Problems of Religious Harmony under the Babangida Regime

 Problems of Religious Harmony under the Babangida Regime

Saidu Dogo

The Background

Before I proceed to discuss the topic, I would like to trace briefly the history of the advent of the two foreign religions i.e. Christianity and Islam; that are today the main religions on our land.

The two came separately. While Islam came from North/West through Sokoto in the 17th century, Christianity came from Southern Coast through Lagos and Calabar in the 18th century. However, Christianity eventually got to the North through Bishop Ajayi Crowther. Initially there were no conflicts as such except for the fact that every religion wanted to win more converts. Then came the Sokoto Jihad led by Usman Dan Fodio who conquered various sections of the North up to Ilorin. After the Jihad everything subsided but for some pockets of conflicts or disharmony here and there. The disaffections that followed the Sokoto Jihad were however not so much pronounced.

But the last couple of years have seen the occurrence of many religious disharmony that led to violent conflicts in Nigeria particularly in Northern Nigeria. These had resulted in violent clashes, claiming several human lives and loss of property. Unfortunately, the disharmony are of both intra and inter religious dimensions. Some of these include the Mohammed Marwa Maitatsine clashes in Kano (1980), Kaduna (1982), Maiduguri (1983), Yola (1984) and Gombe (1985). Others of different nature were Kafanchan (1987), Katsina (1991), Kano (1991), Tafawa-Balewa and Bauchi (1991), _Zangon Kataf and other parts of Kaduna State – (1992), Kano (1994), Kaduna (1996) and Kano (1997), Kafanchan (1998) and Kaduna (2000). There are of course minor ones that were not reported.

However, it appears that since 1998, lack of religious harmony have become the order of the day.

The Babangida Factor

As I said earlier, there was a noticeable increase in disaffection and suspicion between followers of these main religions since 1980s to date. However, the period in focus, IBB administration, witnessed more religious disharmony leading to violent conflicts than ever before.

When Babangida seized power from Gen. Muhammadu Buhari through a coup, he was received with mixed feelings: Right from the onset nobody understood exactly what his programs were and why he actually came to power. But the veil was removed from the people’s eyes when the evils behind his smiling face started unfolding.

He unashamedly and in utter disregard for national unity manifested his naked discriminatory religious posture through overt and convert acts of patronage and preference for Islamic religion. A chronicle of his activities while in office is a clear indication that his mission in office was to Islamise the country to please those who ‘sponsored’ him.

Babangida’s administration more than any before it built up religious tension in the country to a dimension that is capable of obliterating the foundations of our corporate entity as a country.

He started implementing his hidden religious agenda with his romance with the Organisation of. Islamic Conference (OIC). And in 1986 he, without due consultation with his colleagues and the generality of Nigerians surreptitiously dragged Nigeria into the membership of the Islamic body, the OIC. Everybody knows that this organisation’s principal motive is the expansion of Islam.

This apart, he also went ahead to subscribe the country to the membership of the, Islamic Development Bank where Nigeria holds 0.32% shares. This was contained in the bank’s legal information document published in January 1988.

Just four months after his government came into office, he used the government owned New Nigerian Newspapers to sponsor a debate for the entrenchment of Sharia in our constitution. This was done in 1985. Despite the fact that he knew that the subject is a tension builder, he went ahead with it so as to lay the foundation for his desired goal of Islamising Nigeria. His action jettisoned a report submitted by notable Northern leaders in 1961 that full implementation of Sharia could not operate alongside Western laws in Nigeria.

Speaking on this subject recently, according to the National Concord edition of October 5, 2000, the Second Republic majority leader of the Borno State House of Assembly, Alhaji Sugaba Abdulrahman recalled how prominent Islamic scholars like late Abubakar Gumi and Alhaji Abubakar Imam toured some Islamic countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan during the First Republic and came out with a verdict that full Sharia is not practiceable in Nigeria. Alhaji Sugaba also quoted the team as saying that “even Saudi Arabia does not practise full Islamic laws

But to further aggravate the polarisation of the Nigerian populace, he went on with the debate using tax payers money. He ultimately succeeded in reawakening the consciousness of the people over a delicate issue that had hitherto been laid to rest.

