The Godfathers

 Saturday, March 4, 2000

 Henry Ugbolue and Bashir Kalejaiye
 Courtesy: Tempo (Lagos)

For different reasons, the conflict which claimed more than 1000 lives in Kaduna was contrived. Henry Ugbolue and Bashir Kalejaiye unmask the personalities behind the Kaduna religious mayhem


When the Governors of Nigeria's 36 states assembled at the Presidential Villa, Abuja last Tuesday, for a meeting of the Council of States, it was with a certain urgency. Indeed, the stakes were high. Days of religious riots in Kaduna had left over a thousand citizens dead, while a few hundreds were reportedly killed in reprisal attacks in the Eastern towns of Aba and Owerri. All of a sudden, the nation's nascent democracy was threatened and with the presidency seemingly helpless to address the conflicts inspired by the rash towards the adoption of the Islamic legal system (Sharia) by some Northern States, much was expected from the Council of States meeting.

Predictably, security was top on the agenda of the meeting. Presidency sources informed that the meeting which was attended by President Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar was an ill tempered affairs. Tempers, our source said, flared uncontrollablly as the August assembly did a post mortem of the violent clases in Kaduna that cost many lives and left properties worth millions of naira destroyed.

President Obasanjo who had just returned from a sympathy visit to Kaduna was said to have briefed the govenors on he carnage he saw. He was said to have tongue lashed the state governors who insisted on politicalising religion against wise counsel.

After hours of heated arguments and debates on how to rescue Nigeria from the monster called religious crisis, the council resolved that all states who have adopted or plan to adopt the Sharia should return to "the states quo."

The council's decisions was announced by vice president Atiku Abubakar who also used the opportunity to sermonise on the need for religious tolerance.


As it were, it was not only the executive arm of government that was worried by the mayhem the country witnessed in the past few days. A senate worried that Nigeria was gradually picking up speed on the need to Lebanon, literally handed president Olusegun Obasanjo a blank cheque to quell future civil religious disturbanaces. The upper legislative assembly announced through its president, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo that it was giving President Obasanjo advance approval to impose a state of emergency in any state where violence is recorded in future provided such a move conforms with provisions of Section 305 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.

Expectedly, Tuesday decision of the Senate and the Council of State come as a welcome relief to millions of Nigerians. The gory charred bodies and gutted buildings recorded in the Kaduna crisis has sent dangerous signals that the country was careering toward anarchy and possible disintegration.

Former military rulers, General Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar are also said to be channelling huge funds towards the complete Islamisation of Northern Nigeria. Babangida in particular, it was gathered, believes that the controversial Sharia legal system would help build up opposition to the Obasanjo regime.

In fact, when President Olusegun Obasanjo, drove into Kaduna last Monday, his protocol and security staff were at pains convincing the president that they had not mistakenly ferried him to war-ravaged Somalia. "Are you people sure this is Kaduna? Can this be Nigeria? Are we still in Nigeria at all," President Obasanjo asked repeatedly. When eventually convinced that it was indeed Kaduna, Obasanjo, who spent most of his adult life in this northern city, simply broke down and wept. Kaduna indeed, is a city to weep for. Four days of fierce battle have left the once beautiful city in ruins. Worst hit is the popular Ahmadu Bello Way. Once the commercial nerve centre of the city, Ahmadu Bello Way was for those four days in flames as hundreds of shops, mostly owned by Igbo traders were razed down by rampaging Muslim Youths.

