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Ikoyi Tragedy and Casual Bigotry Against Yoruba Muslims

By Farooq A. Kperogi Twitter: @farooqkperogi Amid the grief of the heartrendingly tragic collapse of the 21-storey luxury apartment building...

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Amid the grief of the heartrendingly tragic collapse of the 21-storey luxury apartment building in Ikoyi, Lagos, a sadly familiar, barely acknowledged but nonetheless insidiously widespread anti-Muslim bigotry in Yoruba land came to light.

A Yoruba Muslim by the name of Adebowale Sikiru revealed in an interview with a YouTube news channel called AN 24 that he was rejected for a job at the Ikoyi construction site because of his Muslim faith. He applied for the position of a site engineer and was found qualified enough to deserve being invited for an interview by Femi Osibona, the MD of Fourscore Homes, the firm that managed the construction of the ill-fated multi-storey building.

After the interview, Sikiru said Osibona asked him what church he attended, and he responded that he was a Muslim. “Ah, I can’t work with a Muslim,” Sikiru quoted Osibona to have said. Osibona reportedly said in Yoruba that he couldn’t work with someone whose response to his chant of “Praise God!” would be “Alhamdulillah!”

 When Sikiru told him of his struggles with getting gainfully employed after graduation, Osibona also reportedly said it was probably because of his Muslim faith that he was not “able to make a headway” in life. “He said that in front of even the bricklayers” and many others at the site, Sikiru said.

Sikiru left the site sad, humiliated, and deflated, but a friend of his who brought his attention to the job he had interviewed for called him while he was on his way back home. The friend wanted to find out if he was trapped in the building that had collapsed a few hours earlier. That was the time it dawned on Sikiru that his rejection and humiliation on account of his faith ironically saved him from death.

Unfortunately, Osibona died in the collapsed building, so we have no way of getting his own side of the story. Nonetheless, it doesn’t seem plausible that Sikiru, who didn’t even come across as a devout Muslim during his interview with AN 24, would just wake up and invent the encounter with Osibona. Plus, videos that have emerged of Osibona’s meretriciously outward displays of his Christianity and evangelical exhibitionism are consistent with Sikiru’s account of his encounter with him.

More than that, though, it merely instantiates the casual bigotry that Yoruba Muslims routinely contend with in their own natal region on account of their faith, which I’ve known for years.

I followed the social media conversations that Sikiru’s encounter with Osibona triggered among Yoruba Muslims and came away with the distinct impression that many Yoruba Muslims are seething with frustration and deep-seated inferiority complex on account of their faith-based systematic exclusion and demonization, but they are grinning and bearing their fate in smoldering silence out of social pressure, out of anxieties about social ostracism. We call this the spectacle of the spiral of silence in communication theory.

A Facebook friend of mine by the name of Ganiyu Oludare Lasisi who now lives and works in Scotland narrated how he was denied a job to teach high school geography in his hometown of Abeokuta because of his Muslim faith. He has an Upper Second-Class honors degree in Geography and a distinction in the subject in his “O” level. But “on the day of the interview,” Lasisi said, “the school owner/founder (also a pastor) rejected me because of my Muslim name (Ganiyu). I was so sad and angry then. He even suggested that I can convert to Christianity and change Ganiyu to Gabriel.”

In their safe spaces, multiple Yoruba Muslims shared similar such anecdotal encounters of causal bigotry. They say they are habitually ridiculed for their faith, sneered at for their Muslim sartorial choices, alienated and rhetorically marginalized, and outright denied opportunities by people with whom they share the same ethnicity. Several of them are forced to convert to Christianity or hide their faith to fit in.

Just the other day, on November 3, Premium Times published a story of the appointment of a 45-year-old professor of geo-technical engineering by the name of Afeez Bello as acting Vice Chancellor of the Osun State University in Osogbo. The photo of Bello that the paper used to illustrate the story was of a heavily bearded man with a Muslim felt hat.

Apparently, that sartorial symbol of male Muslim identity was like a red rag to a bull among Christian Facebook commenters, most of whom were Yoruba. The man was called “Boko Haram,” “Shekau’s reincarnation,” a “fanatic,” and all sorts of other cruel slanders and unwarrantedly unmentionable vituperations. I was emotionally distraught after reading a sample of the comments. I inflicted self-torture on myself.

