Monday, May 10, 2010

The Tale Of Siamese Twins: The North And Religious Crises

If one takes the tedious time to research the numerous religious cum ethnic blow ups in the country, one will invariably arrive at the sad conclusion that more than ninety percent of these occurs in the geographic north of Nigeria. Looking at a map marked with incidents of that nature in the last twenty years will reveal a gloomy picture of rage that turns this beautiful landscape red with innocent blood periodically.

Yes, the south has its own blowups but the frequency and scale of those of the north gives one constant goose bumps. Also, reason tells us that many in the south are offshoots of quakes in the north, where brothers seek out perceived tribesmen of the northern perpetrators in a blood lust induced violence that can only hurt the innocent.

My family lived through the horrors of the Matasine riots of the 1980’s (though one was then too young to understand the real story), the 1987 riots that claimed a big ECWA church opposite our house in Dutse close Kaduna, the zango kataf crisis that spilled into Kaduna and other towns, with reprisal killings that felled not just southern Kaduna indigenes but also those of ethnic nationalities that were presumed alien; and during the sharia riots of 2000, We witnessed killings and mass muggings that forever tainted our minds, the gruesomeness of butchered bodies, which became feasts for pigs and dogs for days following the incidents, and the helplessness of those that lost not just loved ones, but everything..

It was only later, at an older age that I came to understand the psychological impact of our early life sightings and the agony of having to live with constant fear. It took me years to relearn the humane act of flinching away from corpses, though an instinctive fear that warns caution still abides with me-especially when I am sojourning in the North.

Why the North?

I still seek answers to the same nagging question, WHY THE NORTH?

Yes, why do these crises always occur in one part of Northern Nigeria or the other? Why not in the south east or south west? Why must residents of Kaduna, Zaria, Katsina, Kano, Maiduguri, Jos etc submit to periodic carnages that alter lives forever? Why do they have to live in constant fear?

The answers to the questions above eluded me as a child and still elude me now. Some argue that it is in the genetic makeup of the Northerner to be violent; others still swear that it is within the tenets of the Islamic religion. I personally don’t agree with both as I have had close personal ties with Hausa Muslims who are as upright in their dealings with their fellow man as any Christian southerner can ever hope to be. More so, when I know that the average Hausa can stand at par with any tribe, anywhere in the world, when trustworthiness is called for – think that is why they are in great demand as security men in the southern part of Nigeria.

If blames are needed, I think a better scapegoat should be the poverty and disinformation by a minority of the otherwise well informed Northerners. I place my reasons solidly on the door of things I have seen and undeniable facts.

On the other hand, if you would rather doubt the strength of my submission and deny that poverty plays the stronger role in these recurring crises, consider the fact that always, without fail, the GRAs and other area where the rich abode are spared. They usually don’t know that anything is happening until they see in the News or peradventure bump into the seething mobs in the streets.

Strange patterns

During the riots of 2000, I noticed a peculiar pattern that if looked into will check the damages to life and property that occur during these crises. If not for the swift nature of the crisis, my family would have gotten the usual advance warning from our Hausa neighbours. In this case the warning still came, too late for us to escape to the barracks but early enough for us to shelter in the homes of our Hausa neighbours until the tension cooled several days later.

These neighbours fed my family and several other families and even on occasion, physically prevented the mob from embarking on a room to room search for non-indigenes. Later on, my family moved – having lost the medicine store that feed us – into the home of an Hausa police man, a friend of my father’s, in the police barracks where again they stayed for days.

It was during these trying times that one made a strange discovery that further strengthened ones belief in the inherent good in mankind. Of the mob that was bent on taking our blood, not one face was even faintly recognizable. Later when those of us that survived the horrors met to trade survival stories, a pattern emerged. Apparently, even the mob found it difficult to attack those they know, be them Igbo, Yoruba or Igala, they instead moved to a different quarter where the incident of them having to carry the death of a childhood friend on their conscience will be minimal, for example, those that attacked our area were Rumoured to have marched down from Badrawa and Angwan Sariki – both towns some kilometres removed – while those within our area either moved towards Abakpa or further on to Kurmi marshi.

