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Northern Nigerian Muslim Clerics in Politics: Shaykh Pantami and the Lessons from the two Wazirayni of Zazzau (1935 – 56)



Malam Ibrahim Waziri



By Ibraheem A. Waziri

For a starter, a large part of the territories of now Northern Nigeria, seized by the colonialists in 1903 and later merged with other territories Southward to form the Nigerian state in 1914, were before, under the administrative control of the then Sokoto Caliphate; a state founded by Islamic Scholars, clerics and led by their agents, the Emirs! This is why till today Islamic scholars and clerics have remained very formidable groups that define what civil advocacy means in the region as much as they anchor all shades of the discourses about meaningful development among the Muslims.

Shaykh Isa Ali Pantami, a serving cabinet Minister of the Federal Government, who also can be seen to be, symbolically, a representative of the Northern Muslim scholarly and clerical establishment, was alleged to be having links with an officially designated terrorist group, BakoHaram, and is therefore on a terrorist watch-list of the world leading country fighting terrorism, the USA. Though the newspaper, Daily Independent, which first published the story, 11/04/2021, had long withdrawn it and tendered apology to the public and the Minister Pantami; the matter continued to trend, with great effort being put to exhume his old lectures that seemed supportive of international terrorism, dating back 20 to 25 years back.

The Need To Debate With Abduljabbar 

That was to say, at another period when the largely peaceful dialogue between the Northern Nigerian Muslim clerical establishment and the Nigerian nation was not near achieving reasonable compromise; and the country was held under the grip of military dictatorship or was early into the current fourth republic. Also then the conflicts in the other Muslim nations between every force that would claim Islam for its cause was finding sympathy among the Northern Nigerian Muslims uncritically.

Things have moved to a height by the year 2009, when a fringe Muslim group (Boko Haram) in the region moved the frontiers of this dialogue into the battlefield. That has proved to be an eye opener to the mainstream scholars and clerics, belonging to various sectarian persuasions, about what the possible alternative their numerous fiery preaching could open for Nigeria. They then substantially mellowed!

By 2015 Nigeria had a popular and fiery Northern Muslim preacher, in the name of Shaykh Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami for the first time in its history, accepting to serve the Federal Government in a very relevant National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) as its steering director. He later became a federal cabinet member as a Minister of Information and Digital Economy. This signalled that a reasonable milestone in the continuous dialogue between Northern Nigerian clerical establishment and the Nigerian nation has been recorded; and among other things, the establishment has symbolically reached a more malleable compromise with the idea of Nigeria as a nation with its quasi secular character.

The current imbroglio started by Daily Independent newspaper, and the subsequent revelations, which are not without valid reasons, exposed Shaykh Pantami as a potential threat to the survival of the Nigerian nation. It led him to publicly retract the said toxic opinions he once voiced out decades ago. This, good as it is, still leaves the Nigerian nation to choose between one of the two options. If the nation puts him away it will throw out the great potential seen in closing the remaining gap between it and Northern Nigerian clerical establishment, a guarantee for a more promising probable national survival and prosperity. If it chooses to retain him, it will continue to court the rage of non-Muslims and other nationalists who genuinely feel Nigeria doesn’t need its reformed detractors in place of authority for it to survive and thrive.

However the chief concern of this piece is the opinion that is not so prominent in the current controversy but has long been in the public space and largely shared by and among Northern Nigerian Muslim intellectuals, publicly or in private. That Pantami has long made a compromise not with the idea of Nigerian nation alone but with its dirty game of power and politics. He had since abandoned his constituency of Islamic scholarship and clericalism that is known with the principle of telling truth to power since before and after the 19th century Jihad.

Examples are being disentombed from his past clips where he spoke often fierily against politicians and public servants about their lack of consistency, honestly and accountability in discharging public responsibility. The points are constantly made that he still holds study circles – now that he accepted to serve in a federal public office – as he used to hold before; but he has not maintained the character of such circles that used to tell the truth to power. Instead they have become platforms where he tells how some governors sewed for him clothes he needed to wear round the year or how they provide him with large number of sheep to slaughter during Eids!

