When the skirmishes occasioned by the disagreement over the sighting of the moon and the beginning of Ramadan fasting fissled out without much hassles, one had thought that this year’s Ramadan would be without usual controversies, particularly with the mandatory dedication and devotion imposed by the COVID-19 lockdown.
Alas, the controversy about Prof Ishaq Lakin Akintola’s Press Release on the mysterious deaths of the people of Kano was thrown at us, courtesy of the Premium Times (PT) is previously known for thorough and developmental journalism – unlike some of its peers that have carved a niche for themselves in controversy and adversarial journalism.
PT surprisingly, joined the bandwagon and simply went overboard to throw caution to the winds. It chose to be mean and vindictive, as it unprofessionally used an adjective such as, ‘ridiculous’ in its headline and the opening paragraph. The headline stated: “MURIC makes ridiculous claim, says Kano deaths suggest plot to depopulate Muslims”.
It is surprising that a medium will ridicule itself in an attempt to ridicule a personality. Here is Premium Times submission:
“Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has given a rather ridiculous interpretation to the unfolding tragedy in Kano, suggesting that the unusual death toll in the northwestern state could be “a deliberate attempt” at decimating the population of Muslims in Nigeria.
“Kano State has seen a spike in mystery deaths in one week amid COVID-19 threats.
“With scant resources nationally and low capacity to test, authorities are yet to determine if COVID-19 caused the deaths.
“Public concerns have arisen over the situation in the state, which now appears helpless, with Governor Abdullahi Ganduje accusing the Federal Government of neglect.”
So, who is the Premium Times defending and whose interest is it serving when it finds excuses for the authority in the third paragraph? And isn’t it contradictory that PT refused to take side with the helpless and dying Kano people, even when it admitted in the fourth paragraph, that Governor Abdullah Ganduje himself has accused “the Federal Government of neglect”.
In a statement on Monday 27th April, 2020, titled: COVID-19: MURIC SENDS SOS TO FG ON KANO, Ishaq Akintola had lamented the unusual deaths of people in the state, saying Kano needed help urgently.
“More disturbing is the rumour that the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) 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. We are surprised that testing centres are almost nonexistent in the North.
“Is this a deliberate attempt at debilitating Northern population with its attendant impact on 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….”, he said.
Professor Akintola consequently came under the media fire for daring to join other well-meaning Nigerians to make a clarion call to the government to halt the needless waste of precious and innocent lives in Kano. Lives were being lost without a known cause and without competent laboratories on ground to fathom the cause or determine whether community transmission of the COVID-19 pandemic was the silent killer.
And of course, the number of deaths recorded before and after the MURIC release as well as the unprecedented number of COVID-19 positive cases in Kano justified the alarm raised by the Human Rights activist.
MURIC Director said the strange deaths in Kano are unusual and asked the federal government to intervene immediately.
He warned that with the strategic position of Kano, carelessness and further delay could make it spread to neighbouring states if not urgently addressed. Akintola wondered how the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control got the figures of the confirmed COVID-19 cases for Kano when the only testing centre in the state has been under lock and key.
In his words, “Too many people are dying in Kano these days. It is too unusual. We suspect COVID-19. We need help in Kano very urgently. This is an S.O.S. The Federal Government must act with dispatch.
“We cannot afford to play the waiting game in this matter. We may not overwhelm COVID-19 even if we succeed in containing it in the rest of the country. This is because Kano is strategically positioned. The virus can easily spread to the North West, North East and then down South.
“Records have shown that the advent of the virus in some Northern states is not unconnected with the incidence of the virus in the ancient city of Kano. That is an indication that the virus is very active in Kano State. Kano already has 77 cases of Coronavirus at the last count but even that figure is debatable.
It was Malcolm X who said;
If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
It is as if the popular online dailies are justifying the allegation of the conspiracy and hypocrisy of the media, doing the yeoman’s job to ‘destroy’ the common enemy.
