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Friday Sermon: Nigeria: The Quest for Answers 1

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By Babatunde Jose

It is instructive to start this quest by stating that most of us reading this piece today are either by omission or commission part of the problems of this blessed nation, and it is, however, gratifying to know that some of us are part of the solutions. 

Let it be said that the root cause of our problems is the political elite. Unlike in other climes where they are in the vanguard of socio-economic change and development, our political elite are not elite in the true sense of the word. Here, they lack the requisite qualities of change agents or transformation leaders. They are bereft of vision and historical mission. We find no Marx, Engel, Lenin or Trotsky, nor the attributes of Kwan Yew, Park, Nehru, or Castro among them. They form parties which lack manifestos and blueprints for socio-economic transformation or emancipation of their people. Glaring poverty of ideas and spiritually deficient, they are incapable of leading the donkey to the stream, not to talk of cajoling it to drink water.

As for the average citizens of this country, all they ask for is their daily bread. As late Awolowo said: The common man is not concerned with who is in power; he is more particular about food, clothing, and shelter of a wretched type.

“Unfortunately, while the world is stirring and creating itself anew amidst many conflagrations, Africa (and Nigeria in particular) has been missing on this radar, this stellar congregation of transformational leadership. To suggest that Africa has not produced its own fair share of transformational leadership would amount to a genetic scandal. Where will one put the Nkrumahs, the Awolowos, the Cabral, the Nyereres and the Samoras?

“In retrospect, it would appear that the cultural and tribal obstacles that some of these avatars rightly identified as barriers to genuine nationhood returned to haunt their aspirations because the solutions they offered could not withstand the difficulties on ground.  What is playing out in many African nations attests to the fact that in multi-ethnic nations with religious and cultural fissures, it is often very difficult to produce a leader with a transcendental vision of his society who is also transformational.

“But to produce a nation or a society worthy of global admiration and emulation, a pacesetter for jaded humanity, postcolonial Africa (Nigeria) must come up with this stellar combination: a leadership with a cosmopolitan vision that transcends narrow ethnic and cultural divides and the intellectual strength and energy to transform his nation.” Professor Adebayo Williams

A critical appraisal of the political environment in the country reveals that Nigerians do not have a problem with democracy, or the presidential system of government, but are tired of corrupt leadership and poor democratic values.

Equally, we do not have problems with development and growth models. We have men and women of world renown who are not only great thinkers but also great administrators. However, the leadership is obsessed and mired in self-aggrandizement and greed. Shamelessly atavistic in their lust for wealth, they care less for the suffering of the masses.

If we were to catalogue the many development blueprints, masterplans and various solutions to our problems proffered by various committees, groups, papers, communiques, colloquiums etc., and other ‘Think Tanks’ whose reports never saw the light of day, there would be no space in this sermon of a few pages. Suffice to say that as a nation, the Almighty has relegated our problems to the backburner. He now answers to the prayers and supplications of more serious people. The Quran likens them to the ‘parable of those who reject Faith: Those who have refused to follow the Way of Allah resemble cattle; when the shepherd calls them they hear nothing except shouting and crying; they are deaf, dumb and blind, and so they understand nothing. (Quran 2:171)

To maintain a stable and secure environment, the administration must provide an equitable justice system and most of all provide essential services to the populace. The words of General Colin Powell succinctly capture the essence of this point that “―endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved and only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.

Among other things needed to move this country forward:

·        The demands of the various political groups must be addressed within a holistic framework. The context must be inclusive to incorporate all the key political interests, social values, and economic interests of the various regional or ethnic groups.

·         Short of sounding like a broken gramophone record, the Nigerian economy should be urgently diversified, to stem the current over-dependence on oil, which is a finite commodity. Investments should be directed to revamping and expanding the moribund industrial base, especially in the less advantaged parts of the country, to address unemployment. The pay-off of this strategy will not only address the problem of unemployed youth but will substantially increase productivity, reduce importation, and reduce poverty in the country.

