In the context of rising poverty, neglect and injustice, Zakat – a tax on wealthy Muslims – becomes a golden lifebelt to the poor and downtrodden
“Five years from now I believe many of the youth would have been empowered, and may even start paying back. They would have achieved some optimal level of wealth, and will be supporting the less privileged themselves. There will be zero out of school children, zero street hawking, and zero begging. We will transform the hours spent hawking into active school hours. We will have more female doctors, more lawyers.” Sani Umar Jabbi, Sarkin Yakin Gagi, Sokoto state, is speaking on the capacity of Zakat – an Islamic tax on the wealthy – to alleviate poverty, restore hope to orphans and widows and to transform lives and entire communities. It is early evening and a number of persons gather around him as he speaks.
He continues “We have 87 district domains under the Zakat commission, and we also have 560 villages under these 87 districts. There are 6,672 settlement heads under the villages. At the top of this we have the Sultanate council members. We are all working together in the collection of Zakat.” Gagi is located in Sokoto south local government, and it is a multi-cultural and multi religious community, with a long history of tolerance and harmony. From information provided by the commission the state has a population of 5.7 million persons, 17.89% is designated as very poor, and 80% of the population practices farming as primary occupation.
‘Purifying ones wealth’
Muhammad Lawal Maidoki, Executive Chairman, Sokoto state Zakat and Waqf Commission (SOZECOM) explains the concept of Zakat “This is an Islamic levy paid by rich Muslims to deserving recipients, and it is a means of purifying ones wealth. It is a portion of one’s property that needy members of society have to be given. It is a guarantee not only to eradicate poverty, but creating permanent employment, in order to reach a higher stage of economic and social development in every society that practices Zakat.”
At a recent event in Sokoto, Maidoki, who is an Engineer as well as Sadaukin Sokoto, refers to the commitment of the commission in ensuring the well-being of the less privileged. He also speaks of a ten year blueprint by SOZECOM to curb the menace of poverty in the state by 2030. Zakat is a unique people oriented social intervention strategy with roots in Islam.
There are some dangers linked to the work but the commission carries on nevertheless. For instance, it reached orphans and the aged in its effort to distribute food and clothing even in areas where the bandits operate openly and brazenly. Every district in the state has to be reached, and nobody was harmed during the exercise, Maidoki tells me. The areas visited include Gebe and Isa in Isa local government, as well as Sabon Birni and Ungwar Lalle in Sabon Birni local government of Sokoto state. The entire nation was shocked a few months ago when travellers passing through Sabon Birni were attacked by bandits.
“Zakat is the third pillar of Islam. It is also an act of worship, and an obligation on every Muslim who can afford it. Zakat is the right of the poor in the wealth of the rich,” he explains, drawing attention to the fact that Zakat has played a role in alleviating poverty across the world.
The commission has looked towards non-Muslims in the state. One unique example of such is the help extended to ‘Zakat Queen’, a reference to a Christian lady from Ghana who suffered memory loss and had fallen ill in Sokoto. The Zakat commission came to her rescue, got her admitted into a hospital in Sokoto and paid her bills. When her condition had improved, it provided funds for her flight back to her family in Ghana, after making all the necessary contacts.
The cases of assistance to non-Muslims are numerous, and the commission has spent billions of Naira over the years in the fulfillment of its mandate. It has distributed food items, clothes, and medical and health services to numerous communities across the state. An eloquent sign of its inclusive character is the fact that the commission has been of help to the Albinos in the state. Albinos of different faiths, were given cash assistance for the purchase of drugs a while ago. Nationwide, Albinos suffer stigma and constantly need funds to attend to medical needs. They constitute a neglected group.
‘Free education for orphans’
“This is the Waqf land donated by the family of late Sultan Muhammadu Maccido. It was built by the Qatar foundation, and the purpose is to provide free education for orphans. An international standard bakery has been constructed so that the bakery will be used in funding the daily management of the institution” recalls Mohammed Jamil Ibrahim, Director, Waqf services, during a visit to the school which is made up of various newly built structures.
Ibrahim adds “Also, there is the hospital wing which is established to cater for the orphans and the public. The public will pay for the service rendered to them, so that the money accrued will be used for the school. Shops will be constructed and all the accruals will aid in managing the institution.”