Virtually all of them ignored the clarion call and the irresistible messages contained in the loaded press release, fruitlessly defending the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the Ministry of Health and the NCDC’s dereliction of duty. The Cable, though equally ignored the message, was rather ‘mild’ with the messenger as it simply paraphrased Akintola’s ‘offensive’ sentence – “Is it an attempt to reduce Muslim population – MURIC speaks on Kano deaths”, it stated.
Expectedly, The Punch joined the bandwagon when its hangman, who I call the hanglady, Abimbola Adelakun wrote in her usual (column) with the title: “MURIC and Akintola’s tragic conspiracy theory”. She asked the MURIC director to excuse NCDC criminal and inexcusable negligence. She accused Akintola of extreme paranoia and for fighting for parochial interest, just as defended the NCDC with vigour.
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Whoever has been a regular reader of Adelakun’s column wouldn’t be surprised with her position anyway, as she frantically search for prey to feast on, on her regular page to justify her pay and sustain the column. With the above, only the uninitiated will believe to the contrary that there is no deliberate plan and attempt to bring down the activist.
In the same vein, just a day after the MURIC release, on April 28, 2020, Fredrick Nwabufo called for Akintola’s arrest in an article published in The Cable, the Sahara Reporters and some other platforms under the headline: “When will Ishaq Akintola, Muslim Rights Concern director be arrested for always spreading poison?”
According to Nwabufo, “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.”
With the above ‘coincidences’ of barrages of media bully, one needs not be a media expert to see a co-ordinated effort to bring Akintola down and whittle down his credibility.
In his response to the media gang-up tagged: “Prof. Ishaq Akintola Lakin’s Piercing Pen Against Injustice And Media Intimidation”, a social commentator, Yusuf Jimoh Aweda puts it this way:
“Premium Times chose to diabolically mislead the general public by ignoring the subtle usage of ‘rhetorical question’ in standard English communication. This again exposes the nefarious laxity of the Nigerian arid journalism that invidiously struggles between genuine integrity to vindictively attack speakers of truth to settle a possible political score for some certain personalities.
“The key ingredient of comprehending a persuasive and sensational media headline is not the Who, What, When, Where and How. It is the ‘Why’. Why has PM chosen to pick the part it can easily twist to aid its quest for personality annihilation of Prof. Lakin Akintola instead of publishing the decisive issues and solutions that Prof. Lakin’s press release sought to address?
“Obviously, the PT’s content is a deliberate attempt to consternate Prof. Lakin’s personality before his fans and true lovers and to thwart his struggle for truth and justice,” he said.
Like a typical activist and a director of a civil society, the MURIC Director refused to be swayed by the attacks, he said in a response:
“Some people are not comfortable with what we said about possible conspiracy on Coronavirus in Kano.
“What did we say wrong? We merely asked a question and I repeat it here: Is this a deliberate attempt at debilitating Northern population with its attendant impact on Muslim majority population in the country? Just a question o…
“When others attack governments or incite the public, nobody asks them to apologise. Nobody asks them to retract their statements. Some can claim maliciously that a political enemy has died yet nobody will question them, but when Muslims speak they want us to swallow our words or the sky would tumble down.
“We didn’t make any allegation. We merely asked a simple question. Why dont they allow the appropriate authority to respond with a clarification? For the avoidance of doubts, MURIC has no apology for making statements like this. Leaders must be interrogated. Democracy bestows the power of interrogation on every citizen and even more so civil society. We have the right to raise questions. It is democracy in action. Unfortunately what we have these days is parochial democratic practices. The Nigerian society has been compartmentalized into a ‘four legs good, two legs better’ environment a la
“Animal Farm. George Orwell must be laughing his head off in the grave. Otherwise why is it business as usual when some individuals and groups make sweeping statements and even threaten the peace of the land but Muslims (particularly MURIC) must not even ask ordinary questions without any hullabaloo?
