Faulani in the north, a majority of these tribes are Muslims and comprise over half the population of the country; and the Yorba in the central and southern region which accounts for about 25% of the population, a majority of whom are Christians but with a sizable Muslim minority. The south-central region is inhabited by the tribe of Ibo who are some 18% and are Catholic Christians, they are called the Jews of Nigeria, and they are wealthy, they once controlled the Nigerian oil.
(5) Nigeria was placed under a resolution passed by the League of Nations in 1922 C.E. and Britain was forced to grant a symbolic independence on October 1st, 1960 C.E along with other colonies under its control. The British were in fact alarmed by the rising American colonialism which emerged from across the Atlantic in its greed for the enormous natural resources in Nigeria.
When it regained its independence, it went to be ruled by the Christian Ibo tribe who were generously given wealth and education under the colonialist masters, the first ruler was Binyamin Namdi Azikoi. The rule was then taken over by General Johnson Aghelli Aronsi who also was from the same tribe and he consolidated the rule as the monopolistic fiefdom of the Ibo tribe. He assassinated his rivals of the Muslim tribes of Hausa including prime minister Abu Bakr, the northern leader Ahmad Balua, General Zakaria Mimlari, Col. Kor Mohamed etc. then in May, 1966, he abolished the federal system of governance and promulgated a unified constitution in his attempt to further consolidate his grip on power.
Despite these, he could not remain in power for long and was assassinated within six months…in 1967, the Ibo tribe revolted and under the leadership of Col. Shikomeka Oedemegua and declared separation of the oil-rich Biafra region inhabited by them. This resulted in civil war which lasted for three years during which some 1 million people were killed. The Muslim Hausa trine emerged as victorious defeating the Christian Ibo tribe.
Then there were other revolutions and coups until Obasanjo came to power on 13th February, 1976 C.E and continued to rule until October 1st, 1979. He was a Christian from the Yorba tribe who were aligned with the Hausa and came to power with the blessings of the armed forces leadership who were also from the Muslim tribe of Hausa.
During his rule, Obasanjo adopted a new constitution in 1978 paving way for presidential elections which were first held in 1979 and won by Shaikhu Shajari of the Hausa tribe.
Coups followed and were repeated until 1985 when General Ibrahim Babangida of the Hausa came to power.
General Ibrahim Babangida survived two coup attempts in 1990 and during the same year, he ratified a new constitution which paved the way for return to civilian rule in the country.
In 1993, another presidential election was held under US and international pressure which were won by Mas’oud Abiola, a Muslim from the Yorba tribe, but General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the elections and jailed Mas’oud Abiola, but relented later under international pressure and stepped own from power in favour of Ernest Shonekan who did not have any support from the armed forces. Then on 17th November, Defence Minister Col Sani Abacha, seized power in a coup against the Shonekan government.
Another presidential election was announced in 1998, but President Sani Abacha died before the elections and as a result Abdus Salam Abu Bakr of the Hausa tribe, who was a presidential aide under Sani Abacha, came to power. With this, thirty years of military rule came to an end.
General elections were held in 1999 C.E. in which Obasanjo won unanimously and remained in office for two terms from 29th May, 1999 until 29th May, 2007 C.E. Throughout his term, Obasanjo was clearly aligned with America and was most hostile towards Muslims.
The last elections were held in April, 2007 which were won by Moussa Yar’ Auda who continues to rule until today.
(1) Because of the enormous natural resources in Nigeria, the big powers, especially the US and Britain are locked in a bitter conflict. Nigeria is the 12th largest producer of petroleum in the world and the 8th largest exporter, and has the 10th largest proven reserves. Nigeria’s proven oil reserves are estimated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) at between 16 and 22 billion barrels, but other sources claim there could be as much as 35.3 billion barrels. In mid-2001 its crude oil production was averaging around 2.2 million barrels per day. Petroleum plays a large role in the Nigerian economy, and accounts for 40% of GDP and 80% of Government revenue. Nigeria is a member of the Oil-Producing Export Countries (OPEC), but it is also the world’s 12th largest producer of crude oil. The oil is concentrated in the Nigerian Delta, which is some 20,000 square kilometres in area and is the cauldron of Nigerian political and economic life. It consists of wetland, mangrove swamps, waterways, muddy creeks and coastal islands. It is the hub of Nigeria’s bn-a-year oil & gas industry, with thousands of miles of oil pipelines and associated infrastructure. 90% of Nigeria’s oil exports are produced from here.
Nigeria also has a wide array of underexploited mineral resources which include natural gas, coal, bauxite, tantalite, gold, tin, iron ore, limestone, niobium, lead and zinc. Despite huge deposits of these natural resources, the mining industry in Nigeria is still in it infancy. However, the gas reserves are three times as substantial as the crude oil reserves.
