Monday Discourse (180)
North: In Search for Identity
The North is in search of identity. As a writer, I must confess that this is one of the articles I found most difficult to write for two reasons. One is the crisis of nomenclature – I mean the difficulty in finding names that will suit the various groups one is referring to or a common feature with which to identify them. In academic literature there is enough space for a writer to indulge in definitions and probe specifics. In popular writings, however, we are limited by space and impatience of readers, most of whom would like the language to resemble their daily vocabulary as much as possible. If the North were unanimous about its goals, it would have been pardonable to refer everybody in the North as a Northerner. But where its people differ in their goals differ and the acrimony between them is increasing by the day, and the word Northerner is gradually being used to stereotype the so-called Hausa-Fulani, blanket application of the can only be done cautiously and out of necessity, especially when some people, though bona fide members of the region, prefer to be called something else.
This issue arose at Hill Station Hotel, Jos, when the management of Thisday was conducting its nationwide tour in 2000. When Nduka was using the word northerners before the gathering of its readers, the MD of PRTV, Jonathan, who was the Chairman of the occasion immediately took an exception to people like him called northerners. They have their identity, he said, which they want to be identified with. It was odd because when I was given the chance to speak later on, I asked about the properties of that identity and the new name that they want the world to be called them with. To my surprise, there was no answer. So if I address Jonathan as a northerner, he will certainly be offended. I wish people like him had another name, for that will ease the crisis of definition we often encounter in popular literature.
One is therefore tempted to categorize northerners into Hausa-Fulani and minorities. But here also two difficulties are encountered. One, the Hausa-Fulani do not like to be referred to as Hausa-Fulani partially because the amalgam does not recognize the existence of many small tribes whose people still want to retain their identity. Some of the groups against which such injustice is done include very large ones like the Kanuri, Nupe, Gwari, who match the Hausas and the Fulani in everything, including statehood and scholarship, past and present.
Then there are smaller groups within each sub-region. In the area covered by ancient Borno alone, Abdullahi Mahadi has mentioned, among others, Shuwa Arabs, Kanuri, Ngizim, Bolewa, Karekare, Sura, Tuareg, Marghi, Chibok, Bata, Bura, Pabir, Kobochi, Falli, Tera, Mandara, Gamergu, Musgu, Bana, Banana, Kulung, Lame, Mobar, Wula, Bade, Manga, Kanembu, Koyam, Kotoko, etc. Lumping most of these groups with Hausa-Fulani does not reflect justice in any form. It is important to mention this such that protagonist of sovereign national conference who cannot extricate themselves from the primitive stronghold of ethnicity will know that while the Yoruba will be eligible to only one delegate since they represent only one ethnic group, the so-called Hausa Fulani will be sending as many as 150 delegates.
Two, I have not met any Hausa or Fulani that approves the term ‘Hausa-Fulani.’ I have many Hausa friends who do not like to be called Fulani, and vice-versa. In fact, the term Hausa Fulani itself is Biafran in origin, designed to divide the North by attempting to isolate the Hausa and the Fulani from other groups in the region. So using the term, as we are sometimes compelled to do in popular literature, is playing into the hands of secessionist and other forces of anarchy.
It is important to note that the crisis of identity has arisen from four angles. One of them is the effort to meet the increasing demand of integration in Nigerian politics. It is easier to collect people with the same cultural tendencies into one, though they may not be speaking the same language. That is exactly the dilemma of neo-Middle Belt protagonists. They can only cling to the name of a region in the absence of any convincingly unifying factor in history or culture.
The second reason is the attempt by Yoruba and Ibo scholars to view the North the way their regions are, with a single dominant group, which actually does not exist over here. Titrate the blood of Sardauna, for example, and you will find that he is half Mumuye and half Fulani. Check the origins of leaders of the former Northern civil service, hardly will the Fulani and the Hausa make 20%.
The third, as we said earlier, is the desire to demonise a section of the North and pitch others against it. This campaign has succeeded and today we find it at the root of every recent ethno-religious crisis.
The fourth is the convenience it provides to use others as their scapegoats. When a crop of elite fail to provide their people with a purposeful leadership, it is clever to create an enemy to whom the attention the people will be diverted. Behind the ensuing culture of hate, the elite can hide his dishonesty and incompetence.
On the other hand, I find the word minority is very unsuitable. How can we describe Mumuye, Jukun, Tiv, Idoma (Oh Mary!), Igala and Igbira as minorities when, one, we have failed, as shown above, to establish a consensus on what constitutes the majority. Two, the term is denigrating; it locates the existence of so-called groups only in reference to the majority. Three, it portends a presupposition of victimization of the group described as minority by the one called majority such that the minority can hide behind their name and perpetrate an atrocity against the majority and yet gain sympathy of the listening public by asserting its minority status. This undue advantage is oppressive to the majority. Four, it misrepresents the balance of power when, as we have on the ground today, all instruments of power lies with the minority or groups sympathetic to it. How can you be a minor and at the same time most powerful? Five, the term minority, like Hausa-Fulani, is divisive and serves the interest of agents of anarchy and disintegration.
The second reason why writing about the North is difficult is the terrible injustice arising from generalization. If we ascribe a certain habit to a group that share nothing but the broad features of language or location, we run the risk of doing injustice to many within the group who do not possess that habit. If someone says northerners are lazy, for example, then are we doing justice to the hardworking farmers and pastoralists who are feeding the nation from their sheer sweat without any government subsidy or machinery?
