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Friday Sermon: The Pilgrims Progress

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By Babatunde Jose

Tomorrow, Saturday, the 9th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar Dhul Hijjah, over 2 million pilgrims will converge on Mount Arafat for the annual Hajj festival.  Mount Arafat is an important place in Islam because pilgrims spend the afternoon there praying and supplicating to Allah to wash away their sins and make them whole again: Failure to be present in the plain of Arafat on the required day invalidates the pilgrimage. The Day of Arafat is an essential part of Hajj, and Aishah (RA) reported that The Messenger of Allah (SAWS) said, “There is no day on which Allah sets free more slaves from Hell than He does on the Day of Arafat (Muslim). It was on this special day in the afternoon of the Day of Arafat during his first and only Hajj that the Prophet (SAWS) made his famous farewell speech to a crowd of over 120,000 Companions. It was his last major speech, and that is why this Hajj is called the ‘Farewell Pilgrimage’.

Hajj is mentioned in several ayats in the Quran: “And proclaim that the people shall observe Hajj pilgrimage. They will come to you walking or riding on various exhausted (means of transportation). They will come from the farthest locations.”(Quran 22:27) See also (Quran 2:125) (Quran 2:158)(Quran 2:189)(2:196-203)(Quran 3:96-97)

Hajj attracts a very diverse multitude from all over the world, but it is important to clarify the largeness of the gathering as there has been a misconception on the part of many Muslims. Hajj is the second largest annual religious gathering.

Arba’een Pilgrimage is the world’s largest annual religious gathering that is held every year in Karbala, Iraq at the end of the 40-day mourning period following Ashura, the religious ritual for the commemoration of martyrdom of the grandson of Prophet Mohammad and the third Shia Imam, Husayn ibn Ali. The number of participants in the annual pilgrimage reached 20 million or more in 2016.

The Arba’een pilgrimage is non-obligatory compared to Hajj which is obligatory for those who can afford it.

There is however a Nigerian connection to this Shia event. Pilgrims in West Africa who are unable to go to Karbala due to the distance involved instead head toward Zaria in  Nigeria to be addressed by the Shia cleric Ibrahim Zakzaky. These include pilgrims from Nigeria as well as Ghana, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Togo. On 5 October 2017, this annual Arba’een trek was attacked by Kano police, resulting in the death of a religious leader and injury to dozens of participants. It was organised by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria. The Shiite problem has since developed into a political conundrum with its leadership under detention and Zakzaky’s Islamic Movement of Nigeria proscribed and declared a terrorist organization.

However, the largest religious gathering of all time is the Kumbh Mela festival of the Hindus in India. This year alone, 120 million people attended the Hindu religious festival which is held on the banks of the Gages River every 4 years. The government of India coughed out the sum of $600 million for the festival. A temporary city was constructed and 120,000 toilets provided for the pilgrims; 30,000 policemen were drafted to the place and medical facilities provided, all at the expense of the state. For centuries the faithful have come here to wash away their sins at the spot where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers converge with the invisible and mythic tributary known as the Sarasvati.

There is also another contentious matter relating to government sponsorship or involvement in pilgrimage; its organization and logistics. This has been an issue in our religiously charged political firmament. It however need not be so as there are historical and contemporary facts to suggest that governments all over the world have always been involved in the affairs of their citizens who embark on pilgrimage in their tens of thousands.

In Britain, for instance, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2000 helped fund the British Hajj Delegation to provide consular support and medical services for its citizens on the ground in Saudi Arabia. Despite being officially secular, the French government posts a consul in Jeddah to help French nationals making the hajj. Russia—which has 14 million Muslim citizens, the largest population of any European country—has perhaps done the most to support its citizen-hajj pilgrims. Since the early 2000s, under the Putin government, Russia’s Muslims have enjoyed discounted flights to Jeddah during hajj season on Aeroflot, the state airline. A state-created hajj liaison office arranges visas and transportation. And in another twist, after annexing Crimea from Ukraine, Russia offered Crimean Tatars generous hajj subsidies ($1000 per person, about a third of the cost of an economy package tour).