(2) Since the British discovered oil in the Nigerian Delta in 1950, the British Royal Dutch Shell company has dominated Nigeria’s political, economic and foreign policy ventures. After independence from the UK, successive Nigerian governments have introduced legislation and favourable economic policies to benefit Shell at the expense of the people of the country. For instance the people of the delta states live in extreme poverty even in the face of great material wealth found in the waters by their homes. According to Amnesty International 70% of the six million people in the Niger River Delta live off of less than US per day.
What makes oil in Nigeria particularly attractive is that much of Nigeria’s petroleum is classified as “light” or “sweet”, meaning the oil is largely free of sulphur and in cost terms easy to extract. Nigeria has 159 total oil fields and 1481 wells in operation according to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources. The most productive region of the nation is the coastal Niger Delta Basin in the Niger Delta or “South-south” region which encompasses 78 of the 159 oil fields. Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), usually known simply as Shell Nigeria accounts for fifty percent of Nigerian’s total oil production (899,000 bbl/d) operates largely onshore on dry land or in the mangrove swamp in the Niger Delta. The company has more than 100 producing oil fields, and a network of more than 6,000 kilometres of pipelines, flowing through 87 flow stations. SPDC operates 2 coastal oil export terminals. Shell Nigeria owns concessions on four companies, they are: Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO), Shell Nigeria Gas (SNG), Shell Nigeria Oil Products (SNOP), as well as holding a major stake in Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG).
(3) Considering that Britain held influence over Nigeria until the death of Sani Abacha, and due to its stronghold over oil production in Nigeria and also because 10% of all Nigerian oil production was imported by Britain, its security presence is consolidated in the country, especially over the armed forces which it controlled. President Babangida signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in 1985 with the Shell Company in order to secure the interests of Britain; this MoU was renewed with some modifications in 1991C.E.
(4) However, with the entry of the United States, especially after 1999 during the term of Obasanjo, the monopoly of the British companies was challenged and America adopted a two-pronged strategy to defy this influence over Nigerian oil:
First: America supported the Nigerian opposition and rebels in the Nigerian delta and gave them loans through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and also supplied arms under a structural modifications program. This created problems for the Shell Oil Company in exporting Nigerian oil, while the American ExxonMobil and Chevron substantially increased their investments in Nigeria. It was estimated that Exxon-Mobil would increase its output to 900,000 bbl/d by 2000 and by 2005 overtake Shell as the country’s largest producer. This rivalry between UK and US for domination of Nigeria’s petroleum industry wrought havoc on the people of the Nigerian delta. Through a clandestine network of shadow private mercenary companies and covert support for a variety of rebel groups these oil companies have on occasions bitterly attacked each other’s oil interests. It was during the Bush junior’s era that the US oil industry used its links with senior administration officials such as Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld to push for a far more aggressive oil policy in Nigeria than that followed by Bill Clinton. This in part was driven by America’s desire to reduce its reliance on Middle Eastern oil, and in part driven by the greed of the US oil companies to secure a larger share of oil. In the major energy policy documents of the Bush Administration West Africa featured prominently as a safe source of imported oil. For example, one of main recommendations VP Cheney’s National Energy Policy Report makes to the President is “to deepen bilateral and multilateral engagements[with African governments] to promote a more receptive environment for US oil and gas trade, investment and operations”. But it was not until Bush’s 2006 State of the Union address, that he spelt out clearly America’s vision to wean itself off Middle Eastern oil. He said “…replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025…make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.” Hence US attention turned towards West Africa and Nigeria in particular. By March 2007, Nigeria had edged past Saudi Arabia to become America’s third largest supplier, delivering 41,717,000 barrels of oil to the desert kingdom’s 38,557,000. This also means that energy security of Nigerian oil is an important aspect of American foreign policy. In 2006, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi E. Frazier, pledged to increase American Naval presence in the Gulf of Guinea.
Second: America intensified its interference in the African continent especially during the terms of the former presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush and was thus able to apply pressure upon Nigeria as well as build its public opinion there as well as elsewhere in the African continent against military rule. It encouraged multi-party elections. This approach enabled it to effectively counter the British as well as French stronghold in Africa.
Thus America put its weight behind the civilian leaderships and supported them to come to power. It also supported the idea of multi-party elections and as a result, a leadership emerged which were wither America’s full fledged agents or cooperated with the US.
This is what actually happened, the US supported Obasanjo against the British backed armed forces leaders such as Babangida and Sani Abacha who were protecting and promoting British interests. Babangida had signed a MoU with the British Shell Oil Company and Abacha had dedicatedly supported British interests against American interests even beyond the geographical borders of Nigeria in the neighbouring territories. Nigeria had led the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which was even run by Nigerians. The ECOWAS promoted and protected British interests in the region and its armed forces even went to Sierra Leone during the rule of Abacha in the 1990′s and restored the rule of Ahmed Teejan in 1998 which the British were openly calling for. Also in 1997, the ECOWAS forces entered Liberia to help Charles Taylor during a long-drawn civil war. Thus Nigeria actively protected British presence in Sierra Leone and Liberia and it is said that it spent some 10 billion dollars in what is called the Peace Restoration in these two countries. The then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US armed forces even referred to Sani Abacha as the Short Abhorring person because of this hatred towards Abacha who frustrated American agenda against British interests in West Africa. It may be interesting to note that the US through pressure tactics, its support and its siege of Liberia forced Taylor out of power in favour of his deputy Mosees Balau. Taylor fled Liberia in took refuge in Nigeria in the year 2003. Taylor used to proclaim himself as the one who resisted and frustrated US interests in the West African region in general and Liberia in particular.