·         The fight against corruption is one that may have a political backlash, since a large majority of the elite groups are involved, but the consequences of not fighting the menace may be more atrocious in the long run. We all know this, but it needs restating.

·         There should be investments in civic education for both public office holders and citizens to promote the social contract needed to reduce citizens and leadership’s propensity to engage in corruption. 

·         Corruption should be seen and addressed as a development issue, in which   case governments at all levels should pay significant attention to social provisioning as a way of serving as a disincentive for citizens to engage in corrupt behaviors.

·        The Federal Government should ensure that all anti-corruption agencies are autonomous and given all the powers and resources they need to discharge their mandates of fighting corruption. Undue interference in the operations, processes and decisions of anti-poverty agencies should be avoided. There should be adequate funding of anti-poverty agencies and programs.

In a paper, “Time to Reclaim Nigeria’s Greatness,” Rev. Father Mathew Kuka literally heaped the burden of the Nation’s survival on the current leader when he said: …neither God nor history will forgive him if he fails. Almost all the salient points needed to be examined are contained in his homily, and we find no point in overemphasizing them.

“For years, you campaigned for a new Nigeria through restructuring or overhauling the defective machinery of the Nigerian state.

“For years, you fought the military and other forms of dictatorships. For years, you fought for the victims of a deep state. For years, you sought to create an egalitarian society. For years, you sought a just society. For years, you have built networks with individuals, communities, and institutions. Now is harvest time.

“Under your watch, Nigeria must turn the corner. Under your watch, we must end the ugly instrumentalization of religious, ethnic, or regional identities. You have had enough time to think of the answers to many questions that are crying for answers. Your future and that of our country is in your hands.

“This is our moment, our date with history. Now, all eyes and ears are on you. Our prayers for a united country are with you.

“Palliatives will not resolve Nigeria’s problems. The problems are deep and structural. . . reset the template of power, regardless of the cultural or historical myths.

“…the killings of Nigerians by whatever name must end and end now. These senseless killings, abductions, extortions, and kidnappings have to end, and the sacredness and sanctity of human life must be restored.”

Our takeaway from the foregoing is the need for a ‘reset of the template of power, regardless of the cultural and historical myths’. Once the system is overhauled and restructured, all other things will follow, especially if the restructuring is accompanied by a moral rebirth.

No doubt our next sermon will be devoted to the issue of system reset or restructuring with all its attendant ramifications.

As we come to the end of this momentous year 2023 and look forward to a ‘renewal of hope’ in 2024, we supplicate to Almighty God to: “Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” Psalm 90:12. Or as the Living Bible puts it, “Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should.”

Prayer: God, Open the eyes of our elites to see and know that they don’t need what they steal. For only a mad fellow gathers stones and pans that are needless.

Barka Juma’at and a Happy Weekend.

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Friday Sermon: The Evil Leadership and Complacent Followers

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By Babatunde Jose

“O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Apostle, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Apostle, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination.” (Quran 4:59)

One year after the coming of the present administration with its promise of ‘renewed hope’, and the complete dashing of all hopes: ‘high cost of living, hunger, starvation,  food inflation, insecurity, monumental corruption, divestments by multinational oil corporations, the flight of capital to other countries, the unabating spread of a culture of hate in the country, poor governance, and bad politics’, it becomes appropriate for us to revisit the morphology of the socio-political situation in the country. Hence, a return to the sermon on ‘the Evil Leadership and Complacent Followers’.

Islam makes no sharp division between sacred and secular affairs; it expects governments to be imbued with righteousness. Likewise, Islam expects Muslims to respect the authority of such a government for otherwise there can be no order or discipline. This, however, is the bane of religious precepts in a secular environment. It is not in consonant with participatory democracy and the qualities desired from followers in modern democratic society. This is the origin of the proverbial docility, acquiescence and unquestioning acceptance of leadership and the ‘rankadede’ syndrome, an unquestioning obeisance of leaders. The above verse of the Quran (Quran 4:59) assumes a theocratic state.