At the last count last week, nearly 1,000 Muslims and Christians had been hacked to death by the rioters. Even as President Obasanjo and his entourage moved round Kaduna, they were assailed by stench from decaying bodies of the dead which were yet to be buried. "The people who did this could not have done it for any religion. I don't think they did this for any religion," a shaken Obasanjo said while he addressed religious and political leaders. And the president, may well be right. The war in Kaduna was political rather than religious. Crisis ensued following plans by the state Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi to adopt the Sharia Islamic legal system in the highly cosmopolitan Kaduna State. All too suddenly, it has begun dawning on new generation of northern leaders especially the governors that massive political gains could be reaped from the proclamation of the Islamic legal system in their respective states. Though, the Sharia legal system has always been there, the Constitution, however, only recognises the customary and personal aspect of the Islamic legal system. Here, the Sharia offers direction on such issues as marriage, divorce, interpretation of wills e.t.c. Never was the legal system intended to be adopted in adjudication of criminal matters.


However, the Sharia law became an issue when the Governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Ahmed Sani in collaboration with members of the State House of Assembly announced that Zamfara had adopted the Sharia law as well its code of conduct in the state. The Sharia law as adopted in Zamfara covers all aspects of adjudication including criminal cases. Even when many were quick to remind the Zamfara Governor that the full adoption of the Sharia law was unconstitutional, religious zealots sang the Governor's praises. And Ahmed Sani began reaping huge political gains from this illegal move. In most Northern states, he was dubbed the New Sardauna and his portrait could be seen conspicuously displayed in cars, buses and homes of Muslims. Reminded once that the Sharia legal system as proclaimed in Zamfara was illegal, a confident Ahmed Sani replied "Sharia law is supreme and it is superior to the Nigerian constitution."

Now fully aware that huge political gains could be reaped from proclaiming Sharia, many other Northern State governors have been falling over each other to queue up behind Ahmed Sani in the politics of Sharia. In Niger State, where about 47 per cent of the people are Christians, Alhaji Abdulkadri Kure, the governor, woke up one morning in January and announced in a radio and television broadcast that he had decided to adopt the Sharia legal system for the state. Curiously, Kure had not even taken a bill on the Sharia legal system to the state House of Assembly before making the proclamation. Expectedly, the Governor's pronouncement created tension in major cities of the state. It did not eventually come as a surprise to many when Governor Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi commenced moves to proclaim the Sharia in Kaduna State, which boasts of a large Christian population.

The political undertones in the move could barely be masked. But, while Kaduna burnt last week, Makarfi was in far away Hungary receiving medical attention. Yet, from his hospital bed, he told a correspondent of the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation that there was no going back on Sharia, that the Islamic legal system had come to stay in Kaduna.

Last Friday, at the Sultan Bello Mosque, arguably the biggest Mosque in Kaduna, an Islamic cleric told worshippers that Makarfi had phoned in from Hungary to assure them that once he returned to the country, the Islamic legal system would become operational within one month at the most.

But Makarfi is far from being alone in the bid to score cheap political point in Kaduna using the Sharia legal system. TEMPO learnt that a number of the Muslims youths confessed to being paid and armed by prominent residents of Kaduna to unleash terror on Christian targets. In particular, two names were repeatedly mentioned. One is Alhaji Ahmadu Chanchangi, the very wealthy transporter who also owns an airline. A reliable security source said he helped in the arming of the rampaging Muslim youths. He also disclosed that there was enough evidence to show a deep involvement of one Alhaji Sule Baba, a former minister of state in the disturbance. "Baba did massive mobilisation especially on the second day of rioting. He is believed to have provided logistics for the rioters," the security source further disclosed.


It can also be revealed that the deposed Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki and his second son, Ahmed Dasuki are being investigated quietly to ascertain their level of involvement in the Kaduna Sharia 'war'. The Dasukis, it was learnt, got involved in the Sharia issue when it became apparent that the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido was not keen on endorsing the Islamic legal system as introduced in Zamfara.

Last October, when Ahmed Sani proclaimed Sharia law at a well- attended ceremony in Gusau, Sultan Maccido was conspicuously absent. Being the Supreme head of Muslims in the country, the Sultan's absence considerably depressed most advocates of Sharia law.

Cashing in on this anti-Maccido sentiment, the Dasuki clan took up pages in The Guardian and Weekly Trust to congratulate Ahmed Sani for being "bold enough to proclaim the Islamic legal system."

