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Aisha’s popular view and the north

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I have yet to master this environment like I did in Port Harcourt but I will one day. These days aren’t full of undertakings like before, it should have been but the year came with its wiles but a wise man must find something to do, to keep busy, the mind needs it for order because order is the first law of the universe. I go to ‘that public place’ these days to fill up the calendar, read, write furiously, write proposals, scan the environment and hope that something gives. I have met two retired army generals and a colonel come to do same. Many people are going through lonesomeness epidemics. Aisha walked in on egg-shells, a tray on her head, and groundnuts on the tray. She sells the ware for her family. She wasn’t confident of herself, I noticed from where I sat, the place has an intimidating look of-course for teenagers; I might have comported self that way as a kid.

But I encouraged her to come in, spoke her language and bought groundnuts. She comes every day and days I am there, I buy even when I do not have need for nuts just to raise her spirits. Her confidence I noticed rose steeply. She grins anytime she sees me and times I come there, behind time, after she has left the place; the waitpersons tell me that, “your friend just left here a moment ago.” Many times, I asked, “did Aisha come today?”

One day, I asked Aisha, “How many are you in your family and how old are you?” She told me she is 14 years old. Only two years older than my daughter Darina Unekwu-Ojo Abah. I feel unhappy that she hawks products about, nothing wrong in helping the family. I went to the mammy-market to help my mother sell articles at her age, I prefer children helping out in well-ordered provision-stores where children do not have to walk about. I have my reasons; there are too many adult-delinquents out there now vitiating youngsters all because of their tender-loins. These children, most, lack the self-confidence to say no, it is dangerous to be a child now than in my era.

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I drew Aisha’s attention to this one day and warned her never to allow any man take advantage of her but amazingly it didn’t resonate with her as I anticipated because I had to pose the question, ‘did you hear me?’ thrice before she nodded her head. Maybe she was uncomfortable with the question; let me not judge her falsely. And then arrangements for Eidel-Kabir were in earnest and I told her to tell her parents to send my Sallah meat through her since I am her patron. She laughed quietly and told me that at Sallah she and her mother would be travelling to see her, ‘kaka.’

At present, Aisha was gutsy enough to ask me if I was married. I was awestricken by her gumption. Her confidence has risen quickly, but I deflected the question so we could chat, I do so with my children Darina Unekwu-Ojo and Shammah Ojo-Ajogwu a lot and then I asked her, ‘are you planning to give me one of your sisters to marry?’ “Never. I cannot do that,” she replied. “Why not?” I asked her. “You are a Christian and not a Muslim,” she bounced back with energy I hadn’t noticed in her. “There is nothing wrong with me being a Christian.” I told her. “Well you cannot marry my sister, she is an Islamic scholar and my religion forbids her to marry you.” She told me flatly. I knew this to be the generally held point in the north but wouldn’t let go without chock-full rug-rat chat. So I went on.

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“What if I convert to Islam can I still marry your sister,” I asked her. “Oh! No. you are too old to convert to Islam now. You ought to have done so before now when you were much younger, gone to qur’anic school so that what you learn there can stick well in your head. It is late now; whatever you learn now wouldn’t stick as much as it would have if you were much younger.’ Aisha coached me. “Well I don’t see anything wrong in getting married to your sister because I am willing to allow her run through her religion while I concentrate on mine,” I told Aisha. “That is impossible. A Christian male cannot marry a Muslim woman. It is forbidden. But a Muslim male can marry a Christian woman and convert her to Islam. That is the proper order.’ Aisha told me. She is right. I have seen many of my Christian friends married to Muslims and next day they asked me not to address them by their Christian names. And those ones even became more zealous than others born into the Muslim faith.

I have never known this once timid girl to be sharp as she was today. Even if I did change religion, I wouldn’t be accepted as it should be, in the Islamic fold for I am an Igala. I have to be a Fulani, Hausa or a north westerner/north easterner to be seen as a proper Muslim in Nigeria. That is what Arabs have taught northern Muslims (super-ordinates, classified structure of discrimination) and it is the reason the north is recessive. I don’t begrudge people their choice of faith but I marvel at the brazen freezing out of people in many activities in the north, no-thanks to religion.

My little friend only covered one aspect. There are too many others. I liked her arrogant drawl, her proselytized world views through virgin eyes but felt sorry that she would grow up not accepting other people as royalties but as slaves, not caring about other people but carrying her people about, even when her people plan to win only for her kind, lacking sympathy for the next man. It wouldn’t stop me from buying groundnuts from her, notwithstanding. “Not the weapons that decide the outcome of a war, but the men who carry the weapons.” Chairman Mao. Only quality education can save the north. To fulminate against people under different excuses wouldn’t save the north.
 •Abah wrote from Abuja.

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In this article:
Simon Abah
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