A cross section of Islamic scholars


Thursday, July 13, 2017, the United States Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs held a Round Table discussion with the Muslim and Christian community leaders under the aegis of the Religious Leaders Anti-Corruption (RLAC) working group on the need for them to take a leading role in anti-corruption advocacy in Nigeria. 


The conference which was held at the Multi-Purpose Room of the U.S. Consulate General, Victoria Island, Lagos, had in attendance, Imam Shefiu Abdulkareem Majemu, Bishop Emmah Isong, Imam Saadullah Bello, Dr Halima Egberongbe among other prominent religious leaders. 


Since its formation in 2016, the group has developed partnerships with leading anti-corruption voices in the civil society in other to fight corruption at all levels in Nigeria.


Corruption is one of the major problems bedeviling Nigeria as a country since Independence on October 1, 1960. It was one of the major reasons why the country experienced over 10 abortive and successful coups in the last 50 years. Rather than fighting corruption, the military institutionalised corruption as a culture. The scourge got to an alarming rate during the Peoples Democratic Party 16-year democratic rule and the world watched with disdain as the former President Goodluck Jonathan declared that “stealing is not corruption”!  


Although, the President Muhammadu Buhari led government was initially accused of witch-hunting when he declared war on corruption, barring judiciary pro-corruption stance, it remains the most successful anti-graft war the country has witnessed going by the high profile corruption cases being investigated and the level of embezzlement perpetrated by the past leaders.


In the last two years of his administration, Nigerians have seen, like never before, corrupt politicians willingly returning stolen funds to avoid being jailed, while some forfeited properties worth billions of naira. With all the revelations of mismanagement, hidden monies and diversions of public funds by ex-government officials uncovered by the anti-graft agency, the former British Prime Minister, David Cameron was right to have described Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt” and if President Buhari had not come to the rescue, corruption would have consumed us.   


Evidently, the current happenings at the seat of power – with judicial and legislative conspiracy against the executive arm – shows that corruption is fighting back; and with the absence of President Buhari who is on a medical leave abroad, religious leaders have significant roles as God’s vicegerents on earth to find lasting solutions to the scourge of corruption.



Why The Religious Leaders?


The acting US Representative, Ms. Amy Lillis told the religious leaders at the round table as they discussed various means of educating their followers (rich and poor) scattered all over the sectors where cases of corruption are recorded on a daily basis. 


“We want to engage Nigerians economically. We want to introduce initiatives to drive people away from poverty. But the high rate of corruption in the land wouldn’t allow us to achieve that. With the level of corruption being perpetrated, you can’t fight poverty and win. It’s not just possible,” she said. 


From this submission, it is almost an axiom that religious leaders are regarded as special agents that bring about positive change in the society. They engage in goodness and call people to all that’s good (al-maroof) and shun bad conducts, just as they forbid wrong or evil (al-munkar) as established in the noble Qur’an 3: 104, 9: 11222: 41. 


Unfortunately, many religious leaders seem to have have abandoned this important mission for flashy and flamboyant lifestyles – the kind of life bigger than what they earn as clerics. Yet, some are like chameleon, preaching what they do not practice, whereas Allah (SWT) has warned “Oh you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do? Most hateful it is with Allah that you say which you do not do”.  Qur’an 61: 2-3.


Our religious institutions now swim in the water of corruption. They no longer conduct themselves as inheritors of the prophets and representatives of Allah. There have been reported cases of frauds in many religious centers and organisations. In fact, some respected clerics have been accused of receiving foreign grants on behalf of their members and diverting such to private accounts. In some other reports, there are allegations that these presumed ‘men of God’ make protective charms for armed robbers and internet fraudsters who ended up paying Zakat or Tithe from their loots.


In Nigeria, it is an undisputed fact that some Christian and Muslim clerics have made themselves, pencils in the hands of the corrupt politicians. Their livelihoods depend solely on these politicians to the extent that it becomes practically impossible to correct them when they err; after all, he who pays the piper calls the tune, says the popular saying. Without an iota of shame, they gather their followers to organise special vigils or duaa for their political benefactors who are being investigated by the anti-corruption agencies for corrupt practices.  They gained so much from these politicians at the expense of their poor followers who may have no specific job or comfortable means of livelihood.


