Interviewer: Seyhmus Nayýr / World Bulletin
We know the name of Nigeria a little since there are Nigerian footballers playing in our country. But it is a team that wins the hearts of most of us when it joins the world cup. But what else do we know about Nigeria?
Nigeria is ruled as a Federal Republic. In the common sense the government has no official religion. Nigeria has a population of 150 million people, 51 % is Muslim and 33 % is Christian. The petroleum, on the first rank in the national country, is the most important energy resource. It is a member of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). It is the only member country in Africa. Despite that, the rate of agricultural sector is 40% in gross domestic product. In Nigeria that gained its independence from England on October 1, 1960, could achieve multi-party democracy in 1994. The president of the state is elected by popular vote.
Although Nigeria, a member of many international organizations like UN, Organization of African Unity(OAU), Commonwealth of Nations, joined Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), not resisting in Christian minority's press, it left this organization. Its capital city is Lagos and there are 30 federal states and also the official language is English. In addition, it is one of several countries that money laundering is done.
In Nigeria where 250 different tribes live in, most of the population consists of the Husas, Yorubas, Igbos and Fulanis. Churches were built as many as it can not be seen in any Christian or Western countries. So it is the country that there are too many missionaries.
One of the most important domestic issues in Nigeria is the pressure that Christians superimposed on Muslims to have a voice in the administration. Therefore the state does not allow any Islamic organizations and Islamic political activities to be made. Another interesting point is that in Nigeria where may be on the fourth rank among OPEC countries in terms of petroleum reserves potential, there are serious sanitary problems.
We interviewed with author and journalist Yusuf Armaðan who went to Nigeria together with a team of Humanitarian Aid Organization (IHH) about the economical and social structure of the country, which we hope is instructive.
Can you give us some information about Nigeria?
Nigeria is located in midwest Africa, has an area of 924 thousand km2 and shares a border with Cameroon, Niger, Benin, Chad and Atlantic Occean in the south. It is the second biggest country in Africa in terms of wealth and commerce potential after South Africa. Also it is the most populous countries in Africa and has a population of about 150 million. It is one of the most influential countries of the Organization of African Unity, also, a member of D-8. Nigeria was exploited first by Portuguese colonial administration until 1960, then the British for long years. We are not wrong to sum it up by saying 'Nigeria is a paradox of poverty despite the wealth'.
Nigeria declared its independence on October 1, 1960. After that date, national economy and order were often shaken by many military coups. Dictators who came to power by military coups took the possessions of the country away abroad for each time. They did not do anything good for their country. Nigeria, saved from the colonial administration in 1960, faced a different side of colonialism this time. This is quite thought provoking. In my opinion this is a new way of colonialism that is less expensive and costly. You are not there but still you can exploit it there. In one sense, mentality of colonialism is practised by local administers this time. Today big global companies have directed the economy in Nigeria.
The way of governing is federalism. Each state has a federal parliament, law, cabinet of its own . Also each state represents a different political system. Most of the provinces in the north of the country are ruled by Sharia law. Some of them are Kono, Sokoto and Kaduna. In the southern provinces, there is a mixed governing that consists of both Muslims and Christians.
There are two divisions, the North and South in Nigeria. Why do you think there is such a division?
Nigeria is a country where is ethnically shaped. There are 253 different tribes and so 253 different languages. But the official language is English. It means the people use English even to communicate with each other. Most of the population consists of ethnically tribes like the Hausas, Yorubas, Igbos, Fulanis. The Hausas settle generally in the north of the country and 90 % of them is Muslim and also they are 22% of the overall population. The Yorubas are 21% of the country and the half of them is Muslim, the other half Christian. The Igbos are almost Christian and are 8% of the country. Kanurs whose population is 4% of the country are all Muslims. Also 90% of the Fulanis are Muslims and 11% of the overall population. The tribes like the Fulanis and Hausas who are almost Muslims are in the north. The other tribes that are Christians and the ones called Aminists who prefer living the traditional religions are mainly in the middle and south parts of the country.
