I choose to view Governor Yari’s statement that God is punishing his people for their sins – especially of fornication – by killing hordes of them (including children), with cerebrospinal meningitis, a little differently. I actually support him. 50% of the way. I support his admonition against fornication – and perhaps adultery and total moral decadence. But I know for a fact that many hot parts of Nigeria usually suffer series of cerebrospinal meningitis attacks at the tail end of the dry season especially when the rain delays. I believe the disease is enhanced by heat, so imagine the millions of poor homes with no electricity, no fan and definitely no air-conditioning in his Zamfara State. This is largely a poverty-related disease. It is also not a new phenomenon. Pfizer’s illegal experiments in Kano in 1996, was premised on finding a vaccine for this ailment.
Now let’s unpack the Yari statement. First, I was surprised. Yari is not an ordinary governor. He is the chairman of the Governors’ Forum. One may assume that the governors elevated to lead other governors must be somehow outstanding but maybe not. But his intelligence or lack of it is not my issue. I was more surprised that a problem such as ‘fornication’ is coming out of Nigeria’s shariah capital; Zamfara State. Now Zamfara is one state many people I know dread to go. Those who travel to the north of Nigeria would however tell you that there is nothing to be afraid of. Northern Nigerians are some of the warmest people you could ever meet. Living among them could be a delight and most of the crisis there happen in the poorest places but for those who are affected, they have terrible stories to tell. Again, religious and ethnic crisis in Nigeria is almost entirely poverty fuelled or induced.
There came a certain Governor Yerima in the Obasanjo days. The bearded fellow (I saw that he had cut the beards and is looking ‘modern’ these days, just when I started to grow some), saw a vision that all that was required to solve his people’s problems was for them to ‘move closer to God’. And so he declared that the state will be governed by Islamic Law. People panicked. Obasanjo felt affronted, but quickly decoded that it was ‘political shariah’. The world press went into a frenzy. They would later tie that event with the commencement of our worst nightmare; Boko Haram, because somehow it is easy to link choosing to be strictly governed by Islamic laws and refusing to attend the oyibo man’s school or acquiring his ‘soul-contaminating’ knowledge. This is despite the fact that almost everyone on planet earth today relies on this knowledge, or more importantly, that the Islamic Civilization which succeeded the Ottoman Empire around the 16th Century, is very instrumental to the intellectual renaissance of mankind which has transmuted today to what is called “the white man’s science”. In other words, there is nothing ‘haram’ about most of today’s science, and certainly very little if anything is anti-shariah or Islamic law about it, because Muslims are right at the base of it’s development.
To get the story right, the Ottoman Empire succeeded the Byzantine Empire (otherwise called the Eastern Roman Empire), and headquartered in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). The Byzantine era was one of waste and decadence, drawing the attention of the Crusaders who were Christians and who believed that man should be solely guided by the Holy Books (their own version), and the need to cleanse the earth by force by fire. They captured the Byzantines and proceeded to install their own Empire which also fell under the same vices of wine, fornication (oops that word again), and the desire for gold, thereby completing another cycle of boom and bust. The Crusaders had however banished science and outlawed the intellectual achievements of the Greeks and Romans (remember Torquemada), which were only later restored in the Islamic Era, translated into Arabic and preserved in a way that the British Empire were able to build upon the bodies of knowledge. Before then, as early as the 8th Century in today’s Baghdad, Iraq, a khalifa, Abu Ja’far Al-Ma’mun, had taken great interest in science and studied the great works of the ancient kingdoms, causing a great scientific revolution. The international language of science was Arabic for more than 700 years, it could be argued. When the USA attacked Baghdad in search of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, I had a feeling they were after the history.
Furthermore, Muhammad Ibn Musa Al Khawarizmi (corrupted or anglicised as ‘Algorithm’) lived between 780AD and 850AD. He worked in what was called ‘The House of Wisdom’ (Bayt at Hikma), as a mathematician, geographer and astrologer. He is sometimes known as the father of mathematics. His greatest work – which he put together with Al-Kindi, another polymath, is known as “Kitab Al Jebr” (which Europeans now call Algebra). There is Ibn Sina (known in the West as Avicenna, one of the greatest writers and thinkers of the Islamic Golden Age). Other great influencers include Al Razi (known in the west as Rhazes), Jamshid Al- Kashi (credited in trigonometry with the Law of Cosines), Nasir Al-Din Al-Tusi (the first to treat trigonometry as a separate discipline), Ibn Haytahm, who fused Algebra and Geometry and is reputed for what is today known as the Alhazen Problem, Ibn Batuta (a great explorer and geographer), Ibn Rushd (a great mediaval polymath who wrote on jurisprudence and logic whose name was latinised to become ‘Averroes’), Ibn Khaldun (acknowledged father of social sciences and economic theory), who was – together with Copernicus –influenced by the work of Al Biruni, a Muslim Persian polymath regarded as the ‘Da Vinci of Islam’. There as Muhammad Al Karaji, another Persian mathematician and polymath, who took Algebra further; by using mathematical induction to prove the binomial theorem. In fact, Columbus in his voyage to the New World is said to have had Muslim navigators and astrologers on hand.
