Monday, 13 February 2012

Need a wife? Go to Kano


If you need a divorcee as a wife, go to Kano. This huge city – the most populous in the north – has over one million divorcees today. And that is official. Last week, the state ‘religious police,’ the Hisba Board, revealed that the state government plans to marry off about 1,000 of such women very soon. The commander-general of the board, Malam Aminu Daurawa, said in a special programme on the BBC Hausa radio that even though there are no fixed statistics on the matter, his board is certain that there are no less than one million divorcees in the state and that 1,000 of them would be married off in the first phase of the programme, which will kick off soon.

That’s why I began by saying if you need one, then, go to Kano and apply. You could be one of the winners of this unique raffle draw for the 1,000 ready-for-marriage been-tos. All you need to do is fill some forms at the Hisba Board, stating the type of woman you want, as well as your own resume.
If you don’t win in the first round, you could be lucky in the next one; it seems that if each phase takes care of a thousand women, there would be at least 100 phases in the programme. There is no way you would miss out on the “over one million.” In fact, a friend I spoke to said there could be up to two million divorcees in Kano state and that if the Hisba really means business, some more millions would pour in from Bauchi, Katsina and the Sokoto axis, among others.

You may be chuckling, but this is a very serious matter. Collapse of marriages, that is. And mind you, it is not just a Kano phenomenon; it is a universal cankerworm afflicting the whole Hausa society. For decades, marriages in Hausa land have been collapsing like a pack of cards or puncturing like a blaze of balloons in a room full of nails. Some years ago, a commissioner for women affairs in Kano state remarked at a seminar that Kano had the largest army of divorcees in the whole north. One’s keen observation of the situation at the time was that the north, or the Hausa part of it, was the nation’s gold medal winner in divorce cases.

The situation has since reached a crisis point. Battalions of unmarried women are roaming the streets, and most of them are jobless. This huge ‘army’ consists of not only divorcees but also those that have not seen their first wedding. The latter class is made up of mostly women that have been educated up till the tertiary level. In fact, the latter category are in as much dire straits as the divorced ones.

There must be millions of such young women who have been staying for years – sometimes up till five years – without having a husband. They either have paid jobs in offices or are simply living on the favours of their families. Even though many sport a veneer of self-satisfaction, they invariably exist in abject situations, wondering what tomorrow will bring, hoping against hope. Some have had relationships that ended in heart breaks. If they continue to live with their parents or relations, they would begin to be regarded as having ‘overstayed’ their welcome, and the families could begin to get tired of seeing them around.

Their situation tends to confirm the belief of many observers that there is a serious shortage of eligible husbands in the region, no thanks to the ‘boko’ trend which corrodes old values such as polygamy. Meanwhile, an old adage, “Darajar mace dakin mijin ta” (i.e. A woman’s worth is in her husband’s home), drives the desire that every woman of marriageable age should get married. No excuses are condoned.

It is against this background that the programme of marrying off 1,000 divorcees is being organised. The programme is already being misconstrued by many in the Muslim north largely because it is a novel spectacle here. Some are even questioning its basis in Islam, citing various authorities or painting lurid scenarios.

But it seems the Hisba Board has done its homework very well before embarking on the grand project. In last week’s BBC programme, Malam Daurawa did address some of the questions, such as the health status of the would-be suitor and his occupation, as well as his background. He made it very clear that the programme is not about ‘donating’ brides but an event that has been well thought out and carefully planned.

An interesting aspect of the project is that the leader of a well known NGO in the city, the Voice of Widows, Divorcees and Orphans Association of Nigeria (VOWAN), an umbrella body of Kano’s army of divorcees, Hajiya Altine Abdullahi, is among the 1,000 women to be married off in the first phase. Altine has been in the forefront of a struggle on the rights of divorcees in Hausa land, specifically in Kano.

She formed the association in 2003, with an office in Tarauni quarters in the metropolis. Two years ago, she planned to hold a ‘one million divorcees march’ through Kano with the sole aim of highlighting the plight of this category of women. Even though the march was stopped by the Hisba Board at that time on fears that the event might be seized by hoodlums, it brought to the fore an issue that had been largely ignored by the powers that be.

Now, beyond the upcoming jamboree of the mass wedding, has anyone bothered to investigate the root cause of the problem, i.e. why the divorce rate has been rising? This is a question that should bother parents, the clergy and the authorities. Why does our part of the country have the worst record of divorce cases? Blames can be easily traded between the sexes, but my take is that it all has to do with the structure of family life among the Hausa people. It is not an issue that can be summarised in one sentence, but I’ll try. Hausa men ‘take wives’ the way they buy inanimate objects at the market place, without consideration for the fact that women are also humans with feelings.