Modern nation states demand a different set of qualities and paradigms. Unfortunately, most of these qualities are lacking in the followership in our society.

As followers we are too timid and complacent. Starting from the issue of social services, we do not make forceful demands on our rulers. We acquiesce and resort to self-help. We make little or no demands on our leaders for accountability and limit our complaints to rancorous discussions at the beer parlor or at social events over plates of ‘jollof rice’ and Coca Cola. Yet a culture of protest is a sine qua non of democracy.

Protest movements are struggles to be seen and to be heard. In the last 60 years protest movements around the world have mobilized against injustices and inequalities to bring about substantial sociocultural, sociopolitical, and socio-economic changes. Whilst familiar repertoires of action persist, such as strikes, demonstrations, and occupations of public space, the landscape is very different from 60 years ago when the so-called ‘new social movements’ emerged.

Protest movements are a key function of democracy. They represent an expression of ideas and principles to challenge dominant orthodoxies and have resulted in significant changes to policies and legislation as well as to attitudinal transformations in local, national, and international contexts. Protest movements show no signs of abating in the twenty-first century as people challenge governments, regimes, economic structures, austerity, material inequalities as well as advocate for global issues such as food, water, energy, healthcare, and climate change.

Protest is an operation of democratic power which can be performative; it is both an act and an enactment. Protest is a collective struggle which calls into question ‘the inchoate and powerful dimensions of reigning notions of the political’. The democratic public performs its existence through resistance: it demands recognition, embodies visibility, articulates a political voice, and communicates ideas/demands. In doing so, protest constitutes ‘the people’, and through the aesthetics of protest, ruptures conventions of doing politics.

Protests emerge when people come together to react against exclusion, inequality and injustice, usually propagated by the state or government, though other actors or structures including environmental precarity or economic instability can mobilize people to act. “The founding moment of French political history was the Revolution. Since then, French people speak directly to power through protest: Although not necessarily in such a bloody way.”

Protest movements have been recognized as significant contributors to processes of political participation and transformations of culture and value systems, as well as to the development of both a national and transnational civil society.

In the words of Prof Wole Soyinka: Let us begin with some collective introspection. I have become increasingly convinced that, between leadership and the led, there is only a very thin dividing line, often nearly indistinguishable. There is no question in my mind that, most often, the so-called led are their own worst enemies, even to the point of self-betrayal and treachery to their own existence…” Wole Soyinka: ‘Handshake Across History’.

Public participation, therefore, as a political principle or practice, and may also be recognized as a right. … It implies that the public’s contribution will influence the decision. Public participation may also be regarded as a way of empowerment and as a vital part of democratic governance. The key role of citizens in a democracy is to participate in public life.

Protest is possible because we have inalienable rights to assemble, to associate, and to speak. Rather, the enactment of protest signifies democracy in its most essential form, one that is founded on action and enactment: ‘Democracy is, properly speaking, the symbolic institution of the political in the form of the power of those who are not entitled to exercise power – a rupture in the order of legitimacy and domination. Democracy is the paradoxical power of those who do not count’ (Rancière and Panagia 2000: 124).

Protest is not only concerned with seeking recognition; protest seeks to disrupt the existing political order, transcend, or abandon its ideological trappings, and create new possibilities.

Protests invoke images of mass demonstrations, riots, and sit-ins, all of which are common tactics used by civic activists, often to advocate for a cause or protest a government policy. At the heart of protest culture is a firm belief in the value of free speech, and the power of the collective in making demands on the state. Protest culture thus has its roots in the democratic ideals that enable them to take place: justice, equality, and fraternity, to name some of them.

Protest culture, however, need not lead to a slippery slope of divisive identity politics, if it is rooted in a thoughtful, engaged citizenship. This cuts to the heart of the state’s distrust of protests – a fundamental lack of respect for, or trust in, the citizenry by the state due to paternalism. Such paternalism views protestors as petulant children who make demands without considering the complex challenges that policymakers face and inevitable trade-offs they have to make. Protests are seen as outlets for populism and xenophobia, rather than a meaningful intervention into existing debates.