Indeed, it is believed that the Dasuki family may have made huge contributions to the actualisation of the Sharia agenda in Zamfara State. Security reports indicate that Ahmed Dasuki and his father, the ex-sultan, are staunch backers for this rush for Sharia legal system. The belief is that Maccido, the current Sultan does not back Sharia, so "Dasuki wants to ride on the popularity of Sharia in the North and score a cheap political point." The level or extent of the involvement of the Dasuki family in last week's Kaduna riot cannot be ascertained. Yet, security reports, TEMPO was told quoted Ahmed Dasuki as having told so many people that it is nothing but Sharia."


Former military rulers, General Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar are also said to be channelling huge funds towards the complete Islamisation of Northern Nigeria. Babangida in particular, it was gathered, believes that the controversial Sharia legal system would help build up opposition to the Obasanjo regime.

For reasons which are not obvious, Northerners who are opposed to the Obasanjo regime have found themselves rallying around Babangida. In Babangida's palatial home in Minna, the Obasanjo regime is daily subjected to alarming criticism. Babangida in his private meetings with Obasanjo gives the impression that press reports that indicate that he (IBB) is opposed to Obasanjo's regime were false. "They just want to knock our heads together and then make money by using our names to sell their papers," Babangida told President Obasanjo at a meeting early this month at the Hill Top Mansion in Minna.

But security reports which have shown Babangida's full backing of the Sharia legal system say the former dictator does not mean well. "As a former president and a General, Babangida knows that the Sharia law as being proclaimed now is against the Nigerian constitution. He also knows that introducing Sharia law in states like Niger and Kaduna, states with high Christian population would trigger off crisis," said a top security source. "We have it on good authority that both Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar encouraged Governor Kure in Niger State to go on air to declare Sharia. Babangida is also funding religious groups that are pushing the Sharia thing in Kaduna," said the security source.

The target of these past leaders, it is said, is to weaken the Obasanjo regime and blunt its focus. A similar view was expressed by Alhaji Mohammed Abdulrahman one of the secretaries of the popular Northern Elders Forum. "Sharia is targeted at the Obasanjo regime. People here who are protesting their exclusion from government want something to hold on to and Sharia has come handy", Alhaji Abdulrahman said.

Indeed, very few people were shocked by the level of last week's religious uprising in Kaduna. Trouble had been burgeoning since, September 1999 when Governor Sani announced the adoption of Sharia in Zamfara State. Since January 27 when he signed the bill into law, a lot of influential individuals within and outside Kaduna State are said to have either been elated or worried that Kaduna would be the next in the line for the adoption of the Islamic judicial system.


Last year alone, there were no less than five seminars, conferences and other forms of gathering to mobilise support for the adoption of Sharia in northern states, particularly Kaduna. The first of such conferences was organised by the Centre for Islamic Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. The communique issued at the confab had called for further seminars on the Sharia to mobilize support for the system.

The ABU Sharia Conference was immediately followed by a meeting of Grand Khadis, Ulamas and Islamic scholars at the Arewa House. The meeting which was chaired by the Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Mustapha Jokolo did not disguise its attitude to sponsorship of the adoption of Sharia bill in all the 19 Northerners states. It was decidedly positive.

The Arewa House Conference was even emphatic about mobilising support for Sharia particularly in states of the North with almost equal Muslim and Christian population. Such states include Kwara, Kogi, Bauchi, Adamawa, Kebbi, Plateau, Nasarawa and Kaduna.

Not long after the Arewa House conference of Islamic scholars and khadis, a group of Muslims youths wrought havoc on Christians and their churches in Ilorin, Kwara State. However, very few saw the link between the Kaduna Conference of Grand Khadis, in which Grand Khadi Abdulkadir Orire of Kwara featured prominently, and the Ilorin Muslim Youths rampage.

