Globalization, Modernity and the Shari'ah in Nigeria: An Essay in Political Economy


Sanusi Lamido Sanusi


Being text of a Public Lecture delivered at the Centre for Modern African Art (Iwalewa House) University of Bayreuth, Germany, on Wednesday, June 22, 2005 on the invitation of the Humanities Collaborative Research Centre of the University under the general theme of “Local Action in Africa in the Context of Global Influences.”


“If all moral and material advantages depend on those who hold power, there is no baseness that will not be resorted to in order to please them; just as there is no act of chicanery or violence that will not be resorted to in order to attain power, in other words, to belong to the number of those who hand out the cake rather than to the larger number of those who have to rest content with the slices that are doled out to them”-Gaetano Mosca[1]


I. Introduction           

I would like to thank the Islamic Studies Group at Bayreuth, and particularly, Professor Oswald and Dr Kogelman, for the honour of inviting me to deliver this public lecturein your series. Last weekend I was at the London School of Economics attending a seminar on a broadly similar theme, but I shall resist the temptation to simply repeat my London lecture in Bayreuth. For several years now I have been involved in general debates on the place of Islam and Islamic law in a multi-religious state, and the right balance between maintaining the integrity and cohesion of the nation and protecting the cultural and religious identity of its constituent parts. I have also been concerned that while protecting the rights of communities and religious groups, individual citizens are vulnerable to oppression, repression, alienation and violence in the name of tradition and authenticity. To this extent, some of what I will say today may have been said, in one form or the other, (and maybe in a less refined manner), over the last seven years. However, with the passage of time and the accumulation of empirical experience, one is perhaps able to refine crude hypotheses and structure random observations into a coherent whole, thus beginning a process of theorization of the phenomenon.

In my talk today I shall place before you three facts and one thesis (or hypothesis). The first fact, which I shall take as given without need for further elaboration, is that the homogenizing tendencies of globalization have everywhere been met by local expressions of resistance in the form of simultaneous processes of construction of local identities and manufacture of differences. By globalization here I refer to rapid processes of spatio-temporal contraction facilitated by modern technology, with the accompanying penetration of capital and culture from the metropoles of the capitalist world into its peripheral regions.


The second fact, which I should elaborate upon, is that given the history of the upper regions of northern Nigeria, and then given the reality that Muslim nations seem to be the arena of conflict with, (and the last bastion of resistance to), the world’s remaining “super-power”, Islam and the Shari’ah have always harboured the potential for being appropriated as the constitutive elements for cultural resistance by the region. In elaborating this fact, I should try and tease out the nature of the inter-play between glabalization, modernity and Shari’ah in Nigeria. To simplify somewhat, I should argue that the structure of northern society and the deliberate insulation of its people from the influence of modernity have combined to facilitate the resort to Islam as the resource for  identity in a time of economic and political insecurity. This means that “globalization” has, in the local context of Muslim northern Nigeria, brought in influences not from the western, but from the Arab and Islamic worlds. To the extent that most of the rest of the country is, on the contrary, under the strong influence of western discourses, the fabric of the nation is thus dragged, if you like, in two radically opposed directions.

The third and final fact I will present, and which follows from the preceding fact, is that the Muslim discourse in northern Nigeria is only one out of several competing positions and that the hysteria (and the contumeliousness) of some of the criticism has missed this point. The Muslim discourse in Nigeria lives side by side with fundamentalist Christian discourses, as well as ethnic and regionalist agendas bordering on the secessionist. In other words the problem is not just one about resurgent Islam, but about the fragility of the fabric of the nation, and the accentuation of that fragility through the cumulative eruption of new areas of difference contiguous with actually existing fault-lines. Within each of these ethno-religious tendencies there are subaltern discourses of a radical, liberal, bourgeois-nationalist or secular nature, most of which exhibit strong integrationist tendencies and consider ethnic and religious politics somewhat reactionary and counter-productive.

I will argue in this paper that none of these three facts is fully explanatory, and each and every one of them has been misused, or at least magnified, to serve as a camouflage for the real source of Nigeria’s problems. Nigeria is not the only multi-ethnic and multi-religious country in Africa that is subject to the vagaries of globalization. My thesis is that to understand the endurance of identity politics in Nigeria we must recognize the character of the Nigerian state as the main source of patronage in the country, and the convenience that is conferred on it by its peculiarity as a rentier state constantly funded by dollar revenues from the sale of crude oil. This makes Nigeria a rare, if not unique, case in black Africa. In contrast to the essentialist reductionism of classical Marxism-or even the European Marxism of Althusser et al- wherein the dominant class owns the means of production and thereby economically exploits and politically dominates the alienated classes, Nigeria is a country in which political power and access to the state is the fastest route to economic dominance and empowerment.