The truth is that the famed religious ecumenicalism and tolerance of the Yoruba people is often achieved at the expense of Yoruba Muslims. It is they, and not their Christian brothers and sisters, who must always perform religious tolerance. (In his interview with the YouTube news channel, even Sikiru felt compelled to say that 95 percent of his friends are Christians and that he hadn’t closed off the possibility that he could convert to Christianity at some point in his life.)

 It is Yoruba Muslims who are required to downplay or hide their religious identity in the interest of an overarching Yoruba identity because, over the last few decades, Christianity has been rhetorically constituted in the popular imagination as a core constituent in the construction of Yoruba identity. That’s why prominent Yoruba Muslims almost always have to invoke their connection to Christianity to fit in.

The late Gani Fawehinmi always had a need to show that his wife was a Christian. Bola Ahmed Tinubu has a need to strategically let it be known that his wife isn’t only a Christian but a deacon. House of Representatives Speaker Olufemi Hakeem Gbajabiamila concealed his Muslim identity until he needed the support of the Muslim North to become Speaker. After the fact, his handlers played up the fact that his wife and his mother are Christians.

Prince Bola Ajibola, one of Africa’s finest jurists who happens to be a devout Muslim, doesn’t openly bear Abduljabar, his Muslim name—unlike his father who bore Abdulsalam as his first name—perhaps, not being married to a Christian, it was his only way to reassure his Christian Yoruba brothers and sisters that he is Yoruba. Yet, he is so strong in his Muslim faith that he established the Crescent University, one of Nigeria’s first private Islamic universities, in his hometown of Abeokuta.

Although Muslims constitute a numerical majority in Yoruba land, they are a symbolic minority and are perpetually put in a position to prove their “Yorubaness.” For instance, in the heat of the debate over the formation of Amotekun to ward off “Fulani bandits,” Bolaji Aluko, who was a professor here in the United States and who is now a prominent Ekiti State government official, used the moment to stealthily alienate Yoruba Muslims in his state.

In a January 25, 2021 article titled “Sunday Musings: On the Matter of Farmer-Herdsmen Clashes in Ekiti State,” he wrote, among other things, “Our Muslim Yoruba citizens must decide whether the Umma principle of brotherhood is greater that [sic] the collective security of our Yoruba citizenry." As I told him then, there are at least four ways in which he was wrong.

First, he exoticized, needlessly put Yoruba Muslims on the spot, and created a false binary between being Muslim and being Yoruba, even though (nominal) Muslims constitute the majority in Oyo, Osun, Ogun, and Lagos states. Islam has been in Yorubaland since at least the 1400s. The first mosque was built in Oyo-Ile, the ancient capital of the Oyo Empire, in 1550, that is, centuries before colonialism.

Second, Yoruba Muslims are themselves victims of the homicidal fury of Fulani brigands. If being Muslim hasn't immunized Yoruba Muslims against sanguinary clashes with Fulani people, why should they be singled out as people who are suspect, as people who might betray non-Muslim Yoruba people to the Fulani out of "the Umma principle of brotherhood," which, by the way, is nonsensical, meaningless verbiage?

Third, Aluko’s claim assumes that all Fulani brigands are Muslims (they are NOT) and that they are committing their crimes on behalf of Islam, which would predispose them spare Yoruba Muslims in the spirit of "the Umma principle of brotherhood." But nothing can be more ignorant and bigoted than that.

 If "Umma principle of brotherhood" (whatever the heck that means) were a thing, Muslims in Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger, and elsewhere (who are also incidentally Fulani, Hausa, or "Hausa-Fulani") wouldn't be killed, kidnapped, and overawed by criminally bloodthirsty Fulani brigands. Mosques wouldn’t be invaded, and imams and worshipers kidnapped and murdered. That should tell anyone that this isn't about religion or even ethnicity.

Sadly, Yoruba Muslims have no voice and seem to have accepted their fate with listless resignation. Not being a Yoruba myself, I know I will be viciously attacked by the people who lubricate and enjoy the current hegemonic high ground that puts Yoruba Muslims at the lower end of the totem pole, but I am not one to shy away from telling the truth because of fear of attacks. I resist injustice no matter who the victims or the perpetrators are.