The founding member of RLAC and the Executive Director of Strength in Diversity Development Centre (SDDC), Lagos, Imam Shefiu Abdulkareem Majemu affirmed the development. He said: “Religious leaders are supporting corruption. We are often interested in grabbing for ourselves for benefits our churches or mosques (if we vote for them), instead of questioning the kind of job they do and how the money is secured or sourced. We are carried away by the wealth they flaunt; and care less about how they earn the money. It’s the beginning of corruption for religious leaders to demand material benefits from the politicians. We should not ask them what they would do for our church or mosque; our job is to preach, teach and warn them of the evils of corruption according to the holy books”.


The above statement notwithstanding, there still exist morally responsible organisations with conscience, who have been at the fore-front of anti-corruption campaign long before the coming of the All Progressives Party (APC)-led government. For instance, Imam Abdullah Shuaib, the former Coordinator of Conference of Islamic Organisations (CIO) recalled how his organisation and another one (The Muslim Congress) rejected $3 million offered them by the immediate administration to secure their members support for the re-election of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. 


“It is not a secret. They came, offered us over $3 million. We said no. It’s un-Islamic. We don’t want because we know very well that it was bait; it was a poison and you cannot eat and dine with the devil and think the devil will not come after you. And today we have been vindicated”. The former Chairman of CIO, who is now the Executive Secretary/CEO, Al-Jaiz Zakat Waqf Trust Fund told reporters at another function. 


CIO, a conglomerate of Muslim organisations and scholars has been concerned with the promotion of unity, understanding and purpose among Nigerian Muslims since inception. The group recently gathered over 600 Lagos Imams and Alfas for A-Day Seminar where they brainstormed, among others, on how the Imams would be empowered financially without depending on gratifications from corrupt politicians. 


The second group, The Muslim Congress (TMC) whose President, Dr Lukman Abdur Raheem is currently the co-Chairman of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), Lagos state has been critical of President Buhari’s anti-corruption war through the organisation’s quarterly state of nation address. He didn’t only commend the regime for refusing to back down in the face of the numerous intimidations and threats; it also offered critical tips to the anti-graft agency, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). As a Muslim body, TMC has also empowered thousands of Nigerian Muslims through one of her organs, Zakat and Sadaqah Foundation.


Corruption Has No Religion

The fact that some religious leaders support or involve in corrupt practices doesn’t mean the good efforts of others should be rubbished. No religion supports corruption. In actual fact, the two holy books (the Bible and the noble Qur’an) frown strongly at this disgusting act. “Thy shall not steal” can be found in Exodus 20: 15 and according to Q.5: 38, the Almighty Allah says, “As for the thief, the male and the female, amputate their hands in recompense for what they committed as a deterrent (punishment) from Allah. 


Religious leaders must therefore come together under a strong body (through interfaith, Muslim or Christian organs separately) and either expunge or expose the bad eggs from among them before they could successfully embark on anti-corruption campaign among their followers using the additional innovative options suggested at the discussion forum such as media outlets, sermons and train-the-trainer workshops.


The Mimbar (pulpit) or the Altar is a potent tool to reach out to the larger congregations if effectively used by religious leaders to warn their followers of the evils of corruption and other vices. Every Nigerian citizen must be carried along – from the elites and the corrupt politicians to the grassroots where corruption thrives – the artisans, traders among others. 


It is an indisputable fact that corruption cannot be totally eradicated in any society of humans, but it can be tamed if all Nigerians set aside their tribal, religious and political sentiments to join the President Buhari-led anti-corruption campaign. As agreed by the participants at the Religious Leaders Anti-Corruption (RLAC) working group Round Table, fighting corruption shouldn’t just be an ideology of a political party, it should be embraced by all the political parties. 

Political parties should have a way of weed out corrupt politicians or candidates with shady deals and questionable character within their midst and prevent them from emerging at their primaries. Such questionable characters and unscrupulous elements shouldn’t be given opportunity to run the affairs of the country in any capacity.


Consequently, in line with the Prophetic tradition (peace be upon him), which says; “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand…”, the convener, Embassy Of The United States, Nigeria, the RLAC and with BudgiT, a local NGO launched “Report Yourself”, a web-based platform built to encourage citizens’ participation in the fight against corruption in Nigeria.


The website (reportyourself.org) gives every Nigerian, the power to report corrupt practices at different sectors (banking, airports, education, electricity, food and drugs, among others) without revealing their identities. It’s thus expected that the media as an agent of change alongside religious organisations will bring the initiative to the consciousness of the masses through their relentless advocacies in powerful gatherings, teevee channels, radio stations, newspaper pages and online platforms.

– By Rasheed Abubakar, a journalist with “Daily Independent” and the author of “Hijab and the Nigerian Press”. Email:rawshield123@gmail.com

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