The Nigerian state constitutes an arena in which different fractions of the ruling class (used here largely in a Weberian sense) fight for the highest stake, the attainment of which justifies every bit of violence and chicanery. Although it is true, for instance, that the construction of a “Muslim” identity is always done in opposition to the “non-Muslim” or “western” or “secular” identity, this simply describes the strategy and territory or arena of such construction, not its purpose. The principal utility of a constructed ethnic and religious identity lies in its instrumentality as a weapon in the struggle for control of state resources and patronage. Thanks to oil and corruption, the ruling class does not need to expropriate peasant land, or the surplus value from proletarian labour, in order to appropriate a large portion of income and consumption. The luxury of not needing to resort to economic or extra economic exploitation, on the contrary, makes it possible to establish relationships with the poor based on patronage, pious charity, protection and dependency, thus blunting the rough edges of class distinction. The result is that the various discourses in Nigeria are socially and politically over-determined and their deconstruction necessarily requires their problematization within intellectual frameworks that theorize the specificity of the political.

The relationship between the three facts and my thesis above is that the former, in their serendipitous existence, have increased the facility with which the ruling classes have been able to consolidate their respective hegemonies, fragmenting the poor along ethnic and religious lines through the establishment of links and correspondences between essentially contradictory regions of the social formation. Secondly, the metropolitan centers of the world, by constantly making theologically and politically fundamentalist Islam the culprit, have succeeded in diverting attention from the massive rape of third world economies by international capital, and complicity of large corporations and international institutions in the plunder of state resources through corruption, bribery, inflated contracts, money laundering and large scale investment and property acquisition in the metropoles by the lumpen-bougeoisie and nouveux-riches of the periphery. We are therefore left with an interesting situation. The western powers expense energy demonizing Islam and Islamism, and local politicians vigorously defend their religion and culture. Meanwhile, these essentialized cultural and religious barriers miraculously vanish where the flow of goods, persons and capital is concerned. Many of those who are most prominently anti-west are frequent visitors, asset owners and deposit holders in the Dar al-Harb, with their children comfortably sitting in class- rooms and being educated by the unbelievers. Meanwhile, some of those who claim to be at the forefront of fighting Islamic fundamentalism are business partners and family friends of its avant-garde elements, particularly where funding is required for certain oil ventures in Texas. This is not something that happens with caducity. On the contrary, it is a permanent feature of the complicated relationship between the dominant classes of western, liberal, democratic states on the one hand and of corrupt, often authoritarian, even fundamentalist ones, on the other.

But perhaps the most serious conclusion of this particular analysis will be the following: That the appropriation of religion as the referent for political identity by the northern Muslim elite is actually a step backward and subversive of the political interests of the Muslims themselves. Within a dynamic political structure where numbers play an important role, religious politics has fragmented the near monolithic hegemony of the north in the era of regionalism, effectively reducing a previously dominant force to an excluded, minority status. My conclusion will explain how this came to be and how this can be addressed.

Before proceeding, therefore, I should make a confession. In my participation in this debate I always make an effort at intellectual theorization of specific political processes in which I am implicated. It is always important for the analyst to recognize and admit the nature of interest that drives intellectual pursuits. I am a northern Nigerian Muslim, and I am politically interested in the concrete existence of the vast majority of the population. I am also ideologically committed to the unity of the nation and its integration across ethnic and religious lines. I am therefore sensitive to the implications of political projects for the weaker elements of my society (who are a sub-set of members of their class nationally) and for the fragile unity of the country. To this extent I am not a neutral academic, observing events from a detached location. This explains my continuous fascination with post-Marxian theorizations of the specificity of the political, such as Gramsci’s concept of the hegemonic state[2] and Laclau and Mouffe’s theories of discourse.[3] Social justice, economic democracy and liberal pluralism are essential to the survival of multi-ethnic, multi-religious, articulate modes of production.