Worst still some portions from the canons he reads and interprets risk being manipulated to attack perceived political opponents as it happened few years back when he took down the former governor of Kano State, Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, from his study session, in what many saw as purely a political compromise of the pulpit to serve some personal or partisan agenda. These charges of course one cannot affirm with certainty, because they involve motives that cannot be easily discerned, but they risk dragging not only his reputation but the integrity of the institution of the scholar-cleric to question, when obviously there are ways to avoid such while serving the Nigerian state comfortably.

*The Examples of the two Wazirayni, Malam Umar Muhammad (1935-39) and Malam Muhammadu Lawal (1953-56)*

In 1935 in the old Zazzau Province of the then colonial Northern Nigeria during the reign of Sarkin Zazzau Ibrahim Dan Kwasau, a notable Islamic scholar and a Chief Alkali (Judge) of the province, Alkali Umaru, was single out for appointment as the Waziri (grand Minister/Vizier) of the Emirate. Seeing that on accepting the appointment he will now be deep into the affairs of the government instead of his then role as a, scholar, public intellectual and leading custodian of justice in the Emirate, and a nightmare to influential Princes and Knights of the Emirate at that time; he gathered his family members and students and informed them of his decision to now concentrate on his new job of the Waziriship. Therefore he would leave the job of telling the truth to power to his unwavering trained mentees to continue from where he stopped. They should do their job with him also as their target since he has become part and parcel of the power now.

Malam Muhammadu Lawal succeeded Malam Umaru in the position of the Chief Alkali, a distinguished Islamic scholar also and a public intellectual. He was much later in 1953 during the reign of Sarkin Zazzau Jaafaru, to experience the same elevation to the office of the Wazirin Zazzau. He too who was known, while as Alkali, to have been walking into the palace during court sessions with his shoes on and extending his hands to shake the Emir while sitting on his throne. At a time when even leading public figures and popular influential politicians like Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna could not dare do same to Emir Jaafaru.

Dan Iyan Zazzau Nuhu Bayero recorded in his autobiography, My Life, launched in 1990 after his death, how a case he took to Alkali Lawal was thrown away to his face just because he is a close relative of the Emir and Alkali knew that; and so he feared that what he knew could influence his verdict so he chose not to oversee the hearing of the case. It was Alkali Lawal who Aminu Kano remarked on, saying, he taught them early how to protest against power in favour of the truth.

However when Alkali Malam Lawal got appointed to the office of the Waziri, his public attitude to the Sarkin Zazzau Jaafaru was reported to have completely changed. This change was not because, like his predecessor, they have altered their principles on getting closer to power, but for, as it can be safely assert, the trajectory of their responsibilities to the Emirate and the people have changed. They had the moral consciousness to see that they had now become confidants of the throne and sharing its most intimate secrets. As such they could not go into a meeting with their respective Emirs, where they are given the opportunity to bare their minds on thorny issues and subsequently take tasks to accomplish on behalf of the Emirs; only later hold study sessions that could open possibilities of questions raised that are critical to the decisions of the Emirate council. And in such situations public trust in terms of scholarship would demand them to fully ventilate through the questions sincerely thereby forcing themselves to betray what they discussed in private with the Emirs, in the course of their jobs, or hide them from the public – during study sessions they anchor – with the view of protecting state secret.

It is the conviction of this piece that Shaykh Isa Ali Pantami either, can do better, for the integrity of the institution of the Northern Nigerian Muslims clerics by adopting this same strategy drawn from our historical and cultural memories and used by the former masters. Holding twin public stools of teaching and public intellectualism on one hand and that of trust as an executive cabinet member on the other, are not mutually exclusive. But being a principled and effective cleric from the pulpit and at the same time being top federal government official is in all purposes, morally repugnant. The first tells truth to power publicly and the second keep confidence and never betrays secret agreements or seen publicly to go against government action plans shared exclusively with whomever.

