Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State

Supplicating against pandemic is not a new thing nor is pandemic a novelty. Pandemics have been part of human history. One of the earliest approaches to pandemic is to pray against it. That approach is still extant; only that modernity has added new dimensions to these approaches. Along with prayers, drugs and vaccines are added as complements. Though this has to do with one’s conception of life and the extent of one’s inclination to religion. Prayer against pandemic, to some scientific minds, is unscientific and therefore preposterous. To the adherents of celestial religions (prominently the Christians and the Muslims) prayer is very potent. I am of the strong conviction that many Nigerians (I am afraid to say most) would resort to prayers and drugs against this fatal pandemic. This is because many Nigerians are religiously and scientifically minded people. It is just the mainstream. Even those who are not pretend to be so. Thus, I shall be analysing Governor Ganduje’s recruitment of prayer warriors against COVID-19 from religious cum scientific perspectives.

Having said this, the lacklustre performance of Kano State Government in its handling of COVID-19 Pandemic is widely attested to. This is at the beginning of the breakout which coincided with the high mortality rate in the State. Though different explanations were given then to explain what the media termed as ‘strange death.’ After some weeks, news of strange death vanished into thin air and the reluctantly imposed lockdown was lifted. How the incidences of strange death abated and how the reported cases of COVID-19 took a nosedive after the initial spiralling calls for questioning. There could be three possible reasons. One of the reasons is very weak: which is that Kanawa (people of Kano) took the necessary precautions like physical distancing, using of face masks, avoiding unnecessary outings etc. Of the two other reasons, one is medical and the other is spiritual. For the medical, it is possible that the state government put to trial some drug combinations (orthodox or unconventional) which worked well to boost the immune systems and thus make people less vulnerable to contracting the virus. It is also possible that there is an outright cure for it. We cannot know this; yet we cannot doubt the possibility because of the politicking that has come to be associated with the Pandemic in Nigeria, nay, across the globe.

The third explanation which prompted this writing is the spiritual. That is the prayer aspect. We were regaled with the news that the Kano State government recruited, or rather solicited, the service of some prayer warriors to pray against the blood thirsting Pandemic. This is a ‘new news’. Many things go unnoticed to the ordinary man on the street as government holds some events in camera. They come to the full glare of publicity when money is involved: who gets what, when and how. When those who should not get, got; and those who should get, got less; it means there is manipulation of ‘who gets what, when and how.’ This is exactly what happened. This is how the common people got to know that the government actually employed some clerics (or preferably prayer warriors) in Kano to pray against COVID-19.

The Special Adviser on Religious Affairs to Governor Abdullahi Ganduje was reported to be in trouble for allegedly defrauding 360 Islamic clerics that participated in a special prayer in Kano against the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor instructed that N50, 000 be given to each participant. That is N18, 000, 000 (in figure). In words, it is Eighteen Million Naira. Just like that? This definitely does not include money on logistics. And I know state wide fasting was not declared on that day. It is not out of place to assume that the prayer warriors were served food, drinks and other eateries. Only God in his perfect knowledge knows how much was spent. I just hope the pandemic does not persist; if it does, the clerics should willingly return to the state’s treasury the money given to them. There most be value for money.

The point is: it is high time we discarded this practice. The practice of lavishly expending government money on religious clerics for prayer. It is not peculiar to Ganduje, other elected state or federal executives (if not all) do similar things. My favourite Governor (Prof. Zulum) of Borno State did similar thing last year when he hired 30 Saudi based clerics of Nigeria’s origin to pray against a decade old affliction that afflicted North East generally and Borno State particularly. He said: “we will keep supporting our clerics of different faiths in Nigeria for prayers…” It is wrong if what he meant by ‘keep supporting’ is dishing out the state resources to clerics for prayer. It is common knowledge that we are still yearning for peace in Borno State. The situation is still worse despite the prayers of the contracted Saudi based clerics.

One should not be in doubt of the necessity of soliciting Godly intervention in everything, not just pandemic. Nevertheless, government should be prudent in managing our moneys. Those moneys belong to us, though in government’s custody; they should not be given to clerics for prayers without our consent. And we cannot even consent it. What is more, how did the Governor select the clerics considering the different sects in Kano? Are they Sunni, Izala, Shiite or Tariqah clerics? If they are Izala, the ones of Jos or Kaduna? If Tariqah, are they Qadriyah, Tijaniyah, Sunusiyah or Shaziliyah? Why do we like creating problems that are uncalled-for? State sponsored prayer warriors is neither democratic nor is it Islamic.

These are the reasons: one, many of us pray individually—for ourselves and for the state and for Nigeria. It is unjust to pay some selected clerics to the exclusion of others. Two, Governor Ganduje has PhD in Public Administration and he should know better. I am yet to see a public administration book or an article in a peer review journal on Public Administration which theorises paying clerics from government purse to fight pandemic. I will like to be educated. Three, clerics are not saints by virtue of being clerics. Anyone could be a saint. On that basis, undue importance should not be attached to clerics’ prayers at the expense of public money. Prayers of the general public should be sought for, instead. This will, of course, not cost the government a dime. And defrauders will be kept at bay. Four, we cannot be more religious than the Prophet (SAW) and his companions; it is not on record nor is it reported to us that clerics were paid to pray to Allah in the face of calamity. This is not because they did not face similar challenges; it is because they faced those challenges differently. And the Sunnah is to pray; not to share money that could lead to injustice, suspiciousness, unnecessary media attention, fraud and corruption as demonstrated in the defrauding saga.

How were the clerics defrauded? Event like this, of course, is expected to be designed to siphon money in most cases. The alleged defrauder was said to have slashed the N50, 000 allowance approved by the Governor by 90%. That is, the COVID-19 prayer warriors who were hitherto given N50, 000 each were forced to part with N45, 000 and go with N5, 000. While reacting to the allegation, however, the alleged defrauder said the deduction was done to accommodate more clerics who attended the prayers. The defence is as fantastically ludicrous as the entire exercise. In the coming days, weeks and months; should we expect organized prayers—with tax payers’ money—on corruption, poverty, malaria, unemployment, rape, banditry, insecurity, dilapidated schools, ASUU strike, ill equipped hospitals, etc.? I am just musing.

*** Abdulkadir Salaudeen writes from Federal University Gashua salahuddeenabdulkadir@gmail.com / @salahuddeenAbd