The Sardaunas and Balewas were more concerned about governance and were equally good and pious Muslims. Through his personal exertions in this crucial and sensitive arena of societal security, public peace and the well-being of citizens, Sheikh Gumi has simply recalibrated and called to mind the personal example of these founding fathers. It is time for us to act in smart ways that will save us all.
Courage isn’t the absence of fear but acting in spite of it. – Mark Twain
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany. Despite threats to his safety, he loudly and consistently criticised the Nazi regime very publicly. The regime saw him as a threat, and to preserve his life, he fled the country to seek asylum in the U.S.A. However, after only two years, he returned to his native Germany, to continue the promotion of sustained opposition, openly and fearlessly, against the persecution of Jews and other minority groups. In a similar vein, thousands have been jailed all over the Islamic and Arab world, and some reportedly killed in their quest for good governance. Here in Nigeria, legends such as Chief Gani Fawehinmi have made significant sacrifices for the common man.
Courage comes in many forms. It could manifest as peaceful resistance against an oppressor, or bearing pain for a greater cause. In many instances, individuals and groups have banded together to fight for the common, societal good.
Just the other day, the media was awash with reports of how Sheikh Gumi decided to walk the talk of his open preachments in favour of better security that will make for good governance and peace. The Sheikh undertook the risky visit to some communities, which are havens of kidnappers and bandits in some local governments here in Nigeria. He held meetings, discussed critical issues, and received valuable feedback, encapsulating a range of grievances and solutions that should help the situation going forward, which he then relayed to the authorities. Sheikh Gumi’s courage stands out. Thus far, his initiative is far and above anything that we can recall happening on that front in recent times; especially if one were to assess his latest actions within a context.
First, he is a prominent northern religious figure. He functions within a circle of hundreds of other such clerics who, as the evidence continues to show, are rather more obsessed with “pietistic” issues, many of them of dubious value: Striving to make muslims “more muslim”; the intensity of observance of rituals over true piety; and engaging in debates over issues that will never have a uniform answer till thy kingdom come.
On the other hand, as a specialist in Islamic jurisprudence, the Sheikh has instead striven and focused on contextualising issues within northern Nigeria, with a bias for the Maliki School of jurisprudence. A major problem that has caused much confusion is when students get schooled in other countries that don’t engage with the Maliki jurisprudence, especially the Hanbali School, and then return to Nigeria to start teaching and deploying what they learnt to their adherents. Without a shred of doubt, this is a sure recipe for discord and disunity.
In a different kind of way, Sheikh Gumi doesn’t seem to belong in that persuasion of leaving things to God. Even as others are debating prayer and fasting methods throughout their sermons, I suspect that he prefers to always narrow it down to how best to seek concrete answers and solutions to address our existential problems arising from the abject failure of governance and corruption.
Secondly, rather than addressing current issues that are bedevilling society, most of our scholars are wont to discourage open engagement that sounds or appears critical of actors and leaders in the public governance space. There are varying opinions on why this is so, but often the mantra is that we should instead all trust in God and leave the rest (to who?).
Rather calamitously, adherents are blackmailed into accepting the fatalistic notion, which suggests that demanding for good governance may be a form of ingratitude to God. Just look at what hundreds of our leaders (present and past) have and continue to get away with. Then do a reflection and see why there has never really been any rounded and full reckoning and accountability for the wanton levels of corruption at all levels of society.
In a very real sense of the term, local governments are comprehensively dysfunctional. Many state governors are easily looting their states dry. But we seem to be OK with this. Terrible things are happening every day, which should not be the case if only public servants execute their responsibilities effectively. Human lives are lost in preventable and avoidable circumstances each day. Yet, no one has been issued a query, sanctioned and/or held to account. We simply move on.
Many of us would recall that some innocent farmers were beheaded a few months ago in Zabarmari, Borno State. Till date, the government is yet to offer citizens a full explanation on the steps being taken to get justice for the deceased and their families. We should not even bother to entertain what the president’s media aide, Mallam Garba Shehu said about that gory incident, which is nothing short of a rationalised after-thought.
In a different kind of way, Sheikh Gumi doesn’t seem to belong in that persuasion of just leaving things to God. Even as others are debating prayer and fasting methods throughout their sermons, I suspect that he prefers to always narrow it down to how best to seek concrete answers and solutions to address our existential problems arising from the abject failure of governance and corruption.
Lastly, due to the sadly ingrained comfort of many with the cancer of nepotism, some feel that simply criticising government of its apparent failures, and its obvious limitations of performance is akin to insulting President Buhari or his appointees. And so, they encourage us to “pray more”; which is not a bad thing in itself. But watch out how, no sooner than someone other than a northerner is at the mantle of leadership, these same characters would effortlessly and shamelessly relapse and resort to the oft-repeated campaign to bring down the whole house. A few short years ago, many of our religious leaders blamed all the insecurity problems of the country on President Jonathan. All their jugular veins were serially strained in pretentious bouts of screaming matches in the public square, claiming we are being deliberately depopulated. Sheikh Gumi, even though a partisan in a few episodes, has, to the contrary, remained consistent in constructively criticising government and proffering solutions to some of the problems of the country, since the inception of this democratic dispensation.
…there is just too much promotion of a curious type of spiritual selfishness by many of our clerics. That is why it is common for an individual to perform the pilgrimage ten times, yet fail to recognise or acknowledge that to pay for another person who does not have the means to perform the Hajj would attract double reward, if God wills it.
The North has tested its limits in the continued rise of insecurity in the last decade. I am not advocating that all our religious and traditional leaders should go into the bush to have discussions with the kidnappers and bandits. But out of the blues, and adrift from the whining and daily rehearsal of how bad things have become, it was most heart-warming to read the news about the courageous move of Sheikh Gumi.
He has shown that it is OK to take the risk – and perhaps even die – in a selfless cause that would ultimately benefit the community. Many a so-called pious person would flat-out reject the invitation to partake in (and maybe even to die while) educating bandits or reforming prostitutes. But they want to die in prostration (sujood), so that people will say: ‘Oh they had a good death!’ This is one area the Sheikh makes a sharp difference. He has executed two of the five cardinal essences of the Shariah – the preservation of “life and property”. I wonder if this disposition on his part relates to his former military training or medical profession. But one thing stands out: He has always focused on society and the solutions to current and emerging problems. It is easily recallable how he stood with the authorities during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic that is still ravaging us.
The point is that there is just too much promotion of a curious type of spiritual selfishness by many of our clerics. That is why it is common for an individual to perform the pilgrimage ten times, yet fail to recognise or acknowledge that to pay for another person who does not have the means to perform the Hajj would attract double reward, if God wills it. Unfortunately, this sort of pretence and/or willful ignorance repudiates the altruistic idea that serving the community saves everyone. The statistics do not lie – as at today, there are few safe inter-state roads in the North, and the majority of the Northern states have more than 80 per cent of their citizens living in abject poverty.
The Sardaunas and Balewas were more concerned about governance and were equally good and pious Muslims. Through his personal exertions in this crucial and sensitive arena of societal security, public peace and the well-being of citizens, Sheikh Gumi has simply recalibrated and called to mind the personal example of these founding fathers. It is time for us to act in smart ways that will save us all. We all need to assess our circle of influence and take concrete steps forward. There is so much for us all to do, and with a little change in attitude, we will move mountains.
Umar Yakubu is with the Centre for Fiscal Transparency and Integrity Watch. Twitter: @umaryakubu