Having inherited a hajj tradition with their colonial conquests, Europe’s imperial powers had to decide what to do with it. In the mid-nineteenth century, as hajj traffic between European colonies and Mecca began to grow, colonial officials nursed anxiety and fears of the hajj as a spreader of cholera and other infectious diseases; some even suggested banning the hajj. This was especially true after 1865, the year a massive cholera outbreak in Mecca became a global epidemic, spread far and wide by dispersing crowds of hajj pilgrims. After this epidemic—which killed more than 200,000 people worldwide in cities as far away as New York City—the European powers convened the first in a series of conferences that identified the hajj as a sanitary and security threat to empire. But attempts to ban the hajj proved impossible: as a pillar of Islam, and a duty for Muslims, the hajj could not be easily banned or stopped.

By the end of the nineteenth century, and for various reasons all of the European powers began to sponsor the hajj. They subsidized travel between their colonies and Arabia during hajj season, opened foreign consulates along routes to Mecca, and passed new laws to protect pilgrims from physical harm and financial scams.

In Jeddah, the Dutch had set up a multi-service “Hajj Bureau.” The British ran a medical dispensary out of their consulate, run by the vice-consul, a Muslim doctor and British subject from India. And European doctors and nurses staffed the two main quarantine facilities set up to screen hajj pilgrims in El Tor (at the bottom of the Sinai peninsula) and on Kamaran Island (in the Red Sea). By sponsoring the hajj, European colonial powers were simply trying to control or contain the problems it created as a mass, annual movement of people.  It is however very clear to all non-mischievous observers that the Nigerian State does not underwrite the pilgrimage of Moslems to Mecca. If in offering Consular service, medical aid and welfare to pilgrims and being involved in the logistics of moving over 100,000 of its citizens to a foreign land for pilgrimage is termed as funding of religious activities, so be it. The Government of Nigeria has not been doing anything strange or unknown to international best practice.  Wet therefore wish our pilgrims Hajj Mabrur.

Barka Juma’at, Barka de Salah and Happy weekend.

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Atiku Hails Judgment on Full Financial Autonomy for LGs, Says It’s a Win for Nigerian People

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The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2023 general elections, and a former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has hailed the judgment of the Supreme Court, ordering that henceforth local government allocations be paid direct into various local government accounts, saying it is a win for the people of Nigeria.

The Waziri Adamawa made his views public via his social media handle, saying categorically that “I align with the decision of the Supreme Court that the structure of the Nigerian government is portioned in three layers, and of these, the local governments should be centres of development.”

He wrote:

The judgment of the Supreme Court earlier today affirming fiscal autonomy to local government councils in the country is a win for the people of Nigeria.

The court’s ruling is a step in the right direction and a major corrective action in greasing the wheels of national development across the country.

The decision by the Federal Government to consolidate disbursements of local councils’ revenues into the state government accounts was a decision that was borne out of politics of hasty compromise.

I align with the decision of the Supreme Court that the structure of the Nigerian government is portioned in three layers, and of these, the local governments should be centres of development.

I also share the belief that fiscal autonomy to the local governments should not be limited to revenues from the Federation Accounts, but indeed, should apply to Internally Generated Revenue from the respective local government authorities.

Many of our states, especially those in the ultra urban areas with high density economic activities, have become notorious in muscling local councils from generating revenue on items that border on motor parks, outdoor advertising, rents and many more.

The verdict of the court is in tandem with the core functions of the Supreme Court as an arbitration court between and among governments. -AA

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Supreme Court Grants LGAs Full Financial Autonomy

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The Supreme Court of Nigeria has ruled that the 774 local government areas (LGAs) be given a full financial autonomy across the federation.

A seven-man panel of Supreme Court Justices led by Justice Garba Lawal delivered the ruling on Thursday, July 11, 2024.

The apex Court initially heard the suit between the Federal and State government on the autonomy of local government on June 13 and reserved judgment.

The suit marked SC/CV/343/2024 was filed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), and it sought full autonomy and direct fund allocation to the 774 local government areas (LGAs) in the country.

Fagbemi requested the Supreme Court to order that funds for LGAs managed by caretaker committees appointed by governors, rather than elected chairmen and councillors, be withheld.

However, the 36 state governors, represented by their attorneys general, oppose the suit on various grounds, including their argument that the Supreme Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case.

In its ruliing on Thursday (today), the Supreme Court ordered that full financial autonomy be granted to the LGAs, recognizing them as an independent segment of the federation.