This objectification of women has tended to reduce the fair sex to mere vassals that are to be used and dumped at will. Some men do not even discharge the primary responsibilities for which they consummated the marriage contract. And on the part of the women, the expectations of most about the institution of marriage is romanticised to the extent that by the time they find themselves in marital homes, their noses are high in the clouds. If you combine these with mutual disrespect, then, animosity would set in, with all the attendant infightings. And polygamy, which is widely practised, has been made into a fire on petrol because the basic rules and responsibilities for consummating it are usually trampled upon.

There are those who believe that the divorce rate in the land is a cultural problem. Hausa women, they say, are disrespectful and argumentative even though their motive has nothing to do with assertiveness on account of their marital rights. Many years ago, a friend in Kano told me that he was so fed with his marriage. “Next time I am taking a wife, I would never marry a Hausa woman,” he fumed. And that was exactly what he did. He married a young woman from Auchi, and he has been living happpily ever after.

But I have a different view about Hausa women. Our problem is that we scarcely know why we go into a marriage, as such getting out of it has become so simple that one opens the gateway by simply saying, “Je ki, na sake ki” (Go, I’ve freed you). We should find a way to make getting out of that gateway not that simple.

--------

Above photo sows Hajiya Altine Abdullahi in the middle

Monday, 6 February 2012

Why Al-Mustapha must not die



There was a compelling reason why the Al-Mustapha trial shocked many Nigerians for the way it ended. The reason is that after discharging and acquitting all the other accused in the trial over the attempt to assassinate The Guardian publisher, Alex Ibru (of blessed memory), and a former Delta state Director of Sports, Mr. Isaac Porbeni, as well as those implicated in the murder of Mrs Kudirat Abiola, many had reasoned that Hamza Al-Mustapha would also go home a free man. Some of those released from detention included former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi; former Lagos state Commissioner of Police, Mr. James Danbaba; former head of the Police Unit in the Presidential Villa during the Abacha regime, Chief Superintendent of Police Mohammed Rabo Lawal, and former Military Administrator of Zamfara state, Col. Jibrin Bala Yakubu. Even the man that admitted to having pulled the trigger in Kudirat’s assassination, Sgt. Barnabas Jabila (‘Sgt Rogers’), is walking free.

So, why was Al-Mustapha – and of course Lagos political jobber Lateef Shofolahan – held till the very end and given the supreme penalty? The learned judge who handed down the death penalty last week ruled that, based on the force of the prosecution’s presentation, she was persuaded that Kudirat was killed based on instructions from Al-Mustapha. Shofolahan, she said, played a part in a conspiracy by showing the deceased’s photograph to the killers – as if Kudirat was an unknown figure who had to be identified only through a picture. The judge quoted from the Bible in order to justify why the duo must die by hanging.

Even though Justice Mojisola Dada had dismissed the political undertones of the case, it is not easy not to see a clear connection between the incarceration and eventual sentencing of Al-Mustapha to the ethnic and regional politics in Nigeria. To begin with, the struggle to actualise Chief MKO Abiola’s June 12 mandate had become ethnicised by the time Kudirat was murdered. Abiola, who had won more votes than a dyed-in-the-wool indigene in Kano, got a universal mandate to rule Nigeria, but his victory was overturned by a military cabal headed by Gen. Babangida. Abacha, who sustained the denial of Abiola’s right to rule, became very hated in the South-west. NADECO, which had a large following in the North – an indication that the struggle was for democracy rather than for the right of a section of the country – was eventually seized by sectional jingoists who, apparently, decided that they wanted to go it alone in actualising the mandate. I recall how, in the wake of attacks on “Hausa-Fulani” by OPC elements, a big exodus by Northerners began.

Kudirat, who spearheaded the June 12 struggle, was shot dead in the streets of Lagos by unknown gunmen during the melee of those unfortunate times. It was years later, during the short-lived regime of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, that many former officials of the Abacha regime were arrested and charged with various offences, culminating in the assassination charge. It was easy and truly populist for any regime to do that and win support from the South-west even if Mrs Abiola had been killed by armed robbers.

We shouldn’t forget, also, that there was an attempt by the Abdulsalami regime to kowtow to all and sundry, especially the South-west, where Abiola came from and where most the nation’s influential mass media are sited. The region had been agitating for presidential power based on Abiola’s success at the polls. Its intelligentsia had been baying for blood, with many of them even threatening war and or secession. The biggest move to appease the region was, indeed, the freeing of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo from prison and handing over the presidency to him on a platter of gold. Could the sudden arrest of Al-Mustapha and co at that material time have been part of that move?

