Friday, November 9, 2012

Ososa Muslims: Brothers at war

Central Mosque, Ososa. Inset: Alhaji Taoheed Oluwakemi
A seemingly simple disagreement over appointment of the Imam of a street mosque has degenerated into a crisis that has ripped Ososa Muslims apart. Taiwo Olanrewaju reports.JUST as there cannot be two kings in a palace though there can be many chiefs, a mosque cannot also be headed by two Imams.
But Muslims in Ososa are turning that fact on its head as two people are laying claim to the office of Chief Imam of the town's central mosque.
Ososa is a big community in Odogbolu Local Government Area of Ogun State comprising seven quarters thus: Oke-Ala, Osalakoye, Oke-Esin, Odo-Owa, Ijoku, Odo-Alere and Idomowo.
The quarters are headed respectively by Alamori, Lakoye, Alarimodu, Owa, Oloritun, Akere and Mowo.
As common in most Yoruba communities, there are Christians, Muslims and traditional worshippers in Ososa town.
According to facts gathered by the Nigerian Tribune, each quarter has a mosque, where all other Islamic services, except the Friday Jumaat and the festive services are held.
“The Friday Jumaat and the festive services are held in Ososa Central Mosque”, a source, who craved anonymity disclosed.
He also volunteered that some other individuals in the town owned personal mosques, which brought the total number of mosques in the town to more than the eight that are jointly owned by Muslims in the community.
When Nigerian Tribune visited Ososa on Friday, November 2, 2012, the Ososa Central Mosque was locked, with no activities taking place.
Muslims in the town, however, observed their Jumaat service at Odo-Owa Quarter's Mosque and Sulaimon Mosque both in the town.
Nigerian Tribune's investigations revealed that prior to 2008, Muslims in Ososa were one. “They were united and did things in common,” volunteered a source.
“But in 2008, the Chief Imam of Ososa, Alhaji Taoheed Oluwakemi, and his younger brother, Alhaji Sulaimon Adebola Adegunwa had a disagreement over an issue, which has since factionalised the Muslims in Ososa,” volunteered another source, who, though an indigene, claimed to stay more outside Ososa than in the town.
Many residents of Ososa were unwilling to throw light on the cause of the disagreement between the brothers as they were more interested in solving the problem and putting the crisis behind them.
 “My daughter, that is not what matters (what led to the disagreement), what we want in this town is peace. We are a peace loving people and Ososa people are one; Christians, Muslims or traditional worshipers. What we want is that the issue be resolved.
“I hope you will use your good offices as a newspaper to ensure that the issue is resolved,” said a woman in her 50s, who also refused to mention her name.
The Nigerian Tribune, however, gathered that the crisis was traceable to the refusal of Alhaji Oluwakemi to allow a non-indigene, Alfa Ismail Sulaiman Baoku, to serve as Imam of Ijoku Mosque in the town despite the intervention of Muslim leaders in the matter.  Following the demise of the pioneer Imam of the mosque, the late Alhaji Haddy Oloruninsola Ali, the leadership of the mosque settled for Baoku who had worked closely with him as the new Imam. It was even gathered that Alhaji Oluwakemi had initially given Baoku his blessing but he later insisted that a non-indigene could not head a mosque in his domain.
The Ososa Muslim Council, led by Alhaji Adebola Adegunwa, Oluwakemi's brother, on hearing this intervened in the matter and pleaded with the Chief Imam to allow Baoku to lead the Ijoku Mosque but Oluwakemi reportedly rejected the plea and maintained that a non-indigene would not lead any mosque in his domain. He was said to have been invited to several meetings by the council, none of which he attended.
It was gathered that this peeved the leaders of the council who then moved to remove the Chief Imam.  A letter of removal as Chief Imam dated February 28, 2009 was said to have been served on him by the council with another person, Alhaji Fatai Owolabi Jamiu, who is said to be a PhD holder in Arabic Studies, appointed as the new Chief Imam of Ososa on March 6, 2009.
However, as the Ososa Muslim Council sacked Alhaji Oluwakemi who was installed Chief Imam in 1991, so did the Ososa Muslim Community give him its backing and continued to recognise him as the authentic Chief Imam. This has escalated the unrest in the town.
Probably as a way of finding a lasting solution to the imbroglio, the Ososa Muslim Community sought the intervention of the court by challenging the sack of Oluwakemi as Chief Imam by Ososa Muslim Council, claiming that the council lacked the power to sack the Chief Imam.
On Tuesday, May 26, 2009, the state High Court in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, ordered the reinstatement of Alhaji Taoheed Oluwakemi as the Chief Imam of Ososa Central Mosque. The court also restrained Alhaji Fatai Jamiu, Alhaji A. A. Amusat and two others from parading themselves as the Chief Imam and officials of the mosque.
The judge, Justice O. Mabekoje, also granted the prayers of Oluwakemi stopping Jamiu or his allies from interfering with the applicant's duties as the Chief Imam.
