By A.F. Sesay
It’s difficult to fathom how a region of such numbers, resources, and beautiful cultural heritage/pedigree came to become such a scourge on national conscience in a space of forty years. What happened to the passion of the Sardauna, the native pride and dignity of your people, the welfarism that always motivated your brothers from the south or neighbouring countries to stay beyond those initial dates of return or even decide to be permanent residents?
If you were to canvas for answers, different answers would come from different sources based on intellectual and cultural biases or leanings. That’s also the case with all matters of human endeavour. So, no shaking! And the more complex the issue the more divergent opinions and perspectives.
But in the case of recent events in northern Nigeria, with an emphasis on the Muslim hemisphere, there is something striking in the people’s unwanton love for the material side of life, contrary to the previous cultural ethos. Equally matched by this is the fear for death which naturally comes with more cravings for the transient pleasures of life. What happened to the studious efforts of the serious and sincere ulama (religious scholars)?
Let me hazard a few guesses. While some unscrupulous elements in both local and international media make it look like Arewa is Africa’s human abattoir where people are killed for the fun of it, non-northerners who have lived there before this litany of crises have fond memories of a people who are peaceful to a fault. This peace, which was largely a product of a contented heart, died with the pressure to keep up with the Joneses. And in that pressure was buried the deep fear of death. Before this, you knew people who were courageous, who stood for what they believed in no matter whose axe was gored and no matter the deadly consequence.
Crimes like kidnapping and banditry couldn’t reign supreme because criminals weren’t feared. We all remembered the courageous youths of Azare who risked their lives to confront armed bandits in 2012. Instances abound when community leaders (mai unguwas) coordinated young people to serve and defend the community within the ambit of the law. So, what happened?
How did we come to this period of life when people in a region of over 100 million people stood by and watched unknown faces and small groups of scums hack away their future and that of their children, one local government at a time?
Maybe we should look at the trends and evolution of materialism. Look at a few nations whose socio-economic progress have been meteoric in the last 50 years and look at northern Nigeria, you will see a striking lack of priority as well as a lack of agency and urgency. And what underlies all this is the base love for material things among the elite which oozed out into the wider society rubbed off on the talakawa (proletariat) Suddenly, suddenly every Bala wants this: a luxurious house with a tall gate, a fleet of cars, tall, fair and wide-eyed women and other fine, yet fleeting things of life. Yet, neither the education nor the economy was tailored to sustain this onward rush to glitters: new trends come up annually in the design of houses, new brands of cars, new phones and so on.
Whoever is going to keep up with that has to have unrestricted access to money either through commerce or a job that pays an incredibly high salary. In the absence of this is another companion to money: stealing and everything extortion. Under this falls the myriads of problems we see today: unbridled corruption in governance, banditry, kidnapping and the rest in this nefarious family of ills.
Let’s say we flipped the conversation and say the fault is not in the people, but their enemies. It is logical to think that a region this steeped in tradition, with such great potential in numbers and unexplored resources is bound to be a target of both visible and invisible enemies, what is not logical though is when this becomes an excuse for inertia, baseless polemics, cancel culture and hurling of insults left right and centre. About enemies, who hasn’t had one? About insults, we haven’t seen one- I mean- we haven’t had an economy built solely on the foundation of the people’s ability to hurl insults at each other.
While there are certainly smithereens of enmity and animosity smothered on all of the region’s myriads of problems (a common case is a bias in data and reportage on and about the north, but let’s not digress), there is certainly a need for deep introspection. What happened? Are these manifestations of problems long foretold? Could something be wrong with the very approach to problem-solving? Or is this a huge cultural gap nobody is willing to talk about? Does it have something to do with population or outright carelessness on the part of the ruling class?
The north, in its long political sojourn as part of a nation in which it was severely disadvantaged in education, yet extremely well-positioned in Politics and Administration, has had its fair share of wins and losses. What remains to be seen is the ingenious manipulation of pluses and minuses. The world is watching and history’s pen is looming over you!
All told, the current state of affairs should remind you of the popular hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). And if this is a behavioural problem like it was rightly observed, then it’s going to require a behavioural solution: moderate the wanton love for material things and be courageous enough to confront death when your dignity and that of the generations unborn are at stake.
A.F. Sesay sent this via firstname.lastname@example.org.