In other climes they protest and riot over increase in the price of bread or rice, fuel and other issues that impinge on the welfare of the people. Here we are content to accept all that they throw at us with equanimity. What have we done about the fantabulous take home pay of our legislators? Nothing! We do not protest the potholes on our streets or the delay in refuse disposal. We make little or no demands on our leaders and do not hold them responsible for our degradation, impoverishment and accelerating poverty.

Political apathy can be categorized as the indifference of an individual and a lack of interest in participating in political activities. Political apathy can lead to low voter turnout and stagnation in government.

It has been argued that religion; in particular Islam, is a contributing factor to the situation of political docility and lethargy of its adherents. Obedience is a divine command from al-Qur’an and Hadith likewise. Islamic history records many instances as far as obedience is concerned.

On the authority of Ibn ‘Umar, The Holy Prophet (SAW) said: It is obligatory upon a Muslim that he should listen (to the ruler appointed over him) and obey him whether he likes it or not, except that he is ordered to do a sinful thing. If he is ordered to do a sinful act, a Muslim should neither listen to him nor should he obey his orders (Sahih Muslim, Book 20, Hadith 4533).

This perhaps accounts for the proverbial acceptance of some of our brothers in the faith for the misrule of their leaders and why they have remained apolitical.

This thesis is however faulted in the light of the ‘Arab Spring’ and other uprisings and protests in patently Islamic climes. It is therefore not Islam or Christianity that makes a citizen apathetic, irresponsible to his political duties and obligations; rather it is the political culture of lethargy and political de-participation.

Despite the suffering and challenges we face, we lack the culture of protest and rejection of bad governance. People are not prepared to make sacrifices on the barricades and as such resign their lives to fate. Yet, in this same country, we had, Aba Women Protest, Enugu Coal Miners Strike, Egba Women Protest, NADECO, Civil Society Groups, Occupy Nigeria and the recent ENDSARS Protest. But no nationwide protest over ASU/Government closure of universities for nearly a year, no pim on the excesses and political paganism of our legislators, nothing on the state of hunger and starvation in the country despite humongous expenditure on SUVs, Hajj and other scandalous spendings.

Yet, protests and counter-protests are all products of a healthy democracy, and thus help engage a wider public in important discourse that is often overlooked because it involves only a small minority of people.

In an age of increased complexity and in which the population has grown to demand more of a say, protest allows all people to make their voices heard, helping to surface opinions that might change Nigeria for the better, but might otherwise never be heard or taken seriously by the state.

Even in Islamic history, there are instances of the importance of followers asking questions and making demands on their leaders. A person cannot be a functioning member of his community if he or she lacks knowledge and wisdom. Equally a follower is expected to be courageous.

According to Mohammed Al-Işfahani: “courage is a quality of the soul, its heart’s strength against shock and composure when experiencing fear.” The Path to Virtue: The Ethical Philosophy of AlRaghib Al-Işfahani: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, p 275)  

The earliest followers in Islam were credible, honest and courageous. Therefore, they established themselves as independent, critical thinkers whose knowledge and wisdom are dependable. Bashir bin Sa‘ad (r.a) was a courageous follower during Omar’s (r.a) regime. He was bold enough to tell Caliph ‘Omar that they will straighten him as they do with their arrows if he fails to properly perform his duties as a leader.

Caliph Omar said, “It is the duty of the leader and followers to listen to each other and to voice out their concern.” He added, “When followers do not participate and provide input, they are not contributing something useful. And we are not useful if we do not consent to their contributions.” (Ali, A.J. (2005), Islamic Perspectives on Management and Organization. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. P 135)

Of Tragedy and Hope: The fatherless child is snatched from the breast; the infant of the poor is seized for a debt. Lacking clothes, they go about naked; they carry the sheaves but still go hungry.  They crush the olives among the terraces; they tread the winepresses yet suffer thirst. The groans of the dying rise from the city, the souls of the wounded cry out for help. But God charges no one with wrongdoing (Job 24:8-12)

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

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Friday Sermon: Ebi ’Npawa ooo: Hunger is Killing Us ooo!