We can say that Lagos that is located in the south looks richer since it has a border of Atlantic Ocean and is the former capital city and also an important old trade center. But we see that means of living are usually agriculture and livestock in the north. The south regions have richer deposits especially in terms of petroleum. We can state that there are more money circulations in the south regions compared with the other parts of the country if considered that the South has a strategic position in trade ways.
But thinking the fact that Christians live mainly in the south, we could be wrong to reply it if we ask this question 'whether the Christians are the rich people of this country or not'. Almost all of the big companies within the country are dependent on the foreigners or consisted of the foreign companies. We can say that the Christians suffer as much as Muslims in Nigeria.
THE REAL FACE OF THE MISSIONARIES
Do you think missionary can be one of the reasons that Western aid organizations are there?
If I am not wrong, World Bank opened a credit of 200 million dollars for Lagos province in May, 2006 with a decision issued. It is very interesting and strange for the West to open a credit and provide aid supplies for the countries it once exploited. It is necessary to ask them why they help. Their fundamental problem may be that if these people could not find any possibility to support themselves at home, they would flow into the western countries to benefit these opportunities. The only address would be America or Western Europe. In order to prevent the potential danger of the possibility to come to the western countries, by calculating the costs, the west sees it as a benefit to aid those people enough to survive. So in helping the needy and dependent people in their own country, they want to prevent the economical, social and cultural issues to come further. But they give out most of the aids through churches. By both aiding and giving them out through churches, they make the people dependent on churches and achieve their goals in this way.
This is a serious missionary activity that is consciously done. It is possible to see a church in each step on the streets of the capital city. Churches are a kind of business houses and clergymen work as businessmen. That is why the people call clergymen businessmen that earn at the most. The aids stated should be provided by a Muslim organization. It is necessary to think about it, too. Here we should mention about another point. There are intensive missionary activities in the overall country. And it expands in a very organized way. In my opinion those organizing and sponsoring the missionary activities know very well that Muslims have not said the final word about the world yet. And the Muslims of the world are looking for their words. That is why Muslims are dangerous. This is the first factor. The second one is the probability that the people living in those regions can start to move to the western and rich countries because of the desperation. As I said, if we combine these two results, we face such a situation that the way of preventing the desperate people here from moving to the west is to help them in any way that they will be able to stay in their own country.
There is this understanding in the mentality of almost all the aid activities coming from the West but with a few exceptions. And these aid organizations make up their budgets by recieving a share of western states' budgets. Well, who are these aid activities conducted by? By churches. Because it requires to transform the society as the aid activities continue. This is a big project. Therefore we can say that Christians have strong financial resources compared with Muslims. There are wide activities of the American, European, Far Eastern, especially South Korean Christians. They conduct the missionary activities in two ways. The first way is that they meet every kind of social needs of Christians not to leave their religion. The second one is the efforts of making them Christians by using financial elements for Muslims to change their religion in mostly Muslim-populated areas. But still both Muslims and Christians are suffering from poverty together.
THE RICH AND THE POOR
Can you mention more about the social life in the country?
There is no middle class in the country. Either there are very poor people or very rich ones. The overwhelming majority of the overall population with the rate of 90% consists of the people that we can say are very poor. The remaining 10% engages in trade and works mainly with foreign partners. You can recognize the big gap between the rich and the poor very clearly in Lagos. You can come accross very rich people in very luxury cars but just after a few back streets, you can also see a woman trying to make a dinner by plucking a bird together with her children around a open sewerage. This is unbelievable and definitely shocking. The abnormal situation between the poor and rich causes the people living with the threat of hunger to think that the actual reason why they are poor is the richness the others have. This thought triggers the rate of crime to increase. Theft, fraud, deforcement are widespread.
We can mention that there is internationally well-known financial fraud and forgery as common as it can be in UN records. The rate of crime is rather high. So we face a pessimistic outlook in the social sense. Whereas when you enter into local community and meet Muslims, you can see the people and communities who are very devout, similiar to you, sensitive to the religion. Another point is that bribe is very common. You have to give bribe to make something done in the public offices.
