President Muhammadu Buhari’s attendance, late last month, at the ninth summit of the D-8 Organisation for Economic Cooperation, entrenched the Nigerian government’s disconcerting penchant for mixing governance with religion at all levels. Though couching its goals in economic aspirations, the D-8 remains an exclusive club of Islamic countries. Since Nigeria’s constitution expressly forbids the promotion of any faith, it is time Nigeria reconsidered its membership of this and other overtly religious bodies.
The meeting was held in Istanbul, Turkey, with ministerial conferences scheduled for Nigeria this week. The summit’s theme, Expanding Opportunities through Cooperation, focused on mutual cooperation in agriculture, trade, transport, energy, and promotion of private sector activities in member countries. Buhari reminded member heads of government at the event of the need to establish “integrated manufacturing structures” and attracting investment. Even the official nomenclature of the group alluringly speaks of economic cooperation. For a country like Nigeria that seeks economic links, partners and investments wherever it can obtain favourable terms, it is tempting to view the D-8 as a laudable part of the country’s economic diplomacy.
But it is not. Past and contemporary realities tell a more nuanced story and dictate that we disengage from such organisations. Nigeria is not an Islamic state, nor is it tied to any other faith. Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution declares: “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.”
The identity of the D-8 is not in doubt. It was the Sani Abacha military junta that dragged Nigeria into D-8, an organisation that expressly declared itself as “cooperation among major Muslim developing countries.” The first step towards the establishment of D-8 was the “Conference on Cooperation for Development” organised in Istanbul on October, 22 1996 with the participation of Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt and Nigeria upon the invitation of Turkey. All these countries, except Nigeria, are Islamic republics. It was officially established by the Summit of Heads of State/Government in Istanbul on 15 June 1997. It lists among its objectives “to improve developing countries’ positions in the world economy, diversify and create new opportunities in trade relations, enhance participation in decision-making at the international level, and provide better standard of living.” It seeks to allay any apprehension by declaring: “D-8 is an economic-grouping with no adverse impact on bilateral and multilateral commitments of the member countries, emanating from their membership to other international or regional organisations.”
Certainly, whatever may be its declared objectives, the fact that it runs contrary to the Constitution renders Nigeria’s membership indefensible. According to the Pew Research Centre, a United States think tank, Bangladesh’s population of 163 million is 90 per cent Muslim, the same percentage as Egypt’s 95.69 million people; Indonesia’s 261.1 million people boast a Muslim majority of 87 per cent; Iran’s 80.28 million 98 per cent; Malaysia’s 31.19 million 61 per cent; Pakistan’s 193.2 million 97 per cent; and Turkey’s 79.51 million 99 per cent. They are decidedly Muslim countries. Nigeria is the odd one in this group. Citing United Nations estimates (2011), the Global Christianity Index puts Nigeria’s population at 50.8 per cent Christian and 48 per cent Muslim.
The impunity started with the surreptitious ascension to full membership of the OIC in 1986 that provoked acrimony across the land. Nigeria has no business in a 57-member organisation that bills itself as “the collective voice of the Muslim world” with a mission to “safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world…” Continued membership of these two bodies is a gross violation of the rights of the over 90 million Nigerians who are not Muslims.
Buhari compounded this trend in 2016 when he dragged Nigeria into the dubious Saudi Arabia-led 34-nation (later 37) Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism, ostensibly to combat global jihadism, but in reality, a pawn in the global Sunni Islam and Shia Islam rivalry. Though one of the 10 countries worst hit by terrorism in 2015 when 29,376 persons were killed, according to the Global Terrorism Index, India, with 172 million Muslims, did not join the overtly religious political coalition.
Every country must have ideals that it aspires to attain and align with those that espouse global best practices. A multi-national and diverse polity like Nigeria should seek strong alliances with secular democratic countries that showcase the best in human rights. In the World Index of Economic Freedom, only Malaysia among the D-8 made it to the first 35 at number 31, out of 188 countries. We have little to learn from this club of overtly religious societies and flawed democracies that oppress minorities and trample on human rights. Turkey is ranked 70; Indonesia 105; Nigeria 120; Pakistan 121; Egypt 124; Bangladesh 131, and Iran 171. All are also ranked low on the Press Freedom Index 2017 prepared by the global non-profit, Reporters without Borders.
We repeat; Nigeria is not an Islamic state just as it is not a Christian state. It is poor choices like this that have attracted angry allegations of a creeping “Islamisation” by a government that is already decidedly sectional. Dragging the country into any exclusive club of countries espousing a particular faith as successive governments have done, is unjust and should be stopped. The ongoing process of terminating Nigeria’s membership of 90 international organisations out of the 310 it belongs to as announced recently by the Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, is an opportunity to pull out of D-8, OIC and similar narrow bodies.