26 comments

  1. Prof, I have nothing to say other than to note that this is your boldest article ever, far bolder than all your "Buhari articles." You have proven that you don't pull your punches wherever there is a need to say it as it is. By treating this taboo subject without fear, you have indeed acquitted yourself.

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  2. Thank you Prof. These are the people that claim to be most educated and civilized in Nigeria. Shame!

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  3. I mostly disagree with you on the numerical superiority of muslims, largely because the Yorubas are split three way - Christian, Muslim and Traditional worshipers (the people who still follow the old religion). If you say muslims have not voice what about the traditional worshipers who are still adhering to the religion of their ancestors even though you rarely hear them in the news yet the signs are still there in the shrines maintained and in the offerings/sacrifices that we see all around us.

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    1. in true representation, most traditionalists are doubled face with the combination of either christianity or islam, so u dont visibly noticed them in many workspaces, for one reason or the other, they identify themselves as either christian or muslim, it is very rare to see one identifying as a traditionalist in public or private work sectors

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    2. Well, traditionalist don't have the discrimination problem so there is nothing to solve. Thanks

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  4. I think this has little to do with religion, but briefly put, a 'sickness' that has become an internal ordering of our society, with it's absurd divisions.

    A friend of mine was once denied a job, even though he was the most fit for the position, simply for not being the brother of who recommended him for the job. The only question he was asked in the interview was "which state did you come from?"...funny!

    Many organizations have gone further to even stop employing applicants from particular state(s) to another even though candidates are qualified.

    This happens in every part of the country. Issues of our daily conversations are now based on where you come from not what value you can bring to the table.

    Infact these worst scenarios are mostly found in public sector. Even a simple deserve promotion can be halted for not coming from the Oga's ethnic group or state.

    I must give kudos to Mall El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna state for scrapping indigenship as a requirement in the state. Hoping this policy should be trickle down to every aspect of our national endeavors.

    Truth is ugly when one analyses it, but sometimes, our situations are reminders as humans, that we must not worry ourselves about betrayals of the flesh, but to think of human destiny. Each life has its share of heroism.

    God's plans will always be more beautiful and greater than all your disappointments. For Sikiru, he is alive.

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  5. Prof Kperogi, i applaud your unbiased and purely professional insightful write-ups!
    Must say i read a lot of social commentaries on FB but most times. I see a group of commentators struggling to push narratives either in favour or out of favour with the govt depending on thier affiliations to the govt of Nigeria, ethnicity,party or even business interest and NEVER to set out the facts out there and let the people decide based on the info presented!
    Nigeria needs just 2 more of you,may be one in europe and 1 in Asia to keep throwing out the facts out there and we will be fine!
    Please continue in your stride and do not relent----those that cannot stand you are those averse to the truth !kudos

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  6. Well,Prof. Kperogi, there is no doubt, the problems of this country are our elites, from both divide, North and South. This reminds me of you good friend,late Professor Adesanmi(hope I remember the name correctly),who was always referring these elites, in his columns,as "the 2percenters."I always enjoyed reading his columns because of his candour, like you. But how do we challenge and defeat the 2percenters without people like you and the late Prof. Adesanmi, when illiteracy and poverty were deliberately created to be cloud our sense of reasoning? Each section of the country has its "weapon of mass dis-atraction". As for the North, we have the 'political Islamists', and the South West, we have the 'ethnic supremacist', while in the South East we have the 'secessionist,' who always cried against marginalisation.

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  7. While I agree with your position on widespread bigotry among Yorubas, your analogy is conveniently one-sided.

    The derogatory term used for Christians in the southwest is 'Kiriyo'. A typical devout Muslim family in Ibadan will literally disown their children for associating with Kiriyo, some to the point of threatening fatal consequences.

    How many born again Christians get employed in schools owned by Imams? In fact you won't bother to apply because you'll already know they're not looking for 'your type'

    The subject of bigotry among Yorubas have to addressed holistically because it goes many ways.

    Lasly, I think it is the height of unfairness to selectively site cases of bigotry against muslims, while subtly rejoicing that a supposed bigot got what they deserved in death (it's even crazy thinking about it). Your post showed zero respect for the souls of the departed

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    1. With all due respect Ade, you sound to be guilty of what the Prof is saying here. Kariyo has never been used as derogatory term to describe Christians. Rather it is a common way the uneducated among us including my grand parents and probably yours too pronounce Christian. I am sure that you have heard the same people called Yoruba of Muslims faith 'Imale' and later twisted as 'Awon Elesin Lile.'

