What Future for the Nigerian Ummah? By Yunusa Aliyu Babando

The Nigerian Ummah, defined here as the community of Muslims where ever they reside within the country, is today afflicted by a malaise that is at once imposed and self-inflicted. As a consequence, the Ummah in Nigeria, unlike its counterparts in other parts of the world, and against the grain of its rich heritage is not anywhere contention, it has systematically disappeared from the landscape it once skillfully mastered spiritually, socially, economically, culturally and politically.

Not only that the Nigerian Ummah account for the poorest of the population (over 72% poverty incidence against the national average of 65%), they are also the most educationally disadvantaged in terms of educational enrollment, retention, examination performances, etc. For the Muslim women, of the 80% who are already poor, 71% cannot read and write and only about 3% have either attended college or university. In the Muslim North, over 10 million children of school age practically out or excluded from educational opportunities. It’s the same story with health care, employment and overall living standards.

In the meantime, the Ummah population keeps growing and consistent with the demographic trends, younger. A Muslim woman on the average bears 7 children compared to 4 on the average according some estimates. It is estimated that the population under the age of 15 years is expected to rise to 65% in the next 20-30 years. Rapid urbanization characterized by high unemployment is on-going, providing the fertile ground for the emergence of youth criminality and in many cases youth mobilization for violence by unscrupulous politicians. There is, of course, a much bigger problem related to the continuous deterioration of small-holder, peasant agriculture, projected to decline by 50% in 2050, a development made more complicated by the phenomenon of Climate Change and the associated natural disasters, diseases, foods, drought and desertification.

In addition to the aforementioned socio-economic pressures, the Nigerian Ummah is further afflicted by sundry existential challenges, to do with total lack of unity and sectarianism; misunderstanding and suspicion; spiritual and cultural disorientation. All these have lent themselves to political manipulation, evident in ravaging ethno-religious conflicts in the northern parts of the country, and in recent times, the 2011 post-election protests. The Ummah also has to contend with media bias against it, both globally and nationally, the stigma and images of  violence and terrorism; and the ideology of the “New World Order” and “Clash of Civilization” that underpin these biases. There is equally the seeming inability of the Nigerian Ummah to come to terms with the already fractured nexus of Muslim-Christian relations, all resulting in unnecessary misunderstanding and conflicts. All these have continued to put the Nigerian Ummah under intense pressure; always on the defensive; somewhat forgetful of its history and heritage; and most disconcertingly, unsure of its identity and its future within the global scheme of things.

It has been advanced by a number of scholars that the Nigerian Ummah has found itself in this sorry state due to a number of factors that range from deviation from the focal point of unity and purpose, the Qur’an and the Sunnah has enjoined believers to uphold; decline in morality; leadership deficits and corruption; and the absence of an intellectual movement; to lack of a modernist Islamic reform initiatives and the absence of a framework for the institutionalization of Shari’a that would serve as a cementing glue for the Muslim community across the country. It is not any surprise, that as recompense, the Ummah is experiencing many difficulties today. Valid points all these are; they, however, lack the organizing, holistic perspective towards the search for Alternative Futures for the Nigerian Ummah in or more practical, directional and systematic way.

Now the real question is: How will the Nigerian Ummah chart for itself a progressive future? To start with, it is worth understanding that the future doesn’t exist, never did and never will. By definition the future hasn’t happened. And when it does happen it becomes the present and then quickly becomes the past. It is also critical to acknowledge that the new emerging field of Future Studies does not seek to predict the future (as per crystal ball gazing of the babalawo), but that it rather seeks, at epistemological and ontological levels, to create different images of what the future might become, what is most likely to happen given current realities, and how an entity’s idealized design can fit into images of a preferred future. Therefore, any attempt at transforming the present state of the Nigerian Ummah requires this creative methodology for the future. This methodology has become an emerging philosophy in contemporary Islamic discourse and offers an opportunity for the Muslim community to evaluate itself and make positive predictions for the future based on visions and scenario formulations for the alternative development models, as determined by both the Ummah’s internal dynamics, and national and global cultural, political, social and economic forces.