It shouldn’t surprise the reader that some of the individuals that constitute these so-called savage mobs have one or two Christian families hidden in their bedrooms, away from danger.

This brings me to the government’s failings in times of these recurrent attacks. As a starter, I believe the government has never handled these crises with the kind of decisive force that will make them a thing of a very dark past that one should only read about in the history books. Granted, this does not happen only in Nigeria but one thinks it’s time we move into the league of enlightened nations that know the worth of an individual life, or must we be as savage as our fore fathers to prove our manhood to the women of our age. I think the greatest problem the government has is its seemingly disregard for the importance of localized information and usage of the available human and natural resources for a common good.

The carnage in Kaduna in 2000 lasted about three days, with mobs moving from one presumed Christian or Muslim (as the case may be) enclave largely unmolested by the unavailable police force. The major reason that particular crisis claimed more life and property than those presiding it is mainly because those who used to run when trouble calls, leaving their property to the mercy of merciless looters who usually burn what they cannot carry away, decided that enough is enough and stood their ground to fight for their life’s earning, in the process destroying the heart of a town that had survived several blowups in the past. We thought it was all over, but like the calm within the storm, two years passed and in 2002, the hosting of a miss world beauty pageant gave reason for another fracas in Kaduna. One should not forget the Danish cartoon incident or the Maiduguri crisis and more recently that of Bauchi, Jos and Jos again.

Strange, one says, especially when the panel(s) of inquiry that is(are) looking into the Jos crisis are/is yet to sum up their report, when we still hear of people seeking their missing loved one, when bodies, left in dark nooks, are still being brought to light. It gives room for bitter thought; it gives reasons to grieve for our generation. Then anger pushes one to ask a question whose reply is steeped in mild treason, should the North be left alone, to the Northerners?

Old history serves to point out the worrisome continuity of these mass killings which made a former governor warn that revenge killings may be the only solution to it.

Instead of deploying law enforcement officers as soon as the first blow is struck, the government usually plays a game of ‘let’s wait and see how far it will spread’ while angry and hungry Nigerians range the landscape on the lookout for anybody with a different tribal mark, religious affiliation or presumed foreign assent to maim.

The popular belief amongst the so-called non-indigenes in Kaduna is that the government and traditional rulers usually have a hand in most crises that occurs, pointing out the seeming disregard for prompt action by either.

A way out

If anything concrete can be done to check the occurrence and spread of these blowups, the law enforcement agents must be on hand in all the little Angwas that make up the towns in the North especially in those areas noted as trouble spots. It doesn’t serve anybody’s purpose to keep soldiers in front of houses already looted and burnt for months following a crisis when such weren’t sent to nip the crisis in the bud and save the homes and lives of thousands.

In Kaduna, the division of the town into two sections of Muslim north and Christian south, bordered by the Kaduna river, seemed to serve a dual purpose, a ‘Berlin wall’ for safety and a line of fear that tells you, you are entering enemy territory and should be cautious. Though the government might go beyond denying any division and try to explain the benefits of it – if any exists. The influx of Christian settlers from areas north of the river into this steadily overpopulating area and movement of Muslims northwards tell a bitter tale of intolerability.

If the bitter truth be told, no one really gains from these carnages. For example, the riots in Kaduna have forever changed the face of that once beloved city and I am sure those who grew up in Jos, Maiduguri, Katsina, Kano etc will agree that these cities lost much more than years can ever replace to the crises that rocked them to their bedrocks.

I know every war has its heroes and its villains but the villains in this tale are not really those who lift their hands to kill, and loot but the veiled faces behind them who put the actions into bloody motion.

