20 January 2013

Nigeria: Poverty in the North - Insight Into Zakat Practice

Zakat is all about alms giving, while different commissions have been setup to take care of collecting and distributing proceeds as entrenched in Islamic doctrine. NAJIB SANI, Bauchi; AKILU ABDULLAHI, Kano; SHARAFADDEN SIDI UMAR, Sokoto; JAMIL GULMA, Birnin Kebbi; MUAZU ELAZEH, Katsina; ADEBAYO WAHEED, Ibadan and PAUL DADA, Lagos take a look at the situation.

The North, being a predominately Muslim region, is where the practice of Zakat is better felt. The practice itself is one in which alms are given out by wealthy individuals to the needy, and it is a mandatory act and one of the pillars of Islam. It is meant to alleviate the rate of poverty among the people in the society to the barest minimum.

But, there is still abject poverty in most contemporary societies, especially in the North, despite the practice. Zakat is meant to be a yearly payment by the rich in the society, but the question is: Do the rich really pay Zakat? If the answer is in the affirmative, then why is there still extreme penury in the land? Is it that the poor are not grateful, or the rich do not pay it as they are supposed to do?

An Islamic cleric in Bauchi, Mallam Yahaya Mai Tauhidi provided a clear answer saying, "Most of the alms given out now, in the name of Zakat, is not Zakat, because Zakat is intended to enrich the poor. But some of the wealthy individuals share a very meager amount to the people as Zakat. Imagine how one would gather people in his house and give them N100 or N200 each as Zakat. To be frank, even if you give one person the sum of N1,000, you did not give him Zakat, but it is a Sadakat (gift)," he pointed out.

Mai Tauhidi, who enumerated the beneficiaries of Zakat to include "Miskin" (somebody who cannot afford food daily), "fakir" (one who cannot provide himself food for as long as a year) and travellers, among others, said that the needy should be given an amount that would not only assist him, but enable him give others the next year.

The Bauchi State Sharia Commission, which was saddled with the responsibility of collecting Zakat in the state, also backed Malam Mai Tauhidi's position, admitting that some people do not carry out the Zakat properly. A member of the commission, Alhaji Muhammad Tata Alkaleri, who explained that 1/40 of animals, grains or money is required of the owner to give out as Zakat, asking wealthy individuals who might want to pay the alms to hand them over to the commission for distribution to rightful beneficiaries.

"If people bring Zakat to the commission, we go through the applications of beneficiaries, screen them and share the materials to those that deserve it. The least amount we give each of the beneficiaries after the collection of the Zakat money is N10,000. Anything less than that cannot be regarded as Zakat, but ordinary alms," he explained.

He claimed that the commission had last year accumulated and distributed N9,130,000, some 984 bags of farm produce, and 94 animals to about 1926 beneficiaries across the state. "The commission usually writes all famous rich men in the state yearly, asking them to discharge the religious obligation, just as it receives request letters from needy individuals," he said, explaining that the "nisab" (minimum amount) of money that should be known as Zakat changes yearly as the value of the nation's currency depreciates.

He said the minimum sum this year has increased to N736,067, as against N620,942 last year. Alhaji Alkaleri asserted that if Zakat were properly carried out, it would go a long way in reducing the present poverty level in the society. He, however, urged the people to also engage into farming and other occupations to earn a living instead of always relying and waiting to be given Zakat.

In Kano, Safiyanu Ibrahim Gwagwarwa, the Director General, Kano State Zakat Commission, explained that "relevant laws empower our commission to collect Zakat from the wealthy for onward distribution to the needy. We have taken census of all those qualified to pay Zakat in each local government area of the state, and when it is time, normally during the months of Ramadan, we call upon these people to come forward and pay."

On their methods of distribution, he said, "beside the eight categories, some of the needy are referred to us from wards, villages and district heads, while some come directly from the emirate council. We compile lists from time to time, and the amount we give is usually in the region of N10,000 to each person.

There is also day-to-day Zakat for widows, hospital patients, orphans and wayfarers. "Also, abandoned luggage at motor parks and the Hajj camp are usually sent to us, and when all attempts to trace the owners failed, we give such items to the needy. Stray animals are also turned over to us, and we donate such to children's and old peoples' homes."

