Thursday, 3 January 2013

Who Is The North? Part 1

 I wrote this shortly after the presidential elections in Nigeria. But it's still as poignant as ever. 

Disclaimer: I will post this note in 2 parts. I am in no way taking sides or justifying the current unrest going on in the North. My aim is to foster a better understanding of a people I honestly believe are grossly misunderstood and misrepresented and to put things in perspective. I implore everyone who will reads this to be open minded and civil in their comments and arguments. 

In Zainab Magaji’s response to a comment posted by a friend in her note titled ‘Our Pendulum’ on Facebook, she asserted and I quote ‘…I am however forced to acknowledge the fact now, especially from the events of these last two days that maybe that Nigeria I am talking about actually only exists in my imagination. Our leaders have so dealt with us psychologically that we have sharply been divided along very sentimental lines. … the hatred, sensationalism, disrespect and senseless arguments I have read these last two days have made me see the truth. The truth is that nigeria as a united house only exists in our imagination. Our leaders have achieved their aim. They have put a permanent wedge between us...I am really saddened by my new discovery. Nigeria isn't what we all think. The dreams of our political elite have finally come true. We have been divided in thoughts and, by what we witnessed on saturday, in actions too. We don't exist as a nation. We only think we do’.

I was saddened that she had gotten to the point where she could think that. But then, I understood. Recently, I’ve experienced terrible mood swings, emotions ranging from euphoria to apathy, from despair to anger; for the most part, it was due to the elections, our future as a nation and the unimaginable hatred, ignorance and tribal nonsense that has spewed from the mouths of people who I perceived to be intelligent and mature. Friends threatening to ‘unfriend’ themselves on facebook and other social networking sites over arguments about political parties and candidates.

I really do not like to talk politics and everything related but I decided to after I saw a friend’s status yesterday. He said ‘In naija, being a northerner is like being a jew in Europe... everybody else hates you... and they don't even know what they hate... just stereotyping and paranoia...’

Again, I completely understand his pain.  I have seen and heard people talk about the North the way the West talks about our Continent. Africa, they call it, as though it is one country. Currently our continent is blessed with fifty three independent nations and not all of them are doing badly, are dying of HIV and have dictators who compare themselves to The Queen and refuse to cede power. Yet they talk about Aid for Africa, saving the starving children in Africa, donations to build houses in Africa, saving child soldiers in Africa. When they eventually visit ‘Africa’, they are surprised we have electricity, tarred roads, buildings made of brick and corrugated roofing sheets. They are surprised to see us wearing clothes and speaking English and not living in tree houses eating banana and starting fires by striking stones. Forgive my exaggeration but it’s a misrepresentation that has been allowed to become a perception and as it is now, a reality for the millions of westerners who may never get the chance to visit and see for themselves that what we have been portrayed to be by Western Media is not at all who we are.

In the same vein, I see people talk about ‘all these northerners killing people’, ‘blood thirsty northerners’; ‘illiterate hausa’s who cannot give peace a chance and co-exist with their neighbours’. I see a similar situation with the scenario I just described above. More often than not, the media and other people who make these assertions, have never stepped foot in the North, have rarely ever met anyone from the North, assume everyone in the North speaks Hausa and are so paranoid they think if they ever make it down there, they’ll be chopped like cow meat and their heads hung on a stick before they have a chance to say ‘Sannu’.
So I ask the question: Who is the North?

Pause and see if you can attempt an answer to this question then compare your thoughts to what you’ll read below.

Flash back. You’re in Primary 6 and I’m your Social Studies teacher.

Nigeria is broken into six geo-political zones: North-Central, North-Eastern, North-Western, South-Eastern, South-South, and South-Western. The North therefore is all the states within the North-Central, North-Eastern, North-Western parts of the country. These three geo-political zones have a total of nineteen out of Nigeria’s thirty six states between them. In all, there are one hundred and nine major ethnic groups in these states; out of all nineteen, the Hausa-Fulani constitute a majority in only five of them. As an example, forty seven percent of the entire population in Adamawa which is considered a Hausa/Fulani/Kanuri stronghold are Christians, belong to ethnic groups different from the three I mentioned above and speak their own language. You’ll find the same mix in fourteen of the nineteen states in the North with some states having as many as twenty major ethnic groups apart from Hausa and Fulani.

I believe these facts are important because they’ll help us thoroughly understand the complex web of relationships called Northern Nigeria. When you say the North, I want you to bear in mind that it goes beyond Hausa, Fulani and Muslim.

Beyond the media coverage, online discourse and perceptions we have built over the years, there’s a question that begs an answer: How did we get here? How did we arrive at the point where bombings have become a part of the equation? Why do we spill blood at the slightest provocation especially when the personality of the average northerner points otherwise?

