Opinion: Arewa nation and the Bauchi Quranic recitation competition

Nigeria is a dynamic place really. We claim to be a secular state yet we belong to religious organizations, recognize sharia and spend billions of naira annually to fund pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Mecca.

Like a swarm of bees, top government officials lead Nigerian pilgrims to the Holy lands every calendar year. I found the following excerpts from the website of the National Bureau of Statistics particularly interesting and apt:

Nigeria as a secular nation is made up largely of highly developed and diversified religious groups. Apart from Christianity and Islam, which are the most widely practised, there are numerous local faiths grouped together as Traditional Religions. There is also a category of religious groups which do not fall into any of the three main identities.

……For example, religious activities affect business transactions sometimes negatively on Fridays and Sundays, while the peak periods of business activities are associated with such major religious festivals as Christmas, Id el Fitri, and Easter and, in some locations, major traditional religious festivals. Religious activities have clearly defined spatial spread. For example, Christianity is widely practised in the southern part of the country, while Islam commands majority attention in the north.

While the above is a correct position on religious activities in Nigeria, it fails to highlight the huge state resources that go into maintaining religion in Nigeria. There is no need repeating the fact that religion appears to be the opium of the Nigerian masses.

However, we have to take the right measures in curtailing the many budgetary excesses earmarked for religious activities by the government of a country which claims to be secular. I understand that religion is a sensitive issue in Nigeria but I hope, perhaps fruitlessly that this would not be regarded as a criticism of any particular religion.

I have never stopped to express my frustration with government sponsored pilgrimages and other religious activities in the country. However this particularly story about a national Quranic competition caught my attention and reminded me that perhaps it may be difficult to separate government and religion especially in a dynamic country as ours.

On Saturday, 21st November 2015, a number of Nigerians expressed their disgust on Twitter at the news that the Bauchi State Government had approved the sum of fifty five million naira for the successful conduct of the state Quranic recitation competition. Wondering why the state was allocating such large sum of money to the competition, I got interested and decided to do some ‘googling’ up.

What I discovered was that apart from the huge sum we spend on sponsorship of pilgrims to the Holy lands, it appears that the government at the state and national level sponsor a national Quranic recitation competition.

While it remains largely unclear whether the national competition is sponsored by the federal government, it appears that state governments sponsor the state competitions, perhaps with the support of Islamic bodies, corporate organizations and wealthy Muslims.

An obvious example is the fifty million naira the Bauchi state government has approved for the competition in the state. In addition, gleanings from online news confirms to a large extent government support for the competition. In one edition of Facing the Ka’abba, an Islamic column on Vanguard Newspaper, the columnist wrote that:

…. Cash gifts running into millions of Naira were splashed on them including cars and multiple scholarships to any academic institution around the world.

The Jigawa state government alone donated 12 cars for all the male and female winners in the six categories alongside fridges, sewing machines and computers as consolation prizes for other contestants with N5 million going to the foundation; Center for Islamic Studies, Othman Danfodio University, Sokoto which organised the competition.

Among personalities who doled out gifts to the winners and all contestants include the chairman of the occasion, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos; Niger state governor, Dr. Aliyu Babangida; Kaduna State governor, Ralman Yero; Adamawa State governor, Murtala Nyako;, Speaker of the National House of Assembly, Rt Hon. Aminu Tambuwal; the Shehu of Borno; the wife of the Vice President, Aisha Sambo.

A news report on National Mirror also lends credence to the government support for the competition;

The Borno State Government is set to sponsor those that represented the state in the just concluded 2013 Quranic recitation competition held in Gusau, Zafara State to study in various disciplines in Islamic universities in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

.. He used the occasion to present a Volkswagen Golf car to those that were yet to be presented with the gift, urged them to keep the flag flying and assured that his government is always ready to assist the Quranic recitation competition.

Should we not question the rationale behind the budgetary supports for the competition when the North remains predominantly uneducated? For many of us in the southern part of the country, it’s difficult to understand the massive number of children who are out of school in the North, majorly because a large percentage of the children in the south can at least have access to basic primary education, not without considerable financial distress to parents, but it exists at the least.

However, children in the northern parts of the country remain largely uneducated especially rural communities. These eventually have led to urban migration of many of these children to the cities.

They have often been called the almajiris, and you would often see them begging on the streets while their mothers often crippled or blind sits in corners waiting for the proceeds of the ‘sales’ made by these children.

This necessitated the attempt by the President Jonathan led administration to build more schools for almajiri in order to get them off the streets and give them some ‘education’ albeit majorly Islamic and Quranic in nature.  “Almajiri” is a hausa word meaning immigrant children in search of search of Qur’anic education.

The children are sent out early in life to seek Islamic knowledge outside their environment. They are placed under Islamic teachers known simply as ‘mallam’ under whom they are supposed to learn the rudiments of the religion. It’s a system that had been in place long before the advent of the colonialists.

However this same system has also wreaked havoc with the eventual radicalisation of the children such that they became a menace, some sort of thorn in our national flesh. We need no greater example, than the Boko Haram insomnia.

Reading through Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday gives a humane angle to the subtle origin of radicalisation and its ripple effect on society. Recently, #EducateArewa trended on Twitter and, despite the fact that some of the sponsors of the trend were the same group of scallywags who criticized the efforts of the Jonathan administration in curbing illiteracy in the North; there is truly a need to educate the Arewa nation.

Thus, I have no issue with government sponsorship and building of almajiris schools in the North, knowing full well that the almajiri system is designed to help children stay out of the street, avoid picking up dangerous social vices and live as responsible members of the society provided they don’t get radicalised by the tutors.

However, beyond that, I cannot understand the reason for the state sponsorship of the competition. Government officials, if so moved by their religious persuasions, can sponsor the program from their private pocket and even get their Muslim friends with deep pockets to cough out money to support the funds but not out of state coffers.


Oped pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Oluwatosin Fatoyinbo tweets @tosinfat

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