Sheikh AbdulRaham Hamad, former journalist, public speaker and Imam of Ansar-rudeen Society of Nigeria, in this interview with Thisday, talks about his career, his zeal for religion, and the insurgency in the North-east. Hamad says to minimise the radicalisations that often lead to terrorism, the government should spend more on education because knowledge in the greatest form of defence.
At what stage did you take missionary work as a vocation?
Actually, I was born into a religious family. My father was an Islamic scholar who believed so much in all-round education. It was strange by the standard of that time that his children should go to school. But he believed that when you had all round education you would be successful. So I started primary school late at the age of 14. I wasn’t illiterate because I could read and write in Arabic. This underscored my father’s belief in all-round education. Even at that, in the primary school I was an Imam, and of course, in secondary school up to the university. So I had embraced this missionary zeal all through my life, even while I was practising journalism, because I ended up reading Mass Communication at the University of Maiduguri.
Couldn’t you have studied Religious Studies as a Moslem cleric? What influenced your decision to go into journalism?
I owe a lot to my father who didn’t have Western education but was very much educated because he believed that you had to be balanced in your education and in whatever you do. I did not only get Western education I also learnt a trade and that was how I got into journalism. I learnt commercial photography and printing in those days. This was the beginning of my romance with journalism. The printing world had a lot of fascination for me and I was also fortunate to learn photography under someone who had a broad experience in press and commercial photography. I took particular interest in press photography not photo journalism as it is being called now. I was in primary school then. I finished before I entered secondary school as an adult. And because I had and still have a flare for writing, I had two choices: to either become a lawyer or a journalist. My father was more comfortable with my being a broadcaster than being a lawyer. That was how I went into journalism. I only saw broadcast journalism as an extension of my calling because I saw it as a veritable tool. I had been a public speaker at a very early age and my exposure to journalism stimulated my desire to embrace journalism. In the early 70s, the Daily Times had a bureau office in Ilorin headed by the late Alhaji Bola Adedoja who later became Commissioner for Information in Oyo State. Together with Alhaji Okandeji who later became the Chief Press Secretary to the late Waziri of Ilorin, Dr. Olusola Saraki. These were the people that were holding forth at Daily Times Bureau Office at Ilorin then. I got my freelance job as a photo journalist under them. When they had an assignment they called me to cover it for them. That was how it started before I formally went to Unimaid, where I studied Mass Communication.
Where did you kick-off your career?
When I left the university, I worked with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in Ilorin. Alhaji Yaya Abubakar was at the NTA, Moji Makanjuola was there, Adeogun Ajala was there. They had been there. All along, I was freelancing for the Herald until I moved to Lagos. I was a columnist for the Vanguard. I was freelancing for Punch in the mid/late eighties. I was also holding a regular programme on Radio Lagos. I had a programme on NTA. I later ended up with MITV as a director of administration from where I joined the Ansar-ur-deen Society of Nigeria to become an Imam in 2003. I had been Imam all these periods. I was an Imam of Abdul-Aziz Islamic Foundation. I was still doing the secular work. For me, it is not a total disengagement but a shift in focus. But Ansar-ur-deen is so large and requires most of my time and I do it full time now.
How do you survive as a missioner, having disengaged from regular employment?
You can’t compare those in the missionary work to those in regular employments who have salary level and mouth-watering conditions of service. Interestingly, my upbringing emphasises independence. So I have sources of income outside the missionary work I am doing. As a missioner, you have to be independent to be able to pass the message across, stand firm and perform a role that is expected of you. But if the followers stretch the hands of appreciation or support, which is still in order, it is okay. But it isn’t correct for anyone to rely on that for a source of livelihood because there is no guarantee that it will come all the time.
You have embraced Moslem religion all your life. Here you are looking calm, polished, approachable, educated and enlightened. But Boko Haram has tended to create an image contrary to these qualities for Islam. What is your take on this?
I think we all need to be very careful as educated people while the common people who do not have education could be excused. But the people in the media (both radio/TV/Print) would need to be extremely careful not to amplify defiance and not to perpetrate stereotype. From experience, it doesn’t help. Let me tell you, Moslems have suffered most from this insurgency than others. You have read account of bombings of people who are praying in the Mosques. One thing is that a terrorist has no religion. A terrorist who goes to blow himself/herself up in the market doesn’t care about the people who are in the market, which can be Moslems, Christians, young, old, or women/men. They have blown more mosques than churches. The fact that people bear Moslem names doesn’t necessary make them Moslems or doesn’t make their action necessarily Islamic. There was a notorious armed robber in the Mid-Western State in the 80s who was a terror to all and sundry. This particular guy belonged to a religion but all his targets cut across. Unfortunately, the media hasn’t helped the matter; they have only helped to create safe haven for criminals by hiding them under religion. You know once you attach a religious label to a crime, you make it difficult to fight. For instance, arson is arson, terrorism is terrorism, stealing is stealing and robbery is robbery. I don’t think there is something like Moslem arson or Christian arson. What I am saying in essence is that you don’t help criminals by dressing them in religion clothes because you make it more difficult to fight. Don’t give the kind of coverage that would turn criminals into heroes. And that is what they have been enjoying. Free press!
How can the Boko Haram insurgency be contained?
It is simple. Every act of insurgency, violence has a history of oppression, a history of injustice. And for the avoidance of doubt, I do not justify acts of terrorism because it is not the way to go about it. It is not the way to address imbalance, injustice or inequitable distribution of resources. If you look at terrorism, it is a kind of reaction, a demonstration of frustration, of anger, and in the process, people get radicalised. This is not only in Islam. The Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and Anti-balaka in Central African Republic are Christians doing the same thing the Boko Haram is doing in Nigeria. So don’t let us look at the religion, which is the only medium being exploited. Therefore, in my view, injustice, imbalance, etc., should be addressed. I remember in Nigeria of old, especially in the South-west and even in the North, we used to have very solid family values, which have broken down. It is easy for children to get radicalised under the watch of their parents because they learn mostly from the street and via the media. I remember growing up; I can look back with nostalgia and gratitude at the dutifulness of our parents. They knew their onions. They were kind, strict and responsible. They had time for us, unlike now. We have become very permissive and our children are left at the mercy of the street, television and lately the social media. Growing up, it was fun because we were productively engaged. Everything was timed. My mother taught me how to write. So we have to go back to the basics to get things right in this country. I think the first thing that should concern us as peace loving people is to understand why a human being would want to blow himself/herself up because he/she wants to hurt other human beings. What is the motive? If it is religion, as an authority, it is the most heinous act anyone could commit. Government has a lot to do in creating a conducive environment for the ventilation of anger to the just. This is fundamental, to create employment opportunity, to ensure proper education and spend more on education than probably what it is spending on defence. You know the greatest defence is knowledge and not weapon. Of course, we cannot rule out the fifth columnist in all of these. The Boko Haram, for instance, you wonder where do they get money from? Where do they get equipment from that they could take on a whole Nigerian Army? Facts are emerging and will continue to emerge. And I am sure Nigerians will be shocked at the end of the day what they will learn about the operations and sponsorship of this deadly group.
Are you fulfilled in your vocation?
Oh yes! I am. I am close to 60 and I have been doing this over the years. I feel happy with myself, I feel satisfied, and I look back with gratitude and look forward with hope.
What major lessons has life taught you?
Do your best and the rest will take care of themselves. The same thing applies to my philosophy. It is simple. Take it easy, what will be will be. Make sure you work hard and do what is right and tomorrow will take care of itself.