In the last five years Bida, my home town, has attracted bad press and public attention nationwide. The source of this attraction, it seems, has been the apparently well-intentioned but grossly misrepresented actions of its paramount ruler, the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, on the emotive issues of sex and religion.
Five years ago the story was about a randy 84-year-old man, Mohammed Bello Abubakar, alias Masaba, with his harem of 86 wives, some of them young enough to be his daughters and even granddaughters. The man’s lifestyle was a clear breach of the Penal Code of the old North and a violation of the norms and traditions of the Islamic society he lived in.
One fine morning the Etsu, as descendant of Malam Dendo, the flag bearer of Shehu Usman Danfodiyo in Nupeland during his 19th century jihad, and therefore the modern day custodian of Islam in his territory, decided to put a stop to Masaba’s impunity. Accordingly, the Etsu summoned the heretic to the palace to defend his conduct before the town’s clerics and community leaders. He couldn’t. So he was asked to choose between Islam, which he professed, and his 86 wives, since the religion forbade a man to have more than four. He accepted to choose his religion.
Or so it seemed; on the day he was to inform the palace of his choice of the four wives he was to live with, the man simply disappeared. Next thing, he sued the palace before the state high court for the violation of his fundamental right to live as he chose. And before you could say harem all manner of human rights organizations, with the press in tow, were falling over themselves to defend the man.
Since then the man has, for all practical purposes, become an (untouchable) media celebrity. This was five years ago.
Nearly five years on last month the big story has been about a beautiful 25 year-old student of Federal Polytechnic, Bida, who converted to Islam in February. Charity, the daughter of a pastor of Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) – one of the country’s leading Pentecostal churches – Raymond Uzoechina, sought and eventually got the audience of the Etsu to ask for his protection from her father who she claimed could harm her because of her conversion.
From all accounts, including that of her father, the palace did not readily oblige Aisha, her adopted Islamic name. First, the Etsu asked her if her father knew of her decision. When she said no he asked for her father’s telephone number and called him to come to Bida. He sent for him twice, first on March 1 and then the following day. “Overwhelmed by the call on March 2,” Pastor Uzoechina told the press, “I had to travel to Bida to ascertain what was wrong.”
Predictably, the palace encounter was not a pleasant one for both parties. According to one account, the Etsu first asked the father if his daughter had ever suffered any mental problems and he said no. The Etsu then confirmed to his invitee that his daughter had converted to Islam. The pastor was then given a room to talk things over privately with his daughter. The talk did not end happily.
Since then Pastor Uzoechina has accused the Etsu of kidnapping his daughter and forcibly converting her into Islam. Naturally the Christian Association of Nigeria has rallied to his support. “The Emir of Bida(meaning, of course, the Etsu Nupe),” its president, the combative Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, said last week, “ must understand that Christianity and Islam must stand side by side. So we are using this occasion to say: ‘Release our daughter to us.’”
Interestingly but even more worryingly, it seems President Goodluck Jonathan too has weighed in on the pastor’s side; on separate occasions he had asked first the Etsu and then the Niger State governor, Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu, in not so many words, to find a way of releasing Aisha Charity to her father.
Apparently the logic seems lost on the CAN leadership that Aisha Charity’s case is even more symbolic of fundamental human rights than that of the recent Senate’s so-called approval of marriage below 18 for girls over which it has threatened to ask its flock to take to the streets if the Senate does not reverse itself.
Aisha Charity is 25 and is therefore more than old enough to decide things for herself. She has consistently said she converted of her own free will. Certainly the Etsu Nupe’s invitation to Pastor Uzoechina to his palace to talk things over with his daughter is not the action of someone who is a kidnapper intent on forcing his belief on another.
Even more certainly scapegoating him for the predicament of Aisha’s father and, by extension, that of CAN, will not solve the problem for anyone who thinks he has one with her conversion, even if it were induced.
So far the most sensible and sober thing anyone has said about this controversy is the eloquent piece written on it by Bitrus Gwadah, a Kaduna based senior lawyer, in last Saturday’s Weekly Trust. It is an article that anyone interested in stopping the episode from getting out of hand must go back and read.
Abubakar Idris Usman: all’s well that ends well?
It’s now thirteen weeks since I first wrote on May 8 about the plight of my youth corper “son” Abubakar Idris Usman, on these pages in an open letter to the Director General of the National Youth Service Corps, Brigadier-General Okorie Affiah.
The reader will recall that he got into trouble with the NYSC authorities in Kaduna State over an article he had written in The Nation (November 22, 2012) which was critical of the facilities at the state’s orientation camp. The article, the authorities said, was sheer malice and breached the service rules against talking to the press.
As penalty for his alleged offense he was initially denied posting for his primary assignment until he retracted the story. When he and his real father, a childhood friend, brought his predicament to my attention I rebuked him, as an uncle should, for breaching his service regulations but told him to stand by his story so long as he was sure of his facts. He said he was even though he had apologized to the authorities for the embarrassment he had caused them following his father’s and another uncle’s intervention with the authorities.
Apart from refusing him his primary posting until he retracted his story, his camera and handset were seized. He was also threatened with a month’s extension without pay and, worst of all, he was interrogated by the State Security Service on allegation that he was Boko Haram.
After several weeks of stalemate the local NYSC relented and posted him to a remote village in the state in March. He had barely settled down when he was reposted to Delta State. The reposting letter said this was at his own request. When, however, he pointed out that he never made any such request, he was issued another letter which said this was punishment for his alleged offence.
At this point I got a senior lawyer friend, Yahaya Mahmud, SAN, to intervene by sending a petition to the service Director General, and the Minister of Youth, Inuwa Abdulkadir, Esq. My friend did so gratis.
Not long after the petition the DG, I was made to understand, instructed Kaduna to rescind the Delta posting. For weeks Kaduna did not carry out the instructions. However, it did so finally last week after our lawyer sent a reminder.
Penultimate Monday, Usman was called to the head office and given a letter, dated June 31, posting him to Katsina State. He has since reported there and has been posted to Government Technical College, Funtua, for his primary assignment.
Hopefully this is the end of an episode that needed not to have occurred at all – never mind dragging on for months – but for the thin skin of your typical government official.
Re: Aregbesola’s real transformation
We have indeed known your mindset. No non-Muslim can ever go right, and no Muslim can ever go wrong even if he is secretly – expletive deleted – your mother. Now, even if you’ve sworn never to see anything right about the president, because he is your sworn enemy, being a non-Muslim, what is the purpose of trying to drag him in the mud before commencing on praise singing on Aregbesola? Is it a gimmick to win the trust of the Yorubas? Mind you Haruna the Yorubas are very wise people. They are not fools like you and so you cannot fool them in order to win their support.
Thanks for your article on “Aregbesola’s real Transformation’. Please advise Abia State Governor to learn from Aregbesola and stop his unpopular media campaign.
The President and his loquacious aides have truly transformed Nigeria to a state of insecurity, corruption, complacency, idiosyncrasy, man’s inhumanity to man, impunity, incompetence, lies, oppression, fraud, inconsistency ,blackmail, injustice, just to mention a few. President Jonathan should reflect on how GOD has been so good to him and focus more on uniting the nation rather than this macabre dance of nakedness in the market square. Aregbesola is a transformation example that the presidency must study to correct the misgivings about the true meaning of the word. It is not about propaganda and rhetoric.
Your column on Aregbesola’s transformation was well-written. Your points were convincingly marshalled. I pray that God should help your home state – NIGER – to attain same status one fine day.
Abdulkadir, Bida, Niger State.
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