For the 14 years that Al-Mustapha was awaiting/undergoing trial, there have been insinuations across the North that he was targeted for elimination through the judicial process (because it could not be done otherwise), and those behind the plot were prominent Northerners. Al-Mustapha himself had, on more than one occasion, blamed former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, for his ordeal. On June 3, 2010, in an interview on the VOA Hausa service, Alhaji Mustapha Jokolo, the deposed Emir of Gwandu, accused the then National Security Adviser, Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (rtd), of being responsible for Al-Mustapha’s continued detention, alleging that he it was that advised the then President Obasanjo against releasing him, citing security concerns. It was very possible that Jokolo’s may have been a case of sour grapes following his removal as emir, but his story did, nonetheless, highlight the political dimension of the case.

As I wrote one and a half years ago, “Clearly, we cannot divorce politics from this pitiful saga. The accused persons have argued, ever since we began to get their side of the story during the Oputa panel hearings, that they were being persecuted because of their work as security men during the Abacha regime. They said certain highly connected Nigerians of, ironically, northern origin had decided to ‘teach them a lesson’ because of some misdemeanours, such as denying them easy access to the head of state or some forms of disrespect. The big men were said to have sworn to extract their pound of flesh from the security goons and were glad to have found an opportunity in the Ibru case. The detainees also argued that the lurid tales we heard from prosecution witnesses were all cooked up in order to nail them.

“Another story was that Obasanjo sat on the case because he was jailed by Abacha and that Yar’Adua was disinterested in it because of his brother Shehu’s death in prison during the Abacha era...

“The political dimension of this saga presupposes that many people, especially in the North, view the matter as one in which the region as an entity has failed. There is a widespread belief that northern laxity and hypocrisy are fertilising the issue. The North must recognise the fact that if Al-Mustapha and co were Southerners, the region’s elites would have used their political clout to ensure that their brethren were removed from the clutches of detention.

“They did it many times. Ralph Uwazuruike, leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), a secessionist organisation listed by the federal government as a terrorist organisation, did not recognise the Nigerian state. He fought it with arms. But he was released after a heated campaign by his Igbo and other fellow Southerners led to the quick dispensation of the case in court. Ganiyu Adams, factional leader of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), a militant Yoruba nationalist organisation, launched a violent campaign against ‘Hausa-Fulani’ in the South-west, leading to the massacre of scores of ‘Hausa-looking’ Northerners. But he was released from detention after his court case was exhausted. Today, he is one of the ‘respected statesmen’ of that region. So revered he is that the governor of Kano State, more of whose citizens were killed in the OPC’s bloody campaign, invited him to Kano to commission some projects.”

Many Nigerians had believed that Al-Mustapha would not get a fair trial in Justice Dada’s court, citing ethnic and regional politics. In fact, many believe that he will get a better deal in the appeal that he has filed. They wonder why Sgt Rogers, who admitted to the crime, should be left off the hook while Al-Mustapha, who has vehemently and with concrete facts denied having a hand in the deed, should be the one to suffer for it.

Politics should be taken out of the judiciary. If justice must be done on Kudirat’s assassination, and yes it must, no one should be made to die because of his background or the job he once held in government. Al-Mustapha has suffered enough. He must not be allowed to die just like that.

Monday, 30 January 2012

The climate of fear


A climate of fear – pervasive, dull and inexorable – has descended on much of Nigeria. It is like the harmattan season of the northern part of the country – cloudy, chilly and, for most categories of people, oppressive. This fear is palpable, clear and unpretentious. You can see it everywhere – in homes, markets, hospitals, on the roads, etc. – showing on people’s faces even if not expressed by words of mouth.

In years gone by, we used to hear stories of things that caused fear in far-flung countries like Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Northern Ireland, Palestine, etc. We used to hear, in the mass media, about bombs going off in public places, including worship centres, causing numerous deaths. They were like fairy tales, those stories, told by media that appeared as alien to us as the stories they told. Suicide bombings were the most outlandish occurence in those tales. A man (or woman!) strapping himself to a bomb and tweaking the control button, killing himself instantly in a blast? No, it could only happen in those lands. Here, we could not have anyone desperate enough as to take their own lives. Men with Kalashnikovs exchanging fire with policemen or even soldiers? Only members of the Cosa Nostra could do that – mostly in the movies or James Hadley Chase thrillers. Or, at worst, armed robbers somewhere in Lagos or the old Bendel.

