I sympathise with Dr Hassan Kukah, bishop of the Catholic diocese of Sokoto. As a priest, he is one of the commanders of the forces of good against the forces of evil. He has railed against evil; he has joined forces with like-minded fellow Nigerians to move this behemoth of a country towards its rightful place in the tropical sun. But nothing seems to work. Evil persists and evil forces hold sway in northern Nigeria. He cannot but be frustrated; we cannot but share his frustration.
In his 2021 Christmas sermon, titled “A Nation Still Search of Truth and Vindication,” Kukah returned to the theme of evil and warned that the northern region was “now fully in the grip of evil.” It is easy to see, he said that a “catalogue of unprecedented cruelty has been unleashed on innocent citizens” in the once most secure and the most peaceful region in the country.
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The blood of the innocent flows daily in various parts of the old region; and there is no determined effort to stop it. Children have been turned into means of making quick money by bandits and kidnappers. No one is safe and nothing is sacred anymore – least of all life, the precious lives of fellow human beings in their own country. Said the bishop: “In their sleep, on their farmlands, in their markets or even on the highway, innocent citizens have been mowed down and turned into burnt offerings to gods of evil.”
Kukah sees evil and denounces evil. He cannot close his eyes to things that ail us or padlock his lips just to be in the good books of those who own the north and see nothing wrong with its tragic movement downhill. Kukah is not the most beloved cleric among those in northern Nigeria who believe that speaking truth to power amounts to attacking the president of northern extraction.
It is a pity with a capital P. Many of the leaders of the region find it expedient to padlock their lips and squeak, not speak, from both sides of the mouth when they feel moved to make their voices heard on the evil that has gripped the region. They see evil but refuse to denounce evil. I suppose they know only too well that when good people do nothing to stop evil, it spreads and raises the spectre of consuming even those who feel sufficiently protected by the taxpayers whose money funds the security agencies that protect them. It can only get worse because, according to Kukah, “communities have been turned into gulags of misery, death, pain and perfidy.”
Where did the north miss it? Where did the north get it so badly wrong? I know evil did not just descend on the region in one fell swoop; it crept up on it until it turned our young men into killer unfeeling and callous machines, mowing down people they do not know and could not have had disagreements with them. They have become hardened killers because basic human feelings have deserted them.
People of my generation who were born and brought up in the north cannot understand why and how evil became the defining feature of northern Nigeria today. When I think about it, I feel traumatised by our collective loss of innocence. As a staff writer with the New Nigerian, I travelled to most parts of the region in the late sixties in open lorries night and day totally secure. If the night caught up with us and the driver was tired, he simply packed his lorry by the roadside, and we all slept on the ground by the roadside.
We feared no attack against our persons because there were no bands of bloody thirsty killers. If I was thirsty, someone who had water gave it to me; if I was hungry someone who had something to eat such peanuts and akarawillingly sacrificed what he had that I might have something. We were our brothers’ keepers, sharing our common humanity and bonded by mutual care and respect.
Now, sadly, the centre has fallen out. We are isolated on the tiny islands of fault lines of ethnicity and religions. We are not our brother’s keepers anymore; we are their killers. Evil casts a darkening shadow over northern Nigeria. In a recent and chilling piece on the situation in northern Nigeria, titled “Never in the history of our nation has it been this bad,” Professor Usman Yusuf, former executive secretary of NHIS, wrote: “The nation awoke on 6th December 2021 to the horrifying news of the gruesome massacre of 42 innocent travellers including women, children and babies at Gidan Bawa in Sabon Birni LGA of Sokoto State. Armed bandits ambushed and shot at their bus setting it ablaze and stood guard watching until all the passengers were burnt alive.”
A good example of the loss of our common humanity in northern Nigeria. Yusuf went on to detail more killings in the old region about the same period. He noted that a third of the president’s home state, Katsina, “is under siege by bandits and mass killings are daily occurrences. The capital city Katsina, is filling up with IDPs displaced from the 13 LGAs terrorized by these armed bandits.”
The tragedy is not that these killings are taking place; rather the tragedy is that northern leaders feel impotent in protecting their old region and their people from the evil enveloping it and making life increasingly cheap. It is a callous indifference that borders on indifferent and irresponsible leadership.
Yusuf wrote: “The deafening silence in the north to our people’s sufferings is not only morally wrong but it nourishes, validates and perpetuates the failings of this government. The region has now literally become an orphan with two living parents on account of our silence. Those of us who criticize this president and his government do so primarily because it is our duty and responsibility as citizens to speak up at times like this when things are going wrong but most importantly, we speak because we care deeply for this country and are very worried by the current state of the nation.
“The ship of state is drifting.”
Still, we choose to live in denial, luxuriate in the drift and drink to the tragedy now holding the north hostage. May the new year renew our leaders and awaken their sense of leadership beyond adorning themselves in expensive traditional clothes.