Words of caution

To those southerners who must visit the cities of the north, and they are all worth seeing; if for nothing, for the beauty that generations of town planners bestowed on them and for the historical buildings and architecture that abound therein, stay away from things that might cause friction like:

Religion – no matter who you are with don’t discuss religious dogma with a Muslim unless you know what you are talking about, and can keep within the safe bounds (most southerners in the north know this)

Alcohol – drink only at places designated as alcohol areas like army barracks and Christian quarters.

Religious books – do not rough handle a Muslim book in any indecent way as this might be construed as desecration- most free spirited Christian fall into this trap and become victims of the fanatics that are always around the corner. Recall the young lady that lost her life to her students a few years in Yobe state for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran.

Above all, try to make friends with an educated indigenous Muslim who can and usually will tell you of things to avoid and warn you away from trouble and explain your mistakes to any ill tempered person out to fight God’s battle – this is another major difference, most Christians tend to see religion as a personal business with the creator while many Muslim tend to see it as general movement that involves not just the individual man but those around him, they are willing always to stand up to what they see as God’s right. Killing and dying for these ideals are not farfetched for the willing.

Finally, the average northerner is friendly and easy to get along with. The towns are accessible and easier to live in than most cities in the south and housing is generally affordable (I pay 70 thousand for a one room apartment in Oshodi while a friend pays 50 thousand for a two bedroom flat in Kaduna –he still says it’s exorbitant)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Raid on the Two Market

Raid on Two Market

Adl el-Hasm was said to be more adventurous than his contemporaries, which was why he chose to make his own path, ignoring the usual bargaining in the slave market of Alor, He chose instead to do his own raiding in the unclaimed interiors where he heard slaves waited to be herded into pens.

Adl el-Hasm, also, a practical man, brought along a formidable army of ex-slaves who are fiercely royal to him, having been made to believe that he was instrumental to their freedom, a belief that was not all that unfounded since he bought them out from back bending toil amongst the sand dunes, and having the choice to keep them as bond men he had instead set them free with the option of either staying to work with him for wage or to take their fate into their own hands – an option many could not bear to think of in a strange land with strange customs. Most decided to stay with him – even after he told them his plan for their homelands in the forest belt.

Some of the ex-slaves Adl el-Hasm hired spoke dialects mutually intelligible to those of the deeper forest he intended to raid and retained the native immunity to disease to a large extent, and as such greatly reduced the problem of communication and disease to a minimum. Adl el-Hasm, having endeavoured to learn the native lingua en-route, also had the advantage of doing his own talking without resorting to an interpreter, albeit in a highly accented version of swamp river speak, which, fortunately, was mutually intelligible to hinterland dialects.

This band of royal ex-slaves, it was, that raided the Land of the Seven Hills on that bright morning, a market day, when the air held scant scent of the trouble that was to come. Had it occurred on a different day, perhaps, the outcome would have been different for the people of the Seven Hills do not go to war on the Two Market day.

Tul, a large man with the charcoal black compression of the Swamp dwellers lead Adl el-Hasm’s raiding team. Adl el-Hasm trusted him on account of his sound judgments and his extensive combat experience from his days as a Swamp River warrior.

He was sold to the Alor slavers by his uncle who wanted to lay claim on his inheritance – a wrong he swore to right sooner than later – and the Alor sold him to the Blue skinned Slavers who somehow he somehow managed to find favour with. They set him free after just four years of bondage, something that is as rare as the battle between the sun and the moon since the Blue slavers are known to be exceptionally brutal.

Adl el-Hasm had found him loitering in Hamdan city port awaiting a slave caravan headed for the forest lands; he had befriended him and offered him a part in his enterprise. An offer Tul grabbed with both hands.

Now Tul stood hidden behind leafy bushes, flexing his massive fingers on the hilt of a wicked looking sword hanging from a tiger skin belt on his waist, watching the market intensely through the few cracks in the foliage.