Things have since changed. We have joined the global village. We are not neighbours to the village, but its occupants. Bombs started to go off in Maiduguri which, to many Nigerians, was another far-flung place somewhere on Planet Earth. A place tucked away near the border with Chad. Indeed, to many Nigerians, when you said Maiduguri they would wonder whether it was a city in Adamawa state, or even Katsina state. You had to tell them it was in Borno state. Yes, they have read the word Kanem-Bornu in their history books. And they could imagine that Borno was one of the states in Nigeria.

Now Nigeria is one big village itself. Reason: the killings we used to hear about are happening in our own neighbourhood, bringing Maiduguri closer home. Someone bombed the police’s national headquarters in Abuja. Another bombed the UN house in the nation’s capital. Bombs have gone off in Suleja and Madalla, killing Christian worshippers. Bombs went off in Kaduna, Damaturu, Bauchi, and Kano. And gun duels have taken place between angry militants and security forces in many towns in the north. In fact, as I wrote only two paragraphs of this piece, a friend who is fond of updating me on the ongoing violence in Kano phoned me from that city and said gunfire was being exchanged “as I’m talking to you” in the Na’ibawa area of the city.

The people of Kano live more in fear than others because a war is going on in their streets. The harmattan of fear in the region’s most populous city is like a heavy cloak that has descended on the people’s reluctant shoulders, forcing a belly-numbing chill that has refused to go away. Muslims go to mosques in fear. Yesterday, according to reports, most Christians stayed at home, fearing that they could be attacked in their churches. Igbo traders, who arguably constitute the majority of non-indigenes in the city, live virtually with their hearts in their mouths. Their ancestral leaders back home, recalling the pogroms of the late 60s, have asked the trading adventurers to start returning home. Even the President has said that these terrible times are akin to the Civil War years. No wonder the under-reported exodus of Nigerians from various parts of the country is continuing unabated in spite of assurances by community leaders.

The Kano killings of a fortnight ago have shown that the bombings and shootings can be indiscriminate. At least over half of the over 200 persons reported to have died in the mayhem were civilians who were caught in the deadly crossfires of the militants and the security forces. They were not carefully selected, but found themselves in the thick of the violence.

A terrible aspect of this saga is that this numbing and perpetual fear is multidimensional: soldiers and policemen now fear civilians and vice versa, the former because they cannot distinguish between an innocent passerby and a bomb-wielding militant. You can see the fear in their eyes at police stations or the check-points. They are not sure of who you are as they scrutinise you, their fingers hovering restlessly over the trigger as you open your car boot. In Kaduna last week, I learnt that many policemen have stopped wearing their uniforms. At police stations, the usual petty ‘cases’ are no longer being entertained. “Go and sort yourselves out,” was the usual refrain by cops to complainants. “We have bigger issues on our hands.”

Civilians fear security men because they know that if a soldier or a cop decides to shoot, no one would accuse him of anything, much less charge him for murder. It seems our security men have acquired emergency powers that they can use at will. They can detain a suspect for longer than is allowed by the laws of the land – or even kill him under one excuse or the other. They can invade a house or an office and ransack everywhere and take whatever they like. Many people live in fear of being accused of knowing a militant or of being one. In this climate, mutual suspicion is legion.

The cost of this fear is unquantifiable. To businesses, to development projects, and to politics and governance, the cost is gargantuan. Our roads and streets have become war zones, with blockades and check-points everywhere. Traffic snarls are a familiar eyesore, as well as their attendant waste of time, energy and resources. The biggest cost, however, is the loss of lives, innocent lives, lives that could contribute to the progress of the nation. People are dying without anyone accounting for their death. In government, no one is resigning for their failure in forcing the present circumstance on the nation. They have to be pushed out. The only fall guy (so far) is Hafiz Ringim, who smilingly handed over the reins of his office to the new inspector-general of police on Thursday. He will not account for anything, including the strange escape of the now mythical Kabir Sokoto.

Shall we ever see the end of this climate of fear? Your guess is as good as mine. But whatever your guess is, it should accommodate the notion that we are not on the road out of this dark and chilly tunnel. So, what do you do when you are caught in a tunnel wherein clouds of fear are thick and menacing? Just one thing: pray.

Published in my column in BLUEPRINT today

Above pix: MD Abubakar, Acting Inspector General of Police

Monday, 23 January 2012

Do we really have a government?


Yes, we do have a government. But which type may be a more appropriate question. Nevertheless, the first question is germane to the debate over the worsening security situation in the country, especially after Friday’s massacre, through coordinated bombing of Kano in five places and the simultaneous shooting of uncountable people –leading to the death of hundreds of people. It has since been accepted by all and sundry that the weekend war on Kano was the worst attack ever carried out by Boko Haram, both in terms of destruction and casualty figure.