Help for the needy
“Each month the Zakat commission remits some amount to health facilities in the state, where people with such problems normally go. After seeing the doctor, he will make a prescription which the committee will look into, and assist the patients in solving some of the problems. Some may go for surgery, medical check-up and treatment. Zakat takes care of some of these patients. It also assists the less privileged by training them on how to get jobs that can be of help to them from day to day,” says Abubakar Shehu Yabo, member representing Yabo constituency in the Sokoto State House of Assembly during an interview at the Zakat commission.
Yabo who is also Chairman, House Committee on Religious Affairs, concludes “The Zakat commission has contributed a lot in terms of changing the well-being of our people, not only in the urban areas, but also those in the rural areas. All that has been gathered within a district is not going to be moved outside the district. It is going to be distributed to the needy of that particular area under the supervision of the commission.”
Jabbi comments on the work of the Zakat commission “They are also helping the needy with skills acquisition, for instance, in the fields of shoe making, knitting, and tailoring. Needy people are identified from the 23 local governments and 87 district domains. The commission spends months giving them training and capital. It has improved the per capita income of the average Sokoto person enabling them to have at least a small business, and this is a great help today.”
Reward for good deeds
He sheds light on Zakat as a pillar of Islam “For anybody you help, you have a reward from the Almighty. Zakat is support to the needy, regardless of religion, politics or regional inclination. The commission is also giving sermons in mosques, engaging religious institutions to speak positively about the role of Muslim clerics in educating their subjects to do good to the less privileged, regardless of religion. This is why Sokoto is peaceful. It’s a home for everybody and enjoys relative peace.”
Zakat in Rabah
“Zakat commission has impacted positively on Rabah district in terms of improving the lives of the downtrodden. Help has been extended to the poor and the disabled. They have been helped, and can now stand on their own. They have set up businesses, and can even employ others to help in running their trades, thereby creating employment opportunities,” says Mohammed Isyaka, a retired civil servant, and secretary, Zakat committee in Rabah district.
Isyaka reveals “In terms of health there has been a great impact in Rabah. Many have been helped out of health predicaments. Some have been helped to regain their eye sight through the health efforts of the Zakat commission. There are the mentally ill who were taken to the psychiatric hospital at Kware by the commission. Operations were done on people suffering from ailments such as hernia. They are now all hale and hearty.”
Innatu Aliyu, a widow, lives in Rabah. She was given 5 goats by the Zakat commission and one he goat. With this help she has been able to pay the school fees of her 8 children. Zuwaira Buba, another widow, on the other hand received a sewing machine from the commission. She has fed, clothed and educated her children with the proceeds from her trade. The commission gives each woman five she goats and one he goat. After a while the offspring may number fifteen. She will rear them for some months and then may sell these to purchase a cow. Her household will now have milk and some more money.
Widows & orphans
Professor Sani Aliyu Sagir is of the department of physics, Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, and one time member of the Zakat committee. According to him “Many of the poor people in the state are being enriched as a result of the Zakat which is aimed at the poor and the needy. Women and children are those that benefit the most from the work of the commission. Whenever there is any activity that has to do with distribution of assistance to the needy, you will see clearly that 60 -70% of the beneficiaries are women and children, especially widows and orphans.”
“With the emergence of the Zakat commission, you find that in almost all the 87 districts of Sokoto, a similar committee, a Zakat committee has been set up, working hand in hand with the commission at the local government level. Within the local government there are district heads. The district heads are the heads of the Zakat committee at that level, they call it committee. All these committees are automatically under the commission. This is how it works,” adds Sadiq.
Ibrahim opens up on the tree Waqf project at the Government Girls Secondary School, Sokoto. Hear him “We have the tree Waqf project. Under this project we provide one hectare of land in each of the 400 boarding schools in Sokoto state, and also the tertiary institutions, and boarding primary schools as well. This is one of them. It was launched by Sultan Saad Abubakar on 18th October 2018. There are 220 date palms here. It is in its third year and it has started fruiting. If everything goes well here, a single date palm can produce 320 kilogrammes of date seeds in this farm in the next five years.”
Twice a year
According to him “When fully grown and fruiting properly, the date palms will take care of this school without government coming in to give a subvention. For example, 50 kilogrammes of dates costs over sixty thousand Naira. You can get sixty thousand naira multiplied by six for a single date palm, and that’s over three hundred thousand Naira. This represents big money, and it fruits twice a year. If you get this money it will add to the income of the school.”
Ibrahim shows “In the current set up we have poor students, with no money for uniforms, books, materials, items which are always needed. All these will complement these expenses through the tree waqf.”
