Once again, like uncountable times in the past, the north is in the throes of ethno-religious crisis. As usual, the security agencies are caught napping and aside from accusations of complicity in the crisis, seem to be all thumbs, with little or no idea of how to handle the situation, besides its age-old ‘shoot on sight’ solution.
In a previous article, written some years ago, I dwelled on the nature of the north and after examining the numerous crises I witnessed and luckily escaped, while living in the north, concluded that ethno-religious crisis and the north of Nigeria are Siamese twins that may forever remain conjoined, unless the drastic is done.
I warned then that the north would blow up again way before the Boko Haram clash and the first Jos affair. My forecast was not based on any form of prescience, but as a result of a brief study of the history of ethno-religious clashes in the north.
In the north of Nigeria, from Jos and beyond, the truth about Ethno-religious crisis is not if it would occur, but when it will occur, again.
Let us not be deceived, the fight is more ethnic than religious, it is more about land than which prophet is greater, it is ultimately more about the language of your ancestors than the language of any sacred text, it is more about political control.
This fight is about the rights of the individual to exist with all benefits that accrue to a Nigerian anywhere in this country. In Jos, the Hausa-Fulani is fighting for relevance. They could not get the control they sought through the ballot; hence, the resort to violence, something evidence over the years have shown them to have a large stock of – fuelled by large-scale poverty and miss-education, something this country have a large stock of. The so-called natives of Jos – the Birom et al – are fighting to hold unto what they say is ancestrally theirs.
However, before we accuse the people of Jos of ethnic discrimination, let us remember that every Nigerian is guilty of this one way or the other. Many Nigerians will argue this point, countering that the Nigerian constitution grants liberty to every Nigerian, but when you think about the possibility of an Igbo becoming governor of, let us say, Lagos state, then you will really understand what is at stake.
I grew up in the north and can say without fear of contradiction that the Hausa-Fulani is as prone to bigotry as the Igbo, Yoruba or Birom. I recall the policy of indigenisation during my primary and secondary school days, which allowed for two separate sets of school fees, one for the so-called settlers another for the so-called indigenes. I still laugh anytime I remember the name changes that many of my friends had to endure in other to benefit from the considerable lesser school fees meant for the so-called indigenes. I still recall the dropping of surnames and the adoption of perceived Hausa names by many of my Igbo and Yoruba neighbours just to belong to that class. It was as if being Nigerian was not enough, you have to be something else too, in this case a pseudo-tribesman.
I am not a lawyer and have not paid much heed to the Nigerian constitution (this will change soon), but it has always been my belief that people are indigenes of where they are born. That should be the standard, but Nigeria is a peculiar place with peculiar ways, uncanny most times, of interpreting the law. In Nigeria, you are an indigene of where ever your father/grandfather hails, whether you know that place is not of consequence; hence the dropping of names native to any tribe by those who want to be seen as indigenes their present domicile.
There lies the genesis of the problem in Jos, the Hausa-Fulani, having lived more than 150 years in the area, feel they should be treated as equals. They seek to wield political power, to have a say in how they are governed. While there is nothing wrong, fundamentally, with this desire, the peculiarities I mentioned earlier deny them this right, just as it denies millions of Nigerians every day.
As an Igbo man in Kaduna and now in Lagos, I cannot recall the number of times I have been reminded of my status as a visitor. I was a visitor in Kaduna, despite spending my first 22 years there before leaving because of the constant threat that hangs over the neck of any southerner in the far north and the constant, unconscious, seeking of fastest routes to an army or police barrack as Friday prayers wind up. Though perceived as a visitor in Lagos, that fear of decapitation by a seething mob is gone, but not altogether, as I now endure fear of one chance and whatnot. Its naija, you are not really safe anywhere.
Yes, Jos burns, again, and will do so again. Just as many other trouble spots in the north will too unless we stop deceiving ourselves, continuously believing, perhaps hoping, after every blow up, that we have seen the last. Far from it, we will continue to see these crises until we wake up and admit that we need to rethink and rephrase the laws that hold us together, albeit loosely, as a country.
Let us look into the past and learn. Let us set far-reaching goals that will ultimately make us a greater country. Let us not fear change, for it is inevitable. I believe the solution is a simple one; it only needs a willing leader to get it done. Some say this is one crisis to many, I say it is the hundredth of many more to come if we do not address the root causes.
Let us sit together and answer the question that desperately needs an answer, “are we Nigerians first and members of a tribe second?” Let us throw away this constitution if it is not working properly and draw up a new one that will guide us into the light we so seek, or if need be, grant it the muscle it needs to properly work.
I say let the talks begin! Enough is enough!
I wrote this stuff before the new year eve bombing in Abuja. as such, my arguments have changed a little since then.