Saturday 9th Safar, 1434, equivalent to December 22nd, 2012, was an important day in the history of Nigerians living in the UK. It was the day when the Winter conference and the Annual General Meeting of the Nigeria Muslim Forum, a UK based charity with specific focus on Nigeria organized a conference with the theme of this piece as part of the contribution of Nigerians in diaspora towards addressing the social, economic and security challenges facing their country. It was unique in the senses that it brought together different people with a wealth experience that is required to move the society forward. The conference took place at the University of Leicester, United Kingdom.
The speakers at the conference include the former Chief of Army staff, Lt General Abdurrahman Dambazau (rtd), currently a fellow at Harvard University, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Dr Aliyu Moddibo, President of the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria, Dr Ibrahim Datti Ahmad, Sheikh Isa Ali Pantami, a prominent Islamic Scholar in Nigeria and currently a PhD candidate in Scotland, the Chairman of the Kano State Council of Ulama, Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil, also attending a course in Cambridge, Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Dr Mathew Hassan Kukah, and Dr Abdullahi Shehu, a neurologist based in Coventry and the new Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Nigeria Muslim Forum.
The idea behind the conference came about during an Executive Committee meeting of the Nigeria Muslim Forum in Leeds earlier in 2012, when Alhaji Bashir Shuwa, an elder based in Leeds suggested the idea as a way of coming up with a practical solution to addressing the challenges facing the country especially Northern Nigeria that is gradually becoming difficult to govern due to the challenges the above conference seeks to address. Although the idea did not materialize as originally envisaged, nevertheless the conference was a step in the right direction.
The first key paper was presented by Sheikh Isa Ali Pantami who paid significant attention to understanding good governance from an Islamic perspective. According to Sheikh Pantami, good leadership in Islam stems from having good leaders, because when you have good leaders, there is every likelihood the rest of the society will accept and follow their good examples. According to Sheikh Panatmi, one of the problems we have in Nigeria is having what he calls “irreligious religious people” governing the affairs of the people, therefore misleading them and giving Islam a bad name. The paper by Sheikh Panatmi provided the overall context for the entire conference on the issue of good governance.
The next presentation was by Lt General Abdurahman Dambazau (rtd), who injected a strong intellectual dose into the conference. His paper which focuses on “poverty alleviation, security and stability” was presented under the chairmanship of Professor Mashood Baderin, a Professor of Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies and a UN envoy on human rights in Darfur. The paper presented statistics and data about the state of poverty in Nigeria with specific reference to Northern Nigeria. He paid attention to the socio-economic and cultural factors that promote poverty and bring instability. According to him, while the majority of the Nigerian population is in the north, according the Nigerian census, the region is the hub of poverty. He cited examples of social and cultural issues that have plunged the North into widespread poverty. Noting that there is nothing wrong with polygamy, the General condemned the prevailing tendency where some men marry wives and have a lot of children, and then run away to Lagos or other places, abandoning their families. He called on northern politicians holding political offices to come up with an economic blueprint like southern politicians holding political offices are doing.
Dr. Aliyu Moddibo`s presentation was more practical when compared to other presentations. He suggested a lot of ways poverty could be tackled head on in the north. He identified areas in the region that could be developed through entrepreneurship which could in turn create employment. A key issue he addressed is remittances which Nigerians in diaspora send home. According to him in the last couple of years, Nigerians in diaspora have contributed more than $2 billion to the Nigerian economy. He suggested that with proper strategy, this money could bring a lot of change. He concluded by suggesting to Nigerians in diaspora to consider setting up micro-economic banks.
The President of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, Dr Ibrahim Datti Ahmad dwelt on the experience of the states that practice Shariah in Nigeria, and some of the efforts towards poverty alleviation. His paper elaborated on the issue of Zakat and its role in alleviating poverty. He equally called on Islamic scholars to live up to their responsibility rather than frequently visiting the houses of political office holders seeking favours or opportunities to attend Hajj or Umra.
To be continued insha Allah.
Dr. Yusha’u (firstname.lastname@example.org), a former staff of the BBC, is a public affairs analyst. He is a weekly columnist for PREMIUM TIMES