Mr. Iyad Ameen Madani is the current Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). A journalist who had held several cabinet posts, including minister of information in his country, Saudi Arabia, Mr. Madani is the first Saudi official to become secretary general of the OIC. He was in Abuja on Monday, and in this brief interview with Ahmed I. Shekarau, he explained why the OIC stridently criticised Boko Haram’s activities, especially the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, why Nigerian Christians should not entertain fears about Nigeria’s membership of the group, and many more. Excerpts:
What is your mission to Nigeria?
I am here on a visit not a mission. Nigeria is an important member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (IOC). It has taken more and more interest in the last few years. As you know, it is now the fourth largest contributor and partner of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB). The President (Goodluck Jonathan ) attended the last summit of the (IDB) in Cairo (Egypt) and we look forward to seeing the Foreign Minister (Aminu Wali), to attend the coming council of foreign ministers’ meeting on June 18 in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia); which will be the first time a full minister (from Nigeria) will come to the CFM. The visit is basically to show solidarity with Nigeria in the way it is confronting insurgency. It is also an opportunity for me to thank the Nigerian government for the support in voting for me as the Secretary General; and I hope this confidence will continue?
The OIC recently issued a strong-worded statement against the Boko Haram sect over the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria. Can you clarify what the group meant by taking such stance?
Let me first of all make some clarifications before I answer that question directly. Many people, not only in Nigeria, think of the OIC as a religious organisation, which it isn’t. It is a political organisation. It has 57 member states which ranks it as the second largest international body after the United Nations. And the members are states and governments; Nigeria is a member, Indonesia, etc. The areas of involvement of the OIC cuts across all human activities: political conflicts that relate to member states, economic and sustainable development of member states; also stimulating development through science and technology, education and culture, etc. It is not about preaching Islam or asking people to convert to Islam. But what combines the 57 countries is common interest, identity, by either being Muslims or part of Islamic culture.
Our position is that Boko Haram is not a movement for liberation or human rights, but a movement of terrorists. Any movement that allows itself to kill innocent people, destroy places of worship and kidnap innocent schoolgirls cannot be a liberation movement. We said this is not Islamic. They raised the banner of Islam. How can anybody associate Islam with such act of indiscriminate killing or kidnapping? It is a crime not only against Islam or any particular religion, but against humanity.
So we came out strongly with a statement describing them as outlaws and their action as criminal. But these are not enough. The statement needs to be followed by action, where help is necessary.
Although you said OIC is a political organisation of countries inhabited wholly or partly by Muslims, one would have thought that it will be pleased with this particular action of Boko Haram, through which it said it converted nearly 100 girls to Islam?
How can we be pleased with that? These are not group of girls who want to be Muslims on their own. They were kidnapped by force and the head of Boko Haram went on television to say ‘Allah’ told him to kidnap those girls. He later said ‘Allah’ instructed him to sell those girls at a cheaper price. This is madness. Nobody in their right mind, let alone an organisation that has 57 member states, will accept that. I have heard all sorts of stories, that the Boko Haram has been hijacked by Israel intelligence; that the Israel intelligence is using them to dismantle not only the fabric of Nigeria as a country where Muslims and Christians lived together, but also Islam and Muslims in Africa. We are concerned about persecution of Islam and Muslims in other parts of the world especially Europe, and we would always commit ourselves to protecting their rights. But we are not pleased with the issues of kidnap and forceful conversion.
There have been allegations, especially in Nigeria that some Muslim-dominated countries are sponsoring Boko Haram. How do you react to that?
I can tell you as the secretary general of the OIC that we have no inclination that any Muslim country is supporting Boko Haram. Why will they support Boko Haram? What will any Muslim country benefit from religious strife in Nigeria? A strong Nigeria is a contribution to the Islamic world. It is a support for OIC and a contribution to Africa.
What strategic advantage is it that any country which is an OIC member-state would like to support (Boko Haram)?
Unless the dismantling of a powerful African country is to their advantage; unless strife between Muslims and other religious groups is to their advantage; unless picturing Islam and Muslims as deviant and violent people is to their advantage. All of these are not to the advantage of any Muslim OIC member-state.