America succeeded in holding multi-party elections in Nigeria during 1999 and brought Obasanjo to power with its support and assistance. During Obasanjo’s term, Nigeria became the largest recipient of US aid which reached 40 million dollars annually as against merely 10 million dollars during the military rule. In return, Obasanjo served America like no other Nigerian ruler had hither to. Some of the important services that he rendered for the Americans are:
1. His naval forces held routine naval exercises with the US Navy under the so-called War on Terror.
Thus America used these two means: Supporting Nigerian opposition, and promoting civilian rule and multi-party elections. This approach enabled the US to thwart British oil companies and is now almost ahead of them.
(5) In addition, by bringing in Obasanjo in 1999, the US was also able to counter the British influence both politically and militarily. Thus in addition to the naval exercises, Obasanjo also signed an agreement with the Americans to provide military training for Nigerian armed forces personnel. His visit to the US in May 2001 further consolidated and strengthened US-Nigerian cooperation for the first time. His policies were not free from severe criticism in Nigeria itself, especially his allowing the US Navy in Nigerian territorial waters was intensely criticised. Obasanjo cultivated close relationship with the US and became a member of various American societies.
During his rule, the Nigerian budget would first go to Washington to be reviewed so that it would be acceptable to the World Bank. Earlier it was only discussed and passed in the national legislative parliament of Nigeria.
In conclusion, it may be said that Obasanjo was able to substantially weaken the British stronghold within the military establishment in Nigeria. Within a short period of his taking over power, 200 military officers who were loyal to the pro-British generals were dismissed from the armed forces in the Northern region. In fact, Fimi Falana, a human rights lawyer commented during a show with As’ad Taha on al-Jazeerah TV channel on 30th February, 2002: “Nigeria has now become an American colony.” i.e. during the Obasanjo’s term in office.
Obasanjo was not content with merely implementing American policies alone, he tightened the noose around the former generals who were loyal to the British and even tried to recover the money which they had earlier swindled. He curtailed their governmental privileges which were given to them. He made desperate attempts to recover 1.30 million dollars swindled by the late president Abacha and tried to deposit them in 23 different UK banks, but Britain refused his request.
It is pertinent to point out that Obasanjo was highly influenced with American concepts:
As for the civilian rule: Though he came to power in 1976 through a military coup, he restored civilian rule and handed over power to a civilian named Shekhu Shajari who had won in the elections held by Obasanjo in 1979 C.E.
As for his excellent relations with the US: During Obasanjo’s rule, 3 US presidents visited Nigeria:
During his first military term, Jimmy Carter visited Nigeria in 1978.
During his second term as civilian ruler, 2 presidents made visits: Bill Clinton in 2000 and George Bush in 2003 C.E.
(6) After the completion of Obasanjo’s 8 years in office until 2007, the present incumbent Omar Moussa Yar’ Adua won the elections and came to power. Omar Moussa is only the second civilian president of Nigeria who has power through a civilian transfer of authority. He enjoys the support of Obasanjo and the US to complete the task which his predecessor began, and that is to tie Nigeria to American interests and guarantee it strongly. The newspaper Sharq al- Awsat reported through its correspondent Mahmoud al-Doungho who said: “The new president is an obscure person, he is one who merely run everything in favour of the former president Obasanjo.” Some people describe Omar Moussa Yar’ Adua as a mere protégé of Obasanjo, which also implies that he is a mere puppet in the hands of America. It may be mentioned that Omar Moussa is from Obasanjo’s own party i.e. the Democratic Peoples Party.
Since he does not have the kind of personality that his predecessor had, his stance towards America is also not as strong and intense, and he is aware of it. Therefore he tries to befriend Britain and its agents while also treading the path of his predecessor in serving American interests.
Though he visited the US term shortly after taking over power, in mid December, 2007, and met George Bush, he also visited Britain in July, 2008 and met Gordon Brown. He had earlier visited Libya also.
(7) However, the political conflict in Nigeria is not as intense as it was during the military regimes i.e. until the time of Sani Abacha when the British stronghold was very evidently strong. It is neither like the first and second term of Obasanjo when the balance of power was in America’s favour, the conflict is potentially hot.
On the one hand, there is a president who is brought in by the US and who believes in the concepts of civilian rule and democracy, therefore the US influence is stronger, but at the same time, the current president is not a strong personality.
While on the other hand, elements loyal to Britain are in the armed forces…and the main ‘booty’ in this conflict is the Nigerian oil apart from the strategic location of Nigeria in the West African continent.
And if the US does not extend more and more of aid to the current president, the pro-British men especially the armed forces will return to power as they were in the past.