By Fredrick Nwabufo
Hate speech and fake news appear to be the exclusive preserve of religious and political leaders. This class can spread poison in statements, commentaries and homilies without any check. They can stoke religious animosity and drive the wedge of hate deeper without being held accountable for their actions.
Alas! When Nigerians enduring government’s malfeasance tweet or post their frustrations in parlances that the leadership finds unsavoury or they protest against obvious maladministration, they are magicked away like in the case of Abubakar Idris, a critic better known as ‘Dadiyata’, who has been missing without a trace for eight months. Or they are harassed, threatened and incarcerated like in the instance of Omoyele Sowore.
I had written about the indulgent liberties of clerics in a previous article entitled ‘When will Pastor Chris Oyakhilome be arrested for spreading injurious falsehood’. I believe we cannot purge the government without first eviscerating the bowels of the religious establishment which sustain temporal power.
I wrote: “Clerics in the country defy the law unabashedly and with unrestrained arrogance. And when there is an attempt to hold them to account the refrain becomes ‘our religion is under attack’ by unbelievers.”
Ishaq Akintola, Director of Muslim Rights Concern, is one cleric who is abusing his privilege and going off the bounds of decency. He issues divisive statements, spinning dangerous conspiracy theories; in so doing inflaming religious passion and threatening peace.
In his latest conspiracy, Ishaq insinuated that the deaths in Kano could be an attempt to reduce the population of Northern Muslims.
Hear him: “More disturbing is the rumour that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control in the state has locked up its offices and its officials are not responding to distress calls. The only testing centre in Kano which is situated at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital has also been allegedly locked up. So where did NCDC get its figure on Kano? Something is fishy here.
“Is this a deliberate attempt at debilitating Northern population with its attendant impact on the Muslim majority population in the country? We, therefore, demand an inquiry into circumstances surrounding the alleged closure of NCDC office in Kano State as well as the paucity of testing centres in the whole North.”
First, on April 16, Chikwe Ihekweazu, NCDC DG, said the health agency had activated a testing centre in Kano State to boost its testing capacity. In words: “We just activated the lab in Kano a few days ago.”
So, naturally, tests were conducted until April 22 when the testing centre was shut down temporarily for decontamination. This explains where the state’s figures came from.
Osagie Ehanire, Minister of Health, explained that the test centre was temporarily closed because some of its staff contracted COVID-19, and also that the laboratory ran out of testing reagents. Nothing conspiratorial here.
To add to this, the last confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kano were reported at the weekend. And as of April 27, testing had resumed in Kano, according to the NCDC. In addition, the state had high single-day cases from previous tests.
Also, as of March, the entire South-East had no testing centre. So, nothing is “fishy” here, except the challenge of leadership both on the part the federal and state governments.
The strange deaths in Kano are distressing. Every Nigerian must be concerned. But trying to politicise this misfortune and deploy it for conspiratorial ends is worrying. Every Nigerian life matters. This is not a time for making exasperating comments – most especially by people who lay claim to religious authority.
Ishaq’s statement is capable of setting off a wildfire and effectuating a push-back to the effort at combating COVID-19 in Kano. Imagine if this conspiracy theory takes root in Kano, the danger that portends to health workers and to anyone who is considered an outsider.
As a matter of fact, Ishaq has been trafficking in hate speech and conspiracy theory for a long time. And I wonder why he has never been questioned by security agencies or even called to order. This cleric tagged a case of child trafficking (the nine Kano children trafficked to Anambra) “kidnapping for Christ”.
He said Amotekun, the South-West regional security outfit, is a Christian brigade. He stirred a storm when he attacked Falz’s music video, describing it as anti-Islam. Ishaq has persisted in stoking religious tension in the country – without scruples.
A group known as Coalition of Progressive Yoruba Islamic Groups described him as a big threat to Southern Nigeria. Really, the seeds this cleric is sowing and fecundating will one day become carnivorous man-eating plants, if he is not checked now.
The MURIC director’s statement is a threat to public peace. He should be held to account. If he escapes the law on this, then the government has no moral authority to arrest any Nigerian, who spreads fake news or makes hate speech.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist.