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Need to avert another religious upheaval in Ebonyi

Ebonyi state governor, Chief Martin Elechi

By Umar Ndukwe

Ebonyi state governor, Chief Martin Elechi

Ebonyi state governor, Chief Martin Elechi

In what seems to be a breakout from the ‘microphone saga’ last two years in Ebonyi State, in which Muslims in the state were allegedly banned from using the loud speaker to call for their prayers, there is another lingering religious upheaval latently engineered by a group of people in Ezi Egwu of Enohia Itim, Afikpo North local government area of the state.

It is sad that Afikpo whose aborigines have dwelled with the highest spirit of brotherliness and tolerance with its religious configuration of Christianity, Islam and animism would always be in the news on this sensitive abstraction in the state in particular and the nation at large. Sometimes last year, the state security outfits armed with sophisticated weapons stormed the Islamic Centre Anofia, in search of alleged hidden weapons in the school.

The informant who accompanied the security men was kept in a tinted-glass jeep as he directed them to areas where the weapons were allegedly hidden.  At the end of the hard search which lasted for many hours and which included even inside the Mosque and the grave of the centre’s founder, late Sheikh Ibrahim Nyass Nwagui, the security outfits left the place apparently disappointed.

But all efforts by the Muslims of the community to get the identity of the informant failed because they were strictly barred from getting close to the vehicle and none of the security men spoke to the harmless gathering of worshippers. However, claimants say that one of the engineers of religious rancor in the village is responsible.

This time, the Eze Ndi Muslim 1 of Ebonyi state, Alhaji Muhammad Obiahu Ajah has been singled out for psychological torture and verbal assault by the same group who propounded the earlier microphone saga which nearly created mistrust between the state leadership and the Muslim leadership in Nigeria on one hand, and on the other hand awakened the fear of peaceful coexistence amongst the people of the state.

A one-time commissioner was said to have misinformed the state governor.  Nonetheless, the governor, Chief Martin Elechi displayed the highest level of religious tolerance in handling it by ensuring that the mistake was immediately corrected and the perpetrators were exposed and sanctioned. The commissioner was dropped allegedly on that bases of rumour mongering, mismanagement of information and betrayal of public trust.

But as if the end of the resolved matter did not please the group still indirectly led by the sacked commissioner, the fight is taking another dimension. Sleepless nights, it looks, have been endured by this insignificant segment of the society who continue to cause disaffection, hatred and rancor among the peace-loving people of the state. This must not be allowed to continue.

It is even more worrisome and not hidden the fact that Ebonyi has recently witnessed communal clashes which claimed the lives of many able Ebonyians. This is the more reason the state and its security apparatuses have to exert their constitutional powers to cage the excesses of the trouble makers once and for all because investigations have proved that most of the religious misunderstandings within the community and its environs emanate from the same group whose nefarious and fraudulent activities and deals are very well known and worrisome to the community and its neighbourhoods.

The Ebonyi Muslim leader, according to reported records, had been given a portion of land in the village market square where he had erected a small building with few lock-up shops. This small piece of land was said to have been given to him by the elders of the community most of who are late. It is the traditional jurisdiction of the elders to allocate land to any indigene they feel responsible for the purpose of development. And this was at a time when the market was only for the peoples’ daily needs – bushy and unkempt.

The Muslim leader, it was gathered, had labored to evacuate the heap of refuse on the said portion of land which was a dumping ground for the community. However, there was a written agreement endorsed by the elders and Alhaji Obiahu Ajah.

Years after the leader had completed his building, some acclaimed influential persons from the community started agitating for their own pieces of land in the market.

It was then that a group called for the distribution of the market according to the villages. And even when that was done, the elders who had thumb printed the earlier agreement for Alhaji Obiahu warned that the piece of land given to the Muslim leader should not be contested because it was given in good faith for development which the Muslim leader initiated. They warned like in an Igbo adage that the grasshopper owned by an infant must not be taken away from him just because the grasshopper has eggs.

They had warned of serious consequences if the people dared collect the piece of land forcefully. But now that the elders are late, the group has reunited to threaten the Muslim leader whose loyalty to the state authority under Chief Martin Elechi has been stark and steady.

Just last Eid Fitr, the governor expressed sympathy with the health of the Muslim leader who was unable to leader his followers on the traditional sallah homage on the governor. Governor Elechi had pledged to take care of the medical expenses of the leader as he recognizes his efforts in preaching unity, love and understanding to the Ebonyi Muslim Ummah, and as such gesture is often extended to peace-loving, responsible and responsive socio-cultural and religious leaders across the state.

It is therefore urgently needed to curb the excesses of the people who seek joy in troubling the Muslim leader in Ebonyi state, Alhaji Muhammad Obiahu Ajah. No one can assure if his life is safe with the mounting threat to forcefully collect his property against traditional judgments that he was granted the land at a time the area was yearning for development from scratch.

A stitch in time saves nine, a proverb says. The Ebonyi government should act fast in this matter, even as the Muslim leadership is keenly keeping tap on the scenario. The government should also ensure that the Muslim leader is given all support that will enable him discharge his duties as the Custodian of the Ebonyi Muslim Ummah without difficulties or hindrance. The government should make his office more effective in the drive for development and creativity for all categories of the citizenry of Ebonyi state.

Umar Ndukwe lives at no. 4 Presidential Avenue, Nkpokiti-Enugu.

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