The Shocking Story Of Igbo Muslims, Why They Are Going North (III)


Zakari Ekeledo is smallish in appearance and looks and sounds same. He gazes at you keenly when you turn up as though trying to study you from afar.

His wife left him as soon as he became a Muslim 30 years ago. This was in Benue State where he was active in the vehicle spare parts trade. She is now in the United States of America. His eight children left as soon as she did and he has not heard from his wife in the entire period. He is able to feed with the help of the Muslim Umma. He praises Allah for the miracle of the continuing help and blessings over time.

During a particular season, he asked one of his daughters to help him with food items. She replied, “Hunger no dey kill somebody,” meaning hunger does not kill. He says that his daughter has been in the USA for more than 30 years and has not “sent even $50, not to talk of five.”

He is one of the lucky ones in terms of news reportage, as the BBC did a report on him some years ago. This is a departure from a culture within the local media which hardly report news, either big or small, relating to the Igbo Muslim community in the South East.

Young pupils in Ebonyi statement

Blackout

Over the years a sustained media blackout has been noticed in respect of Igbo Muslims, and many have pointed to the Lagos-Ibadan media as being culpable in this regard.

Rasheed Abubakar, publisher Muslim News Nigeria, opens up on this: “There is a media blackout obviously, and there are documented practical examples of this. Despite my relationship with some of our colleagues that work in the mainstream media, it is obvious that there is a blackout, especially the attack on Igbo Muslims. For instance, during the #EndSARS protest last year, while the entire media in Nigeria was focusing on Lekki, there were masterminded killing of Igbo Muslims going on in the South South and the South East at that moment. The Igbo Muslims and some Fulani settlements in the South East were attacked by suspected members of IPOB. There are documents that indicate the number of people killed in Orlu, Aba and Onitsha. No single medium reported the killings and the burning of mosques. Wherever Muslims are a minority, we find them being under-reported. This is how it is throughout the world.”

Fear of attack

Abubakar recalls the effort he made at that time to publicise the story: “I took materials to an investigative platform. They said they have offices in the South South and the South East, and that they ‘don’t want those people to attack us.’ This is one of the reasons for the blackout, the fear of being attacked by suspected people mentioned in the story. They prefer to leave it out. Some journalists think Islam is violent. Most times they assume the trouble makers are the Muslims, that is, the Hausa and Igbo Muslims. Thus, because of the stereotype they will not bother to report the story.”

Balanced reporting

Abubakar continues: “Another reason is the fear of reprisals. For instance, if we report that Muslims were being attacked in the South South and the South East, this may encourage some Muslims in the North to attack Igbo communities. On account of this reason, they bury the story so that it will not trigger an uprising in the North.”

There are other factors as well which can explain the media blackout: “People always say that Muslims did not invest in the media, and the media in Nigeria is largely owned by Igbo and Yoruba Christians. However, journalism should be objective and fair. What we lack in the media today is fairness. There should be fairness in reportage. In Port Harcourt, a child of the Sarkin Fulani was one of those burnt alive during the #EndSARS protest. How will Sarkin Fulani look up to the media which did not give him coverage?”

Declining situation

Disu Kamor, Executive Chairman, Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), explains, “The worsening situation of the Muslims living in the South East, especially with regards to their personal security, freedom of religion and constant demonisation, shows that being a Muslim in that part of the country carries a price tag, and that the hatred they face is institutional. Igbo Muslims are especially targeted for their faith, in their homeland, because they are seen also as ‘enemies within’ and betrayers of their tribe. Igbo Muslims are largely excluded from government appointments and jobs, their communities and leadership are mostly avoided by politicians during campaign and election periods.”

No major story since 1993

Aliu Akoshile, Publisher/CEO of NatureNews.Africa, is one of a duo who  did a major story on Igbo Muslims in 1993 while reporting for Citizen Magazine. He comments on the media blackout suffered by Igbo Muslims: “Of course, there was no news coverage of Igbo Muslims either by any Nigerian or foreign news media. In fact, I couldn’t lay hands on any academic literature on their plight. Hence, I had to undertake the visit which I also complemented with oral narration from my father, because of his acquaintance with Shaykh Ibrahim Nwagui.”

On the dearth of news reports on Igbo Muslims, Akoshile, one time General Manager, Business and Strategy of Media Trust, states, “I am not sure of any major story since 1993, and for about 20 years thereafter. But since 2015 there have been news reports, mostly in Daily Trust, on how Igbo Muslims have become victims of local ethno-religious conflicts or reprisal attacks for skirmishes in other states and regions.”

Not media savvy

“They were regarded as an insignificant minority in the South East religious equation. They are not media savvy like the Northern Christians, for instance. There is also very clear and manifest bias against them by Lagos-based media which often suppress news items that tend to highlight the plight of Igbo Muslims,” he concludes.

‘The only thing we get’

Igbo Muslims can easily be excluded, suppressed and stigmatised under a system of a near total media blackout. They are rarely found in top jobs, and they may feature at the local governments. However, at the federal level, there is no minister who is Igbo Muslim, and there is no representative in the National Assembly who is from their community. This has remained so for many years. They seem to be restricted to positions in the pilgrim’s welfare boards of the various states. The unwritten code here is: either the board or nothing.

“You hardly find a Muslim employed as a commissioner in Enugu State. There is no political appointment for us. Throughout my life, no indigenous Igbo Muslim was employed as a commissioner, and I am 57 years old. That is, except one person from Ibagwa, and that occurred during a military government”, recalls Imam Omeh, correcting himself as he tries to explain the large scale lack of opportunities among the Igbo Muslims and the resultant poverty among the group.