However, since the disturbances some perceptive analysts have been able to resolve the jigsaw puzzle that was the Ilorin religious crisis and come up with the startling revelation that the brazen arson were premeditated. It was allegedly to soften the Christians and ease their resistance to possible imposition of Sharia.

Though, Kwara State Governor Mohammed Lawal has been ambivalent in his attitude to the Sharia, the outburst of Justice Abdulkadir Orire two weeks ago that there was no going back on Sharia, analysts say, clearly betrays the plot at the Kaduna confab. The Ilorin disturbance, TEMPO learnt, was remarkable for the cold complicity of major figures and prominent religious leaders in the state. Rather than make pronouncements condemning the burning of churches and looting of the property of Christians, prominent Islamic leaders including the Emir, Alhaji Sulu Gambari were unconscionably silent. The Governor, Rear- Admiral Mohammed (rtd) dilly-dallied and ended up doing nothing to stem the rampage.


Till now fingers are still being pointed at these prominent Kwarans for encouraging religious bigotry. It was instructive that Vice- President Atiku Abubakar was in Ilorin last week while Kaduna burned. Though it was advertised that Atiku journeyed to Ilorin to witness Mohammed's daughter's wedding, sources informed that he also used the opportunity to plead with Mohammed to delay action on his plan to adopt the Islamic legal system in Kwara State.

Like Kwara, highly placed Northerners deliberately stoked the fire that combusted the once liberal Kaduna city last week. Aside personalities already identified, accusing fingers are pointing at the Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Mustapha Jokolo, a former aide-de-camp to Major- General Mohammed Buhari (rtd.) as a supporter of the uprising. The Emir, it is said, mobilised and literally bankrolled the meeting for Grand Khadis and Ulamas held at the Arewa House last year. The rage that almost consumed Kaduna last week is believed to be a pragmatic expression of the vision of the Arewa House meeting.


Jokolo was also a main actor in the conference on Sharia held at the same venue last month. He was said to have spearheaded a campaign to enlist the support of traditional rulers in the north for the Sharia. Until now, most of the Emirs including Sultan Maccido had not been too disposed to the Sharia issue.

However, TEMPO gathered that Mustapha Jokolo had managed to convince them to drop their resistance. He allegedly told them that unless they supported the Sharia cause, their very existence as Emirs is threatened as they could lose relevance or even their thrones.

The Emir has not disguised his stand on the Sharia project. Last year, he told reporters at the Arewa House that the sponsors of Sharia would source funds from anywhere to finance the campaign until their goal was achieved. Jokolo however ruled out foreign funding.

Nevertheless, huge funds are said to be rolling into the Sharia movement. One of the movement's most generous patrons is said to be Alhaji Azeez Arisekola, the Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland. The Ibadan- based businessman was said to have single-handedly footed the bill for last month's Sharia conference held at the Arewa house.


Ironically, the likes of Jokolo, the Emirs and Arisekola who have shown their hands are not the worries of citizens as is those who covertly supply weapons. TEMPO gathered authoritatively that, two weeks before the riots, a consignment of arms was impounded by security agents in Tudun Wada, Kaduna. A former journalist and now a producer was alleged to have been arrested by police for distributing guns to Muslim youths on Maiduguri Road, Kaduna.

On the part of the Christians, it was an open secret that the Igbo youths who were the main target of pro-Sharia rioters were also well armed. Since the Zangon-Kataf riots of 1992 and the Kano Akaluka incident, almost every Igbo had fortified himself with a weapon . The investment proved rewarding last week.


Also former Biafran leader, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu was said to have visited Kaduna the Friday before the riot though his itinerary was not disclosed, he allegedly held closed - door meetings with Igbo leaders. A source said that Ojukwu had alerted the Igbo leaders of a possible breakdown of law and order in Kaduna and urged them (Igbos) not to be taken by surprise as they would be the primary target.

