Mike Chinedu AnekweSunday, November 24, 2002
Lagos, Nigeria


n recent times, Thisday newspaper has been in the eye of a storm. Some of their publications have generated heated controversies. On Tuesday, July 6, 2002, they had written an Editorial titled “As The Nation Bleeds: Our President Goes To Jamaica Again”. Not a few feathers were ruffled in government. The Federal Government replied the newspaper describing the editorial as “abusive”.

Also recently (in August), the newspaper had published a picture of Prof. Pat Utomi (Chairman of Platinum Bank Limited and a Director of Lagos Business School) where Prof. Utomi seemed too serious starring at the “boobs” of a young lady. Of course, the picture was a morphed picture. It wasn’t real. It was make-believe. Thanks to new inventions in photography. However, Prof. Utomi didn’t find it too funny. He complained to the publisher of the paper, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena and the “creative” editor (Kunle Hamilton) who did that had to be sent on suspension.

Again, on Saturday, November 16, 2002, the newspaper published a story on the Miss World Beauty Pageant. It was titled “The World at their Feet”. Some Muslims considered some part of the article “offensive and blasphemous” and denigrating to the Holy Prophet Mohammed (SAW). Miss Isioma Daniel, the article’s author, had written : “The Muslims thought it was immoral to bring ninety-two women to Nigeria and ask them to revel in vanity. What would Muhammad think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among them”.

Hence, on Wednesday, November 20, 2002, riots broke out in Kaduna and the Thisday office in Kaduna was set on fire by some Muslim youths. The day’s paper was also burnt at its Circulation Annex office. The Muslim youths, chanting anti-Miss World slogan went round the city, brandishing dangerous weapons and shouting Allah Akbar (God is Greatest). The protest continued even on Thursday and Friday, even spreading to the Federal Capital Territory. Not only that, a Fatwa (Death Sentence) was said to have been passed on the publisher, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena and Editor, Eniola Bello (Eni-B), courtesy of the protesters. More than a hundred lives is said to have been lost in the incident, with the burning of houses, churches and mosques.

It is in the light of these developments that I decided to comment on this crucial issue of national importance. After reading that publication, I had intended writing a letter for publication to Thisday, advising them to be circumspect in publishing sensitive issues such as religion. I had envisioned that this will elicit negative reactions from Muslims across the country, though not the proportion it assumed. But, this (my letter) has already been overtaken by events. The newspaper has already tendered an unreserved apology to Muslims in four of its editions (18, 19, 21 and 22 November). Some of the text of the apology titled “Apology to All Muslims” read:

“To all our Muslim brothers and sisters, Assalamu Alaikum Wa Rahamatul-Llahi Wa Barakatuhu. May the peace and blessing of Allah be upon you all”.

"With all sense of responsibility, sensitivity and respect for all Muslims, the staff, management, editors and Board of Thisday newspapers apologize for the great editorial error in last Saturday's editor on Miss World Beauty Pageant”.

"We are sorry that the portrayal of the Holy Prophet Mohammed in a commentary written by one of our staff was not only unjustified, but utterly provocative”.

"The supervising editor made an attempt to remove the offensive portion during the editing process. But we must say that this time, technology failed us, and gravely too”.

"At Thisday we have no reason to denigrate Muslims or the Holy Prophet. Why should we? Key members of our management are devoted Muslims, including our group executive director, Alhaji Deji Mustapha, who also runs the Friday page on Islam; our deputy editor, Alhaji Yusuph Olaniyonu; our Editor at large, Waziri Adio; our development editor, Bolaji Abdullahi, our Associate Editor, Ali M. Ali and our Associate Director, Alhaji Nuhu Musa Kazaure among others”.

"Why would we do anything that would seem to denigrate any religion, when we believe in the peaceful co-existence of Nigeria?”

"Islam teaches that no human being is infallible”.

"We, therefore, seek the understanding of our Muslim brothers and sisters and sincerely hope that in the spirit of the Holy month of Ramadan, and in the interest of our beloved country, Nigeria, we would show forgiveness and understanding”.

"May the Almighty Allah, the God of infinite wisdom, continue to guide us aright. Ma-Assalam and Ramadan Kareem."

The Fatwa passed on Mr. Obaigbena and Mr. Bello brings to mind the case of Salman Rushdie, the author of “Satanic Verses”. The Ayatollah of Iran had then passed a Fatwa on Mr. Rushdie for authoring the book which was considered blasphemous to Islam. Today, he is on political asylum in Britain. Personally, I do not think it has gotten to that level for such an “extreme decision” to be taken. One may tend to wave it off as the talk of an aggrieved group of youths. But, things cannot be left to chance. Nigeria being a secular state, such pronouncement does not subsist under the law. But, let’s not delve into legal theatrics. Personally, I think these men should have been given the benefit of the doubt to explain themselves.