The way the attackers succeeded in carrying out the deed and the crass failure by all security agencies under any name to pre-empt or stop it have spawned the question nationwide and in social media whether we really have a government in this country. Many Nigerians have asked the question knowing that a government is supposed to secure the life and property of all citizens. But for years now our government has failed to provide the basic security needed for any Nigerian to exist in his motherland. Violent crimes such as armed robbery and assassination (which still occur unabated) have since been overtaken by Boko Haram’s insurgency.

The attack on Kano was the clearest proof that our government, together with its money-guzzling security outfits, is at its wit’s end about the Islamic sect. That any armed group could visit such a horrific and devastating blow on innocent and unsuspecting residents of the north’s most populous city was hitherto unthinkable.

Nigerians are thoroughly disappointed in this government for its ineffectual handling of many things, especially three issues – free and fair elections, the economy and security. Though all three have a potential for causing violent death, security, which takes the lion’s share of the national budget, is nowhere to be found.

The existence of structures like police and military formations no longer provides any comfort to the taxpayers who sponsor them. They do not give value for money. They are becoming a drainpipe on our scarce resources.
The man we identify as the President of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, appears helpless and clueless in the prevailing circumstance. He tends to believe that he is operating alone, probablywith a few trusted aides. This is evident in his recent resignation to fate, moaning that there are Boko Haram members in his government. Even though he has not named names, it is easy to guess the type of person the President meant: a Hausa/Fulani, Muslim, from the north. And we all know who is a Hausa/Fulani, Muslim, northerner in the administration, starting from the VP downwards.

Now, a government which has “terrorists” in its hierarchy is no government. It is a cult or a nest of vipers who are prepared to bomb and destroy its citizens in order to achieve some morbid agenda. Since the President believes that there are Boko Haram members in his government, then, does he really have a government? Shouldn’t we assume, by his own confession, that certain of his top lietenants are not only undermining the administration but are also causing the death of thousands, thus commiting treason and a sundry crimes? Shouldn’t we also believe that the President knows these people and is afraid to name them, much less have them arrested and prosecuted? And if he really knows the members of Boko Haram in his government, is he not an accessory to their deeds?

This brings us to the widely held belief in Nigeria that there is Boko Haram and there is a ‘Boko Haram’ – the original one with headquarters in Maiduguri and another one with headquarters in Abuja or any other secret location.

Many today believe that some of these killings ascribed to the original BH are being commited by another shadowy group with aims and objectives far removed from instituting Sharia law all over Nigeria. The agenda of the second– and probably more ruthless – BHis believed to be the destruction of Nigeria as a single entity, in line with a U.S. agency’s prophesy that Nigeria may cease to exist by 2015. This theory is being widely shared today, more so with the increasing sophistication of the bombings and the growing desperation of the attackers. The almighty God, who is All-knowing, is seeing all.

In the meanwhile, Jonathan needs to prove the conspiracy theorists wrong in order to salvage what remains of the credibility of his government. He has been destroying it bit by bit through a series of avoidable missteps. His promised “fresh air” has since become foul and suffocating. His blunders are legion, from violently wrestling a presidency which his party had zoned to the north through anon-election, to the mishandling of the current insurgency, the removal of fuel subsidy and its attendant somersault and being impolitic with his utterences.

One big misstep is his failure to fulfill his promise of restructuring the security agencies soon, beginning with changing their chiefs. We are witnessing the worst security situation in the history of the country under the very noses of these security (?) chiefs. While each one of them holds fast to his office, the killings have continued. Because the word ‘honourable resignation’ is absent in the lexicon of Nigerian political appointees whose offices have been tainted by one scandal or the other, Jonathan should have had the courage to wield the big stick against the failed agencies as a way of injecting public confidence into them.

His biggest challenge today is getting round to sorting out the Boko Haram conundrum. As I had cause to argue in this column a few months ago, the solution to Boko Haram, in the face of failure of intelligence, is not police action or military onslaught but political brinkmanship. The Boko Haram leadership may seem to be invisible, but it is now known to be headed by Imam Shekau. The leadership once named certain Muslim clerics that it agreed could help broker a parley with them. So, who has ever reached out to those malams as a first step towards starting a dialogue?

Jonathan, who is trying to act macho, is losing grips on all fronts by not toeing this line. I understand that the security chiefs, who feed fat on the ugly situation, want the administration to continue toeing the tough-guy line even though the price is the bloody encounters we are witnessing all over the north. If the agenda is not really to balkanize Nigeria as the ‘fake Boko Haram’ is seen to want, the President should stop listening to any aide asking him not to dialogue with Boko Haram. The Kano killings of three days ago have proved that Jonathan is clearly at his weakest point now.