Last year Nigerian President stated that the burden of corruption for African countries reached 148 billion dollars per year. There is no doubt that Nigeria, economically the leader of Africa, gets its biggest share of this corruption amount. The amount that composed 25% of the gross national product (GNP) of Africa is based on the figures of Organization of African Unity(OAU). Nigeria was once OAU president. It is the amount that was written on records. Imagine the amount that can not be written on records. They live in absolute poverty and need despite the wealth. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo blames the West for plundering the continent of Africa. Because in this country the wealths that those in power plundered go to the banks and investments that are outside of Africa by the help of the West. Therefore he says the wealth and money of the country left the country. This paradoxical situation causes the gap to be widened in social structure of the country.
I should say that hunger limit is not a few hundred dollars as some of the institutions in Turkey declared. Think that monthly salary of a police officer is 60 dollars in Nigeria. A family consists of 9 people on average in Nigeria's conditions. So it is very difficult for a family to live on such money in Nigeria. The country has to cope with many problems. The most important one of them is health. Malaria is highly common, also AIDS... One child dies of malaria every 30 seconds in overall Africa. There are hundreds of families that lost their children since they could not buy malaria medicine whose price is between one dollar and half dollar in Nigeria. Also the level of cataract and asthma diseases is very high.
Imagine the degree of burden when you added education and water issues in addition to the existing ones. For example, water issue can be solved by getting drinking water out of the ground below 30 to
Nigeria is the only African country that is a member of OPEC, is not it?
Yes, Nigeria is the only African country that exports petroluem. And it is the seventh producer among the countries. Also Nigeria can be the fourth country in terms of reserves potential.
How did Muslims and Christians become organized?
After Nigeria gained its independence, activities of Muslims increased. But before that date, while all the population was Muslim, the number halved with missionary activities. For example we met the people whose names are Ahmet, but are Christians. In 1960's, the people who went to Eygpt to study have been the leading figures. For example Sheikh Abdul Hafiz Abou is one of them. He has opened schools, colleges and written books for people to understand their religion better. These few people have been the names of Nigeria who connected with Islamic world.
For instance, there is an institution named WAMY, World Assembly of Muslim Youth... They opened an office in Nigeria and are active. Muhammed Saban, an Egyptian Muslim, founded an orphanage in Lagos together with a Canadian woman who converted to Islam and some Nigerians like Imam Hasan Ibrahim. They work there for fifteen years. They give shelter to parentless children, clean them, organize sports events for them, provide them education. Its name is Bab-es Selam. Here the children are parentless but be sure that they have more advantages compared with the children outside. We always went to these children and now we are told that they still asked us. We can protect those children there. We can say that there are a great number of Muslim organizations in Nigeria.
Each mosque represents one organization. Mosques are the places that some decisions are made, people are gathered, aids are organized. Mosques are in a very important position. On a Friday prayer that women attended, we understood that mosque is a very indespensable element in social life. Every mosque is functioned as an Islamic center and they coordinate with each other. For example, this year NACOMYO is the partner of IHH. It is an organization that Nigerian Muslim youth organizations are gathered. Within the framework of this organization are different fractions and youth organizations that are organized in the overall country. And now there is IHH in Nigeria.
What is their look towards the white people?
A white man is a man that you should keep away from. There anybody does not speak to the white man unless white man starts to speak first. Because, I say in terms of the traditional codes there, white man exploited there for years and took away the wealths. They think white man is the leading cause of their poorness. On the first days when we were there, we suffered this difficulty. They called us "oibo" there. It means white man... "Oibo" is considered one who is very rich, has so much money and is snobbish.
Since we are white, many people did not believe that we are Muslim. But when they once saw you prayed and gave Allah's selam to them, when they saw your forehead on the prostration everything changed. That is when the difference of the colors functions as a uniting factor rather than discrimination. It can not be explained, it is very impressive.
THEY HAVE NOT SEEN A WHITE MUSLIM
Does being a black man come to the mind when it is talked about Muslims?
When it is talked about Muslims, the first thing that comes to the mind is the black. They can not think that a white man, even with blond hair and blue eyes, can be Muslim. For example, we went to a fast food restaurant. We had a Christian driver called John who is a native of Yoruba in Nigeria. We were five people with Mustafa Balogun, a friend from NACOMYO accompanying us. We ordered our meals. After paying the meals, John tried to go out with his meal. But our intention was to eat all together. He was surprised when we asked John why he was trying to go out and told him to eat with us and he said," me?", looking at us. he said to us, "Sir, I drived for so many people till today .But anybody had not asked this before. White men sat and ate their meals. I waited for them to come back outside." As I said, white man is generally bad there. We will overcome it, too and we can...
