The Registrar/Chief Executive of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, Prof Is-haq Oloyede, is also the Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. He speaks with FRIDAY OLOKOR on some national issues.
Recently, a renowned Islamic scholar, Sheik Abubakar Gumi, advised state governors to use security votes to provide amenities for repentant bandits. Will you align with this view?
I have limitations in answering this question, there is a limitation because I have never been a governor. Owing to the fact that I have never been a governor, I wouldn’t want to pretend that I know under what condition they operate. But ordinarily, I will not agree to negotiating with bandits because it would encourage such a thing. But my own opinion does not matter. Why I am saying so is that I don’t pray to ever become a governor but assuming I am a governor today, facts available to me in the office will compel me (on decision to take). So since the governors are not mad, I would want to concede to them that probably they saw what we did not see. But to me as a person who is not in that position, it does not make sense to me.
Some people have argued that the Federal Government negotiated with the Niger Delta militants and this made it to set up the Presidential Amnesty Programme. Don’t you think it is high time issues like that really came up?
Let me tell you, in my understanding, there is a difference between criminality and civil rights agitation. To me, what I believe they were doing with the people of the South-South who felt that they have a right that were being trampled upon-that petrol is coming from them and they were not getting enough- is to create something to remedy whatever infractions the nation might have committed against them; it is sort of reparation. But for somebody to stand up, kill people, rape people and then say we can negotiate and give them money not to do those things, to me, it doesn’t make sense; it encourages banditry.
As an Islamic scholar and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, what do you think is the best solution to the issue of Almajiri phenomenon, which some northern governors have tried to ban?
When you say Almajiri, I am very careful about terminologies because they mean different things to different people. Anywhere you go today, there are beggars, whether in Yorubaland, Igboland or Hausaland. But those ones who are in Lagos are not called Almajiri, go to any event anywhere in this country, you will see these beggars; but those (beggars) who are in the North are largely seen as Almajiri even when their own beggars who are not Almajiri are part of it.
It is a phenomenon that has developed in the northern part of Nigeria and it has spread all over the country. I believe if you are talking of those people whose parents were misdirected to think they can get Islamic education by sending them out of the house and asking them to go and learn, those ones can be converted by mainstreaming the Almajiri school system into the public education system. And as far as I am concerned, it is not limited to the students alone; in order to be effective even the teachers have to be mainstreamed.
When Obafemi Awolowo was the Premier of Western Nigeria, and there were a shortage of Islamic teachers, the Western government of Nigeria instituted training whereby those people that could have been wasted as Almajiri were trained and retrained and many of them became prominent scholars thereafter.
When Nigeria was Nigeria and when the University of Ibadan was aware of its responsibility to the nation, the University of Ibadan was the first even before Ahmadu Bello University to come on board to establish the certificate programme for Arabic and Islamic Studies.
I can conveniently say that in the last decade, 50 per cent of those who teach Arabic and Islamic studies in the south-western part of Nigeria today are products of that crash programme. I am also a product of that system. That was a time when the system will look at the situation, look for an appropriate device and put such device in place; not now that we have politicised almost everything. The University of Ibadan did not only establish that certificate programme, it also established Centre for Arabic Documentation which enriched the Ibadan School of History. That was why you had a peculiar School of History at the University of Ibadan because they were able to use Arabic sources to go into some historical records that were written in Arabic and they distinguished themselves. The historians of the Ibadan school came up with rich (scholarly contributions) because they had the Eastern, the Western and everything merged together. But what happened thereafter? I don’t think the Centre for Arabic Documentation has now not been killed by fanaticism.
At that time, they were doing it for what was good for the nation and scholarship. But some people have entered the system, they have behaved in an unscholarly manner by revising almost all the gains of scholarship.
The issue of out-of-school children in the North is a source of worry to everybody. What do you think should be the solution?
The solution is simple! For those people who are out of school, try and get them into the school; it is that simple. But there are more complex issues to be decided. Who are those out-of-school? Out-of-school children are almost all over the country, it is the problem of boys in the South-Eastern part where women are going to school more than the men and this is also rearing its head in the South Western part of Nigeria.
The Almajiri system compounded the problem of out-of-school children and I am aware the current Minister of Education (Mallam Adamu Adamu) has made it a pillar of the plan of the administration and significant inputs have been made and trans-agency steps are being taken. And recently, the minister announced a significant reduction in the number of out-of-school children and I believe that is the right way. We should not relent; we should put in more efforts towards reducing that. I also believe that we also create out-of-school (children). I mean the system creates out-of-school when for example we insist that somebody who wants to get National Certificate of Education in Yoruba (not degree) should have O’Level (credit) in Mathematics and English. But that was not what (the requirement) those who were there 20 or 30 years ago had. Those people we are now glorifying that they were the best of people had only three credits when they were going for NCE and they rose to become professors in the system.
But now that we are making things unnecessarily difficult for somebody who wants to study Yoruba or Igbo or Hausa for instance, you are creating room for people to by-pass the system. That is why they are getting the credit (passes) now anywhere, it is just for you to make payment and you are sure.
Recently, we interviewed somebody here and there was no correlation between the person and the certificate. And we asked him: Did you actually write this examination? He confessed that he paid N15,000 and he was given the certificate. That is the ridiculous level that we have gone. I believe that we should combat examination malpractice because examination malpractice is at the root of this problem. But we are also creating unnecessarily examination malpractice by making unreasonable demand on the candidates.
Do you think the government needs to introduce birth control measures and policies in the country, especially in North?
I don’t know what you mean by birth control in the North or in the East. Birth control is a personal matter and individuals should take such decisions based on facts and experience that he has. It would be impossible, it would be impracticable to impose (whatever virtue you think it has) such things on individual families. It would be an encroachment on their right to decide the size of their family.
