Abdulrazaque Bello-BarkindoFriday, November 29, 2002


t is easy for a Lagos journalist to sit in the comfort of his office, safely ensconced in his air-conditioned milieu, to criticise the actions of the almajiri who puts his life and that of an entire citizenry in harms way for a mere mess of pottage. He can argue, and rightfully too, that aggression as perpetrated by mobs maiming and killing innocent citizens benefit no one. He can even go on to accuse the almajiri of being pawns in the hands of disgruntled politicians.

Yet, if our Lagos editor were living amidst the squalor, the deprivation, the want, the illiteracy, Shari’a, and the confusion that the transformation from thug to nouveau-riche of some of the notorious persons from the north create, he would be writing a different story.

It is easy to shout that the crimes of the almajiris, committed in the name of Allah, breach the rights of others to work and live in any part of the country. In fact, increasing numbers of northern Muslims wish that those attacks would cease and that the region would be a safe place for all. They also share the argument that the attacks target the innocent.

Yet, all these analysis would have been different if the writers had been illiterate northern Muslims with no repository and no hope but a faith in Allah. Put mildly, the injustices almajiris face in the north is enough to drive anyone insane. They are not only suffering from oppression by northern elite; they are also suffering from the refusal of the media to understand who they are and what they hold dear. Worse, they are not treated as human beings and the consistent theory of western conspiracy against Islam, or against Nigeria by government officials and northern elite is not making matters any better.

I am sure the almajiris do not sit back and rejoice at the number of “infidels” they had lynched. They are incapable of such revision. They also do not understand the full ramifications of their action. As illiterates, they hardly even know the cause, especially when it is a newspaper. I am sure that if they met a vendor they wouldn’t pick out which of his papers was Thisday. It has to be somebody with insidious intentions who has read the blasphemous article, and told the Imam to heat up the system. Who is this man? Who was the Imam that made the sermons and from which mosque did the riots emanate? These are the questions to ask, if solutions are to be found to tame Mr almajiri.

Their sponsors belong hypothetically to the same group that has, for decades, denied them the right to learn how to distinguish right from wrong. If the almajiri had well-paved streets like the ones in the GRAs he would not want them littered with corpses of Christians. If he had a job, he would not expose himself to the danger that rioting comes with. If he had a home he would not be there to be incited. If he had hope, he would not find refuge in extremism.

Much has been said about his education but too little has been done. Even today that glorified almajiris are governors in some states, the street almajiri’s situation remains the same. We are led by a bunch of losers who have been presiding over our economic decline and are about to bequeath mediocrity to the future generation. Their task in the north is to redouble their efforts in education while containing the risks or else when eventually the Christians are not there to attack, all of us will constitute the next target.

I was roundly insulted after my article on the Nigeriaworld website appealing to northerners to ignore the call to boycott Thisday. I had owned up to the destruction and killings in the write-up. My reason as a Muslim and, in principle, is that one must accept liability for any action that a group that he belongs to perpetrates. From my understanding of honour, if Muslims go wrong I’d want to be blamed along and would surely share in the credit when they do something right too. Knowing Nigerians, their reaction was as expected. Some of the writers expressed views that made Simple Simon seem like a genius, which is an indication that the entire population and not only the almajiri need education.

This reminds me of some years back, in fact, last century. An Igbo youth who had been discharged by his master, as the Igbo do, had just set up a booming palm oil stall and made himself the darling of his Hausa colleagues in the Sokoto market. He made people laugh and became very popular. But his mouth ran amok one day when he uttered “blasphemous” words while joking with friends. The joke suddenly went dry. They took out a Fatwa on him. He was mobbed.

It was just before noon. As an NUJ official then, I was running around working on damage control in the media when I met my colleague of an International medium’s Hausa service who told me that he had already despatched the news item to his employer. I discovered that he had even quoted a famous Islamic scholar who had sanctioned the maximum punishment on the offender. Worse still, that scholar was in far away Sudan, but had authorised the Hausa service reporters to quote him whenever they liked, because as I later realised, international publicity earned him some bucks.

How could you? Have you seen a statement certifying him dead? Are you a doctor? I asked petrified. His finality, not his professional error, turned me to stone. “Well,” he said, “as a Muslim, even if he was not dead, I killed him over the radio!” By that time the midday news had been sent and Igbo in Sokoto on hearing it had closed shop and taken to the streets brandishing cudgels, knives and even guns.

As they chanted war songs, they also insisted that this was their country and no one would intimidate them, adding that, if they had to leave, they would have to do so in ambulances and coffins. Not like “before.” They were true Nigerians. And they understood the country better than “before.”

Like our reporter above, those who sent me hate mails have been in school at one time or another. Most of them even live abroad, presumably among their symbols of civilisation, but, sadly know very little about their own country. Arguing the overused freedom of speech in a democracy line, they fail to see that the most stringent protection of free speech will not protect a man or woman who falsely shouts fire in a theatre and causes panic. Some that I had time to reply soon understood my point and were humble enough to say so, though a lot of them committed the “Orkar blunder.” They banished me and my north to wherever so that they would live in peace. They didn’t even bother to change the country’s name, but they excised its north.

However, the north is not just a product of some colonial do-gooder. It is real. It is an essential part of Nigeria that people who try to better can only succeed if they took a few home truths. The entire country, not just the north, must improve its attitude to the rest. We have been through so much together, and still remain together. Our strength is in our diversity and we only need to harness it. But unless we stop thinking of the country as the mistake of 1914 and see ourselves as equal partners in what Obj will call “auren zobe” we shall continue to languish in our mess. There are many almajiris in Nigeria, but some are in shirt and tie. Others are in the national and state assemblies. Many more are in vigilante groups, political parties and even offices. Those who have been seeking a solution to our problems from God should just forget it. God loves all countries equally and cannot do overtime on Nigeria, especially when our problems are all man-made. It is as simple as fishing out the randy Islamic fanatic who reads articles on beauty contests; fishing out his mullah and bringing both to book.