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By Babatunde Jose

Globally, almost one in ten people go to bed hungry every night.

‘Ebi ‘npawa oo’, is a cry of suffering and anguish, the call of the bedraggled and impoverished, the wretched of the society who having nothing to eat, and cannot afford the little food that is available, wail to their leaders to make known their state of desperation and want. For too long they have been left high and dry on the roadside of life. They did not just start being hungry, they were born hungry, and grew up hungry and will probably die hungry. Hunger accompanies them to school and on the playfields, they are still hungry. At home they go to bed hungry.

The last one year had been ‘shege’ for them, but it did not start last year. Hunger had been with them for the past many decades when their fathers and father’s fathers stopped going to the farm and migrated to the city for the bright lights and jobs as houseboys, truck pushers and other menial occupations, some even as thieves. Victims of rural-urban migration and its attendant consequences.

Their plight was exacerbated with the rise of insecurity occasioned by action of terrorists, kidnappers, herders and cattle rustlers, and the ubiquitous tribal engineered political conflicts. Going to the farm had become a dangerous proposition.

Bad weather resulting from climate change added to the milieu in the form of droughts, famine and on occasion flash floods and mudslides that washed away their farms and livestock.

Ebi npawa did not start with the current administration in Nigeria. Hunger had ravaged the land before its coming. It has been a hallmark of our people so much so that we have been classed among the 10 most hungry nations in the world, a pathetic situation when viewed in association with our current title as the poverty capital of the world. Yet, poverty and hunger are twins born of the same mother.

However, hunger is not an exclusive preserve of the Nigerian situation but a worldwide phenomenon. Hunger is a ‘feeling of pain, emptiness, or weakness induced by lack of food’. The main cause of hunger is not a shortage of food, but the ability to access it. The world produces enough food to feed all of its 8 billion people, yet 828 million people go hungry.

Millions live with hunger and malnourishment because they simply cannot afford to buy enough food. The problem is access and availability, both of which are disrupted by things like extreme weather, food waste, one’s gender and – worst of all – conflict. Therefore, ending hunger is the greatest challenge of our time, but it is solvable if we all work towards it. But are our leaders working assiduously towards it?

There are multiple causes of chronic hunger and food insecurity in the world. A few contributing factors include inflation and the concomitant decrease in the value of money, causing food prices to rise, forcing people to buy less food.

We are currently going through this phase in Nigeria. Our staples such as rice, beans, yam and gari are increasingly beyond the reach of the people. The cost of a bag of rice is more than the minimum wage. How can they cope?

Natural disasters: From floods to wildfires to drought and earthquakes, weather and climate change-related catastrophes destroy crops and farmland. This depletes food supply, increasing food prices.

Disease, war, or other disruptive events: Whether it’s an ongoing civil war or an infectious disease outbreak, events that damage infrastructure and the food supply chain often led to shortages that cause hunger crises. We currently do not have answers to them, or we have not deemed it a priority to address this issue. But ministries and MDAs can afford to schedule seminars and training programs outside the country and purchase very costly bullet-proof SUVs for their principal officers, while others wallow in hunger.

Unequal distribution of wealth: Some parts of a country may be affected by extreme poverty that lingers for generations, while others are more affluent. Unlike those who are more affluent, people in poverty don’t have savings to help them weather hardships.

Conflict is the number one driver of hunger in the world, and it’s entirely preventable. It uproots families, destroys economies, ruins infrastructure and halts agricultural production. 60% of the world’s hungriest people live in conflict zones or its periphery. 68M people are currently displaced due to conflict.

This is happening in our land too, in the conflict zones of the North. For more than ten years now, some people have not been able to access their farms, not to mention engaging in any productive activity. Insecurity in the Northern farming communities has been the greatest impediment to food security and the harbinger of hunger.