Jobs for 500,000
A document provided by the Zakat commission sheds more light on the Tree Waqf project. It indicates that Tree Waqf offers high potential routes out of rural poverty, pointing out that it contributes to food security, provides resources safety nets, and provides enterprise opportunities. It highlights the fact that Tree Waqf can play a role in the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For instance, trees reduce poverty by providing food and additional income all year round.
Fruits supplement staple food and ability to buy more food. Fruits enhance good health by providing nutritionally rich food at different seasons. It indicates that trees also provide fuel wood which yield domestic energy in rural areas. More than 6000 hectares of Agro Waqf land has been acquired by the commission to be planted with economic trees across the 87 districts. The Agro Waqf value chain will provide jobs for 500,000 individuals across the state in the near future. In addition, SOZECOM has embarked upon Waqf projects that are guaranteed to provide jobs for 250,000 persons across the state.
‘Benefits of trees’
“Climate change is due to human activity, including the felling of trees, thereby exposing land for degradation. The best way to address the impact of climate change is to plant trees, and every year the Zakat commission celebrates World Habitat Day. They plant more trees, and also launch a campaign for all the citizens in the state to join them and plant trees. They have projects in schools, which allow the younger generation to become more climate friendly. In my community, for the first time they planted dates. If you go to so many schools, you will see that they have planted trees which the pupils nurture,” says Sarkin Yakin Gagi.
He reasons “The government of Sokoto state has been supporting the commission in the planting of more trees. It’s a huge population of trees planted by the traditional institution under the leadership of Zakat. It’s exciting to see that communities are gaining efficiency in environmental management. The more we plant trees, the more we are enlightened about its benefits.”
Qatar charity & Gandi
Donations and support from International charities are an important part of the work by the Zakat commission in Sokoto state. SOZECOM/Qatar Charity organised an eye surgery and medical outreach, and 1000 patients received treatment for the eye surgery. Another 1000 enjoyed the medical outreach, while the Mukhtari Maigona medical outreach impacted on another 1000 patients. People in Gandi district were affected by Covid-19 as well as bandit attacks, which rendered some of them to be IDPs. As a fall out of an attack by bandits in communities, the Qatar Charity built 150 houses for displaced IDPs at the Waqf housing estate at Gandi. These are almost ready for the IDPs. SOZECOM in collaboration with the Qatar charity has donated 90 boreholes across the 87 districts in the state.
During the recent flag off of distribution of Zakat and state government assistance for orphans and the needy across 87 districts in 23 local government areas of the state, Maidoki remarked that since 2014 the commission has been collecting Zakat and Waqf and distributed same to deserving people in line with Islamic injunctions. In 2021, over two billion Naira was realised as Zakat, and will be distributed along with state government Ramadan and Sallah assistance, respectively. He added that this year over three hundred and ninety six million Naira has been procured for Ramadan assistance through the Zakat commission.
Sokoto state government packages were distributed to the needy in Isah and Bafarawa districts by SOZECOM. In either district hundreds of orphans received 5 yards of cloth accompanied with one thousand Naira for sewing purposes. Another group comprising the aged and divorcees went home with 5kg bag of grains as well as N5000. 100 children in each district benefited with cloth and cash at Eid el Fitr. A bull is usually slaughtered for the same group during the Eid el Kabir.
This is one remarkable aspect of the commission’s intervention in the state. At the hospital located at the Farfaru area of Sokoto, each doctor works for 2 hours a week. It is a strike free hospital and doctors volunteer to work there. The hospital organises an annual medical outreach. There is also a physicians across continents programme.
This helps patients who require surgery but have no money, as well as those whose resources are insufficient for medical intervention. As a result of these interventions, many persons with cataract have been treated. Medical bills have been settled, including payments for drugs and surgery for more than 7,000 patients. There is treatment of psychiatric patients on a continuous basis, and a welfare package was also given to a mother of twins.
SOZECOM has entered into a partnership with various pharmacies across the state, whereby drugs are provided for indigent persons. The commission undertakes to settle the bills for such persons. In a month this amount can be as much as 10 million Naira. A turn around in terms of positive health statistics is taking place.
“SOZECOM is helping the needy with skills acquisition. They identify people from 23 local governments and 87 districts, and provide capital for them to continue. Before the intervention of the commission the population of area boys here was high,” reveals Jabbi.
He adds “With the fresh flow of income into many hands, there are more girls in school now. This has also helped to reduce domestic disputes as well as drug addiction, because these youths are currently engaged in trades as a way of improving their lives. Social inclusion has increased and gender based violence has reduced.”