You see, the average northerner is laidback and easygoing. He can be resistant to change and have the tendency to stick to the familiar. He is easy to please and to a large extent, gullible. This gullibility stems from the high level of illiteracy and impoverishment and a lack of opportunity and empowerment that has characterized his existence for decades. His tendency to be easily influenced, deceived or manipulated has been capitalised on by religious figures and the political elite who have systemically and continually bled him dry. Sadly, there has been an unspoken acquiescence by him for that travesty to continue. Different interpretations have been given to the Holy Scriptures and the Law and he has gone ahead to kill and maim for the love of God and Country without questioning those who goad him on. Then he began to ask questions. The flagrant abuse of power and lavish display of wealth by the ruling elite gradually sowed a seed of discontent and anger. The direct consequence of the impoverishment, suppression and illiteracy of the average northerner, coupled with mutual suspicion is the harvest we all are reaping today.

Even though it is arguable, I see the current unrest in the north as more of a socio-economic problem thana religious one. It’s a complete failure of governance, a conscious, deliberate and blatant rape of the ruled by those who rule. Religion has always been a handy scapegoat. Muslim kills Christian. Christian kills Muslim. It’s not that cut and dried. If the young man has a job to look forward to everyday and can live with some dignity as a human being he will pick up arms with reluctance.

Sadly, the youth have imploded. They vent their anger on one another because like it or leave it, your neighbour is the representation of the government you cannot feel or access. Does this justify the current restiveness and wanton destruction of lives and property in the North? Absolutely not! I do not subscribe to violence as a solution to conflict. I see violence as an immature, selfish and insensitive way to make a point or get attention, much the same way a child throws tantrums because he wants something, but in this case, the tantrum is directed at his friend instead of his mother.

Are they the only ones who have been suppressed?

Why is their first instinct to maim and kill?

Why are they so fanatical and narrow-minded, wanting to have their way all the time?

You want to know the truth?

I do not have the answer. I’m as baffled as you are. I also have questions. I want to understand. Nothing can ever justify the senseless bombings, the maiming of children and women, the hacking of neighbours by neighbours, the burning of houses and public property, the tension and distrust and its attendant psychological implication.

But one thing I do know is this, there are people on both sides of the religious divide who are as clueless as you are as to what the recurrent fights are about, who run for safety when their own people go on rampage, who provide shelter for those trapped in between irrespective of who they pray to, who are as taken aback as the rest of us by what their own people have metamorphosed into, who bury their heads in shame and disgust over what their brothers have done. A few misguided fellows have given us all a bad name and it’s just plain unfortunate.

Like a friend of mine said, no ethnicity has a monopoly of madmen. There will always be extremists where there is conviction and a strong belief in anything. There will always be those who capitalise on the just discontentment of others and milk it to their own advantage. There is only so much anyone can take when pushed beyond their threshold. The Niger-deltans kidnap, the Tivs killed soldiers in Zakibiam, the jos fight has been speculated to revolve around the settler-indigene problem, Rev king was a Christian or claimed to be, yet he set his own member ablaze, the Boko Haram sect invaded a prison and released their members who were being held captive, A Man U fan ran into a crowd of Arsenal supporters leaving many dead and others seriously injured. Aren’t they all fighting for a cause? They are I tell you. As flimsy and incomprehensible as the cause may seem, what is important is that they are driven by deep seated convictions. Let’s face it, intolerance is intolerance, violence is violence, one type of violence does not supersede the other because it was done with good reason. The end in this case does not just the means. 

The fight on the streets of Kano and Jigawa isn’t about who won or lost the election. . It is a cry for help by a people who have been continually raped by a system that should bring healing and abundance. It is a show of frustration by young able bodied men who have been deprived of education and the means to take care of themselves. It is the culmination of decades of neglect by the political class. Sadly, we all get to reap its grim harvest. These young men are so ignorant they smile at the cameras as they kill. It’s not going to stop until we address the root cause of the problem: Good governance, respect for ourselves as indigenes of a state called Nigeria and a sincere desire to see this country move forward. The problem goes beyond tribe and religion and what geo-political zone we come from. It’s the integrity of the elected to do what is right at all times not because it’s convenient but because he is subject to the dictates of his conscience.

The crisis is not a Northern problem; it is something every sane Nigerian should be worried about. For those of us reading this, as long as we live in this country no one is safe, we cannot afford to be apathetic towards this. It does concern you.

We need to realise that the problem with Nigeria isn’t the muslims or the Christians, or the tribes and ethnic groups; The problem is you and me. It is that simple! The problem is the way we think, the continuous trashing of Nigeria and constant comparison to developed economies, the apathy, the tribal sentiments, the superiority complex, the unforgiveness, the greed, the hatred, the selfishness, the complete erosion of the values that has held together so far, the delicate fabric that we are.

Can we please stop pointing fingers and throwing stones, the house is on fire! Can we skip to the part where we come to our senses, realise we’ve been taken for a ride and bequeath a better Nigeria to the coming generation? We owe it to God and our children.

Here are my suggestions, if you have any yourself, go ahead and post it:

The post is getting too long. I'll continue shortly :)

©Naomi Lucas


Anonymous said...

...Resistance of change...that says it all... It's a Northern Problem.... Ekene

Naomi Lucas said...

A Northern problem?