In the next section of this paper I will present a historical background of Muslim northern Nigeria and explain why Islam is uniquely placed to be the constituent of identity in the early 21st century. I will also briefly discuss other major identity movements that, along with Islamism, contribute to the centrifugal dynamic that is heating up the polity. Next, I will try to show how globalization has combined with the structure of the northern social formation and local politics to give rise to the emergence of Muslim religious politics. Finally, I will return to the thesis and theorize identity politics against the background of an over determined state, and close with some recommendations. I will show how the resort to religion was forced on northern Nigerian Muslims by the rejection of their leadership by the rest of the country, how interests other than religion may have contributed to the rapid process of identity construction and how, finally, this counter-productive political strategy may be reconsidered and modified with a view to returning Muslims into the mainstream of Nigerian politics. It should be borne in mind that, in our contemporary world, nations are in a constant state of flux through processes of decentring and dislocation. The discourse on globalization and religion will therefore continue to retain a certain promiscuity and open-endedness.


II. Historical Background     


Nigeria is the most populous African country and the great majority of the people in the north is made up of Muslims albeit from various ethnic groups. The most widely spoken language in the region is Hausa. Islam came early to northern Nigeria, beginning from the old Kanem-Borno, almost immediately after the death of the Prophet. Sources suggest that Islamic influences in the Chad region started from around the year 46 A. H. ( 666/7 A.D) with the arrival of the first group of Muslims under the leadership of ‘Uqbah bin Nafi’.[4] The kings of Kanem-Bornu however did not accept Islam until the 11th century A.D. Islam came to Hausa-land much later, and its entrenchment is usually linked with the reign of the King of Kano Yaji Dan Tsamiya (1349-1384) or King of Kano Muhammadu Rumfa (1463-1499). In any case it is generally agreed that Islam came to Hausaland prior to the fourteenth century.[5]


In the early 19th century, specifically between 1804 and 1808, a Fulani scholar Uthman bin Fudi (famously Dan Fodio) waged a jihad against Hausa rulers whom he accused of syncretism and polytheism, and established Muslim emirates founded on a reformed Islamic law.[6] Along with his brother, Abdullahi and his son, Muhammad Bello, Sheikh Uthman put in place a socio-political, economic and legal system that was based on the models of Muslim caliphates in the Abbasid and Ottoman period. The ethico-legal foundations of the political and economic system in this period have been the subject of much scholarly study, a prime example being the work of Tukur.[7] Shortly after the Jihad of Dan Fodio, a rival scholar in Borno, Shaykh Muhammad Amin al-Kanemi, took over control of the Muslim empire of Kanem-Borno to the east, and introduced radical reforms aimed at cleansing the system from innovation and polytheism.[8] As a result of these two events, northern Nigeria-or at least the larger portion of it, remained under the control of two Muslim empires, one led by the Fulani in Hausa land and the other in Borno to the east for a full century before British colonial overrule. The Sokoto caliphate was itself made up of component emirates, numbering over three dozen,[9] and its territory extended beyond the borders of contemporary northern Nigeria into neighbouring Cameroun, Niger and Benin republics. The sphere of influence of old Borno also extended into the neighbouring Chad republic.

The coming together of such a large group of peoples under a single political authority, bound by a common ideology rooted in Islam and Shari’ah, and the endurance of the system for a century, necessarily produced a near monolithic society in most of northern Nigeria. The political and administrative structures of the emirates more or less mirrored each other. The shari’ah was the operative law in all emirates and the School of jurisprudence was Malikite. The educational system, which was based on a deep study of key texts of Malikite Jurisprudence, Ash’arite theology, Mysticism, grammar, rhetoric and exegesis, remained largely unchanged from the 14th century to the present day. The prolific writings of the triumvirate in Sokoto (Uthman, Bello and Abdullahi), were taken as a source of guidance by the emirs of the Caliphate. Arabic was the official language of the court, and the languages spoken by most of the populations were Hausa and Fulani, even though the caliphate encompassed Muslim populations that spoke such diverse languages as Nupe and Yoruba.