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Wike vs Ireti Kingibe: Time to Stop the Bully

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By Eric Elezuo

It is an understatement to say that there’s no love lost between the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr. Nyesom Wike, and the Senator representing the FCT, Mrs. Ireti Kingibe. Their relationship has turned more soured than the proverbial cat and rat. In fact, both cannot see eye to eye, in as much as they are saddled with the same responsibility of promoting and developing the FCT.

While Kingibe, one of the four female senators in the Senate, is operating on the mandate of the people, having been duly elected under the Labour Party in a well contested election in the 2023 General Elections, Wike is an appointee of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

No one has been able to explain the origin of the beef between the two political figures, but source close to The Boss, has said that differences in political affiliation may have triggered the initial animosity before it blossomed into full time hatred and cross verbal attacks, leading to the bullying of the Senator.

Senator Kingibe had complained earlier in the life of the administration that the FCT has shun all her approaches to synergise for the benefit of the Abuja residents, since she’s a direct interface of the people as an elected representative. But Wike, in his response tackled the Abuja Senator, asking her to stay away from him that he does not wish to be friends with her.

Wike had lambasted the Senator, accusing her of blackmailing him instead of communicating her problems through the right channels or better still focusing on her oversight functions.

He stated this in an interview with journalists in Abuja, stating that the lawmaker is aggrieved because the Senate President snubbed her for the position of the Senate Committee on FCT.

“I don’t want to be personal…she’s the Senator for FCT. She went around saying ‘oh, oh Wike is busy scraping roads…I should leave the roads till when the potholes come?” Wike said.

“Somebody wants to be your friend and you say ‘I don’t want to be your friend. Is it by force?’ The problem is that she wanted to be Chairman, Senate Committee on FCT and the Senate President said ‘I’m not giving you’.

‘What are you going to supervise me? You cannot supervise me. What is her interest, that I must see her? If I have a problem I’ll go and see her. I don’t have a problem. Nobody can intimidate me. Look, I was a Minister before. I became a governor of one of the most important states in Nigeria and she thinks that the only way you can bring me down is to go to Channels, TVC, saying the Minister is not carrying me along.

“I don’t have the back to carry. It’s not about blackmailing. Do the right thing. You know her problem? She ran election with my friend Philip Aduda and she sees me taking Philip everywhere instead of her being the Senator. Should I abandon my friend because he failed election?” Wike queried.

However, while the Senator has refused to stay bullied, Nigerians have said that time is now to tame the bully, and save the bullied from any further acts of disrespect.

Kingibe has made it clear however, that she is not in any interested in the friendship of Wike, who she only knows from a distance, but in working together to answer to the needs of the FCT residents, whom both of them have been mandated to serve at the moment.

Speaking on Arise News interview, the Senator reviewed as follows, taking into cognizance that Wike addresses her as one, who claims her senatorial role:

“That’s what he says. I am the senator, but he said in interviews that I claim that I am the senator of the FCT, and he is not obliged to deal with me. But I am saying that by sections 122 and 124 of the Evidence Act, he is bound by the judicial notice of the occupier of the seat of the senator of the FCT.

“I am also saying that section 24 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, imbues on him a duty, that is, the honourable minister, (I am not calling any names because anybody who is the minister is bound by those same laws and duties) to abide by the constitution, to respect all its ideals, institutions and legitimate authorities entirely.

“So just the same way that some Nigerians would have voted for the president, and some would not have, but as soon as he is declared the president, he becomes the president for everybody, and nobody can pick and choose who would rather be the president. And therefore, same applies to all offices regardless of party or any other position.”

She added, “Please what constitutes friendship between two people who have never met each other? I have never sat in the same room with the minister except in the senate committee. So how does friendship arise? Why would I want to be the friend of somebody I do not know?

“The truth of the matter is that the minister refuses to speak or communicate in any way with the senator representing the Federal Capital Territory. So, how are the wishes and the needs of the people to be communicated to him? Please tell me if you know a way.”

Responding while inaugurating the construction of Mabushi Bus Terminal, Phase I, in Abuja, came hard on the senator for her remarks threatening to unseat her as a serving senator in the next election.

Referring to her as a nameless person, Wike asked her to go hug the transformer, in a most derogatory attempt to inform that she does not matter in the scheme of activities in the FCT.