As you admitted tacitly, Islam and Muslims are today viewed as war mongers, and most countries that are in war today are either Muslim-dominated or, those behind the acts of violence are believed to be Muslims. What is the OIC doing to change this negative perception?
First of all, it is not historically true that Muslims are behind all wars. The two largest world wars were purely European wars. Muslims were used; for instance people in Senegal were recruited with a promise that they would be equals with the Europeans. But we all know that after the wars, none of those promises came to pass. If look at the largest war after the Second World War, none of them were Muslims. If you say that there is violence in Iraq because Iraq is Muslim, then you simply ignored the fact that Iraq is a country that was invaded. And when the invaders dismantled the state, everything was destroyed; the bureaucracy, army and the security was destroyed. And this makes people to go back to marginal sense of identity for their personal protection. In every case where there is violence, you have to look at the context. Are the Muslims in Myanmar responsible for the violence in that country? The answer is No. They are minorities and they are being subjugated to right wing Buddhist groups and Monks. They denied them their citizenship. So it is not accurate that Muslims are responsible for crises in the world.
Some of the wars are results of injustices perpetrated by governments through bad governance and corruption. Does the OIC in particular, or through the IDB, have any mechanism that helps to enthrone good governance and discourage or minimise corruption in member states?
Corruption and good governance are the responsibilities of each country and its society. When the IDB comes to a particular country, it makes sure that the project it supports are transparent. It does not involved in cases of corruption in any country; it is not its business. The IDB has been very active in Nigeria and many other member states in areas of infrastructure: roads, dams, airports, etc. We are working to also increase the IDB role in the area of microeconomics, where micro-credit is given to small production units. Not only loans in the financial sense but also capacity building, access to the financial market place, etc. We hope that that will be the priority in the next stage of the bank’s activities. This way the network of people benefiting from the IDB will be larger and many countries have started their own work of microfinance. Our aim is to make a way for the IDB to be more active and able to finance (projects), with the guarantees that are needed for subjectivity.
If, as you said, Nigeria is the fourth largest contributor to the IDB, why is its impact not felt much in the country through such project financing?
Maybe this is IDB’s fault, but to publicise more projects that involves them, for your own newspaper, we can provide you with some data on the projects that IDB has been involved in Nigeria or in general. IDB is a bank that works quietly; it finances projects and gets involved in developmental areas. It is not a media entity. So the fault is actually yours not the bank’s, for ignoring such activities. You told me you are a newspaper that caters for the average man. The average man requires sustainable development more than anybody. The IDB has infinite resources and is governed by a governing board. It is an institution with policies, bureaucracies and priorities. But we all want the IDB to do more. I think they have done a marvelous job in 40 years, which they will celebrate in a couple of weeks. I think they are using this occasion to rethink the IDB. They want to see how they can do more. There are other things we used to push for development, there is an organ used to dismantle trade barriers so that they will do better. The aim was to bring it to 20%, which I think the objective will be met. And these agreements, whether to encourage trade, are the tools by which the OIC works.
When Nigeria joined the OIC in 1986, there was a huge outcry by the Christian community in the country over fears that it was a move to Islamise the country. Now, religion has become one of the major fault lines in the country, and that sentiment still reverberates. What is the OIC doing to douse such fears, in spite of your earlier statement that it is more a political organisation than a religious one?
Nigeria is a member of ECOWAS and some members of ECOWAS are Muslims. Did this create any problem between Nigeria and these countries being members of other organisations? No. It did not because ECOWAS has nothing to do with religion. It is purely economic issues. So being a member state of an organisation should be judged based on the objectives (of such organisation). The OIC like I told you is a political organisation. The membership is governmental; there are no religious groups that are members of the OIC. I think this feeling that some Nigerians may have felt at some point in time that the country is being taken over by some Muslim group is misplaced. Secondly, I think in Africa, this notion of religion against religion is not an African notion. African tradition, even before Islam and Christianity, was a religion of acceptance and tolerance. And most families in Africa have people belonging to all the religious groups. The African identity is just one identity and does not care about religion. Now, I hope the nearly 30 years of membership (of the OIC by Nigeria) proves to all Nigerians that the organisation is not meant to serve one religious or political group.