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CBN’s Aisha Ahmad, Misogynistic Bullying, and Religious Hypocrisy

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi At least two categories of (male) Nigerian social media denizens were disconcerted ...

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.

At least two categories of (male) Nigerian social media denizens were disconcerted by the appointment of a Mrs. Aisha Ahmad as one the Central Bank of Nigeria’s four deputy governors. The first group said she is unqualified because her promotion as Executive Director by her bank was suspiciously co-extensive with her appointment as CBN’s deputy governor, suggesting that her promotion was done in anticipation— or as a direct consequence— of her appointment.

To lend credibility to their claims, they falsely said being Executive Director of a bank is a prerequisite for appointment to the position of CBN deputy governor, and that it is this requirement that inspired her rapid promotion. They also said her professional qualifications and experiences are ill-suited to the position of deputy governor in charge of economic policy.

The second group, made up of mostly northern Muslim men, said she was unworthy of her position—wait for it— because her formal western attire doesn’t conform to the Islamic dress code for Muslim women! One widely shared Facebook status update, in fact, defamed her as a “sex worker” on account of her dressing. That’s a prima facie case of libel.

While these groups are animated by different impulses, they are united by a common, gnawing patriarchal arrogance and unease with successful, high-flying professional women. I can bet my bottom dollar that had she been an older man, news of her appointment won’t even show up on Nigerian social media radar. As the father of three girls—northern Nigerian Muslim girls like Mrs. Ahmad, I might add—I have a personal and emotional investment in confronting and fighting the culture of misogynistic bullying of successful women.

So let’s examine the first group’s assertions. An online newspaper called TheCable, in an October 9 story titled “FACT CHECK: Is Aishah Ahmad really qualified to be CBN deputy-governor?” exploded all the claims of the first group. It pointed out, for instance, that Section 8 (1) of the CBN Act requires only that people appointed as deputy governors be “persons of recognised financial experience.”

 It does not require that bankers appointed to deputy governorship of the CBN be executive directors. “TheCable discovered that Suleiman Barau, currently deputy-governor (corporate services), was not an ED before his appointment in 2007,” the paper wrote. “His highest banking position was general manager… at the now defunct FSB International Bank Plc.”

The paper also mentioned my friend Kingsley Moghalu who became CBN deputy governor without any prior banking experience. Moghalu himself told me sometime ago that former CBN governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (now Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II) single-handedly recommended him for the job.

It’s also preposterous to argue that someone with a 20-year experience in the finance industry isn’t fit to supervise the CBN’s economic policy. That charge is not even worthy of engagement. While it’s true that Mrs. Ahmad isn’t the most qualified person for the job, she’s sure as hell qualified for it.

The fulmination of the second group is even more worrying because it merely scratches the surface of a deep, abiding problem in our region, which is the noxious fusion of disabling religious intolerance, literalism, and exhibitionism.

Religion in the Muslim north revolves around (1.) a sick, prurient obsession with the female body under the cover of religious decency, (2.) exhibitionistic preening of the rituals of religiosity without a care for ethics, truth, honesty, or kindness, and (3.) identity politics wrapped in and sanctified by religion.

You can lie, cheat, murder, rape, steal, and generally be a monster of moral perversion and you won‘t attract the condemnation of self-appointed guardians of religious morality as long as you observe the communal rituals of religiosity and mouth off familiar, stereotyped religious idioms. That’s why 200 tons of date fruits donated by Saudi Arabia were stolen and sold (during Ramadan!) by Muslims and there was not a whimper from people who get in a tizzy when they see a woman—however virtuous she may be—unclad in a hijab.

In fact, a three-term governor and serving senator from Yobe State (who introduced Sharia in his state!) was recently caught almost literally pants down—and with irrefutable videographic corroboration, too— in a threesome with two women who are not his wives in a cheap, grubby brothel. There was no outrage from the self-anointed moral police. On the contrary, most of them defended the senator’s right to privacy, and cautioned against exposing a fellow Muslim to ridicule. Between being unclad in a hijab and engaging in adultery—and being impenitent about it when caught, as the senator was—which is worthier of moral outrage?

On the other hand, you can be the very apotheosis of justice, truth, probity, honesty, compassion, etc., but if you don’t “perform” religiosity through your sartorial choices and through your public utterances, you’re the devil himself. In other words, religion is more about form than content, more about appearance than substance, more about cold structures than essence, and more about public performance of group identity than about the internalization and performance of genuine piety.

Every Muslim woman who falls short of the standards of sartorial modesty enshrined in Islam is invariably described as being “naked” and condemned as a “prostitute.” Such a woman’s moral character is irrelevant as long as she violates—or is thought to violate— this sacred sartorial code. But she can be morally debauched and be the proverb for cruelty, and she would be celebrated (or at least be allowed to live in peace) as long as she wears a hijab, knows her “place,” performs the identity rituals expected of her, and doesn’t make a public show of her debauchery. In other words, a Muslim woman’s entire worth is measured by her dressing.

Mufti Ismail Menk had these kinds of people in mind when he said, “When you see a female dressed in a manner that is unacceptable Islamically, do not for a moment think that she is lower than you spiritually. If you do that, you are lower than her. Believe me, that is the teaching of your religion. She might have a link with her Creator that you do not know about. She might have a heart that is tons better than yours. She might have one weakness that is outward, and you have 50 weaknesses that are hidden.”

The self-proclaimed male moral police who are fixated with what Muslim women wear and don’t wear won’t admit that if they, too, are judged by the standards and requirements of the religion they purport to defend they’d all come up short. All of us would. Most of them don’t lower their gaze when they encounter women (which is precisely why they pervertedly proclaim the “nakedness” of clothed women and assume them to be “sex workers”), they patronize banks that traffic in riba, have pre- and extra-marital sexual liaisons, etc. Why do they think their own transgressions are more tolerable and more defensible than a Muslim woman's choice to not wear a hijab?

This is not a repudiation of the dress code prescribed for women in Islam. It’s just an admission of the fact that we’re all imperfect beings. We all have strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. It’s unfair to estimate people’s entire worth by just one weakness.

Mrs. Ahmad’s western attire might simply be what I like to call protective sartorial mimicry, that is, the survivalist instinct that causes us to dress in ways that help us to blend in with our immediate environments. Maybe she doesn’t even dress that way outside her professional circles. Most importantly, though, it’s not our place to sit in judgement upon the personal choices of a 40-year-old wife and mother who is almost at the pinnacle of her career.

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