Antidote to North’s malady

A soldiers stands next to a group of girls previously kidnapped from their boarding school in northern Nigeria are seen on March 2, 2021 at the Government House in Gusau, Zamfara State upon their release. (Photo by – / AFP)

“it is very easy to persuade the 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 earth by governments run by corrupt and irresponsible leaders.”

The above quote is from a column I wrote in 2017 to debunk the notion that religion alone is and has always been at the core of the perennial conflicts in the North. So rigid and so faithful they were to this half-truth that those who had sought to find a lasting solution to the crises in their various guises, had almost always missed the point to the extent that their shadow chasing had only allowed the crisis to fester. Religion was not the issue but by dwelling on it they missed the real issue; ethnic snobbery with its attendant holier than thou attitude that seeks to have slave masters and slave servants; attempting to create a caste system where none exists.

The crisis this tendency created was unfortunately clothed in religious differences and the elite gladly used these imaginary differences to set one group against the other. Religion per se was not to blame but the manipulation of religion by the elite for purely selfish purposes. Now the North has had it. Today the issue is no longer a palaver between Muslim students and Christian Students union holding rallies or the proper mode of wearing hijab. It has since morphed into a monster that is threatening to devour all –  both the Christians and the Muslims and in between them, the traditionalists. No distinction, no discrimination. Neither saint nor sinner is safe today in the North. It is no longer the matter of Maitasine and his own brand of religious belief.

Boko Haram and the bloodhounds called bandits know no foes or friends. They have decimated not only the physical structures of the North but they have also destroyed all its dearly held values. Education has been destroyed in the North because in the jaundiced view of the Boko Haramists and their fellow travelers it is haram, a taboo in the eyes of their own special deity, not the God of Abraham who is Allah, the Almighty, that true Muslims worship.

If the bandits are Muslims, how come they don’t obey Allah? If they are waging a war, what war? Though some people glorify their evil exploits as jihad and the attempt to Islamize the country, how on earth can they do so when in fact they are not Muslims.

In war, there are rules of engagement. Women and children are spared. Even economic trees. But these hoodlums rape and kill women. Those who surrender are not supposed to be harmed.

But these bandits have no rules of engagement; they kill their victims even after ransom has been paid. For example, Pa Dariye, the 93-year-old father of  Joshua Dariye, who was governor of Plateau State for eight years, was killed after a ransom of N10m was paid.

These devils slaughter their captives as they slaughter rams. Which Muslims, even if they are lunatics, would invade an Islamic school where underaged pupils learn the Qur’an and other aspects of Islam and cart them away for months to extort ransom from their parents? Because they are not Muslims and they are not fighting any holy war with specific rules, nobody expected them to have soft spot for children, which explained why they kept them upwards of two months even after ransom had been paid.

And if indeed they are Muslims, why would they abduct a renown Islamic scholar and Qur’anic reciter of world standard, Sheikh Ahmed Suleiman, whose recitation of the Holy Qur’an is equivalent of the recitation by the best of them even in Saudi Arabia. And he is flesh and blood a Nigerian from the North. They held him for three weeks. During the three weeks that he was their guest, none of them prayed for one day. Or ask Sharia Judge Huseini Sama’ila from Katsina State who was abducted from his court in daylight.

He was with them for a couple of days before he was released on the payment of ransom. A Muslim scholar and teacher, this judge of an Islamic court did not see any of his hosts pray even one day. These stark illiterates confessed to him that they did not know how to pray. How can they know how to pray when they are not Muslims? And these are the supposed instruments for the so-called Islamization of Nigeria, the ones Sheikh Ahmad Gumi want the government to grant amnesty because they have been marginalized. Marginalized by who?

What is worse, this madness is no longer confined to the North once, notorious as bastion of the so-called ethno-religious conflict. After hemming and hawing to our collective chagrin, the North, faced with a conflagration that could have been prevented, is now beginning to find its voice and its bearing as it now desperately looks for solution. And the South, apparently to prevent the raging inferno from blowing southwards and engulf the whole country, is leaving nobody in doubt about its own preferred antidote to this national malaise.

Its solution, apart from passing anti-open grazing laws, encompasses various other options; a re-examination of what was thought to be a settled matter like the Lord Lugard’s amalgamation of the North and the South in 1914, a restructuring of the country to return it to the 1963 federal constitution with state police and resource control, failing which, to use Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu’s phrase from the Aburi summit, Nigerian ethnic nationalities are to move slightly apart to avoid a collision resulting from tight unity and over centralization.

Where the Northern leaders, hampered by inexplicable lethargy, choose to dither and procrastinate and  engage in blame game that would only engender internal conflicts like herdsmen ravaging people’s farms or cattle rustling which, of course, is open day robbery of other people’s property or kidnapping for ransom by hitherto unknown creatures called bandits, their southern counterparts are showing more intellectual acumen in dealing with issues affecting their region. While Northern leaders choose being mum and taciturn as the answer to the South’s numerous demands, the leaders in the South have become more pragmatic; instead of waiting endlessly for the Legislature or the Executive to oblige them, they are looking up to the judiciary to honour them with restructuring of the country by instalments. Just in case. Collection of VAT, value added tax, which is on the concurrent legislative list as well as other taxes are part and parcel of resource control. If they succeed in this, who can tell what will follow from this pragmatic move?

Northern leaders have their job cut out. They must match their southern counterparts in the competition for national development. The starting point is clear. They must prosecute the current war against bandits to its logical conclusion to free their region from these agents of destabilization. The North, as I have said before, would require some kind of Marshall Plan to reconstruct and rehabilitate it.

Its infrastructures have decayed beyond recognition. Health and education have suffered most, to say nothing about the sorry state of agriculture which had been the main stay of its economy. But education should be the region’s number one priority because, apart from being the most valuable agent of development, it is also the most potent antidote to the manipulation of religion by the political elite.

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