Well, what is the position of women in social life?
They are very active in social life. As I said just before, they attend friday and eid prayers a lot. They are one of the main elements in life and they command the life. They have much burden to look after children and earn money. Women want to study and go to university there and are trying to do that. The rate of women who can read and write is very low.
Another point is that they are relaxed about hicab. It is not a problem whether one wears hicab or not. We were in a restaurant. It was new year's day... There were loudly music and decorations inside. The cash girls were wearing white headscarves and waiters Muslim caps and dresses. We said, "selamun aleikum, my brother. How are you?" Then the waiter leaned and said to us that they were Christians, my brother, similing. Of course we were surprised. When we asked them why they wore like that, they said to us that they were told that it was Sacrifice Festival for Muslims and their boss told them to wear in this way. This is very nice, I think.
Nigerians told us that their daughters with headscarves would like to study in Turkey. When we heard that, we felt sad and ashamed. We tried to explain why although it was very difficult. They could not believe it and got shocked. They asked how it could happen in Ottoman land, home of the Conqueror Mehmet II. and Abdulhamid.
Was there any historical connection between the Ottoman state and Nigeria?
In fact, Nigeria did not have any direct connection wtih the Ottoman state. It is well known that Northern African Muslims contributed the region a lot to become a Muslim land. The countries like Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt had effects for them to become a Muslim land and if we think that the countries said had some links with the Ottoman state, we can say that the Ottoman state had indirectly a relationship with those regions where Negeria belongs through these countries. But one case caused the Ottoman state directly to get interested in this region in the time of Abdulhamid II. of the Ottoman state.
Muhammed Shitta, one of the Muslims of Lagos, wanted to a mosque to be built in 1891. He was one of the leading figures in the region. But the British colonial administrator responsible for that region refused his request and did not allow it. In one way, Abdulhamid II. heard about this case. Then Abdulhamid sent a letter to the British Queen that stated Muhammed Shitta was of his own people and therefore he should be allowed to do that. And also he made a ship ready and sent it to Lagos with some money to make a mosque, the tittle of "Bey" and a sword. So he honoured Muhammed Shitta and the Muslims there. In 1892, the mosque of Shitta Bey was built. The surname Shitta changed into Shitta-Bey after recieving the tittle of "Bey" from Abdulhamid II. And they still use this surname. When we met Sikira Shitta-Bey, the grandson of Muhammed Shitta, we recognized that their prestige in that region comes from the tittle of Bey in their surname.
Shitta-Bey mosque is now in ruins. If I am not wrong, the religious association of Turkey sought to restore it and made feasibility report. But the property of mosques there belongs to the private individuals. That is why this restoration was postponed because of the matter of private ownership and it is still in ruins without any restoration.
What comes to their mind when Turkey is talked about?
When we asked them Turkey, they said Hasan Sas, Galatasaray. They know Fenerbahce and Besiktas very well since there are Nigerian successful black footballers like Jay Jay Okacha, Uche, Amokachi in their teams. When we asked them what they knew about Turkey except football, they said they did not know anything about Turkey. There is very little left about Istanbul in their mind because of Ottoman. But they do not know where Turkey is, who lives there and if they are Muslim. But I can say that Nigerians are very warm.
What attracted your attention when you gave out aids as an IHH team?
Our main sensivitity was to sit and talk to Muslims there, listen to their problems, give a chance to see the world outside and enable them to know us. There I recognized that Muslims that were far away did not know each other. The most important problem of Muslims is to be mentally bordered today. It is a disease to come out when you are left in a norrow border. These borders are not geographical. They are in the minds. What is strange is that we have accepted these borders quickly. This mental border refers to the fact that we could not say our last word in the world. The way to overcome this problem is to meet the Muslims who live in the other regions and continents.
