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That Sermon in the Mosque

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Professor Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Human beings, especially powerful people, often take offence at criticisms which they find offensive even if the contents of the criticism were true. This defensive attitude seems to say: do not say anything that could embarrass me even if you are right. Across the world, officials of government often go after critics whom they perceive as enemies. Will Rogers once wrote that ‘if you ever injected truth into politics, you have no politics. Governments tell lies and try to hide the truth often. It is the duty of the citizenry to dig deep and uncover the truth using the media. The Freedom Charter guarantees free speech. Yet free speech could cost one his job or limbs or life! Notorious President Idi Amin of Uganda was once quoted as saying that he could guarantee ‘freedom of speech before the free speech, not after!
Reactions of government to criticisms could be mild or extreme. Even in the biggest democracies, free speech could sometimes be expensive despite constitutional guarantees. The harshest reaction to criticism is that of silencing the critic through death as in the experience of Kamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who lost his life in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey. Journalist Dele Giwa also lost his life in a parcel bomb attack in October 1986. There are also other ways of silencing critics too. The finances of the critic are attacked. There is physical harassment by security agencies. Have you ever been trailed by security men or some shadowy figures? Has a spouse received threat messages? There is also the sack option. Today I am writing on the sacking of Chief Imam of the National Assembly Mosque Abuja Sheikh Muhammad Nura Khalid.
Until April 1, 2022, Sheikh Khalid had a job, as a cleric in charge of a Mosque, doing Allah’s work which commands always speaking the truth. The Prophet Muhammad states that ‘adhere to truthfulness for truthfulness guides to Paradise’. We are told further that ‘Islam emphasizes not only the duty to be honest, truthful and trustworthy but also the social obligation to always support truthful people, to associate with the truthful ones and to keep their company’. With this arcane and powerful injunction in mind, that fateful Friday, while preaching the sermon the fearless cleric made comments on the security situation in the country which the chairman of the Mosque Management Committee Senator Saidu Dansadau found unbecoming. Khalid was suspended from office even before the echoes of the Imam’s words died off!
In the sack letter, the Committee stated that it regrets ‘to inform you that from today the 4th day of April 2022 you have been disengaged from the services of the above-mentioned mosque. Continuing, the Committee tried to create a context for the sack when it observed that ‘this action is occasioned by the non-remorseful attitude you exhibited following your suspension on 2nd April this year. Sheikh Khalid had been suspended shortly after preaching the bomb of a sermon that practically called out the government of the day in a lucid and convincing manner, without diatribes, without insults.
The sheikh had preceded his talk by drawing attention to the ‘relationship between the Ramadan and supplication’. ‘this is very important at a time when Nigeria is facing a very serious challenge’, the Imam said, ‘everything is not working well. People are dying. Our roads are not secure. Most of the parts of the country are not secured. The government is always telling us what we don’t understand that they are doing their best, and we deserve more than their best.’ He also said that people should vote in 2023 only if the security of life is guaranteed’.

ALSO READ: A Prayer for Divine Intervention

Dansaudu did not find this funny. In the sack letter, he stated “Akamakallah, you know better than me by the teaching of Islam, the essence of administering punishment is to correct behaviour. Unfortunately, your media reaction to the suspension creates the impression that you are not remorseful, NOT to talk of humbly reflecting on the consequences of your utterances. Leadership demands a great sense of responsibility. If our words do more harm than good to the larger interest of the country or the public. We have a responsibility to maximum restraint for the good of the public. It is obvious, however, that you don’t seem keen to modify your Friday sermon to be reflective of the volatility of the security situation in the country. You are an influencer; your words carry a lot of weight (sic), and your words can make or mar our situation. Your words can be taken advantage of by mischief makers, those responsible for these security challenges or enemies of the country for their devilish agendas.’ Really? If this ascribed power is true, then Dansaudu has taken a step that will give the government sleepless nights. The Imam is not keeping his mouth shut. He has found another mosque where he can preach the truth without let or hindrance. The teen CNN hero Malala says ‘you can shoot the body you can’t shoot the dream!
The Committee wrongly focused on the messenger, not the message. What the imam said reflects public opinion in the land. The politicians are jostling over 2023. Even the APC government that should hide its head in shame for failing the people is struggling for power in 2023. With the dismal security situation in a government led by a general, how does this party think that Nigerians will entrust the fortunes of the country to her in 2023?
Senator Dansaudu is an elected official of the state. He is a legislator and not a member of the Executive Arm of government, the target of the attack. He ought to stand on the side of the people just as the cleric took sides with the people. There have been too many deaths arising from insecurity. Not everyone can stomach the criminal ineptitude or connivance between state and non-state actors and keep quiet. The perception is that the government is unwilling to deal with the situation and most people are willing to sell their conscience. The government is used to having people who would rather pray than complain. Too many. Therefore, Khalid’s statement sounds like an incitement. ‘In a room where people unanimously maintain silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot’.

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Government should encourage people like Khalid to speak up. The man has gained more following. I didn’t know him before. I didn’t hear the sermon in question until the fire-brigade attitude of the Committee brought it to my attention. Fix the security situation. Let our roads be safe. Let our homes be safe. Confront the scoundrels who have seized the road between Abuja and Kaduna and other roads in the country and exterminate them. Stop kidnap gangs from attacking homes and seizing people for a ransom in Abuja and elsewhere. Make the southeast governable. Except for the government dealing with the security situation, it is a no-no about winning in 2023. In a democracy, it has passed a vote of no confidence in itself for the 2023 elections. Listen to the message. Get your eyes and hands off the messenger.

