It started with a picture. A woman in a flamboyant, sweeping dress, her back turned to the camera, her head tilted to give a profile of her face, her hair slicked, clinging to her skull just as the dress clings to her figure, giving a profile to her posterior.
What the picture showed was a confident woman striking an elegant pose. What it also showed was the face of this woman, Rahama Sadau, and her bareback. The confidence and poise would evaporate within hours, leaving Ms Sadau sitting on the edge of a settee, clad in a full hijab, crying before a camera.
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Ms Sadau had posted her photos on her social media account on Sunday morning. Within minutes, they have generated thousands of reactions, likes, shares. Some thought she looked stylish, beautiful even, others, incensed beyond words, rained curses on her. Most of these outraged people, like Rahama Sadau, are Muslims, most of them, like her, are from the conservative North.
Typical of Nigeria, the subject of a woman in a dress soon became religious bickering, with mostly non-Muslims rising in defence of Ms Sadau’s right to dress as she pleases and flaunt whatever body parts she desires. They went on the offensive even, attacking the mostly Muslim, mostly northern hecklers of Ms Sadau and went as far as attacking the values of Islam and its prophet, who Ms Sadau claims to be a great admirer and devotee of.
These social media squabbles are not new. What is however remarkable about this one, in a week that many familiar demons—banditry, Boko Haram and the settling dust of the EndSARS protests—stirred in the north, is the fact it is Ms Sadau’s photos that triggered the sense of outrage of a region.
Somehow, by the click of a camera, Ms Sadau, no stranger to such controversies, achieved something that a mass protest failed to trigger. Somehow she managed to activate the social media angst of a region that has remained largely silent or even nonchalant about the daily massacre of its natives by bandits and the talon-like grip of Boko Haram in the Northeast.
From Zamfara to Kebbi and Sokoto to the villages of Katsina, hundreds of villagers have been sacked by these bandits, hundreds have been killed, thousands displaced, women have been raped and the economy of the region is in trouble because many farmers no longer have access to their farms.
Even after the scandalous mass rape of women in a Katsina village, not once did what has come to be dubbed “Arewa Twitter” raise its voice in outrage over happenings in the North. Not once did it deploy its arsenal of indignation to demand greater security for the region. One can only imagine what could have happened if half the passion expended on tackling Ms Sadau’s rear in grieving over the killings in the North. Perhaps the world would have recognized that what is happening in the North is what qualifies as a massacre. Perhaps the government would have put in more efforts to contain the situation.
While Arewa Twitter was kicking up a storm for the wrong reason, the governors of the region gathered themselves in Kaduna for an emergency meeting. What has aggravated them this time? Social media. Somehow the governors have arrived at the conclusion that social media poses a greater and more immediate threat to national security than the bandits roaming most of their states unchallenged. They endorsed the moves by the legislature to gag social media and regulate it. And that was that.
It would be disingenuous to say that social media did not contribute to the spread of fake news, especially as witnessed during the #EndSARS protests. It would even be more hypocritical not to be concerned about this, especially for media professionals and security agencies. But why that would make the governors abandon their long-suffering states to convene in Kaduna, not to address the actual insecurities and the staggering poverty levels or even the education emergency in the region, is baffling.
The North has always had a peculiar way of going about its business. How far that has taken it is something northerners need to honestly look at themselves and answer. The North is conservative, true. It has always been. (Something Ms Sadau should have taken into consideration before posting her photos). Those who tried to challenge this conservativism have found themselves in the eye of a storm.
Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II fashioned himself a radical king. Something of anathema considering the institution he wanted to use to change the North and perhaps affect its social orientation. He was not subtle in his approach and soon found himself facing a hive of conservatives, led by a governor who has far too many questions to answer himself. The old order won and Sanusi II was dethroned.
What, one might ask, does that have to do with Ms Sadau’s photo?
I do not presume to tell her what she, as an adult, ought to do, but Ms Sadau knows where she comes from, where the majority of her fan base comes from. After all, she is no stranger to controversy after being banned from Kannywood for featuring in a racy (by Arewa standards) music video.
What she has managed to achieve was to needlessly throw herself on her sword. With this woeful challenge of the conservatives and being forced into a tearful apology, just as Fatima Ribadu, whose wedding dress offended Arewa’s conservative sensibilities, was forced to do, what the two, three—if one includes Sanusi II’s failed reform from the throne— accomplished is to embolden the conservative block. And the problem here is that once these things are triggered, there is no telling where it is going to stop.
RE: Once upon the life of an INEC staff
My column last week on the sad plight of Fatima Musa, who has been chasing her husband’s benefits since 2008 has drawn reactions from senior officials of INEC. I am happy to report that her case has been attended to and the problem has been traced. I hope to write about this fully pending the conclusion of the matter. Sigma Pensions, I have you in my line of sight.