On the eve of Sacrifice Festival, at night, we went for a walk with Nigerian friends to the suburb part of Lagos. Someone in a motorbike approached us from the front. He asked us, 'Are you among those who came to slaughter sacrificial animals?'. We said, 'yes, we are'. And he said, 'for Allah's sake, tell me who thought and found this idea. I wonder the mind that found it. Until this day, we have not faced something like this. And please do not forget us after that.' Then he left.
Our sacrificial animals were slaughtered in eight different poor regions of Lagos. We mention poverty there but the degree of poverty can not be compared with the figures and degree of the poverty in Turkey. The degree is very high there. Sometimes in Turkey the figures are stated regarding the poverty. In fact the amount that are percived as a poverty limit are the one that can be earned for a few years in Nigeria. Everyone was surprised when we went there and slaughtered sacrificial animals. They had some difficulty in order to understand that Muslims, even white, went there and slaughtered sacrificial animals. We shared very emotional moments with them. We gave meals out with them after cooking. This was very nice for them. In the evening, after cooking, they showed us a place named the house of the elders. When we arrived there, we saw one place that there were one storeyed houses in one yard. One house had only one room. We knocked at their doors and served their dinners. While finishing our work, one old man asked, 'which church are they from'. We left in silence suddenly. He repeated, 'They are from a church, are not they?' Of course we were stunned. Our friend, Selim Sevkioðlu, said, 'We are from mosque.' 'from big mosques in Istanbul.' you should have seen the smile on the face of the man when we said we were from mosque. He thanked so warmly. They reluctantly accept the aids of churches. This is a very ordinary action for them.
It should be a happiness of not being lonely
I think so. And for the first time, this man has recieved an aid from a Muslim's hand, also coming from Turkey. Muslims should be active regarding aid activities. If we carry a bag filled to every family, deaths will decrease in that family. If we dig a water well, the cost is 5 thousands dollars and with this money, you will meet the need of water for 500 people for a life. In fact there are a lot of things to talk and do.
IS THERE A CONFLICT BETWEEN RELIGIONS?
There are many tribes in Nigeria. What kind of problems does this situation cause?
Some are generally launching a fight between religions in Nigeria. They managed to launch that between Bosnians and Serbians in Bosnia. They are causing a conflict of Sunni-Shiite that they called in Iraq. They reflect it as a conflict of cultures. They are trying to execute this plan in Nigeria, too. Yes, there is a conflict of tribes in Nigeria. The people live their religions with the influence of the tribal identity. The cause of conflicts in Nigeria is usually personal and then this is turning into a conflict between tribes. Media reports it in the way that Muslims and Christians are conflicting but we can say that it is a street fight. For example, a young from Hausa steals a part of the motorbike of a young from Yoruba. The Hausa is almost Muslim and the half of the Yoruba is Muslim. They fight in one way. This conflict of them is showed as a conflict of Muslim and Christian. But it is a kind of fight between front and back streets. There are conflicts of Hausa-Yoruba, Igbo-Hausa. But there is never a conflict of a Muslim from Yoruba and a Christian from Yoruba. If it is a conflict of religions, why do not the elements that belong to different religions but from the same tribe fight each other? I think that there is another thing behind that a conflict of tribes is called a conflict of religions. Some are targeting another thing beyond that. Some are trying to organize this kind of fights.
The case in 2004 was partly different from what I said just before. In that year, an author wrote some disgusting insults about the Muslims in a newspaper after the demostrations that Muslims protested against the beauty contest organized in Nigeria. After that, Muslims occupied and did some harm to the building of that newspaper that the writing was published. But while leaving there, they were thrown stones from a church. And upon this, the case grew bigger. A secret hand used stones to incite Muslims that were still angry. Some did something to provoke the case as if some wanted it to continue.
Some try to launch fights in the regions that Muslims live. The question to be asked here is who will benefit from that. It is necessary to ask why 253 tribes that live together for years started to fight with each other in the last years. We should think that if there had been fights like that until today, any tribes would not exist now. These are ways of tensions that some controlled consciously. But Nigeria is a very rich country that has potential to overcome these problems and also trying to decrease its foreign debts, develope itself, become transparent.
I think that many nice things will happen when people who aim to work for the people of their own county come to the power.
This interview was translated by Ülkü ESER and M.Hasan UNCULAR for Worldbulletin.Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16