When Lord Frederick Lugard created Nigeria 105 years ago, he brought together the crumbs of the ancient seven Hausa states, the Kanem-Bornu Empire, the Igbo and the Yoruba Kingdom into one nation that is still grappling to accept its identity even after a century. These regions of over a couple of hundreds of tribes are so distinct in all senses; linguistically, religiously and even politically. The predominantly Muslim north seems to be in constant feud with the predominantly Christian south, the Yoruba stand in the grey areas and watch from the fence, usually with that unparalleled sense of diplomacy. Now, more than ever, our patriotism is put to test. Are you a northerner, southerner, or a Nigerian?
The victory of the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari has once again set some Southerners against some of the Northerners. These voices are by no means the representation of the sentiments of the majority from the two regions. Some of the south that massively voted for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar blamed his loss on the “populous northern illiterates.” The videos of the under-aged Almajiri boys casting their votes did not go unaired. The rights of the illiterate majority to decide for the literate minority was questioned. Some Northerners were called beggars who should be denied alms. In retaliation, the #IAmNorth hashtag began trending. The bigotry in the comments and tweets soon became too intense to be left alone. The war ground was set. Obsessed with passing points, I don’t think anyone stopped to ask the relevant questions; Will the southerners involved find a more permanent solution for the marginalization and set down the pot of their long brewing hatred towards the north? If they look us in the eye, will they see the spirit of brotherhood sparkling in our eyes? Will the northerners involved look inwards and admit that to a large margin, their literacy is far behind? Will they accept the southerners as a part of the nation that deserve a place at the table, too, even with a population half of theirs?
First, the majority of the North have been in need of mirror for a long time. We bask in the achievements of Empires that trace as far back as the 13th century, we are proud of pictures that depicted us well covered and dressed and writing Arabic on our mini wooden boards when the Europeans came, while the other tribes were met half unclad. We could read and write Arabic half a millennium before the missionaries showed up in the South. Just the way civilization touched the East before the West, it touched Northern Nigeria before Southern Nigeria. That is what puts us to sleep. We clothe ourselves in the glory of the past centuries while we stink of the failure of the present day.
Who is the average Northern Nigerian today? That is a question you should not have pondered upon, for there are no boxes to fit us in. Despite us having the richest blackman in Africa belonging to our zone, many literates in the government, radicals who sit back and bathe us in their wisdom, thousands studying in world-class universities abroad, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that the illiterates are the majority. Yobe state, for example, has only 7.23% literacy level, though it is claimed to be the lowest in the country. Zamfara has 19.16%, Katsina 10.36% and Bauchi 19.26%. This is in a sharp contrast with the South, for Anambra has 92.11% literacy level, Abia 89.46%, Imo 96.43% and so on. We have the highest number of out of school children in the world, so it was reported by the World Bank.
Perhaps, the largest setback for Northern Nigeria is its dance to the old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” We live in a country with English as an official language, not Arabic. When the missionaries came, we clung to our own literacy of the time and did not embrace the western education as the other zones did. Western education was considered anti-Islam, and still is in several places in our zone. Weighed down by the shackles of over-population due to the polygamous nature of our marriages, early marriage, Almajiranci and the illegitimate hatred for the western education, the north has to accept the criticism to its advantage, look themselves in the mirror, strip off the old glory and step up their game. Will the #IAmNorth hashtag stop that father from sending off his 6-year-old child to Almajiranci? Or will it match the 20% girl-child enrolment in the Northeast to the 85% in the Southwest? For the north, these remain the relevant questions.
Some Southerners, on the other hand, harbor a very misplaced hatred on the Hausa-Fulani of the north. To understand the perspective of the southerners on this, we need to trace back to that century old amalgamation of two very distinct provinces that left the Hausa/Fulani in the North, the Yoruba in the West and the Igbo in the South. Even before independence, Sir Hugh Clifford was quick to point out that while the Southern Province Nigerians have become skilled professionals, there were not sufficiently educated Northerners to fill the most minor clerical posts in any department. Even then, the Colonies knew that they were building up a very lopsided country. I believe that the first time that ethnic bigotry became evident in Nigeria was when independence dawned and the leadership of the country was soon dominated by the North. It only took a few years for a Civil War to cloud the nation after the secession that followed Nzeogwu’s coup. The Northerners were all too ready to expel them brutally, partly due to the murder of both Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello and many northerners, and partly due to the commercial success of the Igbos that they simply could not stand. The Civil War was thought to end three years after its birth when Biafra rejoined Nigeria. But that was not it under the covers. It was the beginning of a more silent but longer war between the Igbo and the Hausa/Fulani, one that was almost always back-staged and involved the two regions paying each other old scores.
The missionaries met the Igbos with no leaders of their own. This individualism still affects them today in a world where the society is too large for every group to not have a representative. The Igbos opened themselves for exploit when they refused to set aside their individualism and personal ambition to raise a society so strong and with a single face attached. At this point, I would recommend a mirror for the Igbos too. Their first step should be their willingness to change and adjust to a society that does not align with their traditional norms anymore. If the matter was to be dug to the very bottom, the marginalization was self-inflicted. They are given the same opportunity as the north to breed, to vote in their masses, to represent themselves in the government and contest also. The north, so far, has been a very friendly and accommodating place for them far more than the south has been for the northerners. Their trades flourish in here, they are allowed to do what they are best at freely: business. So far, many of the Northerners have gone as far as to comment on the President’s commitment to awarding more projects in the South than in the North.
A lot of myths fuel this feud. Let me help you debunk them. Tafawa Balewa was neither Hausa nor Fulani, but we call him Hausa/Fulani anyway. Both Atiku and Buhari are Fulani, we label the Fulani illiterate but claim that while one is a successful, literate businessman, the other is one who has to prove his WAEC certificate to us. Do they not share the same basic identity? The North is not made of only the Hausa/Fulani, the demography of the region was shaped by a lot of tribes that include the Jukuns, Kanuris, Tivs, Igalas, etc, all whom have built formidable empires that make the North today. It is not a Muslim North or a Christian south, both are a blend of the two religions.
When I look at the us, I see a country of over 250 beautiful tribes. I see over 150 million people who worship the same God in different ways. We can be as beautiful as we once were. This beauty has so far been our biggest curse, as it has claimed the lives of thousands and destroyed families beyond count. Our cultural diversity is a weapon that we can use to fight off differences or fight each other. The northerners are not inherently illiterate or poor gatemen, the Southerners are not inherently bitter towards us. Before the wars and hashtags take the better of us, we can choose to be Nigerians first, and then Southerners, Easterners and Northerners second. Peace.
Hadiya Aliyu Tilde.
28 February, 2019