And what do we say of Southerners who are lazy, like those who refuse to go to schools but simply agitate for more control of oil resources? If northern leadership has held Nigeria back, where do you put Obasanjo, a Yoruba, who will be our longest serving leader and who has nothing to show for his tenure and the massive foreign exchange earned during his time? Has the money been stolen by northerners this time, again? Or if northerners are thieves, where do you place Murtala and Buhari? In the same vein, where do we put Gowon, Awoniyi and my dear Sam Nda Isaiah if we hold that Christians in the Middle Belt are antagonistic to Hausa-Fulani? In fact, where do you place Berom, Afezere, or Angas who are Muslim?
Naming the northerner therefore is as difficult as describing him, though over the years he has earned many bad names and descriptions. After the failure of geography to describe him for us, or to segregate them into majority or minority, we can go further to see whether other disciplines could provide us with a solution.
History and economics are the cousins of geography. To an appreciable extent, history of northern kingdoms and empires has helped to unite its people in some parts of the North. There was Borno and Sokoto Caliphates, two pre-colonial states that dominated the history of what is today termed as the core-North. But while they have provided some common cultural and political platforms for some people, the historical dominance of the two empires is what exactly creates resentments among others. Anyone who answers Kanuri, Hausa and Fulani is regarded by some as a culprit in the historical atrocities committed by the aristocracies of those caliphates and thus he deserves to be killed or enslaved as retribution.
Then the colonialists came adopted policies that more or less extended the style of governance in the Caliphates to areas which did not share that history. The creation of chiefdoms for the purpose of indirect rule in Tiv land is an example. How ironical is it that today blood is being shed by some ‘minority’ community in demand for chiefdoms?
With independence intra-regional politics aggravated the differences and the Sardauna was seen as a modern scion of the Sokoto Caliphate. Sadly, these historical differences were used by others to contribute in the destabilisation of the First Republic. In spite of the demise of that republic, the massacre of the Sardauna and other Northern leaders, and forty years of leadership rendered by people from other ethnic groups, ‘minorities’ and ‘the south’ are still calling for restructuring, despising the very institution – the Military – they employed to oust the First Republic and calling for the return of the regional governments they disbanded.
So our history, except for the first sixty-five years of the last century, has failed to provide the common platform for integration. Let us not forget that it was Lugard who, through his conquests and unification of the North, accorded the Shehu of Borno his first opportunity to watch a durbar mounted by any emir in the defunct Sokoto Caliphate, a fact which Lugard never missed to include in his report to the Home Office in England after he was sworn in as Governor-General.
It is here I find economics a better instrument of integration than geography or history. The North today is unique in the way it is underdeveloped. Oil, the chief culprit, has turned its people lazy, suppressed its potentials, wasted its resources, corrupted its elite and impoverished its inhabitants. I am not aware of any index of development in which the North is faring better than the South. It has surpassed other regions only in all indices of underdevelopment: illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, infant and maternal mortality, life expectancy, name it. That is one spectacle through which the south sees us, a burden which should be shed and left to perish on its own, especially now when our dependency appears irredeemable. I have also not seen a region blessed with selfish leaders as the North. It is here that a government expects an indigene to become an undergraduate with an annual scholarship award of only N1,500.00 and, yet, and return to serve it for thirty-five years. This crime is perpetrated by leaders who received nothing less than the equivalent of N250,000.00 annually during their undergraduate days.
In the politics of underdevelopment, there is no difference between Jukun and Tiv, Hausa and Tarok, or Kanuri and Idoma. The last six years have been especially impoverishing as the federal government deliberately pursues the policy of pauperising the North. Kano, which used to be one of the most important centres of West African commerce, is now replete with abandoned factories and unemployed people, caused essentially by withholding its pubic facilities, especially electricity. What has Obasanjo done, on the other hand, to improve the lot of the Middle Belt since he came to power? Let someone mention a single project.
Instead of uniting to fight against their pauperisation, northerners have chosen to emphasise their differences, leading the region to convulse and become a scene of barbarism. How many lives, for example, have been lost in the clash between Jukun and Tiv in Taraba and Benue states, or between Muslims and Christians in Kaduna, Kano and Jos? In what way does convulsion relieves a victim of his wounds is a puzzle that finds an answer only in the unpersuasive logic of the abject northerner.
In conclusion we can say that the actual reason why we failed to reach a consensus over a common name or why some northerners would not like to be referred to as ‘northerners’ is principally due to the sad economic state of the region. If it were as rich as Kuwait, or, say, Niger Delta, even others will be scrambling to identify with it. Ordinarily, a child will be ashamed to answer his family name only when the family is not successful. Once it is flourishing, he will take pride in identifying with it. Self-rejection is a clear symptom of inferiority and despondency.
To get out of this mess we need to rebuild our economy, not based on the monthly handout of oil revenue but through education, agriculture and mining which must include the exploration of oil in the Chad Basin. It is a goal that can quickly be achieved because the required ingredients – land, labour and market – are within our reach. It is only in the context of a purpose like this that unity can be achieved. Without a goal to push them up or maintain them in a position of potential energy, the gravitational force arising from their differences will pull them down. The only two factors blocking our ascension to glory today are bad governance and mutual hostility. We must find a way of stamping out their causes. If we can get rid of both, we can surely stand on our feet without any support from the central government. Then, in that atmosphere of success and pride, both Jonathan and Tilde will proudly answer their family name: northerners.