You are aware of the clashes between herders and farmers especially in the South-West and how the South-West governors have come up with Amotekun as a security strategy. Do you believe this can address the myriads of security challenges confronting the region?
For me personally, I want to believe that unless you are doing it for political purposes, if we really need to address the security of the nation, one thing we must emphasise is community policing and the community policing should not be done as just a show. We should go into the purpose of community policing.
If I have my way, I will start with the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. I will domesticate everybody up to the level of commandants –everybody from recruits to commandants, that is the equivalent of a state Commissioner of Police. I will return them to their states and give the governors the staff they are to work with. If you want to increase their number, you can do so, but the Federal Government will continue to pay for those ones it is handing over to you until they retire.
Then you take up the issue of working relationship between the NSCDC, police and other security agencies. Through that, there will not be cross-firing; this means security agents won’t work against each other. We can start to integrate in such a form; you can have the Assistant Controller-General, Deputy Controller-General at the top, who will administer and coordinate the activities at the Federal Government level. Such high offices won’t be more than five per cent of the whole force.
Building this at the state level, in my own opinion, will serve the purpose of community policing; and you can then integrate them into the Nigeria Police. Then, the commandants will thereafter be appointed by the state government but paid by the Federal Government. By so doing, the governors will have control of armed men but regulated men.
But with the way we are going in this Amotekun or whatever we call it, we are going to run away out of the frying pan into the fire. You have seen what has started to happen in Oyo State. So, in my own opinion, we should use the already established one, the NSCDC, as a testing ground; use them to get into the community policing issue and then we can gradually hand over the NSCDC to the state government, they are armed. But for Amotekun, I don’t know the level of ammunition they can carry; I don’t know whether governors cannot use them against their political opponents. There are issues in it. But in my own opinion, it would have been better if we go about implementing the community policing through the route of the NSCDC.
A governor from the North said there should be a law banning herdsmen in the North from grazing their cattle down to the South. Do you think this is a viable solution to all these clashes?
But my ordinary reaction to it was that I thought the governor was reacting to what you consider as persecution of herders and he felt that the people of the South would suffer for it if they stopped, this may also be. But if it is a genuine submission, I believe that it can be examined, whatever that is, let us address the issue with an open mind. It is not the North or the South dichotomy. I am happy that people are talking about herders and farmers, that is good. But when you are talking of Fulani herders and Yoruba farmers, then you are creating confusion.
The Muslim Rights Concern and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs often react whenever the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), is taken on issues that appear he favours one religion. When has the NSCIA become an arm of the Presidency?
Number one, the NSCIA is not an arm of the Presidency and there is no fact to support such wild allegation. But it is also true that there are newspapers that give the impression that they want to demonise Islam. So such newspapers, if they are not careful, are reflecting what they accuse others of doing.
Let me give you an example: Why can’t a newspaper that wants to accuse the government of supporting or favouring Muslims publish, for example, the list of service chiefs in the last 25 years and the presidents? The paper should also publish the names of all the ministers and their religion since 1999. Between 1999 and 2003, find out whether there is a single Muslim who was minister between 1999 and 2003-whether there is a single Muslim from all the southern part of Nigeria including Kwara and Kogi states. Why can’t such newspapers check and say, between 1999 and 2003, no Muslim in the South-West including Kwara and Kogi was found fit to be a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and Muslims did not see it as persecution of the Muslims or nepotism; they just felt it was accidental. Even when some Muslims woke up, only two of them were eventually brought up from that axis. These are facts that can be cross-checked.
You were a delegate in the 2014 National Conference and you participated very well. Most of the recommendations, including the restructuring of Nigeria, dominated the discourse. But it appears the Buhari regime is not ready to implement the recommendations.
Let me tell you, how many political conferences have we held and how many reports have been implemented to date? Before you start criminalising a particular government, there have been so many probes, investigations and so on and the reports are lying on the shelves. It is part of our culture to investigate, get the report and keep them on the shelves; it has become a national culture. So if you are talking about that, there was a political reform conference in 2005 or so, there was one before that, there was the 2014 conference report. Tell me which of them have been implemented. You have the Muhammad Uwais committee report which all of us celebrated. What percentage of the recommendations were implemented? The truth of the matter is that until we look at issues and identify a common interest, we are going nowhere. Those who are shouting about the last political conference reform are doing so because they feel it favours them. Those who are made to become the minority, despite the fact that they are in the majority in the country, would be stupid enough (after they have protested to the government) to say otherwise. You submitted the report and you now want the report to be implemented by people who have been marginalised in the composition! So, it means you want to impose the idea and decision of the minority on the majority because the composition of the conference itself was lopsided. So, people shout when they believe something favours them. But I believe that unless we aggregate national interest and rally one another around national interest, it is not sustainable. If you think you want to perpetuate hegemony against a group, whether religious, ethnic or anything, it will never work because it doesn’t work. Nothing is as good as justice and equity. These are things that you can sustain but you cannot sustain anything that keeps any group perpetually under subjugation, it will work for some time but not all the time.
How do you think Christians and Muslims can co-habit?
They can live together if they are sincere and have genuine intention to coexist. If it is a matter of tolerance, from the word ‘tolerance’ you will know what it means. If it is a matter of I am just tolerating you, it means if I have the opportunity I will not allow you to exist. God, out of His own knowledge, wants us to be a pluralistic society and that is what we are. So nobody should be under any illusion that he can convert the nation to a Christian or a Muslim community. The earlier we realise that we have to coexist with justice and equity, the better for all of us.