Climate change is another cause of global hunger, triggering frequent and intense extreme weather events. Over 80% of the world’s hungry people live in disaster-prone countries where flash floods, landslides and other vagaries of nature are wreaking havoc on people’s lives.

Now, for some disturbing statistics, according to Global Poverty report:

• 828 million people – or one in nine people in the world – do not have enough to eat.

60% of the hungry people on the planet are women and girls.

• Every year, developing countries are robbed of more than $1 trillion by their thieving, kamikaze leaders. Money that could fight poverty, disease, and hunger.

• Despite world poverty, between 1/4 and 1/3 of the 4 billion metric tons of food produced annually is lost or wasted.

• 98% of the world’s undernourished people live in developing countries.

• Of all the 26 countries where the rate of extreme poverty is over 40%, only 2 are NOT in sub-Saharan Africa.

• Poor people in developing countries spend 60-80% of their income on food. Americans spend less than 10%.

• Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year. That is 8,500 children per day.

• A third of all childhood death in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by hunger.

• 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.

• Every 10 seconds, a child dies from hunger-related diseases.

• 165 million people suffer from childhood malnutrition.

• 75% of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and 5 animal species.

40% of all the food African farmers grow is lost due to insects, pests, and mold.

Hunger, poverty and food prices are inseparably linked. Not every person living in poverty is hungry, but almost all hungry people are living in poverty. Hunger can be viewed as a dimension of extreme poverty. It is often called the most severe and critical manifestation of poverty.

The only way for people to move beyond chronic hunger and their vulnerability to ever-rising food prices is to employ sustainable methods based on self-reliance. Empower rural communities to strengthen their self-resourcefulness, specifically in Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, where the highest concentrations of hungry people live.

Among other methods, offer the tools and training to increase farm production at the local level; support them as they create, stock, and manage their own food banks; and encourage clusters of rural villages to develop sustainable, self-reliant, hunger-free communities. Here, funds meant for the alleviation of the conditions of the poor and hungry are embezzled and stolen by the overfed leaders.

“We are facing hunger on an unprecedented scale, food prices have never been higher, and millions of lives and livelihoods are hanging in the balance. … Together, we can build a safer, more resilient, and inclusive world – and banish the scourge of famine and starvation once and for all. But we must act now.” — Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations

The leaders know the solution to hunger is food and more food. The problem of growing more food is insecurity and conflicts: the menace of terrorists, kidnappers, and merchants of death. Unfortunately, they know where the terrorists hide and some of their sponsors.

Rather than do the needful, they leave leprosy and are treating ringworm. They embezzle money meant to purchase arms and ammunition to combat insurgents. If they can ‘chop’ money meant for armored personnel carriers, what will the monies meant for drones mean to them? That is pepper soup money!

A leadership of vipers, they have no regard for the feelings of the people. Our problem is not only one of leadership but that of a complacent followership; a followership that does not ask questions and is content to accept 2000 Naira at election time to vote for the idiots who make their lives miserable.  There are 200 million solutions to our problems. Our attitude would therefore determine our altitude!

In the interim, let those who have a little patch in their homes grow something, pepper, cucumber, greens, lettuce, efo, and any other vegetable. Even tatase can grow and bear fruit from a sand bucket. Tomatoes grow in the backyard too, including Plantain. When we cultivate the habit of growing some of what we eat, we would have shamed the demon called hunger.

In the words of Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, “The state of pervasive insecurity continues to adversely impact agricultural production and the value it brings to the economy, especially in the Northern parts of the country.

“Insecurity resulting from terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, and cattle rustling has compelled many crop farmers and pastoralists to abandon their lands and relocate to the neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad, and Cameroun.

“This has drastically caused a reduction in the production of food and skyrocketed prices of foodstuffs. Food scarcity in Nigeria is so dire that a report by Cadre Harmonize warns that between June and August this year, about 31.5 million Nigerians may face severe food shortages and scarcity.”