Based on this approach, it is possible to come up with four scenario models of the Ummah as follows: Status-quo Ummah that seeks to celebrate demographic advantage while preserving the existing socio-cultural order and deepening the stagnation of the Ummah; Sectarian Ummah that seeks to perpetuate the current divisions, unnecessary schisms and claims by different groups and, hence, deny the Ummah the needed unity to confront the socio-economic and existential challenges facing it; the Rearview Ummah, which always seeks to romanticize the past, always referring to golden era of the Caliphate or the Sardauna whenever faced with challenges, without any concrete effort at drawing the necessary lessons for the new and complex age we live in; and lastly, the Purposeful Ummah with a purpose and mission, which seeks to be guided by Islamic principles and is conscious of its historical mission and global aspiration to be a civilizing force and a model of character in all fields of human endeavor, all underpinned by intellectual development, justice, security, and socio-economic well-being of the people. This is the preferred Ummah, the Ummah that Nigeria needs now and in the future.

Now based on the foregoing, what are the critical options for the Nigerian Ummah? In the first place, to confront squarely the situation it finds itself, the Nigerian Ummah need not re-invent the wheel in many areas, in its quest for revitalization. It can, for instance, learn from the experiences of the Ummah living under similar socio-economic conditions like Malaysia, which has transformed itself to become one of the most productive, self-reliant and technologically advanced in the world today. It could also learn from the Ummah from the former Soviet Union, who it is said, is better equipped than the rest of all the Ummah combined in the field of scientific and technical knowledge. Most recently, an emerging Ummah in Azerbaijan is witnessing rapid and dynamic development that is compatible with the developed countries. Worthy of note also, is the Diaspora Ummah in the United States and Europe, who have excelled in all fields of human endeavor in the last couple of years. For example, according to the John Zogby of Zogby International, 59% of Muslims in the US have at least a bachelor’s degree, which makes them one of the most highly educated in the country.

In this context what would be responsibilities of the Ummah with a purpose and mission? The first is to break the barrier that stands between the Muslim Ummah and the “Knowledge Society” that is the defining future of the twenty first century. Only recently, the Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Muhammed Sa’ed Abubakar lamented that millions of Muslim children are already outside the school system and queried “what kind of society can we build in the 21st century when our youth turn their back on science and technology and are unable to produce the next generation of doctors, engineers and other specializations necessary for sustaining the socio-economic development of the society.”

Secondly, there has to be a decisive shift of mindset and a redefinition of priorities among the Ummah. Rather than being pre-occupied with the status-quo, the past and unnecessary doctrinal altercations it is time the Nigerian Ummah embraces the path of collective preparation for ameliorating the situation the Ummah finds itself. In this regard, the Nigerian Ummah needs to adopt the new knowledge economy mindset which seeks to prepare it for the challenges of contemporary existence to create new opportunities by sharing with the people a vision for better future, harnessing positive energies of youth and women, building strong ethics and values, safeguarding the environment, and remaining united.

To accomplish these goals the Ummah needs to develop its vision in line with the values of its community. There is a need to, therefore, key into the vision 20:2020 of the federal republic of Nigeria which is aimed at transforming the social, economic, institutional, and environmental landscape of the country. To achieve this, the Nigerian Ummah should begin a programme of: developing leadership capacities at all levels of society to groom change agents that are forward looking; investing in the education sector, particularly in science and technology; empowering women and youth through financial support, upgrading of skills and cooperative/social enterprises to lay the foundation for self-reliance; developing capacities and techniques for mediation, dialogue and other peace building tools and initiatives, to enable the Ummah relate with diversities and complexities of the modern age.  It must also anchor the vision on the promotion of innovation, entrepreneurship and information technology (ICT); re-orienting the population away from the lust for easy money to a focus on real wealth creation in modern agricultural enterprises, industrial endeavours and solid minerals exploration. The mosques should be centres of not just worship and Daáwa, but of intensive learning, skill acquisition and character development of the young and the elderly alike.

In the final analysis, the Nigerian Ummah must realize that emotional outburst and thoughtless confrontation are no solution to the multi-dimensional challenges it faces today. Lest we forget, the Ummah has been forewarned by the Almighty that once it’s not ready to carry out its responsibility it will be substituted by another Ummah who would say “we hear and we obey”.

Yunusa Aliyu Babando
No. 34, Hospital Street, Jalingo.
e-mail: [email protected]