Therefore Shaykh Pantami and many Northern Muslim clerics to follow as public office holders, in their new chapter of this compromise with the idea of quasi secular Nigeria, must learn to find a way of holding from being clerics anchoring Tafsirs and other religious social lessons sessions while in office. They have to help guard the institution of the cleric and its pristine teachings from the stench of the institution of the government they have taken a vow to protect. Let it be that clerical stools can continue to have defined character as they used to in our history and culture, not to be fluctuating between power praise singing and being ports of justice, depending on where their occupier is in the government of the day!



Malam Ibrahim Waziri Is a public affairs and a philosophical analyst,wrote this from Kaduna





President Bola Ahmad Tinubu


By Prof Muhd Sani Umar R/Lemo

October 30, 2023.

In the name of Allāh, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful. We are immensely grateful to Him for sparing our lives, and giving us the health and wherewithal to live to this moment.

There is no doubt that people are complaining about the rising cost of living, poverty and inflation that we are facing in the country. This is the reason why we will keep drawing the attention of our leaders to the burden of the masses resting on their shoulders. Indeed this leadership is a voluntary task that they acceded to bear; not a mere honour and privilege given them nor an opportunity for their personal pleasure and luxury. Rather, they have been entrusted with the responsibility of the millions of people under them; a trust that will surely be accounted for before Allāh SWT. He says in the Qur’ān:
“And fulfil (every) covenant. Verily, the covenant will be questioned about.” [Al-Isrā’:34]

Therefore it is the responsibility of the leaders to map ways to alleviate the distressing hardship people are currently facing in the country. Although it is known that Allah SWT is the provider of wealth and sustenance, but His provision is subject to the responsibility and role an individual plays in realizing it. When the leaders neglect to play those roles, they will be responsible for the situation it will result in.

It is important for our leaders to know and understand that one of the important pillars of leadership is the protection of lives, health, faith, wealth, property and honor of the people being governed.

Insecurity is still one of the most serious issues we are facing, although we have witnessed some of our governors making good efforts in that regard. It is our hope that all governors will join hands with the federal government and try their best, while we continue to pray for Allah’s divine help in solving the problem. We are confident in His promise that:
“And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways.” [Al-‘Ankabūt:69]

Our economy is continuously deteriorating, and the masses are plunging deeper into hardship. It is the duty of the government to find ways to ease the lives of the people. Taking actions that will further sink the masses into misery is tantamount to falling into the first category of the people in the prayers of the Prophet SAW that:
“O Allah, whoever is in charge of the affairs of my nation and is harsh on them, then be harsh on him, and whoever is in charge of the affairs of my nation and is kind to them, then be kind to him.” [Muslim:3/1828]
Every Muslim should hope to be part of the latter and away from the former category.

It is common knowledge that one of the fundamental sources of ease of doing business is the freedom to traverse between places in search of livelihood. Allah says in the Qur’ān:
“He it is Who has made the earth subservient to you; so walk in its paths and eat of His provision.” [Al-Mulk:15]
In another verse He says:
“He has known that there will be among you those who are ill and others travelling throughout the land seeking [something] of the bounty of Allāh” [Al-Muzzammil:20]
And He also says:
“And when the (Juma’ah) prayer has been concluded, disperse within the land and seek from the bounty of Allāh.” [Al-Jumu‘ah:10]

Thus, to travel between one place to another is a means of seeking from the riches Allah SWT endowed the world with. Hence, giving people the freedom to traverse borders in search of things that are beneficial to them and the society is part of the rights accorded to them by Allah SWT, and preventing them from doing so is denying them that divine right for which they will have to account in front of Allah.

Recently, the federal government announced that it had directed for the opening of land borders, and lifted the ban on importation of some foods and other products needed by our people.

This measure will surely boost the commercial viability of the nation, because import and export of goods and services between societies is one of the basic transactional norms in human lives.

Unfortunately, despite the directive from the Federal Governtment, while the southern borders remain freely accessible, land borders on the northern part of the country, are still closed. This means that the respite this measure will bring to the nation will not be enjoyed by the northern people. The Nigeria-Niger border plays a vital role in the socioeconomic well-being of the Northern states, and its continued closure has dealt a heavy blow to commercial activities on both sides. Thus, persistence of this measures means that the Northern part of the country is being alienated from their national entitlement.