The very concept called zero (cipher, originally from the Arabic word ‘sifr’), is another gift from the mathematicians of that era, just as what we know as numerals today in English is entirely Arabic, from figures 1 to 9. They are written almost exactly the same way. In the days that the religion barred people from reproducing the human form in drawings, the Arabs mastered the art of symmetric drawings. When next you are in an Arabic-themed place, try and notice the sheer genius of their art, which is fused with mathematics. And note that most of it was perfected thousands of years ago, when no one had the benefit of present-day computers. It is called ‘Geometric Arts’, fusing polygons and circles, and tessellations.
All this is just to say that contrary to the belief among many non-Muslims in Nigeria and of course the western world, Islam is certainly not anti-science, absolutely not anti-intellectual or even anti-modernity. Instead, Islam is at the root of science, and the Qur’an, just like the Bible, promotes the search for knowledge, not the abhorrence of it. It is however debatable whether, sometimes like Christianity, we got the right version of Islam in Nigeria, or perhaps we should find out why in Nigeria and much of black Africa, we manage to emphasise aspects of both religions that encourages stasis and the embrace of all ideas retrogressive. It could be further argued that since logicians and mathematicians are seekers of knowledge, there existed less resistance to new ideas and less combativeness as a result of differing opinions in the time these great men lived, compared to what exists today. An example is the kind of resistance that was put up when Nigerians expressed wariness over the idea of full blown sharia. Rather than explain on one hand, and rather than understand, on the other, Nigerians divided right down the middle. We have continued to divide ever since; almost now becoming strange bedfellows forced to remain in an inconvenient marriage. And we seem shorn of thinkers and logicians, polymaths and leaders of thought, who can help us find a way out of the deepening darkness.
Maybe Yari, the governor, merely appealed to this base understanding of our people with the statement he allegedly made. Perhaps in his mind he has figured that that is what our people want to hear. Or that they cannot process anything more complicated. Perhaps he was in a rare moment of righteous indignation, being a ‘good’ muslim himself and felt like a little preaching. Perhaps, there is indeed an epidemic of illicit sex amongst his people. He is on ground there and would know better. For me, what I see is that we haven’t got off the ground intellectually as a people. Coming from such a rich scientific heritage, our muslims – especially the ‘elites’ amongst them – have been too timid, or reluctant, to advance the value of thought especially in sociological matters. We therefore chose wrongly; to align with the distant past rather than embrace and create the future. Most of our Christians haven’t done much better; rather than use their religion to create a better society, many have twisted the gospel to emphasise selfishness, promote greed and avarice, and to make the poor even poorer. They have turned a great religion into no more than some lottery machine.
The argument we should be having therefore is the one around hypocrisy; the hypocrisy that we have used to sew Babbariga, Agbada and Isi Agu, Etiboh and the rest in Nigeria, in that while we are religious, and openly show piety, we are compromised inside. Every corrupt politician and government official who stole Nigeria back into the Dark Ages pay their tithes and offerings, they do ‘zakat’, they build churches and mosques for the Lord and to His Glory. But that is where it ends. What they have proven tragically incapable of, is advancing humanity like their forebears and the progenitors of the religions did. That is why, rather than gaining humanity, Nigerians have only concede grounds in civilization, and on a daily basis, we regress. That is why hundreds of Nigerians die in needless incidences every day and it doesn’t even make the news. Nobody cares.
The significance of Yari’s statement, though we lost the moment, is the opportunity for us to press reset; that now that we’ve agreed that from Nigeria’s Christianity belt to its Sharia frontiers, we are all the same, made of God, and sinners aplenty. I imagine if the young people of Zamfara are engaged in fornication, what will the big men – especially the politicians with too much free money – will be engaged in? So, we are just Nigerians, human beings passing through this world for the first time and not knowing what will come in the hereafter. Nobody knows it all. No one is holy. And for me, all we are required to do is try hard. If we are all sinners, we should not kill, maim or harm anyone on behalf of God, should we? Doing so would be hypocrisy, and wickedness.
Can we then agree on to work together for a better nation? Can we stop competing in destroying the nation? Can we stop stealing public funds in the name of tribe and religion (as in ‘ah, let us steal our own oh, the man here before was a muslim/christian or yoruba/hausa/igbo and ‘they’ ate to their fill”)? Can we even stop competing on the basis of religion? I have heard Christian preachings where the pastor talks of how the Christians are meant to be richer than muslims! I believe there are similar versions among muslims (the type El-Rufai was trying to ban). Can we stop the situation where a few are pushing for progress but a majority are hell-bent on holding the country down and pushing it back into oblivion? Perhaps we should support Yari, and while we go for the scientific solution in curbing the meningitis outbreak, urge Zamfarans to depart from the path of Sodom and Gomorrah just as the rest of us are striving daily to do, because indeed God may become very angry – or is presently extremely angry – with us.
As a matter of fact, there is indeed too much immorality in the land. One hears stories that show that we’ve simply lost our minds. People raping children to death, bestiality and so on, professors sleeping with students for marks etc. The average Nigerian man seems to think with his groin, and our young and not so young women are also making a career out of separating men from their monies, while thousands – perhaps millions – of them are selling their bodies to the highest bidder, commercially or otherwise. But the biggest bulwark against this problem is that we should reduce poverty amongst our people and manage the nation’s commonwealth responsibly. Nigeria needs good governance now or never. We just aren’t reasonable or responsible the way we’ve been carrying on. We cannot use our commonwealth to make politicians comfortable and then tell the people to pray to God for salvation when mere hospitals and clinics, a better life where basic amenities are available like it is in even poorer countries, would have solved the problem. That is the height of hypocrisy.