Professor Hope O. Eghagha, Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Lagos Nigeria

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

The head of the United Nations warned Friday that the world faces “catastrophe” because of the growing shortage of food around the globe.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality to produce an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” already affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”

Guterres noted that harvests across Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle to cope with rising fertilizer and energy prices.

“This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.”

Guterres said U.N. negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.

He also called for debt relief for poor countries to help keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilize global food markets.

The Berlin meeting’s host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to blame for food shortages was “completely untenable.”

Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Baerbock said.

She echoed Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.

“But it was Russia’s war of attack against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Baerbock said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russia has no excuse for holding back vital goods from world markets.

“The sanctions that we’ve imposed on Russia collectively and with many other countries exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilizers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

Local and federal highways in the North-west have become vulnerable as bandits continue to ambush and abduct travellers.

The gunmen who abducted 29 people returning to Zamfara State from Sokoto State where they had gone to attend the wedding of colleagues have released them after the payment of an unspecified ransom.

The victims, who were mostly dealers of mobile phones and phone accessories at Bebeji Communication Market (Bebeji Plaza) in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State were abducted in Sokoto 13 days ago.

Secretary of the GSM Dealers Association in the state, Ashiru Zurmi, confirmed the release of the victims but didn’t give details.

One of the victims reportedly died in captivity.

Though the amount paid as ransom to secure the release of the hostages has not been revealed, Abdullahi Lawal, whose brother was among those abducted, said their relatives were asked to make donations. He said his family raised N33,000 while the phone sellers’ association “provided the remaining money.”

“Every family was told to gather N400,000 while the members of the plaza and their colleagues in the state provided the remaining money. Some family members were able to raise the money in full, but we couldn’t. I took the money to the plaza and I was told that they were still negotiating with the bandits” he said.

He said he didn’t know how much was given to the bandits “but I’m happy that my brother is okay,” he said.

From N5m to N700,000

A phone accessories seller, Sharhabilu Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that the officials of the phone dealers association negotiated with the bandits to reduce the ransom they originally demanded to release the captives.

“You know that the initial money they said was N5m for each of the captives but our officials kept negotiating with them (bandits) until they reduced the money to N700k,” he said.

When asked about the person who reportedly died in captivity, Mr Muhammed said his identity has not been revealed.

“We don’t know because even the bandits didn’t tell but we’ll surely find out when they (captives) arrive at Gusau tonight,” he added.

The police command spokesman, Mohammed Shehu, didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the development.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the wedding guests were abducted when bandits opened fire on the two buses they were travelling in a few kilometres after Bimasa in the Dogon Awo junction, Sokoto State.

They were returning from Tambuwal town in Sokoto State where they had attended the wedding of a colleague, Jamil Umar.

The captives were travelling on a Toyota Coaster bus belonging to the Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC and another bus owned by Gusau Local Government.

The bandits had demanded a ransom of N145 million to release the 29 hostages.

Bandits have been terrorising North-west states and a part of North-central Nigeria, killing and displacing hundreds of people and rustling domestic animals.

Travelling on federal and local highways is becoming dangerous as bandits block roads, abduct and kill motorists.

Major federal highways including Abuja-Kaduna, Gusau-Sokoto-Birnin Kebbi, and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna have become travellers’ nightmares with attacks and abduction or killing of travellers becoming a daily occurrence.

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

A motion seeking the intervention of the House of Representatives in the conflict between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, and Justices of the Supreme Court, over issues bordering on welfare and working conditions suffered a setback on Thursday.

While the House called for a general review of salaries and allowances of all political office holders and public servants, the members were divided over which committees should handle the task.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, had moved a motion to seek the intervention of the chamber in the crisis rocking the apex court and better welfare package for judicial officers across the courts.

Luke, who moved the motion titled, ‘Need to Address the Deteriorating Working Conditions of Judicial Officers,’ prayed the House to urge the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to upwardly review the remuneration of judicial officers in line with present economic realities.

The lawmaker prayed the House to urge the Federal Government to increase the budgetary allocation of the judiciary for the upcoming fiscal year and provide special intervention funds for the development of the arm

He further prayed the House to mandate the Committee on Judiciary to ensure compliance and report back within six weeks for further legislative action.

While the lawmakers were making amendments to the prayers, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, called for an upward review of the welfare package of all public office holders.

Wase, who stated that he appreciated the memo from the Justices to the CJN, noted that only the RMAFC had the responsibility to review remuneration of government officials.

The Deputy Speaker made reference to a part of the motion that read, ‘The remuneration of judicial officers was last reviewed in 2008 by the RMAFC when the official exchange rate was N117.74 to $1, whereas the naira has considerably depreciated.’

Wase partly said, “I think this particular element does not affect just judicial officers, maybe because they cried out now. I don’t think it is right that we have to wait every time until people write letters of complaints and there is protest before we begin to do the right thing.”

Rephrasing Wase’s proposed amendment, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “The DSP’s amendment is that we should not isolate the Judiciary and all those enumerated constitutional bodies and public office holders. They should be reviewed; a comprehensive review based on all the things that Hon Luke said – the exchange rates and this and that.”

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