Yes, the recent coup in Niger Republic has been cited as the reason for taking this drastic action. Neither the people of the North nor the Nigerien people played a role in the execution of the said coup, therefore it is not right to punish either for someone else’s wrongdoing. Also, two wrongs can never make a right.
Furthermore, this coup is not the first coup that took place in an African nation nor the West African states. Yet this measure taken by our government has not been taken elsewhere in similar cases. The illegitimacy of the coup should not be an excuse to take a measure that will consequently punish the northern region. The best way to attain justice is rectify any wrongdoing through rightful means.
Similarly, it is important to remind our leaders that protecting the interest and well-being of our nation is superior to the protection of any external interest beside it. It is apparent that the border closure may be a strategy to compel the military government into submission, may serve or protect an external interest vested by some countries elsewhere and some regional bodies, but none of these interested parties experience any part of the resultant hardship.

In conventional norms, all external interests that are in conflict with our national interest should not be entertained. It is not right for the government to punish its citizens for that interest’s sake.

Therefore, we are calling on our the Federal government to act swiftly; our northern leaders, legislators, ministers and elders should speak out on this issue and draw the attention of the federal government to the wrongs being committed against an innocent people. It’s their duty to repeatedly speak on this issue, organise conferences and meet the relevant authorities involved in order to find a solution. We are living in a society where your rights are easily denied if your voice of resistance is not loudly heard. We must collectively rise, speak out, write and meet relavent stakeholders on our problems. When southern land borders remain open and their markets thrive, our northern borders that boost our economy should not remain closed putting our markets and populace into hardship.

Our leaders should be aware of their responsibility and the consequences of their actions which will all be adjudged before Allah SWT.

The Prophet SAW narrated the story of a woman who tied her cat indoors, without feeding it or allowing it to forage for food until it died, which led her to abide in the hell fire [Reported by Muslim:4/2243]

If this is the ramification of her action towards a cat, what then will be the consequence of blocking millions of people from their rightful means of livelihood without provision of another relief? For a life of a single human being in the eyes of Allah is far more precious than that of a cat. He (SWT) says: “And indeed We have honoured the Children of Adam.” [Al-Isrā’:70]

In the end we will all return to Allah SWT and stand before Him to account for our actions after this ephemeral life. “Say ‘The enjoyment of this world is little.ʼ” [An-Nisā’:77]
Our faith, religion, and nationalism should motivate us to do what is right.

(Note: This article was originally from a recorded program in Hausa transcribed and translated to English for wider circulation)

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The ECOWAS-NIGER WAR, “STILL BOOTING”? By Haruna Adamu Hadejia



Haruna Adamu Hadejia


The republic of Niger has become a point of reference in these days, probably as a new world “laboratory” for sovereignty test. It has shown the world that African countries are beginning to resist the western powers’ long and assumed perpetual dictatorship. Many people around the world have defined the republic of Niger and Africa in general as paupers until recently.
Lately, France shuns the ultimatum given by Military Junta in Niger for france’s envoy to exit. One wonders, why did they want to stick? While on one hand, the ECOWAS seems to be booting (undecided) on the possibility of; strike or not to strike. The hypothesis (Ho) and (H1) on the war remain unclear while sanction is quietly working in Niger with some adverse effect on both Niger and specifically north western part of Nigeria largely on economy.

Many people postulates that the ECOWAS formation in (1975) was facilitated by the western world just to protect their interest; get advice and decisions from them and simply implement what they want. Many were of the opinion that even the ultimatum given by ECOWAS to Niger was engineered by the western world.

The worrying issue before the western world and ECOWAS in particular in my opinion is that, they have not yet found genuine coefficient of staging war as they intended to do. Why? Because the citizens of Niger not necessarily the MILITARY simply say “NO, allow us to solve our own problems” coupled with the brethren support from neighboring African nations around Niger such as Mali. This coalition really angers the west and the 11 countries out of 15 in ECOWAS. Niger also gained additional sympathy from other parts of the world and has this has opened up a platform for all nations to rediscover or re-trace their independence.
It was reported that, the Presidents of Egypt and Algeria advised the ECOWAS not to venture into war. They have the bitter experience of what it takes to be at war front, they still have some left over of such happenings in their countries.

