Sunday, September 9, 2012

Beyond Boko Haram: Towards a more Peaceful North

The heat of the Sunday sun is sweltering. I have wound down all four of my glasses but I feel trapped in this boiling box that is my car. I am driving slowly between Makera and Kakuri in Kaduna looking for a cybercaf├ę to send an email to a friend. As I move from the point where Makera becomes Kakuri, I can literally see the street change from shirts trousers and skirts to caftans and hijabs. I know that this is the case in much of Kaduna, but to see the difference in so short a distance is disconcerting.

I was born in the capital of the North. The state that once represented everything positive: developed, cosmopolitan, progressive. Today, having returned to live in Kaduna after a few years away, I have become a witness to the shameful dying spectacle that the North has become.

In some sort of self-inflicted religious apartheid, our cities, notably Jos and Kaduna- once quiet and integrated- are now religiously-exclusive, passive-aggressive (sometimes openly aggressive), mutually-suspicious contiguous communities. True some might argue that this quiet separation that has created Muslim and Christian communities has its positive effects, but it is not without obvious dangers. Sadly because of the increasingly widespread attacks of Boko Haram, no one is talking about the issues germane to the North, pre-Boko Haram. In fact some have cynically implied that the Boko Haram attacks (that affect everyone) have reduced the perennial Muslim-Christian crises. We must however look at the problems we have, beyond Boko Haram.

What separation has caused is a heightened otherness- convenient for trading blame and the spread of dangerous rumours and propaganda. One of the things I am grateful for is that I grew up not in a homogenous community but with Christian, Muslim, Hausa, Yoruba, Nupe, Igbo, Ibibio, Edo, Ebira, Urhobo, Tiv, Idoma, Igala and Fulani neighbours (in addition to the large numbers of people from the indigenous tribes of Kaduna). I did not grow up wondering if Muslims were good or bad people, if Southerners were good or bad people, because they were all around me and I did not suffer from the suspicion that is the product of ignorance. As a result it is hard  for me to contribute or even listen to talk about how Muslims or Southerners are ‘our’ problem. The violence that has forced people to live separately is capable of creating even more deeply rooted violence. Children in Kaduna and Jos now grow up in exclusively Christian or Muslim communities where it is easy to speak disparagingly
of people of another religion or culture; where it  is easy to blame them for the problems that is common to everyone; where the only debate is ‘Us vs Them’.

The violence which living separately is quietly breeding is further worsened by the irresponsibility of leaders from the North. Leaders who have benefitted from the perpetration of poverty and dependence and the divisions that have prevented Northern Nigerians from demanding good and responsible governance from their leaders.

The problem with poverty, which in my opinion is more acute in the North than in the South, is that it looks for enemies to blame and lash out at. That is why poorer communities generally have higher crime rates, more domestic abuse, more rape, more senseless rumours that lead to violence. There can be no quick fixes to decades-old problems and because change can be painful and demanding, the few but immensely powerful persons whose power derives from this current unacceptable situation, will fight any move to fix the North and liberate its people mentally and economically.

We must expect this while we chart a course for the reduction of poverty and the empowerment of women and young people in our communities.

What we must begin to do is to invest in the North and insist that those who seek our support for votes equally invest in the North. When we have industries, and businesses- real investment as opposed to the embarrassing poverty eradication schemes which governors in the North now bandy about like Keke Napep and motorcycles- then there is a possibility that people will be able to empower themselves and have a stake in developed, stable North, so much that they will be  able to fight from within the forces militating against peace and stability.

While the current situation of separate religious communities is unfortunate, there is no quick fix for that either. The mistrust and mutual suspicion is deep and can only change over time and years of education and re education. We can achieve this if we start now teaching the next generation that the other is not the enemy. That  the enemy is poverty and bad, wicked leadership.  That we cannot all be Muslim or Christian. That no one is evil simply because of his/her religion. That every human being deserves to be treated justly and with dignity. That violence and oppression only begets more violence and oppression. That respect begets respect. That the construct of superiority of tribe and/or religion is only useful to those who seek to perpetuate themselves in power to the detriment of ordinary people.

I believe that real economic empowerment and re-education will make our cities have more tolerant, more cosmopolitan and more secure communities. The fact is that we are weaker, easier to exploit and attack, when we are hungry and dependent. In the end we have more in common than divide us, more common enemies to fight than differences.

We must as individual Northerners must look inward. Agriculture must be supported, not on small subsistence scale but on a scale that is capable to empowering poor farmers, their families and employees. Northern politicians and self-styled philanthropists should be judged based on how much concrete, sustainable development they have brought to the North. We must begin the critique from within.

I want to be able to drive through the Muslim Tudun Wada and Rigasa in Kaduna and not feel afraid. I want to be able to invite my Muslim friend who lives in Badiko to the non-Muslim Sabo where I live and not be scared that if a crisis breaks out, I alone may not be able to save him. Today I cannot. Tomorrow can be better.

 I think it is time that social movements for change are led by serious professionals who are able to think critically and apply pragmatic, tangible solutions to solve our real problems. Top on the list of those problems are poverty and inequity. Without equity and economic empowerment for all groups in the North- whether they be poor farmers in Borno, religious or ethnic ‘minorities’ in Kaduna or ‘settled’ Fulani in Plateau- the bitter, dangerous feeling of intra-regional marginalization will fester and lead to more crises.
Much will depend on the sincerity and courage of those who will tread the path of change that has littered with empty words and impotent schemes. I think, it is possible.



  1. God bless you sir. I have 'captured' me with your write ups. May your ink never dry up.

  2. Eljo, u've said it al. I experiencd d segregation whn i went 2 Jos. I cald my frnd & told him my locatn, he quickly told me 2 leave dat, bcos it is a danger zone. It got me tinkin. Nigeria is my country, yet i'm nt free 2 mov. I feel lik a stranger in it. Eljo, whn wil dis stop?

  3. I believe that one day we'll get through whatever that is holding our country back. I'm a prophet of love and I believe that with love everything is possible. If parents encourage their kids to speak bad about others, now we really do have a problem and should sit up in other to fix it! Most Nigerians see Boko Haram as "this too shall pass" and yes, it will, but it would cost us more to rebuild then(whenever this happens) if we don't start now.

    I also share with your experience of growing up with different religious group. I've been to a Muslim home, eaten their food, enjoyed their company, and vice versa. They are not bad people, they never were--hate is, ignorance is and political vices are. It becomes easier for me, because of my experience, to understand that Muslim/Christian is not the problem in Nigeria. We need to love more, give more and reach out to other people more.

  4. Nice write up.
    As long as we continue to have more thinking people like you, there is a chance to fix the country.

  5. .....I can relate. We lived for 7years in the Bogobiri area of Calabar-a location meant almost exclusively for Northerners-complete with mosques,suya village,cattle hide drying which we stepped upon to pass, and invitations to salah. I grew up deeply mixed in with Hausas,i had no idea they were "different" except that in my childs brain,i knew they were "migrants", not indigenous. Other than that,they were all around us. We lived inextricably connected with them.

    I shudder to think if such a thing is possible now. I think not!

    You are right El,for nearly everything that goes wrong in this lovely country of ours,a deeper search will reveal that it profits a certain cluster of powerful people to mantain the status quo. Whew!

    We press. Nigeria go better.


You fit vex, bet abeg no curse me. You hear?