In countries where corruption has become “structural,” distorting much of daily life, it can assume very localized forms. A petition by thirty-two imams, deputy imams, and muezzins of certain mosques in the Isa local government area of Sokoto state in Nigeria provides a window for outsiders into corruption at the local, grass roots level.
The religious leaders have complained to the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) that the past chairman of the Isa local government area, Alhaji Umar Muhammad Wali, had “diverted” their allowances which, the petitioners say, the Sokoto state government had directed be paid to all imams, deputy imams, and muezzins on a monthly basis. The petitioners claim that imams were to receive 20,000 Naira per month (USD 100.80), deputy imams, 15,000 Naira (USD 75.37), and muezzins, 10,000 Naira (USD 50.40).
Though Sokoto state is poor, it is the seat of the Sultan of Sokoto, the most senior Islamic traditional ruler in Nigeria, and the direct descendant of Usman Dan Fodio, who created the Sokoto Caliphate in 1806. The Isa local government area is in the far north of the state, and borders on Niger. Its population is mostly Muslim. Boko Haram, the jihadist terrorist group seeking to overthrow the secular state, has only rarely operated in Sokoto, though it has tried to murder the sultan, whom it sees as a collaborator with the secular government in Abuja. The state’s population is mostly Muslim, but there is a Christian minority (there are Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops). The amounts of money that the former chairman allegedly diverted from the Islamic religious leaders in the Isa local government area would likely be a significant part of each individual’s personal income.
The ICPC is a federal body established in 2000. It receives petitions and reports of corruption and it has prosecutorial authority. However, it is usually underfunded, and it has had few prosecutions or convictions. But, a revitalized and energized ICPC could play a positive role in President Muhammadu Buhari‘s anti-corruption crusade. How it responds to the Isa petition could indicate whether it could play an effective role at the grass roots.