But things can still be made right. However, in the words of Pat Utomi, “Nigeria is a mess right now. A huge mess. Even the blind can see it. And the deaf can hear the cry of anguish of Nigeria’s children. Can the country be rescued? Possibly. But the myths, years of delusions of grandeur and criminal capture of the Nigerian state threaten the possibility.”

Prayer!!!

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, The Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds; Most Gracious, Most Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek. Show us the straight way, the way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, Those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray. (Quran 1:1-7)

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

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Friday Sermon: Refugees: Life of Fear, Suffering, Want and Insecurity

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By Babatunde Jose

Forced migration has been a core element of human experience throughout history. The Islamic tradition is rich with stories of forced migration and teachings on the importance of providing protection for those seeking refuge. Migration and escape from persecution has played a prominent role in the stories of many of Islam’s great Prophets – such as Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH)’s migration to Canaan (Q29:26), or Prophet Musa (PBUH)’s migration to Midian (Q28:20–28).

Forced migration played a particular role in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his first companions. In 615 AD approximately 100 early Muslims sought refuge with the Christian King Negus of Abyssinia to escape the brutal persecution of the ruling Quraysh tribe in Makkah. This was followed by a larger migration to Madinah in 622 AD, which the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) joined. This emigration by the Prophet SAW is known as the Hegira and it marked the starting point of the Muslim era.

We might also reference the case of Huguenots, French Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who followed the teachings of theologian John Calvin. Persecuted by the French Catholic government during a violent period, Huguenots fled the country in the 17th century, creating Huguenot settlements all over Europe, in the United States and Africa.

A refugee therefore, is someone who: “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”

Refugees are persons who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.

More than 114 million individuals have been forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations. The world is now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. Among those were 36.4 million refugees, (30.5 million refugees under United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s mandate, and 5.94 million Palestine refugees under United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA’s mandate).

There were also 62.1 million internally displaced people, 6.08 million asylum seekers, and 5.6 million Venezuelans refugees or in need of international protection. There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment, and freedom of movement.

The experience of being uprooted transcends identities and borders. Forced displacement always carries with it a deep, personal pain, resulting from involuntary dislocation and alienation. At a practical level, persons fleeing persecution are cut off from traditional livelihoods and sources of income, as well as from fundamental forms of national protection, rendering them vulnerable. These harsh conditions are compounded when flight takes place en-mass due to generalized armed conflict, or where opportunities for quick recovery are lacking.

These factors are ever present for Palestine refugees, who, for more than seven decades, have coped with unresolved memories of flight passed down through the generations, uncertainties about their future, daily struggles for survival under conditions of occupation and human rights constraints that have precluded adequate chances for recovering losses.

In addition, Palestine refugees have withstood an added hardship of loss of patrimony and country when, in the wake of their flight in 1948, their historic homeland was transformed into a state for others. The result was the dispersal of the Palestinian nation, or el-Naqba, and the creation of the world’s largest refugee population. Palestinian refugees who fled areas over which Israel asserted sovereignty were subsequently denationalized, compounding their plight into a situation of stateless refugees.

Some of the refugees who fled to the West Bank and Jordan in 1948 were granted Jordanian citizenship – later revoked for Palestinian residents of the West Bank when Jordan severed its legal and administrative control over the territory in 1988. The majority of Palestine refugees in the Middle East region have remained stateless for multiple generations. Stateless Palestinian refugees are also especially vulnerable in periods of instability, as witnessed in the case of Palestinian refugees who fled from Iraq due to persecution.

In 2023, approximately 90% of newly displaced individuals globally resulted from seven significant displacement situations. These situations consist of both ongoing and new conflicts and humanitarian crises in various countries such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Latin America and the Caribbean nations, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, and Ukraine.

In the past decade, the global refugee crisis has more than doubled in scope, surpassing the 100 million mark for total displacement, meaning that over 1.2% of the global population have been forced to leave their homes.

As of mid-2023, over 537,000 Eritreans — nearly 15% of the country’s population — have been displaced abroad due to ongoing violence and political instability.