Furthermore, I don’t think the publisher of the newspaper has much blame on this issue as he doesn’t vet the manuscripts of the writers before publication. Much of the blame is on the editorial team. Blaming Mr. Obaigbena will be akin to blaming Mr. Alex Ibru (Publisher of The Guardian), Mr. Sam Amuka Pemu (Publisher of Vanguard), Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu (Publisher of Champion Newspapers) or Chief Sunny Odogwu (Publisher of Post Express) for the views expressed in their newspapers. This is because these men do not oversee the affairs of the newspapers on a day-to-day basis, as they have other businesses.

I think the first step should have been lodging a formal complaint with the publisher and demanding for a retraction of the offending portion of the article. The retraction should be given the same prominence that the November 16 story had. (Thisday did the right thing by offering an apology).

Then, legal redress would have been sought if the paper is defiant and stood by their story. Damages would equally be pressed.

More importantly, Muslims religious in particular leaders and all Muslims in general should have gone to God with prayers and supplications. God is very able to fight his own battles. The God who delivered Mohammed (SAW) from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D. when the Qoreish tribe wanted to take his life is still very much alive. The God that delivered Daniel from the den of Lions is still a miracle working God today. We need not look too far to corroborate these assertions. We all saw how the country was on the edge of the precipice in 1998 and how God delivered the country by divine intervention when religious leaders went on their knees. The rest, they say, is now history.

I wish to commend the Sultan of Sokoto and the President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (SCIA), Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido for his announcement on Thurday, November 17, asking all Muslims to remain calm over the matter. He (Sultan) drew the attention of Muslims to verse 216 of Suratu Baqrat in the Holy Koran, which says: "(If) they ask you about fighting in the sacred month, say therein that it is a great transgression". I equally commend Alhaji Mohammed Makarfi, the Executive Governor of Kaduna State, who made a broadcast same Thursday on the issue, suing for peace and equally imposing a dusk to dawn curfew on the state. This is not withstanding the fact that he lost his house, which housed his campaign headquarters, to rampaging youths. Also worthy of commendation is F.C.T. Minister, Alhaji Mohammed Abba Gana who not only condemned the offending publication but also held a Security Council meeting and equally asked residents to remain calm and go about their normal business without fear of molestation.

Calm should return to Kaduna. We are all aware of the catastrophic nature of the 2000 Kaduna riots and the retaliatory killings at Aba, Umuahia, Owerri, Umuahia and Uyo. If adequate measures are not taken, this crisis will go out of hand and result in the killing of people of other ethnic nationalities in the state- Igbos, Yorubas, Efiks, Ibibios, etc. One can imagine the retaliatory killings that will follow suit at Idi Araba, Ketu, Mile 12, Shagamu, Aba, Umuahia, Owerri, Onitsha, Uyo, etc. We are approaching an election year and an issue such as this, if handled with kid’s glove, has the capacity of truncating the democratic process. Should the scenario I created above occur (God forbid!), can Gen. Muhammadu Buhari come to Aba to campaign for votes?; can John Nwodo go to Kaduna to seek for their electoral mandate?; can Obasanjo approach Kano with his campaign train?

Some statements that have been credited Muslim religious of recent as regards this issue is provocative, to say the least. Such utterances can only fan the embers of violence. I believed they should be called to order. This is the duty of the public, the press in particlar. When the impeachment fire against Obasanjo was raging, the Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria and President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), His Eminence Sunday Mbang had said: “"I gathered from reliable sources that half a billion naira has changed hands for the House to impeach Mr. President to cover nefarious and corrupt activities of some powerful people in the society. Any attempt to continue the impeachment move, may force us to publish, and I mean publish, all records in respect of the corrupt activities and the source of the half a billion naira. May I advise these powers-that-be in their own interest to desist from this unholy act that will mar this our democratic experience, which we all laboured for. If the half a billion naira is true”. Many journalists, mainly Christains, had had cause to caution Mbang about making such unguarded utterances. Comfort Obi of The Source magazine had written a column she titled “Mbang and Rumours”. She had berated the Reverend gentleman over his utterances. She concluded by writing: “Has Mbang traveled recently to his Akwa Ibom State home by road? These are the things Mbang should be talking about. Mbang should be winning souls for Christ and not votes for Obasanjo, by fair or foul means”. Also, Osa Director of Insider Weekly also wrote a column titled “Mbang Loses His Bang” where he also lambasted the CAN president on his comments.