If you are down, dialogue is the best option. This is not the time for playing Jason Statham or Arnold Schwarzenegger, please. Leave the action heroes to the movies; we are in the real world.

Published in my column in Blueprint today

Monday, 16 January 2012

Can we really fight a religious war?


Of recent, especially since the horrendous bombing of the Madalla church allegedly by Boko Haram, many commentators have made the prospect of a religious war breaking out in this country to loom larger by the day. Only the equally horrendous removal of fuel subsidy by Dr Goodluck Jonathan – arguably the most hated president Nigeria ever had – eclipsed that prospect. However, while one joined the rest of Nigerians to sound alarm, dismay and rejection of the government’s thoughtless reflex action, one was also unable to dismiss the thought of the ‘religious war’ from one’s mind. Reason: before the subsidy catastrophe befell us like a bag of damnation from the heavens, the issue of a shooting battle between Christians and Muslims in the country was conceivably a fait accompli. What with the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor, angrily urging Christians to stop turning the other cheek and return fire for fire.

It is easy – and even excusable – for certain elements to express extreme outrage at such wanton killings in places of worship, or any other place for that matter. Only a person of extreme wickedness and inhumanity would bomb a church (or a mosque), killing worshippers – people who most probably have nothing to do with the killer’s grouse or kind of politics. When such murders occur, it is only fair to expect the action to draw extreme outrage even from sedate members of the society.

But when otherwise informed people warn of the country slipping into a religious war, one wonders just where the shootings would begin. Some even display their ignorance about the cultural composition of Nigeria. A ‘religious war’ must have clearly defined enemies whose locations must be recognisable and mutually exclusive. In Nigeria, no matter how outraged we are over the unacceptable actions of some of us, such enemy lines are not clearly identifiable.

The biggest error I always read in news reports by Western media on the Nigerian crisis is where they unavoidably claim that Nigeria is “roughly divided between a Christian south and a Muslim north.” This statement is painfully wrong because Nigeria is not divided along a north-south line when it comes to religious enclaves.

Start from my state, Katsina. One would say it is a mainly Muslim state. But that does not mean there are no Christians who are indigenes of Katsina state. They are Hausa like the rest of the Muslims in the state, or even more so. They are not ‘settlers’ but dyed-in-the-wool indigenes. As such nobody can say, on the day a ‘religious war’ breaks out in Nigeria, that they should start moving to the “Christian south.” Many of them may have probably never travelled out of their vicinity or beyond Zaria.

Same thing goes for many other “Muslim states” in north. Zamfara, Kano, Kogi, Niger, Kwara, Borno and Adamawa are other examples of states where there are indigenes who are as Christian as the man in the Niger Delta. And in Christian-dominated states like Plateau and Benue, there are Muslim indigenes who cannot be expelled till kingdom come.

If you move down south, what would you do with all those Yoruba Muslims? Some of them are obas or even the governors of their states – and they are not ‘settlers’! In some of the south-west states, Muslims are in the majority. So, just because somebody wants us to fight a religious war, should the Muslims in all the Yoruba states, as well as those in southern states like Edo (around Auchi) hire lorries and buses and pack to the “Muslim north”? Even among the more homogenous Igbo people in the south-east there are quite a few Muslims.

To stretch the argument further, what would you do about states in the north where Christians are in the majority – like Plateau, Taraba and Benue? Should the majority of the people in these states migrate to the south and start life anew, build new civilisations and try to blend with their brothers and sisters in faith there?

Recently, while reading the autobiography of the highly respected Prof. Adamu Baikie, I found the ‘religious war’ notion an increasingly bigger fallacy, concocted by largely southern commentators and their ignorant collaborators in the Western media. I saw how families not only in the north but also in the south are inextricably meshed together through intermarriages across tribes and religions. I saw how in a family there are followers of both faiths, all living together in peace and harmony. Later, in a discussion with a Yoruba friend, I realised that this meshing of creeds is even more rampant among the Yoruba, where some children of the same parents can follow different faiths – and without killing each other for it. The question, then, is that on the day of our religious Armageddon, should such siblings start massacring each other because of the blandishment of some religious bigot? Should a Muslim married to a Christian woman just kill her because a religious war has begun? Should a son professing Christianity send his aged Muslim mother in downtown Abeokuta to the great beyond because the pundits have said so?