Our President is of course, at the center of ECOWAS BEING ITS CURRENT Chair and also the President of Nigeria which is well respected in the world. However, with the present on-going rancor in Niger we are beginning to respectfully shrink in the eyes of some nations especially our close friend, Niger who respects us more than any nation in the world. But today, the algorithm has changed. Citizens of Niger knew only Nigeria not ECOWAS. Should anything happen to the citizens, their fingers will only point at Nigerians being their brothers and not the whole of ECOWAS. How do we recover such respect and prevent further spill of the trust they have in us??

As postulated in my last publication of August 5 by Kano online Times, the giant nations have other ways to deal with ECOWAS in the event that the war didn’t take place. One of them has started coming up; the world bank is threatening to freeze the accounts of ECOWAS if they couldn’t execute this war. Possible compressing of foreign Aids to ECOWAS, introduction of some strong financial and economic policies on ECOWAS, or what?

Again, what would it look like now that, Prigozhin the leader of private security Wagner organization of Kremlin is dead? This is someone that was smelled to be in Africa to contract the war before his death. Will the US, France and their allies have a dinner for having at least one their blockages being removed? Similarly, what is Putin going to do differently now that Prigozhin is dead; perhaps become a stronger independent contractor to solely fight for and on behalf of the Niger Junta in the name of “liberation” and love for them while tapping their uranium which they will be willing to sell at lesser proceeds? Yeah, this could aptly be forecast as another opportunity for Putin to cheaply annex Nigeria once kremlin steps into Niger.

My argument is that, all these self-anointed saviors of Africa are truly not to be trusted and must not be trusted. We will only breathe independent air thoroughly if all outsiders can stay clear of Africa and allow us to drive our processes and the possibility of achieving this is only when our leaders fairly lead us.
Recounting from the military takeover of power in Niger up to the time of border closure between Nigeria and Niger, we understand that many states all in the Northern Nigeria are concerned in many ways. Already, the war is subconsciously taking place politically, economically, socially. Recent visit to Maigatari market an export processing zone (border with Niger in Jigawa state) shows how deserted the market is. There is skew negatively of livestock, grains and other products, the mass exodus being witnessed on weekly basis by people from across the federation is evidently a sign of setback. The Machina market (in Yobe state) is equally going down by the day. The same story in Jibiya of Katsina state, the many market stalls are largely scanty because the occupants are no longer using them coupled with the insecurity there and no one to maintain the thatch sheds due to poor turnout of people for commercial activities. Summarily, the IGR of the local governments bordering Niger must have recorded significant losses in this respect.

Socially, it will take time to heal the wound created as a result of such border closure. The brothers and sisters that married from both countries can no longer see or trade with each other, just like South and North Korea, until such a time when the border is opened. What a distress!

At federal level, Nigerians are interested to know how much the country has economically lost from the electricity cut to Niger, custom and excise duty and from other sources such as money markets. Nigeria but North is being tested economically and socially???
The proverbial expression of Pandora must not be allowed to have a pIace in our midst, meaning a source of endless complications or trouble arising from simple miscalculation should not in a haste be used to jeopardize not only historical but sustainable relationship with our neighbor. Let our leaders not subject us to a test tube baby.

Simply, we all understand that ECOWAS is technologically “booting” to come up with alternative measures to handle the situation. After this scenario, what type of punishment will the west introduce to deal with us (citizens) again? I once said that the west, have multiple approaches to handle us perpetually and this must be resisted. This is the scenario Nigeria (Africans) have been subjected. The west is not willing to allow us to rest.

We must see this present circumstance as an attempt to change Africa heritage by the west while the time for resistance by Africans has finally arrived. I wish late Gawo Filinge of Niger, Aminu Kano, Sa’adu Zungur and similar social movers are alive just to analyze the on-going silent sanction on Niger and go back to sleep. Am sure, they will encourage Nigeria-Niger to be strong and endure the struggle. Because the more courage they have, the tendency for becoming greater in future as a result of being resilient.