In reacting to this debate the, Christian Association of Nigeria (Northern Zone) in its publication in New Nigerian edition of January 16, 1986 predicted thus and quote: “The debate (Sharia debate) was a prelude to ensuring that in any subsequent constitutional arrangement in this country, Islam will be imposed on, this country.”

Ladies and gentlemen, it will not surprise you that this prophetic suspicion started manifesting itself when eight months after CAN’S warning, the council of Ulama in the New Nigerian edition of September 29, 1986 threatened that:

“Muslims in the country have vowed to reject any new political order that does not recognise the un-inhibited application of Sharia law in Nigeria”.

And shortly after, specifically two months after, Babangida came out with Decree No.26 of 1986 purely for the purpose of achieving the un-inhibited application of Islamic law in all civil matters before the Sharia Court of Appeal. Furthermore, while the Sharia debate was going on at the Constituent Assembly and a democratic resolution of the issue was rearing its head, Babangida again, interrupted this democratic process by stopping the debate and took the issue out of the competence of the Constituent Assembly and exclusively vested such in the hands of the members of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) where he could easily manipulate his way and get his agenda rubber stamped.

You can all see that the seed planted by Babangida is what the Zamfara State governor is nurturing till this day. Also, in his attempt to perpetuate the erroneous idea that the North is predominantly Islam, he reduced the ratio of military governors in the North to 3 Christian governors against 8 Muslim governors in 1989. Again out of 22 ministers he appointed, 13 were Muslims against 10 Christian Ministers.

According to a CAN publication, titled: “Leadership in Nigeria,” it showed that most key offices in IBB regime were held by Muslims.

A quick look at this will confirm the point that I am trying to say.

President                                                        (Muslim)                      IBB

Chief of Army Staff                                       (Muslim)                      Lt. Gen Sani Abacha

Chief of Airforce                                            (Muslim)                      Air-MarshalIbrahim Alfa

The three Arms of security services:

S.S.S                                                               (Muslim)

N.I.A                                                               (Muslim)

Military Intelligence                                        (Muslim)

Education Minister                                         (Muslim)                      Prof. Jibril Aminu

JAMB Secretary                                             (Muslim)                      Dr. Abdulkadir

NUC Secretary                                               (Muslim)                      Prof. Yahaya Aliyu

Director Gen. in

Education Ministry                                         (Muslim)                      Alhaji Yahaya Hamza

Central Bank Governor                                   (Muslim)                      Alhaji A. Ahmed

Petroleum Minister                                          (Muslim)                      Alh. Rilwanu Lukman

Inspector General of Police                            (Muslim)                      Alh.Muhammadu Gambo

Chief Justice of the Federation                       (Muslim)                      Alh. Mohammed Bello

Attorney General of the federation                (Muslim)                      Prince Bola Ajibola

Majority of Board Chairmen of Government owned Banks – (Muslim).

Majority of Board Chairmen of Parastatals – (Muslims) etc.

Babangida did not stop at this level. He made sure that he blackmailed Christian leaders across the country most especially in the Northern part of the country. He arrested Christian leaders at random on flimsy excuses. He even linked Christian leaders to the Gideon Okar led coup and got some of us arrested and detained.

Perhaps he misunderstood the position of Northern Christian leaders on his government particularly our decision to form a Christian ex-service Men Association. Because Okar recruited some ex-servicemen to execute his plans, Babangida concluded that we were the brains behind Okar’s coup and clamped us – my humble self, Ambassador Jolly Tanko Yusuf and Engineer Samuel Salifu in detention.

This is not the only association that we formed. We have Christian Market Women and Men Association, Christian Corpers Association, and Christian Teachers Association to mention a few and the aim of these associations, is to know who to deal with in time of trouble. In short, for administrative convenience.