Violence, of whatever hue, be it political, ethnic or religious must be condemned in its entirety. As the saying goes, violence begets violence. May this issue not metamorphose into a religious “war”. I am writing having at the back of my mind the recent warning issued by the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (P.F.N.) and signed by its President, Bishop Mike Okonkwo (of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission {TREM} ) via an editorial in The Guardian of August 29, 2002 and The Punch of September 1, 2002 titled “THE PROPOSED DEMOLITION OF CHURCHES IN KANO AND THE RELATED PALPABLE TENSIONS IN BORNO AND YOBE STATES”.

Some of the text of that advertorial read:

The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria wishes to draw the very urgent attention of the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Stakeholders in the nation’s affairs, all peace lovers and advocates of an indivisible Federal Republic of Nigeria, where justice and equity is the order of of the day, that we feel disturbed, going by the latest activities of some Irredentist Northern Governors, who are poised to close “the Church” in their respective States for an expansionist mission for Islam.

Reports from the Sunday Punch of 11th August front page on one hand, and our (PFN) Officers from the three States mentioned above, clearly shows that the governments of these stets are prepared to wage Anti-Christ wars against the Church, within their domains.

It is quite saddening that 42 years into Nigeria’s Independence, and despite the tortuous experience, which the nation has gone through on the heels of politics of bitterness, mediocrity, self seeking and colossal losses which these have recurring brought on the nation, a good number of politicians have refused to allow a new wine in a new skin, for the desired emancipation that was the yearning of the Founders of independent Nigeria and the progressives till date.

We have resolved therefore that since the same government in the North which both Christians and Moslems alike are supposed to run to, as common arbiter, have decided to betray our trust recurring over the years, as demonstrated by the fact of their terrorist policies against the church, and as evidenced also, by their inactions to bring individual terrors who commit arson and murder against hapless Christians, their businesses and places of worship to book, our destiny, we have decided to take into our hands as follows:

“When the goat is pushed to the wall it turns to fight for its safety; How much more, the God’s heir on earth.” Since the defender has decided to turn the heat on us against all expectations and in utter disappointment, we will continue to defend the Gospel in Nigeria, by every power that we can avail ourselves of. To this extent, should any of our members in the North be provoked under any pretense, we will resist every figment of the provocateur. This shall not be limited to that region; the entire South will equally rise to the occasion in support of our brothers and sisters, the heroes of the Gospel in the North, AS IRON SHARPENETH IRON!

We make bold to say this, so that all concerned (governments and its law enforcement agents, Emirs and other stakeholders), could nip in the bud the impending but avoidable crisis, should any further aggression be unleashed on the Church in the North or anywhere in Nigeria, bearing in mind the peace that must prevail nationwide, ahead of the forthcoming General Elections.

“A Stitch in time, can save many.”

God Bless Nigeria!

I have taken the time to bring out much of the text of the PFN advertorial (7 out of 13 paragraphs) so that recent Kaduna crisis can be viewed in its proper perspective. A cursory look at the advertorial will depict the venom in it. It is in the light of this that the rate at which this Kaduna crisis escalated like a wild fire with the burning of churches and mosques, can be explained and satisfactorily too. The seeds of discord have already been sown. Things are fallen apart and the country is no longer at ease! There is so much tension in the country today. It is so thick that it can be felt. What we have is the peace of a graveyard. With so much poverty, hunger, starvation, deprivation and frustration, a “little” incident like this can make the currently enjoyed fragile peace to snap. The security agencies should work round the clock to halt any further ugly development.

I wish to admonish the Nigerian press to exercise caution and restraint in reporting this incident. On Saturday and Sunday, Weekend newspapers and Magazines will be churning out new editions and the Nigerian press likes to thrive in sensationalism. Improper handling of this matter by the press may throw the country into another orgy of violence. We cannot afford that now.

Already, the Miss World Pageant has been aborted. This is not good for the image of the country. Already, CNN, BBC and the “wire services” have already gone to town “celebrating” the news (as usual). But, if we should stop being hypocritical and tell ourselves the home truth, “don’t we see more “skimply dresses ladies” on our streets and various campuses?” An evening visit to Moremi Hostel of UNILAG, Idia Hall of U.I, Lady Ibiam Hostel of UNEC, to mention but a few will confirm this assertion (as if it needs confirmation). Hasn’t beauty pageants been going on in these country all along?- Miss Nigeria, Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, Queenafrik, etc. Doesn’t one reserve the right not to attend the occasion and to turn off his or her T.V. set if the pageant “stuff” offends his or her sensibilities? Even the fee placed on the “show” (N100,000, N150,000 and N250,000) shows that it is not for “ordinary” Nigerians. Some people earn N100,000 for a whole year as salary. Even for many graduates, it is their 2 or 3 months salary.

Finally, as the nation will be hosting the All African Games next year and bidding for the 2010 World Cup, can we still be trusted when we have already bungled this one?

To all our Muslim brothers, I say As-Salaam Alaikum wa-Rahmatullahi wa-Barakatuhu.

Let Reason Prevail.