Thieving in The Name of Religion by Abubakar Sadiq Mamman


The world they say is a global village. With the advancement in technology, the meaning of the contextual village as used in the phrase begins to assume a literal sense. When one looks at the world we live in now, distances of thousands and perhaps millions of kilometers begin to appear as just a trek able distance because of probably the easy way information travels across such distances at unimaginable amounts of time. This advancement with all the advantages associated with it also came with its associated problems. It gave criminals especially in the developed world an even greater spectrum of space and opportunity to ply their own trade; alas even though it was detrimental to the growth of the society.

Back here in Nigeria, a different kind of opportunity which is proving lucrative by the day is arising for criminals of divergent pattern of operation but with fundamental similarity in what they do. It is what I term religious thievery. They come in different shapes and sizes. The pattern of operation differs. Some operate from the barrel of guns just like conventional armed robbers while others do theirs from the comfort of their  pulpits disguised as usual in the religious robs.

The first type appeared recently as a result of the security challenges posed by the Boko Haram menace. Areas that have been badly hit by the Boko Haram atrocities abound with large number of unemployed youths who has found succour in the use of guns to force money out of unsuspecting victims. We have witnessed a recent surge in crimes in places ravaged by the security challenges. This can be attributed to many variant factors depending on who you are talking to. Any ardent observer of the happenings in and around places like Maiduguri, Damaturu and other risk prone areas reveal the decline in commercial activities due to the lack of security to guarantee that.

Starting from the ban on commercial motorcycle business, which alone had previously been responsible for employing over 1.5 million people in Kano has led to the re-saturation of the unemployment market, leading these youths to engage in crimes as a means of survival. Banning of petty businesses such as commercial hoarding of petroleum products as well as road side petty trading in commodities like recharge cards, petty goods and  so on which have hitherto been the main source of livelihood for the largely illiterate members of the community had also increased the pressure on the job market.

Businesses that previously thrived so well were closed down by its operators citing insecurity as the main reason. There was massive relocation of workforce to places considered safer thereby increasing the unemployment rate in such places and all these contributed to the rising spate of crimes. Perhaps the proliferation of arms into such places couldn’t have come at a worse time because the youths who have been rendered idle “puns” by their lack of employment provided easy preys to criminal kingpins whose fraternity at that moment provided succour to their needs. These have led to the increase in the incidents of burglary, armed robbery, car-jacking as well as kidnappings.

Another disturbing occurrence is the previously unknown cases of assassinations being witnessed. There was the common assertion that people now get paid to murder perceived enemies of rich clients with so much impunity. The gun now has become indispensable tool in the hands of the youths who made daily use of it to earn a living. To add the religious connotation to their activity, the criminals assume the dressing peculiar to some religions and even go as far as chanting religious slogans and prayers during the cause of their crimes obviously to distract the attention of the security agents into believing the happening is purely religious rather than criminal. A very good example was witnessed in Katsina state sometimes back. The state which had hitherto had no history of Boko Haram attacks suddenly had men dressed in the normal white flowing gowns associated with the sect. The criminals while chanting normal Islamic slogans attacked police stations more or less in the regular Boko Haram fashion before subsequently attacking their main targets; commercial banks. Any unsuspecting observer will be made to believe it was the sect that attacked, but a closer look will disqualify such thoughts. In most of their recorded attacks, they had always been involved in attacks purely devoid of direct monetary gratification. This goes to show their name was being easily used to commit crimes all as a result of the naivety of our security agencies.

Another variant group of the gun barrel-thieves is the so called men in uniforms. All over the affected areas, there have been widespread allegations that security agents were involved in lootings and unwarranted extortions from the people they had been mandated to protect. It is not uncommon to hear tales of security agents forcefully extorting monies from different kinds of people ranging from commercial car drivers to shop owners to even as low as truck pushers. The allegations even got to the extent that accusing fingers were pointed at security agents-the so called joint task force or special task force as the case may be as being responsible for planting explosive devices at strategic locations especially commercial ones for no other purpose but that of looting abandoned merchandise. There have been cases of people who have had to abandon their wares in the pandemonium that usually ensued after any explosion only to return to find the merchandized looted. Most at times, they claim the security forces had set ablaze shops and business stands solely to cover up the allegations. The same had been claimed by people who for security reasons had to evacuate their homes during uprisings only to return later to find their homes burgled, despite the barricades placed by the security agents barring entrance into such troubled zones. The question has always been “if no one was allowed into such places and only the security agents had access to the places while the infighting lasted, who is responsible for the burglaries?” The security chiefs have an uphill task convincing the ordinary man on the streets of places like Maiduguri, Damaturu and Kano that the men brought to protect them were not directly or indirectly responsible for their continuous systematic impoverishment. Looking at the way the security forces extort commercial drivers on high ways play a large role in solidifying the claims given above.

The second group of religious thieves is the ones that do theirs even more shamelessly in the name of religion. They are the so called men and women of God who now claim to perform one miracle or the other. Nowadays, they besiege our society even to the point of towns, villages and even streets to get saturated from their souring number. The proliferation of religious associations, prayer houses and miracle centres has witnessed a sudden rise obviously due to the level of importance an average Nigerian places on religion. Such men of God play on the passion of unsuspecting victims with fake and unrealistic miracles and testimonies to extort from them. They concoct visions and miracles to woo naïve followers to them. This practice has become so rampant that it has risen to the level that religious organizations threaten to destroy the very foundation our religious associations were built on. Nowadays, we witness the emergence of religious leaders who cannot stand in the midst of their congregation and minister to them. We are witnessing religious elites who had allowed it to be immersed into the murky waters of politics so much so that it can no longer stand the neutral body it was some few years back. The religious elite of nowadays had become so corrupt that it can no longer talk openly to erring leaders because they have become partners in crime or what the military will say “comrades-at-arms”. Perhaps the speed with which the elites are racing towards living the ostentations lives being lived by their comrades in the political circle is what is actually leading them towards engaging in the “criminality in civilian clothing” or what the Hausa man will call “zamba-cikin-aminci” we are witnessing today.

Perhaps the time is fast approaching when Nigerians of all tribes and religions will come to terms with the CBN Governor when he said there was a need to ban all religious and tribal associations in Nigeria because they were not performing to expectations. Don’t get me wrong I am not necessarily a fan of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi but I will end this piece by asking you to honestly view with an open mind the achievements of these religious associations for the past 10 years and judge if they had contributed positively or negatively towards the unity we seek in this country.


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