Wrong diagnosis, wrong prescription
In and out of season, leadership elite seem to delight in embracing wrong diagnosis of the country’s numerous problems, especially the intractable social and political disharmony that has bedevilled us for decades and, consequently, the urge to rush for the wrong prescriptions in the attempt to solve the problems.
For instance, it has become a habit, arising from part mischief and part intellectual laziness, to locate the endemic religious crisis in the North over the last four decades in the attempt to Islamise the country – to complete, as it were, the jihad of Othman dan Fodio and deep the Holy Qur’an in the Atlantic Ocean!
Nothing justifies this assertion. There is no logic in the claim other than the fact that the crisis invariably has always pitted some Muslim extremist youths against minority ethnic groups who are invariably non- Muslims. Most of the victims have been the economically better off Igbo traders whose shops are the visible targets of these mindless attackers.
They loot these shops, not to force the owners to abandon their faith, but they do so to satisfy the immediate needs like the perennial hunger and starvation to which the pandemic poverty in the North has sentenced them. That those who do so have no respect for their own religion have now been proved beyond reasonable doubt today by the current economic imperatives which have changed them from shop looting to the more lucrative business of kidnapping and banditry for ransom.
And their victims, for sure, are not from one ethnic group or religious denomination. Not exclusively Christian nor exclusively Muslim. They don’t even care about your tribe or tongue. Those who kidnap and those they kidnap may as well come from the same family, the same ethnic group, possibly worshiping the same God. What matters to them is the remorseless pursuit of money and whoever appears to have it is a target. Does this chilly fact square with the vile propaganda of Islamic irredentism that some critics delight in?
In response to the poor analysis of those bigots who are determined to pursue the narrow narrative of Islamic jihad, I have tried almost in vain, to present the situation from purely economic perspectives.I have argued that the clash between the farmers and the Fulani cattle herdsmen, for instance, is fuelled more by the economic imperatives of survival than the urge to spread Islam with the use of AK47. The argument has become more germane today in view of the fact a no less important personality than former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a doctor of divinity, has thrown caution to the wind and joined the fray. Speaking from the pulpit, this respected former President has joined those who believe that what Nigeria is going through today has to do with the so-called Fulanisation and Islamisation of the country.
In the piece I wrote in February 2017 I said inter alia:
What looked like a national pastime has been elevated by bigots, of all hues, into a growth industry. I’m referring of course to religious conflicts in the country.
In the North, Muslim extremists and their Christian counterparts had spared no efforts in the 70s, 80s and early 90s in sparking off a religious conflagration that threated to spread from Kano to Yola, Maiduguri to Kafanchan to Kastina, going all the way to Bauchi, consuming the lives of innocent persons and pulling down, in its wake, churches and mosques. The ebb and flow of religious intolerance was uncontrollable.
The crises didn’t happen once or twice. They became an all-time affair. The frequency became too uncomfortable that late Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki, lacking words to adequately define this episodic occurrences, referred to the North as the “bedrock of disturbances” I was moved to call it the wild, wild North, convinced beyond any reasonable doubt, that the region had upstaged the old West which once enjoyed the dubious distinction of being” the wild, wild west”. From the days of the Maitasine and the Kafanchan riots, the North, with its unique semblance of a monolithic bloc, had acquired the dubious distinction of a volatile and highly temperamental region where lives of people did not count for anything.
At the drop of a pin in the market, jobless folks and other pitiable scoundrels who had become victims of remorseless poverty occasioned by the insatiable greed of the rich were ready to take their anger out of the innocent people in the market. In the twinkle of an eye, their stalls would be set on fire and those of them who did not run fast enough for dear life, would become unwilling sacrificial lambs.
All these crises were the forerunners to the Boko Haram insurgency which metamorphosed into a full blown war in which thousands of people have lost their lives. Efforts by various political and religious leaders to stem the tide of these disturbances have yielded very poor results. If the efforts had paid off, the results, in my view, would have been an uninterrupted reign of peace in the North. But after the Kafanchan riots in 1987 and the judicial commission of inquiry that was set up to probe the incident, similar riots erupted in Katsina and Bauchi three years later. The Jos madness which turned the tin city, once a veritable haven of peace and a tourist destination, into a plateau of ethnic chauvinism, happened in 2001 during this current democratic dispensation under the careful watch of militarised politicians who were bent on winning elections by all means , fair or foul.
The draconian sentences that followed the Kanfanchan riots, with the Zango Katafs bearing the major brunt, did not serve as deterrents. And so, history repeated itself in Katsina, in Bauchi and in Jos. If it served as deterrent, Boko Haram would not have happened.
So what is the issue?
Those who put these riots at the doorstep of religion miss the point. And so long as they continue to hold religion, Islam and Christianity, as the culprit, so long will peace continue to elude the North, and by extension, the whole country.The fault is not with religion but the manipulation of religion. The North still lacks education, and it lags dangerously behind other regions of the country both in the quality and the quantity of education. Arising from inadequate education are the problems of poverty and underdevelopment. It is very easy to persuade the jobless, uneducated youths to take up arms against an imaginary enemy and fight, believing that by doing so, they are guaranteed a life of perpetual bliss, in the hereafter, the life that has been denied them here on earthy by bad governments run by corrupt and irresponsible leaders. Adequate education is a potent antidote to the manipulation of religion by the political elite.
It takes education and exposure to know that the issues at stake today – corruption, insecurity, maladministration – have nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with poor leadership, a completely irresponsible leadership determined to hold society to ransom, claiming to be God-sent.
Our problem in Nigeria has nothing to do with Islam and Christianity. It has to do with bad adherents who, in God’s name, manipulate their faith for earthly reasons: money, power and politics. The Northern governors have taken the right step forward by meeting to compare notes on the various problems confronting that region. They must worry seriously about the state of insecurity that gives the impression that law and order have irretrievably broken down. And they must also worry about the soulless manipulation of religion to further political interests.In this holy month of Ramadan, Nigeria can do without wrong diagnosis and awfully wrong prescription – a cure that may be worse than the ailment.