Unknown to many, this tussle has opened doors of hope for Niger republic such as the need for them to think of generating their own power plant, identify other economic countries for ties to transact business and take advantage of currency swap, rediscover and export their unique mineral (uranium) for foreign exchange, introduce their own currency for trade and also integrate their culture as part of income generating avenue. They can harvest more from their national patriotism as exhibited by the recent solidarity demonstrations enjoyed by the new government from the citizens. On the other hand, Nigeria must intensify efforts to look inward and solidify its strategic path to protect our sovereignty. Though, these processes are quite starving and require sacrifice. Indeed, citizens must sacrifice to get things fixed.

A twitter friend called “Steve” responded to my early post 72 hours ago that, “Nigeria needs to invade asap, do not let Niger become base for Russia to invade Nigeria, Russia and China are coming for control and the gold”. This statement of his made me crazy and had to drop my pen and rest for a while before continued with my memo. If this notion of him is to be interpreted right, then my earlier opinion that we shouldn’t trust any of the “power holders” has been validated.

One nagging issue that keeps bugging some of the progressives around is must we be submissive to them? They just wanted to traced back what they mistakenly left behind during colonization and introduce a new scientific approach of modern colonization.

While “ba’a sauke girki ba”, another country in Africa has just thrown out civilian government in the republic of Gabon, Ali Bongo who has been in power since 2009 after winning third term election on last Saturday’s poll, August 26, 2023.

As am writing this piece, another episode happened in Rwanda a country which just hosted the “capacity building session” for our Nigeria’s Governors last week supported by the UN, with President Paul Kagame in office since year 2000 (23 years) for God’s sake, retires multiple senior army officers including influential General called James Kabarebe shortly after he learnt about military take-over in Gabon. Why is it happening now? Is Paul not sending a signal that he has all been driving wrong? Who influenced him to do this? In the interest of Rwanda which suffered irrecoverable genocide years ago or western interest? All these confusions must be justified by the power that be.

By whatever definition, Africa must not relegate itself in the eyes of the so-called super powers, taking advantage of telling us that we are corrupt while they created, initiated, seed and nurtured the basis for corruption from kindergarten to tertiary level of our political class.

Afterall, all nations can be super. They should be reminded that, if they earlier used a generic template to define all Africans, time has come to review the template after centuries and re-allocate “specific” ledger to each nation.

I come in peace!

Haruna Adamu Hadejia, a journalist and public affairs analyst, wrote this piece from Dutse, Jigawa State.

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Ministerial Nominee’s: Between Fair Proportions and Political Relevance.



Minister Nominees

By Abubakar Sadiq Dauda

I will start with the following highlights:

Deputy Senate President,
Speaker House of Representatives,
National Chairmanship,
5 Senior Ministers,
5 Junior Ministers, were all allocated to the Northwest Geo-political zone, which happens to be the powerhouse of Northern politics.

Kano got the National Chairmanship position which doesn’t add any capital developmental stride to the state or region. That gave birth to the appointment of two of its indigenes as Junior Ministers because the leader of the party in the state is in no position to shout injustice since he graciously accepted a role meant for the North-central bloc.

Kaduna on the other hand, has a Speaker, thus one Ministerial nominee was picked. A fair share if u ask me. However, one of our very best, picked from this very North side (El-Rufai) was frustrated, thus he lost interest. Not his own individual loss, but our own collective loss.

Though at a time, he once said, the only way for the party and the President to pay him for his effort, is to give one of his own (Iyan Zazzau), the office of the speaker, which ought to have gone to the North-central. El-rufai request was graciously honoured. We may cry and wail but agreement is agreement.

Our very own greed and miscalculation will keep consuming us in terms of our relevance politically, and the development of the North as a whole. Once the Northwest lost relevance and control, the entire North will be on its knees.

Certainly, we were not shortchanged, we got outsmarted, that has always been the case whenever power shifts to the South.

Morally, the North got its own fair share. Politically, it got nailed, yet again!

Sadiq is a political observer, writes from Kano, Nigeria. Can be reached via sadiqdauda55@gmail.com

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