“The aim of our detractors is to portray us as extremists and terrorists. But they have failed woefully because MURIC has never issued threats against anyone. We have never incited anybody to violence. We have always promoted dialogue in keeping with the motto of our organization which is ‘Dialogue, Not Violence’.
“Only a section of the country can talk without being shouted down even by those who should know better. The common dogma these days is that Muslims must keep their mouths shut. Muslims must not challenge the status quo. MURIC must not ask questions. We refuse to be intimidated. We will never succumb to the whims and caprices of agents of neo-colonialism, political shenanigans and religious demagogues,” he concluded.
It is important to note that apart from the undocumented several deaths, dozens of prominent citizens were also recorded. According to several media reports on mysterious deaths of prominent persons and 600 others, some reportedly had Coronavirus symptoms, but what killed others remained unknown. Verbal autopsy has continued anyway.
According to a Daily Post report, prominent persons who “died within 24 hours included editors, bankers, businessmen, professors, government officials, among others.”
They include: Regional Manager of First Bank, Abdullahi Lawal; ex-MD of Continental Merchant Bank an iconic Prof of Economics and former chairman, Nigeria Economic Intelligence Committee, Ibrahim Ayagi; Musa Ahmad Tijjani, Editor of Triumph newspapers; Adamu Dal, ex-Chairman State Civil Service Commission.
Others are Nasiru Maikano Bichi, Secretary, Student Affairs, Northwest University, Kano; Musa Umar Gwarzo, APC Director, Research, Planning And Documentation, Kano State; Ustaz Dahiru Rabiu, ex-Grand Khadi; Salisu Lado; Hajiya Nene Umma; Alhaji Garba Sarki Fagge; Hajiya Shamsiyya Mustapha; Rabiu Dambatta; Kabiru Ibrahim Bayero and mother of a businessman, Ado Gwanja and Prof Aliyu Umar Dikko of Physiology Department, Bayero University Kano.
The list also included a former Executive Secretary of SUBEB, Adamu Isyaku Dal; Secretary, Student Affairs, Northwest University, Kano, Dr. Nasiru Maikano Bichi; and Murtala Balarabe Maikaba, a Professor of Mass Communication, Bayero University, Kano.
Acording to a comment among many gathered by DAILY POST from Twitter: @Dekhunle wrote:
“Over 600 mysterious deaths reported in Kano over the last 7 days. COVID-19 death figure is less than 50 nationwide and because their tradition/religion says they must be buried within 24 hours after death, the deceaseds families are refusing autopsy. Nigeria which way?”
This is the magnitude of the situation a section of the Nigeria media is willing to bury by attempting to collectively bully Prof Akintola into submission. In whose interest, if we may ask, is the media primary role? Is it not supposed to be the watchdog that holds government accountable to citizens? Why then are they turning the heat on the Professor for daring to ask questions. Why did they not allow the Kano State government, the Ministry of Health, the NCDC and the PTF to respond to the rhetorical question?
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Is Malcolm X position not being justified? How come we are now beginning to resent the man who has put his life on the line to advocate for the voiceless and assist the oppressed?
As the director of the Muslim Human Rights group, is Akintola not vindicated with his questioning, given the number of prominent and illustrous sons and daughters of Islam that were dying in droves? He who wears the shoe knows where it pinches.
The NCDC at the PTF daily briefing had explained that there was an issue of contact with a COVID-19 patient by virtually the members of the medical team which made them to embark on a 14-day isolation. It added that the lab at the Teaching Hospital got contaminated and it had to be closed for decontamination exercise to save the lives of the health workers, before it was reopened. But this was after many people have died and are still dying.
To the exuberant Muslim youths
The important question here is: Is Prof Akintola infallible, the answer is an emphatic no. Did Akintola make gaffes in an attempt to right the wrong? Of course, yes. But did the gaffe warrant the needless burying of the import of the release with the SOS message buried under rubbles of damaging criticism and erosion of image? No.