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    2. You responded without comprehending his response…Ade did not infer that Kiriyo is derogatory but how some people disown their children because they become Christians or changed religion. Ade’s point is that that issues that Osibona was accused of exist on both sides… in my opinion, majority of Yorubas don’t discriminate based on religion but some do and they are both christians and moslems. Not half truth written up there by someone claiming to be a liberal minded

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  8. This is a good literary write up though he could have given it some religious societal and moral balancing.

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  9. It's a lie. Please don't bring division between us. We accept religious tolerance in this part of Nigeria

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    1. That is not true Mr Adetayo as you may prefer to be called. Religious tolerance has disappeared into thin air in Yoruba land. It is true that Yoruba Muslims have been gradually facing persecution and extinction in Yoruba. It is fine if you never witnessed it but is just the reality. I witnessed it too first when I went for interview at NNPC JVD on Adetokunbo Ademola. Despite all the noise about Northerners occupying everywhere. A Yoruba NNPC Coordinator, who was head of that division at that time in 1990 or 1991, and who happens to be of Ijebu decent like me but a Christian and I believe, a Deacon told me to my face that I cannot work their because every one around him were Muslims. Only to discover he reserved the position for his son who just came back from England.

      Or, is it the several battles I had fight with a private school I put my children only to remove their Muslims names from my children report card after several complaints, and to be asked why did I give my children such 'satanic' name.

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  10. Prof I think you 'misfired' this one.
    While bigotry of any nature is deplorable, I don't think what happened between late Osibona, if true, is worth the colouration of generalisation. And the premise of your argument; a few yoruba politicians unwilling to confidently bear their religious name does not emanate from fear of discrimition but political gimmickry. May the Almighty comfort the bereaved and grant eternal rest to the victims.

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  11. The SW has many problems, corruption,poverty and underdevelopment, let not allow religion to be another issues in the SW. We have seen how religion has turned the North into a basketcase.

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  12. Does it wonder any Christian what Jesus was trying to convey when he said he shall reject them that day? "many shall come to me and said lord, we have done many things in your name, and Jesus shall tell them that get ye away from me you workers of iniquity'. I had to say this with the mindset that every christian claimed to follow Jesus in act and saying, if Osibono, the owner of the ikoyi collapsed building and a representation of an average christian, then for sure, based on the above quote from Jesus, no christian will make heaven.

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  14. I fully concured with the the Prof's analysis because it had brought out what Bola Ahmed Timubu, Speaker Olufemi Hakeem Gbajabiamila, Prince Bola Ajibola ( Abdul-Jabbar) have been down-playing so as to get social acceptance within the hegemonic Yoruba Christian groups. Islam detests hiding your Muslim identity just for you to be accepted and or spared of ostracization by people who are won't to Lord it upon you. That had been the lot of my Muslim brothers/ Sisters in the South West of Nigeria. How else could wearing of Hijab by Female Students/Practioners generate unnecessary controversy while Tinubu is there, Fashola is there, Oba Of Lagos is there, Alafin of Oyo is there ?

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  15. The type of situation either right or wrong, will continue to happen until we believe that we belong to one another.

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  16. Dear Prof, inasmuch as I agree with you on most of your assertions I must however,draw your attention to this fact:
    1. The yourbas do not descriminate on the basis of religion as you asserted in your write up. I have never been asked for my faith before getting jobs or at most my religion. The situation with religion isn't as bad as you painted above. There's a symbiotic relationship and a unbreakable nexus and bond that exists between the Muslims in the south and Christians. Take for instance my wife is from Ibadan infact from the Lamidi family. If you know the family, it's a pure Muslim family from inception but today members of the family can be evenly grouped as christians and Muslims. Every member of the family celebrate all festivals such as Christmas, Salah, Easter etc.

    Religious descrimination isn't as pronounced as you erroneously claim here but that doesn't mean that there are not one or two negative examples.

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  17. The yoruba Muslims are so much discriminated against in Lagos state that they Always end Up being elected as governors of the state.

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    1. I would suggest that Prof Kperogi should also write on the discrimination against Muslims of southern origin and Christians in the north. Discrimination in any form or coloration is a disease that must not be allowed anywhere.

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