He and his men had been in position since the second cockcrow, knowing from experience that it was usually women and teenage boys that would be in the market that early, the men would still be at home putting off till the last minute the necessity of selling their yams.

He could see from his vintage point that only a small number of the youths, gathered around the market square talking loudly – obviously bragging about one wrestling conquest or the other – were old enough to strap the customary long cutlass on dainty waists. He mentally marked the position of these armed ones while signaling to his men hidden behind him to commence the attack.

The raiders attacked as a body, having silently encircled the market. It was their bloodcurdling battle cry that attracted the attention of the young men by the square, who, momentary confused, rushed to see what was afoot, believing it to be a plank, for war are not fought in the market place and no clan had sent a war monger to the Seven Hills of late.

They came face to face with the raiders and knew instinctively that this was for real.

For a tense moment they stood rock still, horrified, as the first line of raiders crossed the market boundary heading straight for the women and young maidens, while a second line whooped behind them. Then a battle cry from behind told them that they are effectively hemmed in.

It was at this point that Tul, who was then walking leisurely towards the youths believing them subdued, learnt the new meaning of respect. Not soon had he opened his mouth to tell his boys not to harm the youths but to disarm them, than loud feminine ululations broke out from the other side of the market where the women were. All hell broke loose, the boys, who were until then passively awaiting their fate, seemed to suddenly animate as they too took up the cry and before Tul could make head of this sudden development, they attacked, and fiercely too.

One, who appeared to be the eldest, rushed an oncoming raider and deftly severed his head from his body before he could raise the battle axe he carried.

The battle was joined, and Tul discovered too late that the previously unarmed youths were not as helpless as he had thought; they easily picked up woods, pestles, a discarded hoes and even the base of an incomplete gong and wielded them with a dexterity that perplexed him.

From atop a nearby hill, Adl el-Hasm marvelled at the scene unfolding before him, it appeared as if the youths, who were outnumbered ten to two, had the upper hand. Then he noticed a remarkable thing, they were not fighting to get away from the raiders but steadily pushing back towards the market square where a knot of people were already assembled, apparently encircling a women cradling a young boy.

He watched without emotion; as two of his men were cut down under the savage cutlass of the youthful warriors, while wondering how they acquired their skill in hand to hand combat.

It would have been instructive if he had paid a little more attention to the tales about the Hill Tribes, then he would have known their fame as skilled warriors and how hand to hand combat was thought to children as young as two years who grew up acquiring the skill as deftly as they do dance routines.

Though most of his crew had guns he had made them leave them behind, he didn't want to take the risk of a trigger happy hombre taking pot shots at the would be slaves just for the heck of it; he thought it would be a clean sweep, in and out before their presence was felt. Yes, he was told about their ancient bravery, especially in front of their women folk, but he never bargained for this.

Below, it was becoming, more apparent that the raiders were more confused than the villagers who were all heading towards the market square. Some, especially the young warriors, fought furiously through the raiders to get there. Once there, they turned to stand at the periphery of the cluster and appeared to wait.

"But for what?" Tul wanted very much to know.

He did not mind the cluster for it will make his job a whole lot easier. Instead of chasing after wild eyed women and kids; he will get to pick out the ones he wanted from an already gathered circle. He called out to his men to stop forcing the remaining women to a different direction. Those ones were also fighting as hard as the youths to get to the circle, with sharp fingers nails and well placed kicks that dropped many of the men.

He was not surprised when the fight stopped as soon as it had started.

The natives gathered together in a tight circle, silently watching.

The sudden silence bothered him. No one, not even the children made any kind of noise or movement, none appeared scared, the only noise that broke the silence briefly was made by his men as they barked orders to each other.