Asked if the objectives of Zakat, which is meant to alleviate poverty, is being attained, Gwagwarwa said, "No. People are not cooperating as they should, despite intensive enlightenment campaigns. Let me assure you that if all those qualified to pay Zakat should endeavour to do so, each person in Kano, about 12 million of us, could receive up to N100,000. In fact, one person alone is capable of paying N1 billion as Zakat. In the height of Islamic era, Zakat could be collected by force from those who erred.

Now, we lack that backing. At a time, it was discovered that no one in Mecca was in need of Zakat, and it had to be taken over to rural areas. The essence is to wipe out poverty. It is encouraged that a person in need of Zakat should be given sufficient, that by the coming year he himself will be in a position to give out himself."

Gwagwarwa therefore appealed to the wealthy to cooperate with the Zakat Commissions all over the northern states in paying their dues, so that the sufferings of others could be lessened.

In Sokoto, a renowned Islamic scholar, Sheikh Muhammad Isah Talata Mafara, reminded politicians and wealthy individuals that giving out Zakat is an obligation to every Muslim who possesses the required means of giving out, and further describe Zakat as the solution, not only to poverty in the Muslim communities, but also a major strategy in combating crime, as well as tackling insecurity issues in the North.

LEADERSHIP SUNDAY witnessed the distribution of N6 million by the Sokoto State Zakat and Endowment Committee to some hospitals and pharmacies across the state, for settling medical bills of some destitute. The distribution was done through its sub-committee, headed by Alhaji Nura Attajiri, on Thursday at the Islamic Education Trust.

The Commissioner for Religious Affairs, Prof. Musa Maitafseer, who reaffirmed the state administration's commitment in tackling problems of poverty, was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Alhaji Bello Wamakko, who stated various programmes in addressing poverty issues through the Zakat committee, including payment of minimum of N6,500 each to registered destitute in the state.

The State Zakat and Endowment Committee Chairman, Mallam Lawal Maidoki, however, revealed that no single individual had ever come forward to give his Zakat to the committee. He also added that his committee has no legal backing to enforce the payment of Zakat on any wealthy individual, arguing that if the committee was institutionalised and empowered by the law, or promoted to a status of a board in the state, it would have surely eradicated the menace of abject poverty in the state.

Mallam Muhammadu Mai Taba, a newspaper vendor along Emir Yahaya Road in Sokoto said that, "it is all lies, because nobody is giving out Zakat now." Also, the spokesman of Sokoto Lepers Association, Mallam Altine Sanda Amanawa, said: "Today, peoples are not giving out Zakat; because if they are giving, I'm sure people like us with disability would be the first set of people to be considered." He therefore called on the government to use its power to force the payment of Zakat or face the wrath of the law, as prescribed by the Islamic Sharia.

A car dealer, Alhaji Tukur Lamido, said many people have stopped paying the Zakat because of politics. Instead, they resort to saving their money waiting for the season of politics to use the money for political campaigns, he explained.

In Kebbi State, LEADESHIP SUNDAY's findings revealed that there is a Zakat committee in all the 21 LGAs, with a state headquarters. But it was learnt that the state committee on Zakat hardly generates N2 million due to poor responses from wealthy individuals. It was also gathered that every year, a delegation is being assigned from the Zakat office, to go round the state, but at the end of the day, they end up spending the money already generated on transportation, feeding and accommodation, in their efforts of generation Zakat. This led to the abandonment of the project by the committee.

According to Mallam Musa Abdullahi Jega, Director in the Office of the Special Adviser on Religious Matters, "The Kebbi State Zakat Board is working round the clock to serve its purpose. At least, there is a Zakat committee in each of the 21 LGAs in the state, and the state headquarters. Some individuals brought it by themselves, and some invite us to their places to collect it.

What we do in any local government committee is that whenever they gathered the annual collection, they informed the headquarters and we send the delegates to make sure that Zakat is shared to the people made for, within the place in which the Zakat is collected." It was confirmed that N50 million is being given annually by the state government to the Zakat committee.

Mallam Aliyu Muhammed, a teacher, however, condemned the habit of wealthy individuals in their communities for not giving out Zakat properly. He added that the essence of giving out Zakat is to subsidise the agony of poverty among the poor.

The Katsina State Chairman of the Jamaatul Izalatil Bidiah Wa Ikamatis Sunnah, Sheikh Yakubu Musa told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that current trends point to the fact that most people do not give out Zakat, and few that give rarely distribute them the way they ought to be distributed. "Zakat boosts ones wealth, and prevents the occurrence of countless disasters, even as it acts as a source of rewards for whoever gives out," he assured.

