Can northern Nigeria be home for all?
Things are truly falling apart for the north. Yet, one indisputable fact northern Nigerians across the ethnic and religious divide are agreed is that the late Sir Ahmadu Bello contributed immensely to the religious harmony the region enjoyed prior to and, in the years after independence. The late premier was said to be tolerant of non-Muslim populations of the north, appointed them into sensitive positions in the regional government and ensured that some of his closest advisers and confidants were people who did not necessarily profess his faith.
The late premier embraced all, tolerated all and never discriminated against any one on the basis of religion. Many in today’s middle belt who were originally non-Muslims were encouraged to adopt the Islamic faith largely on account of the way the Sardauna fellowshipped with them. Yes, he was one Muslim political leader who never allowed religion to influence his dealing with others. If any non-Muslim of his era or any non-Muslim northerner of this era harboured misgivings, it could not have been on the basis of religious differences.
As a mortal, Sir Ahmadu Bello had his shortcomings. But, he succeeded as a political leader because he was what many of us are not. A little over 51 years after he and some of the country’s finest political leaders were brutally cut down by drunken and over-pampered soldiers, Sardauna’s name is still nostalgically mentioned in the present. Sadly, even the meanest of today’s human locusts and vultures are quick to bandy his name around without even pretending to replicate what the man stood for.
What made the late Sardauna of Sokoto a successful politician was his heart that was large enough to accommodate everybody and anybody with views contrary to his. And what is more, he had foresight. Aware of the large concentration of non-Muslims within his domain and aware of what they could contribute to his success as a leader, the late Sardauna reached out to all and left out none. Fifty-one years on, Sardauna’s time-tested dictum of ‘let’s understand and appreciate our differences’, has been turned upside down.
For northern Nigeria, things are dangerously falling apart and the centre appears incapable of holding. The region has inflicted so much damage to itself and, today, no thanks to the leadership paralysis in the region occasioned by the greed, gluttony and short sightedness of the present crop of political leaders, the already economically marginalised region is at great risk of being politically marginalised. Unhappily, even supposed authentic voices that should chart the way forward engage in needless bickering. At the heart of the matter is the failure of the north to, permit the usage, put its house in order.
The reverse was the case some few years back. Nothing underscores this flight of tolerance than the crises in Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna and Plateau states, among others. Until very recent times, the Birom or Angas saw nothing wrong with a Hausa or Fulani man from Wudil or Wurno setting up home on the plateau, taking up ‘citizenship’ of Plateau State and enjoying all the benefits of an indigene. Again, the now-vexing issue of settler/indigene dichotomy, the new source of tension and blood-letting in the north, was virtually absent a few years ago. No more so! Today, it is common for northerners to murmur endlessly that they no longer feel ‘at home away from home.’
Of course, the ill-feelings of the recent past and the acrimonies that have continued to ignite senseless killings can be reversed. The first point of departure is to quit, for once, the ingrained pretences that a particular religion or ethnic group is more northern than others. Secondly, it was not an accident that God peopled northern Nigeria with Muslims, Christians and animists. It was not an accident that different ethnic groupings found themselves in the region. Had God wished it, mankind would be speaking one and the same language and profess one and the same faith.
As it is today, Sokoto, Katsina, Kano, and Zamfara, among others have indigenous, though minority, Christian populations. We are not even talking of such states in the so-called ‘Muslim north’ as Kaduna, Borno, Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe, Bauchi, Niger with heavy concentration of Christian populations. Of course, it is assumed we all know there are states in the so-called Muslim north where majority of indigenous populations are Christians! That, precisely, is the genesis of the problem with the north, a problem which the Sardauna understood and never allowed to come in the way.
Ultimately, the senseless blood-letting in the north with the attendant loss of lives will come to an end. Before then, however, we cannot pretend that more innocent lives will not be lost to more needless killings. Whatever the case, the north should be big enough for all. And, until every northerner, irrespective of ethnic and religious leanings feels at home in any part of the vast plain of the region, the dream of a return to the old north which literally sets the national agenda will remain in the pipe.For now, no one should delude himself into believing the north is headed in the right direction. It is not!
• Magaji is based in Abuja
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