Looming Religious War Over Imamship in Kogi Central

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Kogi central senatorial district which comprises five local government councils is predominantly populated by Muslims. The district in recent time had been enjoying absolute peace and adequate security of lives and property having freed itself the unenviable record of being the most crisis-ridden zone in Kogi state. Oyibo Salihu, in this report, writes on looming religious bric-a-brac over Imamship tussle in the district.

Historical perspective

In 2007, clannish and political crises almost consumed the zone as many people were killed, while houses and other valuables worth millions of naira were destroyed.

A few weeks ago, another crisis that is capable of tearing Okene, the headquarters of the district, apart reared its ugly head as Islamic sets in the land scramble over who should replace the Chief Imam of Ebiralnd, Alhaji Musa Galadima, who died Friday, April 19, 2019.

Blueprint Weekend’s findings revealed that the central mosque in Okene, where all the Muslim faithful in the district worship before the other ones sprang up, was established in 1937 by the late Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Alhaji Ibrahim Onoruoyiza Attah. It was also learnt that successive chief Imams of the mosque were appointed by the paramount ruler based on honesty capability, knowledge of Islam and ability to carry members along in the teaching and other affairs of Islam.

However, records showed that Alfa Abdulsalam was appointed as the first Chief Imam of Ebiraland, but when he left the town, Abdulkarim Tajudeen was made temporary Imam before Malam Abdulrahim was installed as the substantive Imam who reigned for seven years.

In the same vein, Malam Suleiman, the third Imam and the first Ebira man to occupy the position, served the people for seven years before Sheikh Yahaya Tajudeen, who acted in a temporary capacity, was made Chief Imam and ruled for five years.

Apparently, the death of Sheikh Tajudeen paved the way for the appointment of Alhaji  Musa Abdullahi Galadima as the Chief Imam of Ebiraland and he ruled for 55 years, as the appointment of Chief Imams was made by the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland.

The tussle

Sadly, the death of Galadima appears to have thrown the district into chaos as there are many vested interests scheming to usurp the leadership of the central mosque.

The two prominent Islamic sects, Tijaniya and Izala, since the death of the Chief Imam have been engaging in secret and now open confrontations over who should take over the leadership of the mosque.

Expectedly, some weeks ago, during a Juma’at prayer, what could have resulted into a bloody battle between the two sets was averted by security operatives who waded into the skirmish and doused the tension.

Blueprint Weekend reliably gathered that members of Tijaniya set are supporting the appointment of Alhaji Salihu Abere who, before the demise of the Chief Imam, was the Naibi (second-in-command) just as the Izala set are rooting for Sheikh Luqman Abdullah, the son of the late Galadima.

Keen watchers of the unfolding events in the district, however, alleged that Sheikh Abdullah, the current chair of Kogi state Hajj Commission and a former lecturer at the Federal College of Education, Okene, has the backing of Governor Yahaya Bello as against the popular opinion of the Muslims in the district.

They are of the conviction that since Alhaji Abere has been occupying Naibi’s position for many years and had been deputising for the Chief Imam even whenever he led pilgrims to the Holy Land, he should be turbaned as the substantive Chief Imam of the land since he has all merited all the requirements of a Chief Imam.

Apparently, the Izala set on the other hand believes that the Tijaniya group has enjoyed its fair share of leadership having controlled the central mosque for over 82 years. According to them, they too have what it takes to preside over the affairs of the mosque.

Ohinoyi speaks

Irked by this development, which obviously had never happened in the entire land, the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland who is also the national vice-president of Jama’atu Nasril Islam as well as the national vice-president of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Dr Ado Ibrahim, said he had spoken to the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar (iii) over the succession tussle that is about to impede the peaceful co-existence of Muslims in Kogi central.

The Ohinoyi, who stated this in an interview with newsmen four days after the demise of the late Chief Imam in his palace, said by virtue of his position as the paramount ruler of the land, he is in the position to appoint Imams and Chief Imams without interference from anybody.

He had said: “I am not saying this because of my offices in the Islamic organisations, but because I am a traditional ruler. That seems not to have gone down well with the new administration here.

“It all happened that since the death of the Chief Imam I was not in a rush to go and appoint somebody. I still want peace and to do my consultations, though it is my right and if I do it, there is nothing anybody can do about it. But I heard that government is planning to appoint somebody that is not the choice of the people.

“I will not allow that and I called the Sultan and told him, this is what has happened and I am not going to allow it because there must be due respect to tradition and religion. Even the people came to my palace to tell me that if the government is going to kill all of them, they are ready to die for the purpose of this course. The people said that government cannot appoint anybody unless I do.”

Continuing, he said: “Also, the Sultan has told the governor of the state to stop his plan. He has told him that the person I put there all along, that is Naibi, should continue and at the right time, we will appoint the Chief Imam.

“I am surveying the situation more closely in the interest of our people, the religion and see what we can do not to cause destruction. We don’t want those that would create problems for us in the town. We want people who really know what Islam is. We want peace, freedom and development.

“If anything happens, the governor caused it and he has to face it. As far as I am concerned, I will not allow it. Some of these people have read Arabic Studies, but there must be a real understanding of the Islamic teaching beyond speaking Arabic language.”

Arguably, at a security stakeholders meeting held in government house on Tuesday Governor Bello without mincing words directed and ordered that the position of  Imamship in Okene the central senatorial district of Kogi state, is still very vacant.

“On the the issue of Imamship in this central senatorial district of Kogi state, specifically in Okene, I have directed and ordered that the Imamship is still very vacant; the time is not ripe yet because the situation is still tense and we cannot afford to go into electing or selecting a new Imam at this point and we cannot allow any body to cause mayhem and insecurity in the land.

“Therefore, the current Naibi still remains the Acting Chief Imam while we will make a decision in the nearest future as to who will ascend to the position of Chief Imam of Eiraland. That position I maintain and I stand by it. I urge every vested interest to sheathe their sword and not create trouble for the good people of the district.”

Clerics, others react

Commenting on the issue, an Islamic cleric who hails from the district, Sheikh Kamaldeen Abdulmaliq, said he had spent an appreciable part of his life in the northern part of the countr , and that “whenever a Chief Imam dies, it is the traditional ruler of the town that appoints the new one.”

“It baffled me when I heard about the Imamship situation in Kogi central. In other climes, the Chief Imam is directly under the control of the traditional ruler and the appointment of a Chief Imam is the prerogative of the monarch. If it is true that the Kogi state governor has interest in who becomes the Chief Imam of Ebiraland, he should please in the interest of the people drop the idea.

“We appreciate his efforts in ensuring that the district has a befitting central mosque, but bringing a person as the Chief Imam against the wish of Muslims may spark endless crises,” he said.

Also, in his remarks, a social critic, Mohammed Andah Zubair, appealed to Ebira people to handle the issue with utmost care, stressing that the land cannot afford to witness another round of crises.

“Any person that witnesses the crises of 2007 in the district will always run away from issues that can brew crisis. Many houses that were burnt that time are yet to be re-built; many people who lost their loved ones up till now are still nursing the effects of the crisis.

“I am appealing to those who have interest in the Imamship of the central mosque to put the interest of the land over and above every personal interest. Since there are guidelines often used to select and appointment a Chief Imam, I am of the opinion that the guidelines should be applied diligently without favours or sentiments,” he said.

Credit: Blueprint

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