- Photo: Sanwo-Olu *
The Alliance for Effective Governance (AEG), a leading advocate for social justice and equality, expresses deep concern and discontent over the marginalization and under-representation of Muslims in the recent list of Commissioners released by the Lagos State Government on Friday, July 28, 2023. We note that this under-representation undermines the principles of inclusivity and diversity that our great nation, Nigeria, stands for. It is public knowledge that only Ten (10) out of the 39 commissioners listed can be confirmed to be Muslims. This represents about 25% Muslims and 75% Christians. There has been outcry from the Muslims in Lagos State against this list. They have said it is completely abysmal and undoubtedly an insult to their collective sensibilities.
Following this outcry from the Muslim community in Lagos State, the AEG has taken pain to catalogue the events leading to the re-election of Governor Sanwo-Olu vis-à-vis the contributions from different quarters and interest groups and found the outcry of the Muslims is justified.
A list of some critical events in the preceding years lays the foundation.
Recall that at an interactive session with the Muslim Community of Lagos State (MCLS) held at the Lagos Central Mosque, Lagos in 2019, Mr. Governor and his party, the All-Progressives Congress (APC), assured leaders of various Islamic organizations in the state that his administration would be fair to all, especially the Muslims, if elected. He further promised to engage in regular consultations with religious bodies and other stakeholders in the state before taking decisions on issues affecting the state.
At this same event, Professor Tajudeen Gbadamosi spoke on areas where the Muslim community felt slighted due to the actions and inactions of the administration, one of which was the appointment of Tutors-general in the Education Districts. At that time, there were no known Muslims among the six (6) Tutors-general in the state. That was how skewed the situation was against the Muslims. The Muslims seemed to have taken Governor Sanwo-Olu’s words then seriously. They not only trusted him to be true to his words, they went ahead to engage other Muslims to ensure his electoral victory.
It is no longer news that Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu became victorious, and thereby became the Governor on May 29, 2019. Unfortunately, between 2019 and 2023, under his watch, Muslims suffered a lot in the area of policy implementation, especially when it came to the use of hijab by Muslim students in some public secondary schools in Lagos State.
There were cases where the personnel of the Lagos State Ministry of Education harassed, deprived, and threatened female Muslim students because they used the hijab. More importantly, some personnel in the Lagos State Ministry of Education manipulated school activities to be fixed during the Muslim prayer (Jumat) period on Friday! If this was not enough provocation of Muslims, it would be interesting to know what is!
All of these issues and more were still lingering during the approach to the 2023 elections earlier this year. Yes, notwithstanding the obvious utmost disregard and disrespect shown by his administration towards the Muslims and their matters, the Muslims did not renege on their promise to support Governor Sanwo-Olu’s re-election.
Despite the obvious campaign led by notable Christians and Christian religious bodies combined with the threats by some ethnic bigots who were bent on seeing APC, and by extension, Sanwo-Olu lose that election, Muslims took him for a gentleman whose words could be relied upon. Indeed, the Muslim leaders went all out using their every opportunity to encourage Muslims to go all out to vote for his re-election. The support was unprecedented despite the pessimism they got from some Muslims who wanted them to stay off the politics of the day! Imams used their Mimbars to campaign for a Christian Governor – the first of its kind in this part of the country.
In a public forum earlier before the elections this year, one of the revered Imams, Sheikh Abdurahman Ahmad, stated that “Muslims want reassurance; once we get assurance of quality governance and REPRESENTATION, we will offer our votes and our support. This is simple. It is not a matter of emotional support; it is not a matter of whether we are going to vote or whether we do not know what we want. Not for us personally, not for our pockets, but for Nigeria collectively. Whether we are Muslims, Christians or those who do not belong to any religion, that’s the crux of the matter.” This was the extent to which Muslims supported the APC at the presidential elections and Governor Sanwo-Olu’s re-election in the State, in particular.
What is more, the Muslim Community endorsed Sanwo-olu at different fora at the expense of two other Muslim candidates of other parties, when no other religious bodies did. Rather they swore to bring him down and worked actively against his re-election. At such times, he found so much solace, comfort and refuge in the company of Muslims during the campaign to the extent that he recited suratul fatiha in one of such Muslim gatherings – just to secure the Muslim votes.
There were surely numerous other instances on record where Muslims played their part more than any other religious groups to ensure he was returned as the Executive Governor of Lagos State.
Now he does not feel the same Muslims are good enough to merit appointment into his cabinet as commissioners? This is tantamount to biting the fingers that fed one. The appointment of Commissioners is a crucial aspect of governance that should reflect the rich cultural and religious diversity of any State. It is now disheartening to note that despite Muslims constituting a significant proportion of the state’s population and their role in Governor Sanwo-Olu’s re-election, he has decided to relegate them to the lowest echelons of government.
It needs to be stressed here that we at AEG do promote and acknowledge that only competent people from various backgrounds can serve the public interest well, we also believe firmly that diversity in decision-making is imperative for the holistic development and prosperity of state like Lagos. Similarly, we posit that only a diverse and inclusive government can ensure that all citizens’ voices are heard and their concerns are addressed, regardless of their religious beliefs.
The APC in Lagos in particular, and Nigeria in general, should call Mr. Sanwo-Olu to order because he is simply joking with the future of their party in the state. Toying with Muslim community would definitely lead to them losing a large chunk of the votes belonging to Muslims in the state.
Lagos State is renowned for its cosmopolitan composition, accommodating people from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Therefore, it is essential that Mr. Sanwo-Olu’s administration reflect this plural reality in its governance structure. A government that represents the people it serves fosters a sense of unity and promotes a shared vision for a better and more harmonious society. 10 out of 39 (25%) commissioners cannot be justified under any guise or circumstances. It has not only failed the inclusivity test; it also failed the test of trust.
It can be argued that since the coming of the fourth republic in 1999 the Muslims in Lagos have been marginalised in the constitution of Lagos Cabinets but it has never been this bad!
The AEG therefore calls upon Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to recognize the need for equitable representation and rectify the apparent oversight in his appointment of Commissioners. By inclusively involving Muslims and perhaps other underrepresented groups in decision-making roles, the government can harness the collective strengths and wisdom of all its citizens, leading to more effective and well-rounded policies.
As an organization dedicated to promoting social cohesion and societal harmony, we extend our support and cooperation to the Lagos State Government in fostering a climate of understanding, tolerance, and equal opportunity for all. This injustice, however, needs to be addressed.
In conclusion, Alliance for Effective Governance (AEg) urges Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to take immediate steps to rectify the present imbalance in the appointment of Commissioners and to uphold the principles of justice, equity, and diversity for the greater prosperity of Lagos State and Nigeria as a whole.
Signed: Jubril Lawal,
Alliance for Effective Governance