Wike said: “I overheard somebody in Arise this morning. Unfortunately, I hear the person is a member of National Assembly and it is unfortunate I say so. With all due respect, what you don’t know, you don’t know, what you know you know, and the good thing for you is to tell people you don’t when you don’t know, then people will educate you.

“The Honorable Minister of State and my humble self have not been in office for more than 11 months and the person is angry that they are praising us. If you don’t want to or you are angry about that, go and hand yourself in a transformer. If we have done well, we have done well. If we haven’t done well, we haven’t done well. I’m proud to say that in the short time that Mr. President has appointed us, we have done well.

“You said there are no hospitals and there are no hospitals. You, as a legislator, what have you done? How many bills have you sponsored for us to improve our education and health sector?

“I challenge that legislator. If you are very popular, 2027 come and run under Abuja, we will fail you. Do you think that what happened last time, will happen again? It will not happen again. Luckily for me, I am the FCT Minister now. So that is my territory and I’m not afraid.

“So, People should be able to come out and be able to accept the truth. We are not begging for anybody to become our friend, we have so many friends that we cannot even carry along. So how can we go and beg people to become our friends? We are not interested in that.

“If you are angry that people are praising us, by next year your BP level will go very high because the praises you would see would be too much.”

Many legislators were at the event, and they clapped for the minister at the remarks.

In another commissioning activity, the Senate President was on hand to deliver a speech, but ended up talking down on his colleague.

“I saw one of the legislators on television talking about you (Wike) and mentioning the fact that she was not carried along.

“Well, she is a member of the Senate. Once a decision is taken, she is bound by the decision. So, please ignore every distraction (from her) and be rest assured that no matter what you do, not everyone will praise you. Others will still try to find faults,” Mr Akpabio told Mr Wike, who was beaming with smiles.

Many other Senators were present at the event.

But Nigerians have come hard on the FCT Minister for his unguided utterances against an elected public officer, who is also a septugenarian, accusing him of lacking respect and playing God in the affairs of men.

In their response, the Labour Party, FCT branch, accused Wike of falling out of line, saying that Kingibe did nothing  y calling his attention to main needs of the Abuja residents.

The FCT chairman of the party, Comrade Diugwu Chukwuemeka, said by Wike’s outburst, he showed that he is not at home with the peculiarities of the FCT, nothing that the area is a conglomeration of different persons from across the length and breadth of the country.

“Does he not know that he is a tenant in FCT merely appointed by  the president and  if Mr. President decides to remove him, he will be removed without any ceremony,” the LP chairman queried.

On his part, the National Chairman of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Dr Ajuji Ahmed, described Wike’s attack on Senator Kingibe as verbal violence.

He said that Wike does not have the power to stop other politicians’ re-election because he is not the one that brought such politicians to the office in the first instance.

“That (the attack) amounts to verbal violence because there is no reason why he (Wike) should do that. He is not in the LP. It was LP that elected her. He has nothing to do with LP and he is not the entire electorate of the FCT. There is no way somebody can stop someone from being re-elected in three years time. It’s not a savoury statement.”

Also speaking, a Chieftain of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA), Chief Chekwas Okorie, also described the verbal exchange between Wike and the FCT as bad.

He appealed to the two public officers to sheathe swords and collaborate for the overall progress of the FCT.

“For me, it is all politics. But it is unfortunate that they allowed their political differences to affect their service to the people.

“The senator representing FCT represents all Abuja and the entire Abuja has one FCT minister.

“It is the National Assembly that presides over Abuja. One would have expected the two to work together. But it is bad that they are fighting each other,” he said.

However, in total condemnation of Wike’s bullish approach to the administration of the FCT and attacks on Kingibe, the women of Abuja have held a protest, asking that Wike be checkmate in his untoward utterances against Kingibe.

“We, the Concerned Women of FCT, Abuja, are therefore calling on all women in Abuja to rise against Wike’s antics,” the women noted.

While Nigerians expect the legislators to come to the rescue and support of their colleague, the contrary is playing out, encouraging Wike’s bullish attitude. But Nigerians are stepping out of their comfort zone to curb the menace.

Nigerians also understand that Wike’s bullish stance extends to his Rivera State primary constituency, where he is slugging it out with the incumbent governor of the state, Mr. Siminalayi Fubara, over the control of the state. The state has,  in recent months, been a subject of political intrigues and violence as the parties fight for supremacy.

But time will tell.

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