But that has not restored peace among Muslims in Ososa. If anything, the problem has since reached a crisis stage with each of the feuding factions holding staunchly to its position as the authentic group in charge of Islamic affairs not just in the Central Mosque but also in the town. So, since 2009, every Eid prayer had witnessed bickering among the factions.
It, however, got to a head during the Eid-el Fitri prayers this year on August 19, 2012, when the two groups openly attacked each other. According to reports, fight broke out around 9.30am and this prevented Muslims in Ososa from observing the annual prayers as dangerous weapons were said to have been freely used by the factions.
As the recently held Eid-el-Kabir festival was drawing near, each of the factions was said to have been warming up to prove to the other that it was fully in charge of the Central Mosque, they were said to be stock-piling arms. The state government got wind of this and the state governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, invited the two groups to his office in Abeokuta where they were sternly warned to maintain the peace in the town, adding that the leadership of the two groups would be held responsible for any breakdown of law and order in the town.
The state government went a step further by sealing off the Central Mosque thus making it inaccessible to either of the groups.        
According to a young man who simply identified himself as Rauf, following the step taken by the state government, the Central Mosque could not be used for Eid prayer during the last Eid-el-Kabir festival.
How the above happened, the boy, could not explain.
Top: Sulaiman Mosque, base of Ososa Muslim Council. Down: Odo-Owa Mosque, base of Ososa Muslim Community
 “There were policemen here watching over the Ososa Central Mosque that day. They were there for a long time even after the festival,” he said. Rauf added that each of the factions had to look for a different place to hold its prayers.
A young lady, who said she did not know the cause of the wrangling between the two factions said she did not go to any of the mosques in the town to worship.
“I say my prayers at home, I don't belong to any of the factions, I belong to Allah,” she added.
In his contributions, a man who referred to himself as Victor said, “I am not a Muslim. I am a Christian and there is no problem among Christians in Ososa but the major problem is not with the brothers but with the followers. They are the people causing the problem. At least, the younger brother does not live in Ososa, he lives in Lagos, and he once said it himself that there is nothing that his elder bother does or says that he does not get to know about.
“So, it is the people. They will tell this one this and tell that one that. For as long as the people continue to do this, because of what they will eat. I wonder when the issue will be settled. But I pray that the Lord will help them to settle it.”
A middle-aged woman, who declined to have her name in print also said that the issue would have long been resolved but for people who were benefitting from the crises.
At his Odo-Owa Quarters home, Alhaji Taoheed Oluwakemi, who stressed the fact that he was the Chief Imam of Ososa, corroborated the fact that Alhaji Sulaimon Adebola Adegunwa was his younger brother of the same parents. “We are of the same mother and father,” adding that his brother wanted to use his influence to remove him but was prevented by the Ososa Muslim Community.
He, however, lamented the fact that he would not be able to speak with the press as the issue between him and his brother had degenerated into a case pending at the High Court 1, Ijebu-Ode.
“On Monday, 12th November, 2012 the case will come up again and we will be given a date for the judgement. After the judgement, I will be able to speak with you.
“The Nigerian Tribune is our paper. I love it so much and I will like you to be around when the judgement will be given. Then, I will be able to tell you everything. Thank you,” he said.
At the Sulaimon Mosque, Oke-Ala Quarters, the Nigerian Tribune correspondent met with the Imam, Alhaji Dr Fatai Jamiu, who said he could not speak with the press as he was an appointee of the Ososa Musim Council.
“It is only the chairman, Alhaji S.A. Adegunwa, who can speak to you but he has left for his office at Ijebu-Ode.”
The Nigerian Tribune also visited the palace of Oba Dr Adetoye Mojeed Alatishe, the Gbegande of Ososa, to know about his efforts in resolving the lingering feud between the factions since he ascended the throne two years ago. But he was said to be away at a meeting when our reporter got to the palace.
A young man, who is between 25 and 30 years wondered where the imbroglio would lead the Ososa Muslims, members of the two families and the brothers themselves, adding that Alhaji Oluwakemi’s deputy decamped to the other camp.
It is only time that could give an answer to the young man’s question. He also declined to have his name in print.

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