Fali, a young raider originally from the nomadic sheep herder tribe of the Fall, was disturbed by the silence of the tribesmen too. Earlier he had seen a fierce youth, not past his fourteenth season, chase two raiders down the market road with a large pestle, howling like a mad man, only to break one's leg before smashing the other's nose in. these were men he had crossed the desert and swamp forest with, men who fought the warlike river people by his side, men he feared and respected as superior soldiers running from an adolescent youth. Turning to Tul he said, "Efendi, I do not like this at all" his face looked like that of one who suckled sour grape when he had expected orange.

Tul, on another occasion, would have tried to douse Fali’s fears or even say something funny to ease the general tension, but this was not one of those days. Anyway, any statement he would have made was cut off by a loud roar that seemed to emanate from the bowel of the earth itself.

The raiders turned around as a man, head reverting in all directions trying to pin point the direction the horrifying sound came from, had they not, they would have noticed that the villagers did not pay any special attention to it, the only significant thing that happened within the circle, was the child that slide down from his mother’s arm and walked with a big smile to stand at the very front of the circle.

From his vintage point on the hill, Adl el-Hasm was the first to see the lions, two fierce adults, male and female, bigger than he had imagined any lion could be.

They charged in from opposite directions, one heading straight for the knot of raiders while the other went straight towards the hurdled hill men, only to halt in front of the young child and nuzzled his outstretched palms – Adl el-Hasm did not see that for his attention was focused on the male, that rushed the band of raiders and tore out the throat of the nearest one with a swift sidelong jerk of his massive head.

Pandemonium reigned supreme; the hunters became the hunted as survival became a race for the swiftest and the luckiest. Adl el-Hasm was transfixed as he stared open mouthed as his men were slaughtered.

He still had the presence of mind though, to note that the female lion did not attack the raiders directly but only seem to act as a guard, attacking only those who had the bad luck of running towards the market square and the now hurdled villagers. Together, the lions brought swift death to the market square.

On his part, Tul had seen lions before and has even hunted them but he has never seen or heard of specie this big or fierce. He still had the presence of mind to call out to his fleeing men, even as he too tried to keep out of the rampaging lion's way. He tried to gather the few of them who were close by and then slowly guided them away from the market, knowing that lions will never attack a closely packed group – which appeared to be the Hill people’s defense – for lions, once they taste blood, rarely know foe from friend.

His scheme worked as he had hoped it would for the lion left their immediate vicinity to chase down the stragglers and wounded who couldn't make it to the circle or were too scared to even try.

The lions circled them, constantly charging but always stopping a few paces away. Tul chanced a look back and counted about thirty dead and dying of his elite raiding band. Surely, he thought, this has being the worst campaign he has had the privilege of been in. not even the bloody revolt of the river dwellers had been this costly.

They were harried by the lions till they reached the foot of the hill where Adl el-Hasm waited with the reserves that never came to their rescue. Not that Tul begrudged them, for who could withstand those lions from Fradry – the land of shadows beyond the sea.

Adl el-Hasm watched his weary men climb up the short hill, each running as swift as tired legs could carry, looking back constantly to see if the lions are still in pursuit. The lions had returned to the cluster of hill men, to sprawl in the dusty earth in front of the mysterious boy; but not before tearing into the throats of the wounded raisers with dagger like canines.

Adl el-Hasm was more intrigued than afraid, though he had heard about the Hill Men and their lions; he did not believe that any unknown force was in play, he just believed that the hill men have found a way to tame the lions while keeping their wild fierceness.

He looked once more beyond his retreating men to the market square and noticed the young child had his hands outstretched and the lions, tail swishing, stepped forward to nuzzle them.

Tul noticed where he was looking and turned towards him.

‘Yes Efendi, that boy is not ordinary; it was to him that the hill people ran when we attacked.’ He said, battling to catch his breath.

‘I think not Tul, It might just be that the lions belong to the boy.’ He said over his shoulder as he moved towards the path that will take them back to his encampment in low lands, two days march away.

Tul did not follow immediately; he stood still for awhile watching the boy play with the lions. He saw now that the hill people had began to move about, though not far away from their cluster. Yes, he thought, that child is special.