uman beings, especially powerful people, often take offence at criticisms which they find offensive even if the contents of the criticism were true. This defensive attitude seems to say: do not say anything that could embarrass me even if you are right. Across the world, officials of government often go after critics whom they perceive as enemies. Will Rogers once wrote that ‘if you ever injected truth into politics, you have no politics. Governments tell lies, try to hide the truth often. It is the duty of the citizenry to dig deep and uncover the truth using the media. The Freedom Charter guarantees free speech. Yet free speech could cost one his job or limbs or life! Notorious President Idi Amin of Uganda was once quoted as saying that he could guarantee ‘freedom of speech before free speech, not after!
Reactions of government to criticisms could be mild or extreme. Even in the biggest democracies, free speech could sometimes be expensive despite constitutional guarantees. The harshest reaction to criticism is that of silencing the critic through death as in the experience of Kamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who lost his life in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey. Journalist Dele Giwa also lost his life in a parcel bomb attack in October 1986. There are also other ways of silencing critics too. The finances of the critic are attacked. There is physical harassment by security agencies. Have you ever been trailed by security men or some shadowy figures? Has a spouse received threat messages? There is also the sack option. Today I am writing on the sacking of Chief Imam of the National Assembly Mosque Abuja Sheikh Muhammad Nura Khalid.
Until April 1, 2022, Sheikh Khalid had a job, as a cleric in charge of a Mosque, doing Allah’s work which commands always speaking the truth. The Prophet Muhammad states that ‘adhere to truthfulness for truthfulness guides to Paradise’. We are told further that ‘Islam emphasizes not only the duty to be honest, truthful and trustworthy, but also the social obligation to always support truthful people, to associate with the truthful ones and to keep their company’. With this arcane and powerful injunction in mind, that fateful Friday, while preaching the sermon the fearless cleric made comments on the security situation in the country which the chairman of the Mosque Management Committee Senator Saidu Dansadau found unbecoming. Khalid was suspended from office even before the echoes of the Imam’s words died off!
In the sack letter, the Committee stated that it regrets ‘to inform you that from today the 4th day of April 2022 you have been disengaged from the services of the above-mentioned mosque. Continuing, the Committee tried to create a context for the sack when it observed that ‘this action is occasioned by the non-remorseful attitude you exhibited following your suspension on 2nd April this year’. Sheikh Khalid had been suspended shortly after preaching the bomb of a sermon which practically called out the government of the day in a lucid and convincing manner, without diatribes, without insults.
The sheikh had preceded his talk with drawing attention to the ‘relationship between the Ramadan and supplication’. ‘this is very important at a time when Nigeria is facing a very serious challenge’, the Imam said, ‘everything is not working well. People are dying. Our roads are not secure. Most of the parts of the country are not secured. The government is always telling us what we don’t understand that they are doing their best, and we deserve more than that their best.’ He also said that people should vote in 2023 only if security of life is guaranteed’.
Dansaudu did not find this funny. In the sack letter, he stated “Akamakallah, you know better than me by the teaching of Islam, the essence of administering punishment is to correct behaviour. Unfortunately, your media reaction to the suspension creates the impression that you are not remorseful, NOT to talk of humbly reflecting on the consequences of your utterances. Leadership demands a great sense of responsibility. If our words do more harm than good to larger interest of the country or the public. We have a responsibility to maximum restraint for the good of public. It is obvious however, that you don’t seem keen to modify your Friday sermon to be reflective of the volatility of security situation in the country. You are an influencer; your words carry a lot of weights (sic), your words can make or mar our situation. Your words can be taken advantage of by mischief makers, those responsible for these security challenges or enemies of the country for their devilish agendas.’ Really? If this ascribed power is true, then Dansaudu has taken a step that will give the government sleepless nights. The Imam is not keeping his mouth shut. He has found another mosque where he can preach the truth without let or hindrance. The teen CNN hero Malala says that ‘you can shoot the body you can’t shoot the dream!
The Committee wrongly focused on the messenger not the message. What the imam said reflects public opinion in the land. The politicians are jostling over 2023. Even the APC government that should hide its head in shame for failing the people is struggling for power in 2023. With the dismal security situation in a government led by a general, how does this party think that Nigerians will entrust the fortunes of the country to her in 2023?
Senator Dansaudu is an elected official of the state. He is a legislator and not a member of the Executive Arm of government, the target of the attack. He ought to stand on the side of the people just as the cleric took sides with the people. There have been too many deaths arising from insecurity. Not everyone can stomach the criminal ineptitude or connivance between state and non-state actors and keep quiet. The perception is that the government is unwilling to deal with the situation and most people are willing to sell their conscience. The government is used to having people who would rather pray than complain. Too many. Therefore, Khalid’s statement sounds like an incitement. ‘In a room where people unanimously maintain silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot’.
Government should encourage persons like Khalid to speak up. The man has gained more following. I didn’t know him before. I didn’t not hear the sermon in question until the fire-brigade attitude of the Committee brought it to my attention. Fix the security situation. Let our roads be safe. Let our homes be safe. Confront the scoundrels who have seized the road between Abuja and Kaduna and other roads in the country and exterminate them. Stop kidnap gangs from attacking homes and seizing people for a ransom in Abuja and elsewhere. Make the southeast governable. Except the government deals with the security situation, it is a no-no about winning in 2023. In a democracy, it has passed a vote of no confidence on itself for the 2023 elections. Listen to the message. Get your eyes and hands off the messenger.
Professor Hope O. Eghagha (BA, Jos; MA; PhD, Lagos) MNAL
Department of English
Faculty of Arts
University of Lagos