Sharia and State Commercialization of Islam in Northern Nigeria

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Leo Igwe

shariaProfessing Islam has become one of the shortest routes to getting state contracts and support, to accessing state funds and securing jobs in sharia implementing states in northern Nigeria. The entrenched Islamic privilege in this part of the country trumps everything including constitutionality, inclusive development, transparency and accountability. It is obvious from the recent developments in the muslim majority states that the main objective behind the campaign for sharia law is not really about practicing religion, Islam in this case, but about legitimizing the use of state money to promote Islam. The agitation for sharia law is a pretext to make the commercialization of Islam a state affair.

Otherwise how does one explain the situation in muslim majority states where the governments that are supposedly unable to pay the salaries of state workers or create jobs for          unemployed youths devote huge sums of money regularly to financing Islamic activities which have no bearing on the challenges facing these states. The sad thing is that nobody dares question or criticize these sharia government schemes. The EFCC does not look in that direction at all. President Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign is not interested in recovering money ‘stolen’ in name of enforcing of sharia law or promoting Islam. Nobody dares query the injudicious use and management of state funds by the sharia governors and their theocratic allies. However, at a time that Nigeria is fighting to defeat Boko Haram and some West African countries have rallied to root out Islamic extremism; at a time people are trying to understand how the jihadist group is financed, we cannot continue to ignore the ongoing commercialization of Islam by sharia states.

Take for example the recent case in Bauchi State where the state governor approved 55 million naira for the state Quranic Recitation Competition. I mean how is it the business of the Bauchi State government whether muslims in the state recite the Qur’an or not? How is Qur’anic recitation such a priority for Bauchi state to devote 55 million to organizing it? The governor said the program was meant to improve education in the state. Interesting! So, Bauchi state wants to bridge the educational gap by sponsoring Quranic recitation contest. Right? How does this add to the educational and developmental value of the state?

Now here is the breakdown of the budget for the Qur’an recitation contest – N38.4 million would go into logistics while 16.9 Million was for the local councils. Obviously, what Bauchi state is doing here is literally sharing the state money in the name of Islam. Many people in the state and beyond understand this is a wasteful scheme but they would not speak out because the money is spent in the name of Islam. And if they speak out they would be branded anti Islam and that is equivalent to a death sentence. So nobody calls this a form of stealing because the money is ‘stolen’ in the name of Islam.

Nobody sees it as a corrupt practice because it is a practice ‘in accordance’ with the sharia implementation program. Nobody would query the governor because the governor is supposedly doing the will of Allah. Nobody would regard using 55 million naira to fund Quranic Recitation competition as a mismanagement of state fund because after everything belongs to Allah. Allah is not the one who will spend this money. Is he?

Meanwhile the chairman of the state Qur’anic Recitation Competition Committee, Dr. Zubairu Abubakar Madaki explained that over 8.4 million would be used to purchase gifts for the contestants. These gifts include 4 cars, 4 Tricycles popularly known as Keke NAPEP, 26 motorcyles, many bicycles sawing machine, knitting machine grinding machines. Definitely some people would argue that this constitutes a social welfare aspect of the program, a form of poverty alleviation scheme for the local Muslim population. Now assuming this is so, this poverty alleviation scheme is just for those who can read the verses of the Qur’an. Right? Does Bauchi state have any package for those who can read the passages in the Bible or those who can read other sacred or secular texts? Does the state have similar package for those who can recite scientific texts and solve mathematical problems? I mean how else does one describe official discrimination in the name of Islam? Funding Quranic Recitation Competition is just an aspect of the ongoing commercialization of Islam in sharia implementing states.

The sharia state governments are also sponsoring and subsidizing other activities including funding the building of mosques, remunerating imams, financing the pilgrimages of muslims to Saudi Arabia and the feeding of muslims during the month of Ramadan In fact sharia states give financial rewards to non Muslim who convert to Islam. Still many intelligent members of these societies continue to bemoan the widespread poverty and backwardness of the region but they cannot speak out against these wasteful schemes.

Now can we pause for a moment and ask: are these Islamic programs which sharia states are funding indicators that these states are poor? With the amount of money that is already going into funding sharia police, maintaining sharia courts, paying sharia court judges and Islamic teachers in schools, sharia implementing states have largely sacrificed the development of the region on the altar of commercialization of Islam. Boko Haram is a stark testimony of this unfortunate legacy.


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