Critics who are in a hurry to blame MURIC never see the many positive sides of the group. For example, MURIC warned NYSC to postpone Batch A orientation camp nationwide two weeks before the first index case was discovered in the country. Though NYSC authorities ignored MURIC’s warning. The camps were forced to close two weeks later by the Federal Government. This, to me, is foresightedness, vision and the height of patriotism on the part of Akintola and his human right group. The colossal waste in money, materials and time by the NYSC for ignoring a selfless call is better imagined.
It is therefore essential to note that only the one who works makes mistakes, he who speaks commit gaffes, he that walks stumbles and it is he who issues regular press releases that can be fed upon by mischievous columnists and rapacious critics. The docile organisations who hardly lend voices to the oppressed need no fear of scatching press criticism. We should therefore be wary of criticising activists, who burn candles to save the oppressed.
Who is Lakin Akintola
It is obvious that many Muslim youths who are unaware of Akintola’s glorious past and recent efforts were swayed by the well-oiled media criticisms of the MURIC director.
Akintola started his activism 27 years ago in a notable human rights group, Campaign for Democracy. This was in 1993 in the heat of June 12 crisis when only the brave individuals like Lakin could risk their lives to face despots like Gen Ibrahim Babangida and Gen Sani Abacha. Akintola was effectively in the CD till 1999 when the military regime was eventually eased out, paving way for civilian rule.
Prof Akintola founded MURIC in 1994 to pursue his passion. It started with The Friday Question when he alone, asked the Nigerian government to declare Friday as a public holiday for the Muslims who are in the majority. He argued that since Sunday is for orthodox Christians and Saturday is for members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, it is Justice and equity to give Muslims their right which had been wickedly denied by the colonial masters. To this end he published a book: Friday Question. Since then, Akintola has been relentless and has remained a foremost Human Rights advocate fighting for the social, cultural, political and economic rights of the Muslims.
With his piercing pen, Akintola, under MURIC successfully matched and contained the nuisance values of the Afenifere, Reno Omokri, Femi Fani-Kayode, Yinka Odumakin et al, just as he has forced the Christian Association of Nigeria to review its usual heating of the polity with many bogus allegations and claims.
It is also very important to realise that MURIC is neither NASFAT, TMC nor Ansar ud Deen. It is a Muslim Rights group, and the earlier we begin to see and assess its activities as well as its choice of language from that angle, the better for all of us.
No one can take the element of radicalism away from human rights organisations across the globe. That is a fact. Hence, those who expect MURIC to behave like traditional organisations will forever be disappointed.
However, this is not to say that the Prof doesn’t have his own frailty but issues must be put in proper perspective.
Aweda puts it this way;
“I understand many people like myself may differ with Prof. Lakin Akintola sometimes over some of his political views, but this is a different issue. I would advise everyone not to hasten to celebrate the calculated impalement of Prof. Lakin’s character by some of the media houses, as this is a backdoor strategy to silence his genuine struggle for truth and justice MURIC represents.
“With over three decades of Prof. Akintola’s consistent peaceful advocacies, he has no record of inciting violence, terrorism and obfuscation of societal tranquility.
“He is a golden voice of peace, and we are proud of him. He is a very simple, diligent and extremely friendly personality who has the sincere love of Nigeria in his heart.
“He has stood firmly in tough lines of advocacy supporting people who have even differed strongly with him in religious, tribal and ethnic views.
“Yes, Prof. Akintola is not an immaculate being. Only God is perfect, but such man like Prof. Lakin Akintola who has paid his dues unendingly in giving voices to the oppressed while putting his lives on the line on many occasions deserves at least a vestige of our sense of verification and respect if we come across disturbing content about him before we begin hauling obnoxious and vituperative comments on his baronial personality”, Aweda said.
Like somebody puts it, If I say, “we have been locked up for three weeks.. Does the government want to kill us? That is rhetorical… Does It then mean I am saying the government is a murderer?