Despite Ojukwu's warning, most of the Igbo youths who participated in the Christian anti-Sharia protest march were caught flat-footed by the Almajiris' attack. The Igbo youths and men whose shops and business concerns were looted or burnt recovered belatedly only to vent their anger on the business premises of prominent Hausa Muslim businessmen.


A.S.D Motors owned by Alhaji Suleiman Dauda was torched. Alhaji Dauda had that weekend commissioned an Islamic school and mosque in Zaria. Dabo Motors, owned by younger brother to Alhaji Ahmadu Chanchangi, chairman of Chanchangi Airlines was also burnt. The offence of Nadabo Chanchangi was sponsoring Quranic recitation on television. However, Nadabo, according to some Christians, suffered more for the "sins" of his elder brother. The Christians believe that Ahmadu was the financier of the five day pro-Sharia rallies held a week before the riot.

Also as at last weekend, there were allegations that the name of a prominent Kaduna businessman was found on the guns recovered from Muslim rioters. Efforts to confirm this from the police were unsuccessful.

While tempers are still high both sides to the conflict continue to deny responsibility of provoking the fight. However, beyond the Sharia or no Sharia argument, this magazine gathered that there are forces sponsoring conflicts across the country to achieve some selfish ends. Though it seems unlikely, a source was willing to swear last week that last week's madness in Kaduna was staged managed to stall the on-going trial of Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and Mohammed Abacha.


Interestingly, their trial could not proceed last week as Joseph Daodu (SAN), lead counsel for Al-Mustapha was allegedly trapped in Kaduna and could not keep the court appointment in Lagos. There is also the view that the crisis is being promoted by anti-democratic forces desperate to ensure that no Southerner, either from east or west ever lead this country again. The calculation of this group, who are mostly aggrieved Northerners, sources say is to ensure that most northern states adopt Sharia, fully aware that under Sharia system, a non-Muslim cannot be president. The group believes that the core northern states which constitute majority of voters would not vote for a non-Hausa Muslim considered to be counterfeit Muslims.

But a third group which, sources say is the most dangerous is the one aiming to ensure that the citizens not only lose confidence in the Obasanjo regime but the capability of civilian rulers to ensure law and order. This group is said to have been impressed by the reliance of government on soldiers to quell civil disturbance in Odi, Bayelsa State and now in Kaduna. The group, TEMPO gathered, is planning to work on public sentiment that only the military can ensure safety of lives and property.

A source close to the Defence Minister, Theophilus Danjuma said this was the reason why the Presidency was hesitant at deploying soldiers into the Kaduna battlefield. "The Presidency did not want to create the impression that only the military can ensure law and order. It was only when it was getting out of hand and the acting governor of the state made a request that soldiers be deployed to Kaduna," the source said.


Though relative peace and calm have returned to Kaduna, it remains a grave yard peace. Beneath the veneer of normalcy is palpable tension that could erupt into another fresh round of violence. As things stand now, the cost of Sharia will continue to mount. Meanwhile, the rage continues no flare, though not in Kaduna, rather, in the erstwhile sedate South-Eastern cities of Aba and Owerri, in Abia and Imo states respectively.

At about noon on Monday, trouble broke out when Aba indigenes sighted a long chain of luxury buses conveying Igbo said to have been injured in the Kaduna disturbance as well as the arrival by train of some corpses from the same destination.

The injured victims were said to have narrated their grisly experiences which in no time, spread round the town, igniting an ethnically-fuelled reprisal.

Incensed by the horrid tales, Igbo traders took on Hausa residents in a clash which claimed more than 28 lives.

A similar clash broke out in Owerri but no death was reported before it was brought under control. A dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed on Owerri.

Also, the fear of a replay of the Kaduna mayhem continues to stalk other cities in the country. These include Kano, Ilorin, Bauchi and Jos. The fear has prompted pre-emptive relocation of Southerners and other Christians to other states.

Henry Ugbolue
Bashir Kalejaiye
Bamidele Johnson
Joke Hassan
Tempo (Lagos)

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