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 occur 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 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 those gruesome 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?
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 infallible 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 Goverment Reserved Areas (GRAs) and other zones where the rich abode are spared the carnages. They usually don’t know that anything is happening, until they see in the News or, perchance, bump into the seething mobs in the streets.
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 I made a strange discovery that further strengthened my belief in the inherent good in humankind. 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 part of town where the incident of them having to carry the death of a childhood friend on their conscience would 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 should not 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 possession, 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, I say, 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 marking, religious affiliation or accent 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 tells 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 perpetrators 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, 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 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 far-fetched 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).
I wrote this piece two years ago, at the height of another the intermittent clashe in the North. It was not my desire to end the year on a sour note, but one finds it hard to turn away from the carnage that have become synonymous with Northern Nigeria. With my first hand experience, I know the solution, but would the government be able to implement this? That the question most Nigerians ask, without hope for an answer. May the souls of those that died find rest.