He comments on the pilgrim’s welfare board: “The government may help Christians, but this is not extended to us the Igbo Muslims, except it is the pilgrim’s welfare board. It is not easy to become chairman of the pilgrim’s board, and that is the only office where government remembers us here. It’s always an Igbo Muslim who is made chairman of the pilgrim’s board. That’s the only thing we get.”


They ignore you’

There seems to be restrictions when it comes to employment in the states: “Even though nobody comes openly to tell you they are not employing Igbo Muslims, we know they don’t allow it. When it comes to political linkage, they run to us and ask us to create contacts with Hausa Muslims. When it comes to compensate you, they ignore you. They feel Igbo can only be Christians and nothing else,” adds Dr. Suleiman Ogah of the federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State, speaking on conditions in Ebonyi, his state of origin.

He points out, “This situation makes us to migrate to other states, and that is why we also have the South East Muslim Organisation of Nigeria (SEMON). It’s the apparatus we use to help each other, and it helps us to get jobs, especially at the federal level. We also have the Islamic Calling Family.”

Poor education

Low quality education hinders growth and development among Igbo Muslims. “Most of us have not had the benefit of tertiary education, and there is no opportunity for getting such education. Many are converts and are from poor families. Their families are not able to educate them to a higher level. The fact is they don’t have a good foundation, and that’s why they cannot get good paying jobs,” says Sani Ejoh, Secretary General, Anambra State Muslim Council, establishing a link between poor education and the lack of job opportunities for the Igbo Muslims. The lack of empowerment also means that the group cannot come together to buy land and establish Islamic schools, he emphasises.

Pilgrims board only

Professor Akintola, a human rights activist, opens up some more on the lives of Igbo Muslims: “There are lots of frustrating stories about how Igbo Muslims are being marginalised and persecuted. They are not given employment in public offices, not employed by the state government. The only post they give Muslims in all the South East states is the Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board; which cannot take two or three people. When some people talk about the marginalisation of Christians in this country, I laugh. I find it an insult to the collective intelligence of Nigerians, because that is not true. It is the Muslims who are marginalised.”

‘Stop playing blame game’

Ardo shows that there is much Igbo Muslims can gain in Enugu State: “There are many government policies under the administration of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi that are in place for all citizens of the state. For instance, in the state Ministry of Agriculture, farmers that want to improve and increase their produce are free to access interest-free loans from the ministry through cooperatives. The Igbo Muslims should key into this programme rather than playing the blame game.”

“It will interest you to note that Governor Uzodinma has two appointees, one male, the other female, as Special Advisers (SAs) in charge of Muslim affairs in Imo State. This is to underscore the cordial relationship existing between Muslims and Christians, and equally the government in Imo State,” argues Modestus in Owerri.

‘Blatant lie’

On the lack of employment referred to by many Igbo Muslims in the state, Modestus adds, “Again, this is another blatant lie. Unemployment is a general issue in the state as well as in Nigeria. As Muslims need jobs, so do Christians need jobs. I may not have the statistics as to how many Igbo Muslims are being employed by the state. In Imo State, nothing is done on a religious basis. Everybody has equal opportunity.”

He responds to the attack on the Orlu Central Mosque which was attacked four times last year, and renovated by the Imo State Government, an intervention which was applauded by Igbo Muslims:  “Most of these things you allege are alien to me, honestly. They are not true at all. Insecurity is a general issue in Nigeria. The last #EndSARS protest even saw more churches and police stations attacked and burnt. Maybe the one you are talking about is an isolated case. Again, it is not true.”

Umar Musa Ani: ‘Young men go North to marry’

Life is tough if you are female and a Muslim in Nigeria’s South East. Umar Musa Ani, who is intelligent, young and observant, thinks so too. Hear him: “It is very difficult to present yourself in the East here as a Muslim. It’s one of the most difficult things. It is worse if you are a lady. Our Muslim girls find it easy to associate with non-Muslims, and begin to adopt their culture. Gradually, they begin to take things from them, even marrying them. Some Muslim sisters marry Christian men. It’s a very big challenge.”

The environment has slow but certain impact on Islam itself, according to Ani: “Muslims like to go and live in the North, thereby not allowing Islam to grow in the East. One thing that makes up an Islamic community is when people come together and perform prayers. When you don’t have such opportunity, you go into your room and perform your prayer. After some time you find that you are not conscious of prayer time. When you develop the habit, it becomes part of you. Some are not very serious with salat (prayer) because of the environment. When you are with your friends, you cannot tell them you want to go and pray. They will wonder what you are talking about.”

There is impact on marriage as well, especially among those who are due for marriage: “The young men are supposed to be married at a particular age, but you see a situation whereby you have nothing to offer, and in the society where you live, the Igbo mentality is that before you marry you should have your house and be able to take care of a woman. In the North, even if you don’t have anything, a Hausa man can give you his daughter. It’s a challenge for the youths. They go to the North and get a wife, and our girls here will begin to lack husbands. This is the challenge.”

Names are important, and whereas it is good to have Islamic names, it is also good to have a traditional Igbo name: “An Igbo Muslim is forced to tag an Igbo name to his name to avoid deprivation of right of ownership of property like land or house, as one may be mistaken to be from the Northern part of the country.” He implies that some have lost property because they bear Islamic names only.

He highlights aspects of Igbo culture and Islam: “Most of Igbo culture is directly opposite of what the teaching of Islam is all about. Most of the things prohibited by Islam are the very elements which make up most of Igbo culture, like the drinking of alcohol and dancing and singing at parties. That’s why people tend to be shocked and dumbfounded when they see an Igbo Muslim.”

Curled from Daily Trust Newspaper at dailytrust.com


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