Sheikh Musa expressed regret that most wealthy people rarely give Zakat, as "they prefer taking the money out of the country or engaging in frivolous spending." He stressed that if Muslims were giving Zakat as directed, and distributing same in line with the decreed procedure, eradicating abject poverty would have been a foregone issue among the Muslim "ummah".

However, Mallam Salihu Muhammad Yar'Adua, who is the Imam of the popular Kiddies Roundabout Mosque in Katsina metropolis, said the widespread poverty in the North would have been addressed if not for people's disregard for the practice. "Zakat is basically aimed at reducing poverty among the people, because wealth, knowledge and a host of other free gifts of the Creator are meant to assist mankind.

Zakat is aimed to reduce the sufferings of the poor people, and were it to be distributed the way it ought to be, we wouldn't be seeing this widespread poverty that currently stares us in the face," he said, continuing that "I stand to be corrected, but I think only four out of 10 people give out Zakat the way it is prescribed, because people have turned it into a group thing, where they give only their friends and expect the friends to give them too, rather than distributing it to the poor people and those truly in need."

Mallam Yar'Adua insisted that because Zakat was not being distributed the way it ought to be, there is little or no impact felt by the poor, and hence, the widening poverty in the North, despite the existence of so many wealthy individuals.

From the South-West, however, the founder and spiritual leader of Shafaudeen-in Islam Worldwide, Alhaji Sabitu Olagoke, revealed that Zakat operation is not feasible in Nigeria.

The cleric, while speaking with our correspondent in Ibadan, said that it was not feasible, because the rich did not trust the "Alfas" and Muslim clerics when it comes to matter of money. He disclosed that the clerics have not done anything to redeem their image, because most of them have played into the hands of the rich people.

Alhaji Olagoke said that even the "Zakat Fitri" being collected immediately after the Ramadan, which was entrusted into the hands of the clerics for distribution to the poor, were being pocketed. According to him, the ideal in Islam which is designed to reduce poverty is that Zakat should be paid on the profit of any business or any venture one is able to engage in.

Also speaking, the Coordinator of the National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO) in Oyo State, Alhaji Mas'ud Akintola, said that Zakat was paid by those who qualified to pay it, and distributed to the poor, according to the Quran's teachings. Both Olagoke and Akintola agreed that Zakat, if properly managed, could be used to eradicate poverty in the society.

Akintola explained that there are Zakat and Sadaqat Foundation and Sharia Panel in Ibadan responsible for such exercise, adding that it was 2.5 per cent of one's assets. While Olagoke argued that there were some rich men who were willing to pay Zakat only if they were well guided. "What Islam teaches is that there should be a 'Shura' committee that will collect Zakat.

If not, it can operate like a microfinance bank that will be regulated by law and expected to follow due process, and not the local approach which is prone to corruption," he said, adding that it cannot succeed "except we fear God, and we are committed to avoid corruption and other sharp practices."

Two other Muslim clerics in a chat with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY also suggested ways by which the raging poverty in the country can be alleviated. The Director of Muslim Rights Concern, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, and Chief Missioner, Ansar-U-deen Society, Alhaji Abdulraman Ahmad, in separate interviews, expressed the hope that if certain measures were adopted, there would be changes in the economic status of many Nigerians.

Akintola said there must be a situation where all public officeholders would only send their children to schools only in Nigeria and not other countries. This, he believed, would awaken them to the realities in the country. "No public officeholder must seek medical attention abroad. Jobs must be provided for all unemployed youths.

There must be a welfare system where jobless people are given a certain allowance. Senior citizens, who have retired, must be paid their entitlements within six months," he insisted, stating that old people who did not work with government and are no longer active should be paid certain allowances every month. For Ahmad, priority should be given to a universal access to education and provision of social infrastructure, especially regular power supply. He also called for easy access to credit facilities by Nigerians.

The two clerics also talked about the Muslim Zakat as a means of poverty alleviation. For them, the Zakat is the 2.5 per cent of the savings of a wealthy Muslim, paid to assist the needy. Akintola said there is a symbiotic relationship between the payment of Zakat and poverty alleviation. "It is the rich who pays the Zakat. And the money is distributed down to the grassroots.

The distribution goes to the underprivileged. And the underprivileged means the poor, the sick, the financially-stranded travellers, and so on. For you to pay Zakat, you must have savings," while Ahmad explained that Zakat is different from charity, since it is mandatory for the wealthy Muslim faithful, world over.

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