Thus, it is simply foolhardy to believe that a war based on religious sentiments could be successfully prosecuted in Nigeria. The fabrics of our nation are so meshed into each other, not only through political alliances, business partnerships, marriages or workplaces but also through the faiths we individually profess. Of course, some idiots may bomb a mosque or a church thinking “it is the other people’s”, but at the end of the day they may unwittingly be murdering someone from their family, tribe or village. Instead of a religious war, therefore, people may fight based on tribal lines or in exclusive and clearly defined enclaves like the ones you find in Plateau or Kano.

What Nigerians need to fight is militancy, terrorism and bigotry. God, whom we all worship in spite of differences in creed, has a purpose for bringing us together as one nation. He knows why we have this unique diversity, the type you only find in multicultural societies like America. We should find strength in it and oppose those who want to forcefully take it away from us.

Published in my column on the back page of BLUEPRINT, today, January 16, 2012

Above picture is Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor

Sunday, 25 December 2011

The North’s regression

Slowly and inexorably, the north is becoming like Somalia. The only small difference between us and Somalia is that whereas the latter has spent decades without a functional government, there are structures on the ground and people in the north whom we call leaders. Nevertherless, Compared to the south, the north as a political entity is fast sliding back into prehistoric times in terms of development and, indeed, worse than the colonial times in terms of home-grown violence. The situation is so bad that many a frustrated northern youngster is yearning for the British to return and recolonise the country in order to bring back the halcyon times. The solution to our problems is, of course, far from recolonisation. But if it isn’t, then, what is?

For the north, there have been four epochs in the march to (or away from) civilisation. There was the precolonial time when our forefathers engaged in internecine wars and the self-immolating practice of slavery. But then, in parts of the north, the Sokoto jihad came and put aright many things through the institutionalisation of Islamic law. Then came the Europeans, who colonised the area, imposed their crafty system of ‘indirect rule’ through which they milked the nation’s resources and pretended to be developing our people. But a word for colonialism: in spite of its self-serving ends, it put some sense into our people’s understanding of leadership and built a foundation for future progress, such as the railways, literacy and structures for democratic governance. Of course, the colonialists ultimately served themselves, at times employing brute force, while pretending to be serving the natives’ best interests. Hence the stiff resistance against it and the campaigns that uprooted it.

During the third epoch, the post-independence era, it was the natives that took over the mantle of leadership and used state resources in the service of the commonweal. In the north, proofs of their selfless service are legion even today. Even though they were called names by their opponents, we can see, in retrospect, that their dedication to serving the general populace was a thousand and one times better than that of our current leaders.

The fourth milestone is, indeed, today. This dates roughly from the end of the Nigerian civil war to the current reality. It is the worst span in the history of the region. After the violent eradication of those patriotic nation-builders and the 30-month civil war, came the various “corrective” military regimes that pretended, more than the colonialists, to be working in the interest of the nation. The truth is that, apart from the brief spasms of the Murtala and, later, the Buhari/Idiagbon regimes, they worked more for themselves. They institutionalised corruption, cronyism and nepotism. Most of them turned out to become among the richest and, by implication, the most influential people in the country. Because they benefited from a corrupt system, they sustained it and injected their bile into latter day rulers who came in civilian garbs. And because the civilians who inherited the mantle of leadership have been adequately coached in the dark arts of corruption, divisiveness and cronyism, they have carried on, marching within the system and resisting any move to change or overthrow it.

The cycle of violence the north is witnessing, including some of the worst yesterday, is a fall-out of the ruthless system foisted on the region by its selfish rulers of the military and post-military era. Many analysts have pointed at the crying poverty in the region as the primary reason for these volcanic eruptions that are causing the death of hundreds of innocent people, destroying edifices and disrupting the peace. Now what is the cause of the poverty itself? Is it not the tunnel vision – if there is vision at all – of the region’s leaders who have failed to unify the common people through their divisive politics and the misuse of the region’s resources?
The north is fast regressing in all indices of human development. Apart from poverty, illiteracy is growing; so also joblessness among the youth, with concomitant problems such as drug abuse and strange criminality (with many youngsters killing their own parents); collapse of morals and ethics, education, health care, etc. A combination of these problems has created a deep well of despondency among most youth in the region, who have lost confidence in the leadership. They are asking for a change – even away from democracy. Many are saying let’s go back to the sharia law which did well for the region under the Sokoto caliphate, not minding the cultural mix of the present times. Unsure of their success in such agitations in the face of resistance from the state’s coercive powers, many have resorted to hugely violent attacks.

