Friday Discourse (88)
Kai, bahaushe ba shi da zuciya
Za ya sha kunya nan duniya
In the conclusion of our last discourse, we stated that if northerners are still interested in catching up with the South, they “need to change the social habits and beliefs that divide between them and material development.” In No Apology, we have earlier quoted Olawale Albert who said northerners in the 1950s were “presented as very lazy and unprogressive people for whom the Southerners were not ready to wait.”
And today here we are starting our discourse with a verse of Arewa, Jumhuriya Ko Mulukiya, a poem composed when the father of northern progressivism, Mal. Sa’adu Zungur, made up his mind to return home in 1950. The author of Sa’adu Zungur, A. M. Yahaya, has rendered the above verse in English as
God! The Hausa is mindless
He will suffer shame in this world
Our purpose today is to probe at the broad reasons behind our backwardness. We did this by basing our analysis on the three factors that prevent people from maximizing their potential – laziness, fear and pride – as listed by M. Scott Peck in the latest (1997) in his series, The Road Less Travelled and Beyond.
Many people at first instance share the notion that northerners are lazy. This is a generalization that could only be true if its generic existence can be proved. For this reason, in spite of the commonness of the belief, I feel it is wrong. Nothing in our history for example shows that our ancestors were lazy. They have remained self-sufficient when they were masters of their own destiny up to the end of the nineteenth century.
This has been substantiated by the accounts of early travellers like Park and Clapperton. The later account of the journalist, E. D. Morel gave a picture of self-sufficiency and vigour even after the first decade of colonization. I crave the indulgence of the reader to quote, for the second time on this page, a passage that expresses his amazement at the level of civilization he found the region in 1911. He wrote in the book Nigeria: Its People and Its Problems:
“They learned to smelt iron and tin; to tan and fabricate many leather articles, durable and tasteful in design; to grow cotton and fashion it into cloth unrivalled for excellence and beauty in all Africa; to work in silver and in brass; to dye in indigo and the coloring juice of other plants; to develop a system of agriculture including (in certain provinces) irrigated farming, which, in its highest forms, has surprised even experts from Europe; to build up a great trade whose ramifications extend throughout the whole western portion of the continent; to accumulate libraries of Arabic literature; to compile local histories and poems, and, in a measure, to become centers for the propagation of intellectual thought.
“That is the condition in which Leo Africanus found them in the sixteenth century, when he first revealed their existence to an incredulous and largely unlettered Western world; in which the pioneer explorers of the nineteenth century found them; in which the political agents of Great Britain found them ten years ago.”
The point has therefore been made, that generalizing our laziness is wrong since it cannot be applied to our society even as late as the first decade of the twentieth century. Even by the mid-twentieth century, there were evidences that show that the northerner, in his natural form, cannot be accused of indolence. Let us recall the groundnut pyramids and also the fact that, until recently, the word unemployment was unknown to us. Today, as the rainy season begins, the entire rural North is turned green with crops, not by the ploughs and harrows of foreign machinery, but by the manual labour of our men and women who are trying to make a dignified living. Their toil feeds the entire country and forms 40% of our GDP.
However, the average western educated breed of the Hausa has proved to be a total failure. I have talked much about him in this column before. He has shown the greatest degree of insensitivity and weakness. He has been trained to be the guide of the society to modern means of production, its compass that will guide it through the fierce ocean of competition among other regions and nations, and finally, its shield that will defend it against the threat of servitude and extinction.
The average northern elite has failed to meet these challenges for almost three decades now. He has chosen to be a leech, which will rather drain the blood of his host by diverting into his pocket any good intended to reach the masses. If you say he is lazy, I cannot help but agree with you. And since modern system of government has conferred leadership on him, it will not be surprising if his society remains backward. He has to wake up. If he were to honestly work hard using his learning and training, just like the Hausa farmer or trader does, his society would progress. But change requires energy, something he is reluctant to acquire and less more interested in expending it.
Has fear contributed to our underdevelopment? I believe it has. Wherever there is an established old order, people generally become content with the status quo. Here, the more entrenched is the order or its history, the more difficult it is to alter. Whenever change constitutes an immediate departure from the past, fear becomes natural and justified, because while the immediate could be seen, the end remains unknown. Take the threat that republicanism in the late 1940s posed to the political traditions and institutions of the North. It was with such urgency that made even progressives like Sa’adu Zungur quiver and retreat. He quickly expressed the fear in 1950 that the monarchy will be abolished as it happened the previous year in India and Pakistan. In fighting it, Malam Sa’adu was ready to join hands with the same traditional rulers he was castigating. He said:
To sarakai sai ku yi tattali
Na adala banda haramiya
Sai ku hango gemun dan’uwa
Da ya kama wuta da gaganiya
Don ku nemi ruwa ku yi yayyafi
Kada ku ma naku ya sha wuya
He drew from the common heritage that binds them together, the flags of Danfodio, saying:
Tutocin Shehu Mujaddadi
Dada ba su zama jamhuriya
Today, we wish that the North was bold enough to take the course of India or Pakistan. We wonder if that alone would not have extricated us from the clutches of political conservatism.