The British decided, after an initial, unsuccessful attempt at imposing direct rule, to accept the policy of indirect rule recommended by Lord Lugard. This policy, ironically, restored the waning power of the emirs and entrenched the pre-colonial cultural value systems, in return for full political loyalty by the aristocracy and acceptance of certain amendments to the system aimed at improving respect for human rights and good governance as well as meeting minimum standards set by the British based on their own normative systems. This seems to have been the expectation of the Wazir of Sokoto, Muhammad Bukhari, when he signed a peace treaty with the British. It seems clear from his reasoning that he opted to cede political (“worldly”) power to the British in return for the preservation of the Muslim faith and Islamic Law in the territory under the control of the descendants of the Jihadists.[10] Indeed, when in 1900 Lord Lugard proclaimed the protectorate of Northern Nigeria, he explicitly “pledged not to interfere in the religious affairs of the Muslims.”[11] Lugard did, however, introduce amendments to legislation when he encouraged emirs to adopt positive law. By encouraging emirs to renounce bodily punishment, Lugard took a first step in a process that culminated in the adoption of the Native Authority Ordinance in 1933. The last remnants of the hudud-fixed punishments in Islamic Law- were abolished on the eve of independence.[12]

It is important to note, however that, as in other parts of the Muslim world , Personal Law remained Islamic even under colonialism. Also, the Penal Laws of northern Nigeria were based substantially on Islamic Law with the exception of bodily punishments. Finally, where the emirs had to rule in a manner contravening the dictates of the shari’ah, they took pains to distance themselves from such rulings. For example, court records of the judicial council of the emir of Kano ‘Abbas in 1913-14 reveal that when he had to rule under the guidelines given by the colonial government, such a ruling was invariably classed under the rubric of hukm zamanina (the law of our times), a legal innovation reluctantly applied.[13] In general, the colonial administration entrenched the power of emirs and a class alliance was established between the colonial administration, the trading firms and the emirs. The power of the emirs was “validated by the religious authority of Islam and institutionalized through complex bureaucratic and judicial administrations.”[14] According to Dudley, indirect rule increased the emir’s administrative power (by designating him the sole Native Authority in his territory), his economic security(by making him the instrument of colonial tax collection) and his judicial authority (through new powers of appointment and new emirs courts).[15] The result was that indirect rule actually reinforced the emir’s power by removing traditional checks on centralized authority. According to one  scholar, the colonial government had vested in the emirs “powers… that were unknown in the pre-colonial era.” However, because of curtailment of the emir’s flexibility in the administration of taxation and dispensing of patronage through arbitrary largesse, the emirs were ironically forced to resort to coercion in order to exact compliance with their orders. Thus colonial rule marked a distinct turning point in the relation between the emirs and the people, intensifying class distinction and strengthening traditional rulers who were able to implement their will through instruments of coercion.[16]


The most dangerous consequence of the alliance between the British and the emirates was that the integrity of the political and social structures in the north could only be achieved by sealing the region off from western influences, including from southern Nigeria. In this attempt to insulate the north from modernity, western education was severely curtailed in order to avoid what Lord Lugard termed the “utter disrespect for British and native ideals alike” that was beginning to emerge in the south.[17] By 1947, according to Coleman, the north with over half of the country’s population accounted for only 2.5% of primary school enrolment.[18] At independence the north had less than 10% of primary school enrolment and less than 5% at secondary school level.[19] As late as 1951 the 16 million inhabitants of the north “could point to only one of their number who had obtained a full university degree, and he was a Zaria Fulani convert to Christianity.”[20]The trend continued long after independence. The UNDP's Human Development Index Profile for Nigeria in 1993 for instance ranked Nigeria at 137 out of 174 countries with an HDI of 0.400. But even this figure concealed regional disparities, which according to the UNDP are among the worst in the world. For example a ranking by states "puts Edo and Delta States (the former Bendel State in the south) on top with an HDI of 0.666 while Borno (in the Muslim far north) has an HDI of 0.156." The report noted that were Edo and Delta States a sovereign nation they would have ranked 90th in the world while Borno on its own would have ranked lower than every other country in the world. Compared to a 76% adult literacy rate in Imo, the figure for the Muslim northern states of Sokoto, Borno, Kano and Niger were, respectively, 2.7%, 10%, 12.1% and 16%. It is therefore clear that the structure of the north and the continued stronghold of the elite has only been made possible through commodification of the population, which explains why all radical political parties in the North-from the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) in the First Republic to the successor Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP) in the second, have made education the central focus of social policy. Since independence the country has witnessed several military coups, and most of its Heads of State have come from the northern parts of the country. In 1999 other regions insisted on a “power-shift” and Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired general and former Military Head of State was elected president, and re-elected in 2003 in elections that are still disputed in the courts.