For more than a decade, a humanitarian crisis has raged in the Central African Republic. It’s gone largely unnoticed in mainstream media; however over 750,000 Central Africans were registered as refugees in 2023 — with thousands more displaced internally. This escalation in violence (which has been ongoing since CAR gained independence from France in 1960) has made it increasingly dangerous for Central Africans to live in the country.

Unfortunately, Somalia’s protracted cycle of crisis has once again led to an increase in refugees with over 814,000 as of mid-2023. The situation is dire for many, who are forced to contend with drought, conflict, and hunger. Last year and earlier this year, the country was at the epicenter of the current Horn of Africa crisis and facing famine-like conditions.

The Democratic Republic of Congo remains one of the world’s largest “forgotten” humanitarian crises, with events in a protracted situation rarely making headlines. Combining refugees and IDPs, its displacement numbers are the highest in Africa, with 6.1 million people displaced. This figure includes 1 million refugees seeking asylum outside DRC. In tandem with this, the DRC is also a large host community for refugees from neighbouring countries.

Conditions in Sudan have deteriorated throughout 2023 as the country faced some of the worst violence in decades. At the end of 2022, approximately 844,000 refugees around the world were Sudanese. As of mid-2023, that number exceeded 1.02 million, and showed no signs of abating.

Beginning in August 2017, over 1 million stateless Rohingya fled ongoing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Many are still living in the world’s largest refugee camp, located in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The Rohingya represent the majority of the 1.26 million refugees displaced from Myanmar over the last six years.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, is also the site of one of its largest refugee crises, that entered its tenth year in 2023. Over 4 million South Sudanese have been forced from their homes, with 2.2 million of those having to leave the country entirely.

In February 2022, escalated conflict in Ukraine led to a full humanitarian crisis that has displaced over 5.8 million refugees in the last two years. This is more than 13% of the country’s population, and just under 20% of the world’s global refugee population.

The ongoing crisis in Afghanistan has made it one of the top countries of origin for refugees. One out of every six refugees originated from this country, and over 6.1 million Afghans are internationally displaced — largely in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

Syria continues to be the world’s largest refugee crisis as at 2024, representing nearly 25% of the total global refugee population. As of mid-2023, 6.49 million Syrians have sought refuge, primarily in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and Türkiye.

Though poor, Uganda is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, with over a million refugees, most of them from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi and Somalia. Kenya, Sudan, DRC, and Ethiopia are also among the top refugee-hosting countries on the continent.

Research has shown that displacement and dislocation cause special cultural, economic, and technical problems. About one third of displaced persons will experience high rates of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) as a result of the circumstances they faced during their migration, which can significantly affect the quality of their life.

The armed conflict in Nigeria has forced an estimated two million people to flee from their homes. Many of them are now internally displaced persons while others have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

Reportedly, 55,000 people have been displaced in the last two months, over 30,000 of whom arrived in Borno’s capital, Maiduguri; which already hosts more than one million internally displaced persons (IDP) in 14 camps as well as host communities. Because the existing camps cannot cope with the sudden influx, the authorities are in the process of opening a new IDP camp.

Nearly 22,000 Nigerians have been reported as missing to the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) during a decade of conflict in northeast Nigeria, the highest number of missing persons registered with the ICRC in any country. Nearly 60 per cent were minors at the time they went missing, meaning thousands of parents don’t know where their children are and if they are alive or dead.

Families in north-east Nigeria are often separated while fleeing attacks. Others have had loved ones abducted or detained and do not know their whereabouts.

Being a refugee is therefore a traumatic experience and we do not pray for a worsening of our present situation of insecurity and economic regression that would unleash a catastrophic situation which would warrant mass movement of our people to neighboring countries. It would be worse than the Mfecane and the Great Trek. The geography of the West African region will never be the same again. This rings a word of caution to those ethnic and tribal irridentists beating the Tom-Tom of ethnic and religious jingoism, whipping the cord of separatist tendencies.

Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith (Quran2:286)

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend.

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