Justice Tanko and the Bigotry of Numbers, By Majeed Dahiru
…Justice Tanko has not only crossed the dividing lines of the separation of powers by going beyond his constitutional responsibility of interpretation of the law to now suggesting how the law should be made, but he actually seeks to push the agenda of political Islam through the Muslim bigotry of legislative numerical superiority in a multi-religious country deeply divided along its fault lines.
The rise to power of President Muhammadu in 2015 birthed a far right political culture that sparked off a wave of ethno-geographic and religious populism across the Muslim north. President Buhari’s reputation as a champion of political Islam and a defender of northern interests was reinforced by his elevation of nepotism to a near state policy, which has resulted in the manifest domination of his Muslim northern section of the country over others in the scheme of things in his government. Securing an overwhelming victory throughout the Muslim north in his 2019 re-election bid was a form of vote of confidence on his provincial proclivities that has beatified ethno-geographic irredentism and religious bigotry as political virtues to be democratically rewarded in the region, whereas liberal nationalism is demonised as a vice to be severely punished.
Buoyed by the prevailing atmosphere of ethno-geographic religious populism at a time Nigeria is experiencing a resurgence of the Boko Haram insurgency, a section of the political leadership of the Muslim North of the Nigerian state appears to be watering the seeds of the radical Islamic ideology by concertedly pushing an agenda of political Islam through the advocacy for the imposition of the Sharia legal code in an otherwise secular multi-religious country. Just as Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), the Boko Haram splinter insurgent group, which is committed to the establishment of an Islamic state in Nigeria through violent activities that mostly target Nigeria’s security forces, their Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) collaborators, international humanitarian workers, as well as the frequent abductions and executions of Christians, Hisbah, the religious police in some states of the Muslim north, are enforcing some operational aspects of the Sharia law.
This agenda of political Islam got a boost from no less a personality than the head of Nigeria’s judicial arm of government, the chief justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Muhammed Tanko. Represented at the 20th annual Judges Conference at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, last December, by the Grand Khadi of Niger State, CJN Tanko, a foremost jurist from Nigeria’s Muslim north, had this to say: “As we all know, there are sections of the Constitution that allow the implementation of Sharia personal law and apart from that, we cannot do more. However, we have the number to amend the Constitution to suit our own position as Muslims.” In a fit of ethno-geographic and religious political triumphalism, Justice Tanko has not only crossed the dividing lines of the separation of powers by going beyond his constitutional responsibility of interpretation of the law to now suggesting how the law should be made, but he actually seeks to push the agenda of political Islam through the Muslim bigotry of legislative numerical superiority in a multi-religious country deeply divided along its fault lines.
The strong advocacy for the full implementation of the Sharia legal code in Nigeria from the most powerful judicial voice in the Nigerian federation, is nothing less than an official call for an Islamic state in Nigeria; a call which now ideologically approximate CJN Tanko’s advocacy to the Ibrahim ZakZaky Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) and Abu Musab al-Barnawi’s Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP), in their struggle to repeal Nigeria’s secular constitutional order and replace it with an Islamic state.
Justice Tanko’s call for an expansion of the Sharia jurisprudence beyond personal matters in the Constitution is dangerous because it provides justification for the struggle for the establishment of an Islamic state by IMN, ISWAP and other jihadi groups, which may impress jihad as a religious duty upon the mind of millions of Muslims.
The strong push for political Islam from the most powerful quarters of Nigeria’s judiciary is not only as insensitive as it is needless but it portends a grave danger to the security and stability of the Nigerian state. Justice Tanko was insensitive because he failed to live up to his oath of office to uphold the sanctity of Nigeria’s constitutional secularism, by betraying his Muslim bias as the head of an otherwise unbiased judiciary in a multi religious country. His call for the expansion of the Sharia jurisprudence in the Constitution is also needless because the current constitutional framework guarantees for Muslims uninhibited freedom of religion, including of worship and association, with aspects of the Islamic law made justiciable as it concerns personal matters. Justice Tanko’s call for an expansion of the Sharia jurisprudence beyond personal matters in the Constitution is dangerous because it provides justification for the struggle for the establishment of an Islamic state by IMN, ISWAP and other jihadi groups, which may impress jihad as a religious duty upon the mind of millions of Muslims.
The current Boko Haram insurgency is the culmination of a massive Sharia advocacy movement, which began with the birth of Salafism in northern Nigeria with the formation of the Jama’at Izalat al Bid’a Wa Iqamat as Sunna (JIBWIS) sect several decades ago. The return to a puritan Islam in line with the unadulterated traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through the full implementation of the Sharia, as they understand it, was widely preached by JIBWIS throughout the Muslim north as a religious duty incumbent upon every Muslim. This fundamental subjective misrepresentation of Islam as a religion of laws that can be guided by self-appointed mortals, rather than as a universal faith under divine guidance, resulted in a widespread agitation for the religiously satisfying Sharia law, with near complete negation of the aspiration for the more spiritually desirable Sharia faith.
With Nigeria, a constitutional representative democracy having its federation configured along primitive ethno-geographic and religious fault lines, the electoral process for the recruitment of its political leadership is primarily hinged on the primordial sentiments of ethnicity and creed, inevitably resulting in an entrenched culture of identity politics. For the Muslim north – an area of Nigeria that straddled the Southern parts of the historic western Sudan, which was renowned for Islamist reformism in the most part of the 19th century, was made fertile for the seeds of radical Islamist revivalism that swept through the larger Muslim world into the region with the birth of Salafism in the second half of the 20th century – religion is the strongest weapon of political power.
The advocacy, defence and call for the full implementation of the Sharia Islamic law by persons in authority in a multi-religious country like Nigeria is nothing short of purveying the same radical Islamic ideology that is the major driving force of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Islamism found expression in political Islam as politicians in the Muslim north emerged champions of the struggle for the establishment of an Islamic state through the full implementation of the Sharia law in Nigeria. In the Muslim north of Nigeria, the Sharia law is like an opium that will ecstatically usher in an utopian Islamic state, which has made the promise of its advocacy, defence and implementation an article of faith for politicians. It is this failure of the agenda of political Islam to bring to realisation the anticipated Sharia governed Islamic state out of the current constitutionally secular Nigeria, that has necessitated the resort to a violent insurgency by the Boko Haram jihadi group to forcefully achieve the same objective.
Whereas, the Muslim north has borne and continuous to bear the consequences of its negative religious priorities, in the form socio-economic backwardness and physical devastation by the resurgent Boko Haram insurgency, its political leadership seems only concerned about the privileges of power that the status quo guarantees them. To reverse this trend will be for a comprehensive reform of the mainstream Muslim theology in Nigeria to rid it off radical Islamic doctrines as a roll back Salafism, with the aim of returning Islam from a mortally guided religion of laws to its original place as a divinely guided faith.
The advocacy, defence and call for the full implementation of the Sharia Islamic law by persons in authority in a multi-religious country like Nigeria is nothing short of purveying the same radical Islamic ideology that is the major driving force of the Boko Haram insurgency. The continuous purveyance of the radical Islamic ideology of establishing an Islamic state in Nigeria by constituted authorities makes them complicit in the intractability of the Boko Haram insurgency, as their advocacy for the full implementation of the Sharia law serves the purpose of radicalising millions of Muslims who become willing to sacrifice their lives in the struggle.