I have in this section tried to make the following points: First, that Islam and Shari’ah were entrenched in the history and culture of the region and the Muslims in northern Nigeria have internalized a religious identity that suppressed ethnic and tribal identities. Unlike many of the groups in southern Nigeria where ethnic and tribal identities are primary to all others (say the Yoruba, Ibo, Bini, Ijaw or Itsekiri, to give a few examples) the Hausa, Fulani, Nupe, Kanuri, Yoruba and other Muslim people in northern Nigeria have, starting from the 19th Century, seen themselves primarily as Muslim, and this sense of communal identity was encouraged and strengthened under British colonial rule. Second, that the character of northern society was more hierachical than other parts of the country, and that this stratification is maintained and intensified through a deliberate process of insulation of the people from the influence of modernity. I have shown that starting from Lord Lugard and the emirs, this insulation has less to do with protecting the faith and values of Islam and much more to do with protecting the integrity of the social structure of the north. Thirdly, because religion is the primary resource for northern Muslim identity, the “Other” is also constructed in religious terms. So the fault lines in the north are drawn along religious lines and political actors from the “Muslim North” and the “Middle-Belt” find justify ideological positions by using religion as a resource. The accentuation of the Muslim identity has been made possible by a simultaneous process of manufacture of an Islamophobic, Christian identity, complete with its own mythology of historical oppression and marginalisation by the Muslim “Hausa-Fulani”. Whereas at independence regionalism was the overarching element in northern identity-despite religious fault-lines-starting from the 1980s this started changing. Two individuals in particular, the Late Abubakar Gunmi of the Jamaatul Nasril Islam and ArchBishop  (now Cardinal) Olubunmi Okogie of the Christian Association of Nigeria, played a key role in the politicization of the leadership of religious associations. Ousmane Kane has done a comprehensive study of these developments.[21]

Religion therefore plays a role in the politics of the region in a more exaggerated manner than in other parts of the country, but this is not to say that identity politics in Nigeria is purely religious. In the south-west of the country, the Yoruba ethnic group has a long and notorious history of ethnic nationalism and bigotry. Repeatedly frustrated out of power in the center by more cunning, often underestimated northern politicians, the Yoruba have over decades built up a political agenda around a mythical Yoruba “race” that is the victim of machinations of the “Hausa-Fulani”. Such groups as Afenifere and OoDua peoples’ Congress are extremely parochial in the condescension with which they view other ethnic groups. Their political vitriol has, unsurprisingly, been somewhat tempered in the last six years with the emergence of a Yoruba as president of the country. Similarly, the Igbos of the South-East, who played a major part in the events that led to the Civil war, have built up a series of grievances against the Nigerian state. While being by no means comparable to the Yoruba in the extent of its diffusion, there is among the Igbos today, a strong secessionist under-current built around the perceived marginalization of the ethnic group. Most interestingly, the fragmented minority ethnic and tribal groups in the south have found a unifier around which a new political identity is being constructed. Whereas in the north, the minority tribes gathered under the banner of Christianity, in the south the factor is Oil and Gas (or “resources”). Convinced that they have not been fairly treated by the nation in resource distribution, even though they produce the oil and gas that funds the Nigerian state, the groups of the south-south have found a common platform in the struggle for “resource control” that is gradually bringing to an end the inter-tribal blood-letting in the region. The “other” is now a composite of the federal government, other ethnic groups/regions and the oil giants.

The tacit recognition of these imaginary identity boundaries by politicians in carving the country into six zones (North-west and North-East-Muslim North; Middle-Belt-Christian North; South-West-Yoruba; South-East-Igbo and South-South-Oil-Producing Zone) has played into the hands of the political elite. The political map of the country is being drawn in contiguity with accumulated grievances and this coincidence of cleavages with few intersecting and cross-cutting interests accounts for the centrifugal tendencies adding to the fragility of the Nigerian State. It is against this background, among other things, that one must read contemporary events.


III. Globalisation and the Shari’ah in Northern Nigeria

As an economist, I have always held the view that capital has no religion or tribe. Nor do hunger, unemployment and social insecurity.[22] I have also written extensively on the economic impact of globalization on the Nigerian economy, critiquing the theoretical and ideological presuppositions underlying liberalization, devaluation, privatization and in general the naïve and unabashed faith in “market forces” exhibited by Nigerian governments from the mid 1980s to date, based on a very superficial reading of neo-classical economic theory and its ideological partnership with finance capital.[23] I have shown how these policies have led to increased poverty, wide income distribution inequalities, the wiping out of the middle-class, wide spread corruption and social crises. As indicated earlier, the impact has clearly not been evenly distributed, with northern Nigeria and, particularly its upper regions, being the worst hit, largely due to the existing structural and systematic problems. I have in the particular case of Kano analysed these problems and made recommendations.[24]

However the impact of globalization is not limited to the movement of capital. Due to modern information and communication technology, every part of the world is under a deluge of information, awareness, propaganda, cultural imperialism etc and the impact of all this on a given location varies with context. It is in this light that my historical analysis above becomes very useful.

