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The North is big enough for all northerners

Some 33 years ago, I found myself in the midst of some two hundred young professionals drawn from across Europe for an event organized by…

Some 33 years ago, I found myself in the midst of some two hundred young professionals drawn from across Europe for an event organized by the United States’ National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Budapest, capital of Hungary. For five chilly days in December, 1991, attendees at the event brainstormed on the appropriately titled question, ‘Is Europe big enough for all Europeans?’. Being the only African and, indeed, the only blackman at the event, I came away with some memories to last a lifetime.

December 1991, if you recall, was a testy time for Europeans and their continent. In essence, that period coincided with a time Europe desperately sought ways of averting a crisis that was about to engulf the Balkans. The war that ensued, which further Balkanized the Balkans, with the attendant ethnic cleansing, is a sad reminder that, only three decades ago, there were elements in Europe who thought their individual countries were not big enough to accommodate citizens. Three decades on, those ominous signs, among them suspicion, intolerance and crass ignorance that preceded the crisis in the Balkans, and which eventually led to very painful socioeconomic and political dislocations the region is yet to recover from, are beginning to manifest in northern Nigeria. Is Northern Nigeria no longer big enough for all northerners?

No reasonable discourse on northern Nigeria can be done without some measure of nostalgia. If truth be told, Northern Nigerians across ethnic and religious divides are  unanimous in crediting the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sokoto and first premier of the defunct Northern Region, for the socio-political and religious harmony that the North enjoyed prior to and, in  the years after independence. In line with the dictates of his faith, the late Premier was tolerant of non-Muslim and non-Hausa/Fulani elements, many of whom occupied conspicuous and sensitive positions in the Northern Regional Government. If any non-Muslim of his era or any non-Muslim northerner of this era holds any grudge(s) against Sir Ahmadu Bello, it certainly was not on account of religious differences.

That the late Sir Ahmadu Bello succeeded was largely because he was what many of today’s Northern politicians are not. Sadly, even the meanest of today’s clowning and predatory politicians in Northern Nigeria are quick to bandy the name of Sardauna around without even pretending to replicate what the man stood for.  Unlike what obtains with our men and women of the moment, Sir Ahmadu Bello had a heart that was large enough to accommodate everybody and anybody with views contrary to his. What is more, the Premier had foresight, an attribute that has assumed a backseat in today’s political calculations. Aware of the large concentration of non-Muslim and non-Hausa/Fulani people within his domain and aware of what they could contribute to his success as a leader, the late Premier reached out to all and left out none. Fifty-eight years after he was brutally cut down by some drunken and over pampered soldiers, one of the many enduring legacies he bequeathed, in this case, the dictum, let’s understand and appreciate our differences, has been turned upside down.

For northern Nigeria, things are dangerously falling apart and the centre is no longer holding. Northern Nigeria has suffered so much body blows and the already economically marginalised region is at great risk of being politically marginalised. Authentic northern elders must not fail to rise to the occasion. At the heart of the matter is the failure of the North to put its house in order. The north has never been this disunited. In the not-too-distant past, the average Kaje, Birom, Higgi, Kamuku or any of the non-Hausa people in the north, even the non-Muslim among them, never minded and, in fact, was proud to be identified as Hausa. The reverse is the truth today and you may  unwittingly, though innocently, be igniting an uncivil war by simply referring to a Kaje or Birom or Higgi person, or any member of the so-called Northern minorities, even the Muslims among them, as Hausa. Why, for instance, do the Yoruba of Kwara or Okun of Kogi, find it difficult today to identify with the geographical North? Today, the Fulani is Fulani and Hausa is Hausa, unlike in the recent past when both considered themselves as one.

Reversing the trend should not be a problem. It makes no sense to profile people. We should, for once. quit pretending that one tribe is better than the other and appreciate the fact that God created men and women differently. Had God wished it, mankind would be speaking one and the same language and profess one and the same faith. Anything to the contrary amounts to undoing the work of God. The so-called ‘Arne’, the ‘Kwaro’, the ‘Kafiri’ is indigenous to the North; he has no other place to call home and, therefore, must survive in the North.

As it is today, Sokoto, Katsina, Kano and Zamfara, among others, have indigenous, though minority, Christian populations while states as Kaduna, Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Taraba, Gombe, Bauchi, Niger, Kogi and Kwara in the so-called Muslim North have heavy Christian populations. Do we even realise that Borno State, the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency and the contiguous state of Yobe, have a large concentration of Christian populations? In this large, semiarid plain we lazily refer to as Muslim North, there are two states, Benue and Plateau, with minority Muslim populations! Failure to appreciate this is at the root of the problem with the North, a problem which the Sardauna of Sokoto never allowed to influence his decisions.

The North is and should be big enough for all northerners. And until every northerner, irrespective of ethnic and religious leanings, is made to feel he belongs, the dream of a return to the old order when the old north literally set the national agenda would remain a dream. Nobody should delude themselves that profiling people on the basis of ethnicity and religion is normal.

It is not!

Magaji wrote from Abuja


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