What is the response of our so-called leaders to all this? They shirk their responsibility by simply passing the buck and engaging in histrionics. Appeals to conscience. Calls to prayers. Blandishments. Rhetoric. Trading blames. Peace conferences. Yesterday, all the chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Governor Aliyu of Niger state, could do was an effeminate call on President Jonathan to “urgently convene a national security summit.” We have heard that before, and it won’t work. We are tired of talk shops. Northern leaders should develop the north. Rebuild the infrastructures bequethed to them by the post-independence leaders. Provide jobs. Educate the youth. Stop all the divisive politicking. And stop all the stealing. Try these, and see if the violence and the regression will not disappear fiam – one time!

----

My column in today's Blueprint

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Are we glorifying gangsterism?


It can only happen in Nigeria. Two armed gangs, both outlawed, converge on two strategic locations, spewing threats against public peace. Police men look on helplessly, pleading with the men to sheath their swords, in manner of speaking, and go back home. The gangs insist on playing out their game to the end, on their own terms, insisting that it is their birthright to do what they must do. As of your laws, stuff them in your mouth and flush them down your dirty gullet.

This happens in Nigeria all the time. Because we have become used to gangsterism in every shade, we scarcely notice that some people are breaking the law with impunity.

It happened last Thursday. Two militias, as if by common acclamation, came out en masse in order to “protest” what they regarded as an abuse of their right. The first gang consisted of “former” Niger Delta militants, operating under disparate organisations jointly known as MEND. About 1,600 of them travelled upcountry in long buses and cars and were only accosted by the police at a bridge in Kogi state. The cops prevented them from reaching their destination – the nation’s capital. One of the militants’ leaders, one “General Ramseh,” had the patience to tell reporters and the police that his group was going to Abuja to ask the President why he failed to fulfill his promise to the men who agreed to stop destroying oil installations. The promise is a mouth-watering rehabilitation package for the militants who agreed to lay down their arms, come out of the creeks and receive training for a better civil life. The amnesty programme, as the package is best known, is floundering – judging from the General’s complaints – and the ‘boys’ are no longer being cared for. “While we have embraced the amnesty programme, but the federal government is frustrating it by refusing to pay us, and we don’t want to go back to the creeks or pick up arms any longer,” Ramsey told Blueprint in a story published on Friday.

Many newspapers reported about how these supposedly former fighters blocked the Lokoja-Abuja road for hours, causing a disturbing traffic gridlock, for which commuters suffered. The policemen who stopped the gang from reaching Abuja were apparently courageous, or lucky, as to be able to turn the tide of the hitherto dreaded militants back to whence they came. Not until the men of MEND, who seem to have been quietened down since Dr Jonathan assumed power, grabbed the headlines the following day. Their message has nonetheless sunk in: give the big boys more cash or else.

The second gang hit town in Lagos. Fighters of the Odu’a Peoples Congress (OPC), not less notorious or dreaded, held a big demonstration in the city. Their grouse, however, was not money – yet. Their leader, Dr Frederick Fasheun, explained that they were out to denounce the activities of the ‘north’s own’ militia, the Boko Haram. Fasheun said his gang was ready to defend the south against infiltration by the Maiduguri-based Islamic sect. The OPC’s threat was obviously a reaction to reports that BH may try to visit a devastating blow on a metropolis down south. As in the case on the Lokoja bridge, the police could only look on as the mainly Yoruba militia performed its show. No one was arrested.

In a normal country, the activities of these militias would be resisted, especially since they are not recognised by any section of the constitution. They are armed groups which the laws of the land have banned. They are becoming more dangerous by flying the ethnic and regional cards. Across time, they have been transformed by their leaders and supporters into cultural units of the communities in which they originated. A report in the Sunday Tribune yesterday even lamented that the OPC are not enjoying enough financial and moral support from the Yoruba elite. This claim, though disputable, clearly illustrates our dilemma as a nation that wishes to solve the intractable problems sectionalism (ethnic, religious and regional) has thrust on us. We are glorifying the actions of people that should otherwise be arrested and put behind bars. The Sunday Tribune report aptly summarised the problem this way: “When gun-totting youths besiege the streets in broad daylight, the action should rather be seen as a social problem that requires urgent attention. The daring display of gangsterism on the streets of Lokoja and Lagos is not merely a matter of security helplessness but a resultant effect of socio-economic problem in the country.”

These sectional gangs are indeed growing not only due to the economic problem, but also greatly due to the collapse of morality. Here is a nation where injustice and immorality fester, its leaders refusing to do much to ameliorate the difficult living conditions while illegally helping themselves to the commonweal and refusing to punish proven criminals. The youth should be helped out of militancy, of course, but that task ought to begin with the leaders. You cannot pretend to have the moral right to remove a speck from my eye while I know that there is a big log in yours.

----

Published in my column in BLUEPRINT today.
Above photo: MEND members on Lokoja-Abuja road. Photo by Momoh Obansa