We have shown that the upper regions of northern Nigeria have had strong Islamic character that was intensified, rather than moderated, under colonialism. Also, while that part of the country was insulated from western education and has continued to treat education as a low priority area, traditional Islamic education has become more widespread and diffuse. The opening up of some universities in parts of the Muslim world like Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iran to Africans has led to the emergence of a generation of Nigerian graduates from these institutions, most of whom are involved in religious educational and evangelical pursuits. Culturally, Muslim northern Nigeria is closer to the rest of the Muslim world than it is to the rest of the country. It is therefore to be expected that with increased communication, the influence of, and reception to, Muslim and Arab discourses would exceed that related to western discourse.


Beginning from the Islamic revolution in Iran in the late seventies young Muslims in the North started undergoing a process of Islamification, by which I mean a process in which the Islamic faith  became more and more a referent for political and ideological identity. The bipolar division of the Third World into capitalist and socialist camps had finally been breached with the emergence of the Islamic alternative. The study of Arabic, and the availability of many texts in English translation, led to the study of the works of such activists as Khomeini, Shariati, Hawa, Qutb (Sayyid and Muhammad), al-Ghazali (Muhammad and Zaynab),Yakin, Turabi and Madani, particularly by the leaders of Muslim Students’ and Youth associations. Among the general populace, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ill-advised triumphalism of the US heightened awareness of the “Clash of Civilizations” between the “West” and “Islam”, and this clash was seen as actually unfolding in arenas like Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Sudan with western positions on such matters as Iranian access to Nuclear technology and Turkey’s membership of the European Union counted among circumstantial evidence of Islamophobia.

Locally, Nigerians had expressed dissatisfaction with decades of corrupt and dictatorial military regimes. Unfortunately, due to the activity of groups like Afenifere, the politicians conflated “Military” and “corruption” with “North” and “Islam”. There soon emerged a crescendo for “power shift” and a campaign of calumny against Muslims and northerners as corrupt parasites who considered political leadership to be their birth right. The decision to cede power to a southern Christian candidate aggravated the sense of political and economic insecurity felt by a region that was already backward behind by all other indices than population. As predicted by Popperian theory, this sense of insecurity led to a tribalisation of the group, and given the convergence of external and internal factors, the result was predictable- a radicalization of the population in terms of religious politics.


I will conclude by expanding on my thesis.


III. Religious Identity and the Contest for the State


Writing in 1939, Gaetano Mosca made the observation quoted at the beginning of this paper. It seems to me that the quote leads us to an examination of at least two points, of necessity. First, that where the state is the source of patronage there will always be a struggle among different fractions of the ruling elite to control it, by means fair or foul. Secondly, that the principal motivation for this struggle on the part of individuals is so that they can be part of those who reap the benefits and dispense the resources of state, rather than wait for such to be doled out to them.


For any casual observer of Nigerian politics it is obvious that religion and ethnicity have served as springboards for competition for control of the state and its resources. One current example is the on-going national conference in Abuja. From its inception, it has been plagued by the discourse of competition among the various fractions of the ruling elite. The Muslims have complained that federal appointments do not reflect their numerical majority. These grievances are articulated and ventilated by a self-appointed group called the “Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria”. Although the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) does not have a “Southern” group/faction, there is a CAN for the “Northern States” which engages in the construction of a Christian, Middle-Belt Identity laced with Islamophobia and Islam-bashing. The CAN constitution does not have any provisions for a “northern CAN” but it has been created all the same by religious extremists like a certain Elder Saidu Dogo. The issues being discussed at the conference-rotation of the presidency, number of terms and maximum tenor, the sharing of revenues from oil and gas, the federal structure- all of these are primarily about how the elite carves out the state among its membership, and far removed from the material needs of the population.