In his attempt to paralyse the economic power of the areas mostly dominated by Christians in the Northern part of the country, Babangida decided to relocate military installations in these areas to Muslim dominated zones of the North. This action also goes further to aggravate – the polarisation of the country along religious lines. For example, Babangida removed the School of Artillery in Kachia, Kaduna State and relocated it to Kotangora, Niger State his home state. He also relocated the Armoured Brigade from Jos in Plateau State to Bauchi in Bauchi State, to mention but a few.

The polarisation of the country along religious lines continued even up to secondary school level. His governors particularly that of Kaduna State, Major Abubakar Umar introduced two sets of uniforms for female secondary school students to portray their religious beliefs. Thus, both female Christian and Muslim students maintain two sets of uniform to this day in the state and perhaps their sitting arrangements in their classrooms are also along their religious lines. This is to further create disharmony and mutual suspicion among young Nigerians. He, as the Commander-in-Chief did not deem it fit to stop any of his governors found in this act. In fact, he encouraged them because his plan was to Islamise the country. Babangida did all these to deliberately cause division among Muslims and Christians. And he succeeded to a large extent as he found willing tools in the hands of some Islamic leaders who took him as a Messiah for taking them to OIC.

The country’s permanent membership of OIC had adverse effect on the economy and socio-cultural relationship among Nigerians. He betrayed Christians as there is no economic benefit that worth our joining the organisation.

General Babangida will obviously go down in history as the President that, more than any before him, polarised the religious consciousness of the country. He had every chance to make Nigeria great if he had used religion positively and opted for the path of sanity out of sharia or religious laws. But he did not use religion for effective developments instead he harnessed it for division. And what we are experiencing today is as a result of Babangida’s manipulation of religion, which he started during his reign.

The question is, in the face of all these happenings did we as Christian leaders watch helplessly without making any effort for redress? It will interest you that we explored all available avenues to obtain justice, but the President turned deaf ears to us. A typical example was the letter we wrote to him (Babangida) at the height of the Kafanchan 1987 upheaval that enveloped parts of the defunct Kaduna State. (see annex). But to our greatest surprise there was nothing useful from Babangida. He even removed the then General Officer Commanding, One Mechanised Division, Nigerian Army, Kaduna, Brigadier Peter Adomakhai who ordered a shoot-at-sight of rioters. The GOC did this as a tactical way of returning peace to Kaduna State but surprisingly, Babangida saw it differently and he consequently removed him.

However, inspite of all these costly errors, he was able to score a good political/religious point by his decision to normalise the severed diplomatic relations with Israel. Perhaps, Babangida did this to placate the Christians whom he had persecuted but unknown to him that singular act brought a lot of blessings for this country because the scripture says that whosoever blesses Israel would be blessed. Gen. 12:3 says: “I will bless those who bless you (Israel) and whoever curse you I will curse and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”.

Without mincing words, this (divine blessing) could be the reason why the country escaped disintegration in the face of violent protests and tensions that attended the annulment of the June 12 general elections acclaimed to have been won by late Chief M.K.O Abiola. Aside from this, it was also a miracle (also due to the blessing) that Nigeria survived the crisis that greeted the attempts to introduce full implementation of Sharia in parts of the country particularly in Kaduna State.


As I said earlier IBB had every chance to succeed. Rather he thought that he was clever by dabbling into religious matters and openly took side with Islamic religion and this was his undoing.

This is a good example to political_ leaders that they cannot take the place of religious leaders. Religion should be left to religious leaders alone. Zamfara State governor, Alhaji Ahmed Sani who introduced political Sharia ought to have profited from the mistakes of IBB.

We want to use this forum to advise our political leaders to strictly, for the sake of unity of this country, leave religious matters to religious leaders alone. If the Zamfara governor is versed in Islam as he claims to be, he would not have dabbled into religious matter knowing full well that he was not elected to promote one religion over another.