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Without doubt, aside the rhetorical question turned controversial by our enthusiastic media, MURIC’s press release was arguably one of the best critiques of government negligence of Kano – too loaded and more useful than for it to be rubbished by the unwarranted controversy generated by the rhetorical question. Perhaps, the adversarial press is protecting the interest of some elements who needed to protect their jobs, already put at risk by the MURIC release.
Is Lakin controversial, of course, yes. Great men like him are more often than not, controversial. They live ahead of their generation, they sometimes see what many of their contemporaries couldn’t decipher. We probably have few of his likes in the present day Nigeria who will put his life on the line despite documented threats to his life by many groups and individuals.
To the Muslim youths, perhaps, since the demise of Dr AbdulLateef Adegbite, the Ummah in Nigeria has not produced a personality who has so defended the rights of the oppressed Muslims and who is so dreaded by the Afenifere, Arewa Youths, IPOB, hostile columnists among other trouble makers who resent Islam, see Muslims as a threat to their objectives and take delight in denying them their rights.
No informed individual can thus afford to be emotional whenever Prof goofs, while ignoring his glorious past and present contributions to the Ummah.
Let me leave you with quotations from the submission of Abdul Wasiu Olasupo in his write up entitled: “Appeal to Nigerian Muslims, #Istandwithakintolaandmuric”
“Brothers and sisters in Islam, we have all seen the highly coordinated and intense attacks via smear campaigns and threats of assassination against our amiable Professor Ishaq Akintola. This great Islamic scholar is the indisputable champion of the rights of Nigerian Muslims and it is because his peaceful campaign has been very effective that they have resolved to bring him down. Should we fold our hands and allow them to destroy this man?
“They have been so used to intimidating and persecuting Muslims without any challenge until Akintola came on board with the MURIC machinery. C.A.N. became jittery. Law School became sober. WAEC was humbled. NDLEA was forced to withdraw its examination timetable and government agencies tightened their seatbelts.
“But in the midst of all these, the antagonists feel threatened. They realise it is no longer business as usual. They can no longer do what they like with the Muslims and so for them they think the only way out is to physically eliminate Akintola or to destroy his reputation. But the truth is that they will come for us once they are able to get Akintola and MURIC out of the way.
“One of their methods is to divide Muslims by going through those whose understanding of Islam is very low. These feeble-minded Muslims are already being misled and they are surreptitiously allowing themselves to be used against Akintola and the collective interest of Muslims. They are giving the wrong impression that Akintola is promoting violence and religious fanaticism or that Akintola is an enemy of the Yoruba people.
“Should we fold our hands and allow them to destroy this man?
“But little did many know that Akintola has been the strongest supporter of the interest of Yoruba people and all Nigerians _(not minding tribe or religion).
“What disturbs me much is why can’t those peddling hate speech about this man investigate matters before engaging in hate campaign. Should we fold our hands and allow them to destroy this man?
“Do you also know that Akintola has been the chairman of the Egbe Ilosiwaju Omo Yoruba in his area for the past five years?… The allegation that Akintola is using MURIC for destabilization is far from the truth. Akintola has never used MURIC to promote fanatical ideology. He has always condemned terrorism. He issues statements of friendship and love for Nigerian Christians from time to time.
“Even some people (with little understanding) have criticised his regular Christmas and Easter messages of love. But Akintola ignored them and called for closer ties with his Christian neighbours.
“What should we do as Muslims in this scenario? Should we just be watching them?”, he queried.
Lakin is completely a detribalised Nigeria. A bridge builder. He is the Chairman Egbe Itesowaju Yoruba, yet refuses to see Nigeria from the prism of North-South dichotomy. Hence, the ethnic irredentists who refuse to accept the multi-religious reality of the Nigerian state accuse him of being an agent of Northernern Fulani oligarchy!
The organisation whose motto is: “Dialogue not Violence” and the man who chose to pursue his agitation via peaceful approach and intellectual engagement rather than violence and extremism, prevalent in our land should rather be embraced.
Elder Yinka Salaam writes from Osogbo, Osun State | email: email@example.com