In the specific case of religious politics in the north, one cannot rule out the desire for vertical social mobility among main protagonists. Viewed from the materialist perspective of concrete consequences, there is no doubt that the adoption of shari’ah was a sure route to vertical social, political and economic mobility for certain previously marginalised segments of society, particularly those scholars who were not already a part of the establishment. These scholars were at the forefront of the mobilization of the masses to compel reluctant governors to follow the example of Yarima, and once this was done many of them were appointed to positions as commissioners for religious affairs, advisers, directors in new ministries of religious affairs etc. Others were co-opted into new Shari’ah advisory boards, Zakat boards, anti-corruption committees, Hisbah committees, Da’wa committees, Hajj committees etc. It would be interesting to see the flow of economic resources into the “religious sector” and how this has transformed the lives of those who have been the most strident advocates of the discourse.


The point I am making is that within the sub-economy of the Muslim north, there has always been a sense in which western education was the only path to economic empowerment. The emergence of religion as a major factor in politics, as opposed to ideology in the second republic, was therefore an opportunity for many people to change this state of affairs. In the final analysis therefore, even within northern Muslim society, there is a sense in which political Islam is part of a greater contest, not just over definitions of what Islam is and what role it should play in society, but also over who should set the social and political agenda and thus control the state and its resources. The preservation of cultural authenticity is not just an idealistic project. It is politically implicated in the articulation and reproduction of conditions of symbolic and material power, and entrenchment of subsisting social relations.



[1] The Ruling Class, p 144

[2] Antonio Gramsci’s influence is obvious in my first theoretical critique of religious politics in Nigeria. See my “Religion, the Cabinet and a Political Economy of the ‘North’”;

[3] I have explicitly relied on the formulations of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in my “Basic Needs and Redistributive Justice in Islam: The Panacea to Poverty in Nigeria”, available on Other influences from post-structuralism and Ideology Critique have included Edward Said, Michel Foucault and Jurgen Habermas.

[4] See A. M. Kane, Al-Jihad al-Islami fi Gharb Ifriqiyya, p 13

[5] Ibid. p 33

[6] For a history of the Jihad see M. Last, The Sokoto Caliphate

[7] M. Tukur, Leadership and Governance in Nigeria: The Relevance of Values

[8] On the debates between the leaders of the Sokoto Jihad and El-Kanemi, see A. M. Kane, Op. Cit., pp 87-106; and L. Brenner, “The Jihad Debate between Sokoto and Borno: Historical Analysis of Islamic Political Discourse in Nigeria” in J. F. Ade Ajayi and J. D. Y. Peel (eds.),  People and Empires in African History, pp 21-43

[9] S. Abubakar, The Lamibe of Fombina, p 1

[10] For the Wazir’s self-defence and justification for signing the peace treaty with the British see his epistle titled  “Risala ila Ahl al-‘Ilm wal-Tadbir”, published in full in S. A. S. Galadanchi, Haraka al-Lugha al-‘Arabiyya wa Adabuha Fi Nijeriya, pp 264-267

[11] O. Kane, Op. Cit., p 35

[12] Ibid p 93

[13] A. Christelow,(ed) Thus Ruled Emir Abbas:Selected Cases from the Records of the Emir of Kano’s Judicial Council,esp pp 11-17

[14] L. Diamond, Class, Ethnicity and Democracy in Nigeria, p 34

[15] B. J. Dudley, Parties and Politics in Northern Nigeria, p 16

[16] Omar F. Ibrahim, “The Fabric of Rule: A Study of the Position of Traditional Ruling Families in the Politics of Kano State, Nigeria, 1960-1983”, Ph. D Thesis (Political Science), The State University of New Jersey, October 1988,esp.  pp 71-75

[17] J. S. Coleman, Nigeria: Background to Nationalism, p 137;quoted in Diamond, Op. Cit

[18] Ibid. p 134

[19] Dudley, Op. Cit p 281

[20] Coleman, Op. Cit. p 139

[21] See O. Kane, Muslim Modernity in Post-Colonial Nigeria, esp. p 204-205

[22] See my “Basic Needs and Redistributive Justice in Islam: The Panacea to Poverty in Nigeria”,

[23] See my: “Buharism: Economic Theory and Political Economy”; “Buharism Beyond Buhari: A Response to Muhammad Haruna”; “Reforming the Nigerian Economy: Which Model? A Theoretical Critique of Nigerian Economic Policy from 1986-2004”; and “The Kano Political Economy: Reflections on a Crisis and its Resolution.”. All on

[24] “The Kano Political Economy…” Ibid.