Perhaps the most extreme expression of this fear is the strong resistance to western education at the beginning of colonization. They are to this day tagged “makarantun boko”, meaning ‘schools for fake knowledge.’ This fear has endured, in spite of over half a century of campaign and graduation.
The North had to pay for this reluctance, as the Sardauna once put it before an audience of northern students in the U.K. But to my understanding, the fear was mutual; the colonialist were in fact reluctant to educate northerners, which explains why no secondary school was established in the region until 1946, just fourteen years to independence. I believe that the colonialists were not interested in extending western education en masse to northerners for the fear that doing so will turn the colonialists into the proverbial chicken that discovered the knife of its master.
The result is that Northern Nigeria today has remained in the firm grip of tradition. Changing it has failed in almost every respect. I have the strong conviction that once the region would liberalize its wrong notions about life and society; and once it would rid itself of all factors that impede change; its dream of catching up with the rest of the world will become real despite what we said earlier.
This leads us to the third cause of our inertia. We often feel that we can continue with life in the same way as our ancestors did because we believe that they did well, as we mentioned at the beginning of this discourse. This type of pride is common among established societies. The Qur’an too has mentioned it, saying, “When our messengers came to them with Clear signs, they took pride in what they had of knowledge…”
We saw western civilization as Christian in all its ramifications and therefore refused to separate the chaff from the grain. We are not still interested, after 100 years, to adopt its technique, as Jacques Ellul once called it in The Technological Society, and throw away what is in direct conflict with our value system. Rather, we often insist that the technique is impregnated with Christian values. I wonder, what “Christian value” is there in sending a child to a primary school, or learning how to manufacture drugs, automobiles or weapons.
We would rather erroneously choose to be content with consumption, denouncing, for example, the manufacture of a plane but enjoy flying it to the Holy Land. Some of us even claim that God has made the European our slave; he does the invention, and we do the consumption. This is a fatal error, as proved by history, time without number. This is a testimony that our acceptance of Islamic teachings is selective. We partake in what does not call for economic and physical suffering, rejecting what will task our brain and suffer our body to make us keep pace with developments in our surrounding. He has perfected looking at all pre-requisites to progress with disdain, perfection and precision is denigrated as kakale, timeliness as turanci, enteprise as son duniya, modernity and change as zamani, and inquiry as bincike, kuma Allah ya hana bincike...
I once thought that our backwardness had something to do with our misconception of fatalistic doctrines of predestination, like chosing tawakuli instead of tawakkuli. But looking around, I can see Muslims from the southwest working as hard as others, and those in other countries trying to catch up with the West. Suddenly, I was forced to conclude that the problem is with the person of Malam Bahaushe.
I wish fifty years ago we had paid heed to the following exhortation of Malam Saadu Zungur:
In kun dage kun shantake
Bisa al’adu na mazan jiya
Zaku rera fadar da-na-sani
Da na bi jawabin Gaskiya
The result of our collective fear and pride and of laziness of our elite is the state of mindlessness that Malam Sa’adu Zungur charged in the opening verse of our discourse. We are mindless, oblivious of happenings and trends in our surrounding. We still feel that we are alone, protected by the shield of culture and isolated by our rejectionist philosophy and resort to archaic standards. We are always taken unawares, devoid of any strategy, but reaction, which does not change situations but defer their consequences for a while.
We have remained simple, hoping that the present will prevail. Imagine that political participation started long ago, with representation in Legislative Council as early as 1922 and the formation of the first political party in 1927 by Herbert Macauley. We were not represented in the Legislative Council until 1947, a twenty years gap. Hardly did we realize that the British would soon leave. We were content being subservient and passive since it seemed to us that our ‘traditional institutions’ were not tampered with.
Then as Second World War came to an end and the British showed that they could afford to lose their largest colony, India, we started, with their assistance, to react to the situation. But it was too late. Other regions were already waiting to take over from the British, with enough of their people in the federal civil service, which explains their attempt to stampede the North into accepting independence by 1956. At independence, we were left to hold the horn for them to milk the cow, a role we are glad to play to date. Given the brunt that we are already taking, the warning of Sa’adu Zungur has become a reality:
In kunka sake jama’ar kudu
Suka hau mulkin Najeriya
Dada ba sauran mai tambaya
Kowa ya san zai sha wuya
Once again, Bahaushe is today stampeded with privatisation, resource control, deregulation, national conference, etc. As usual, he is facing the challenge with a combination of laxity and timidity because he never worked hard to chart a course for himself; he would rather believe that the world around him is static, and if it would ever change, he can make do with whatever little is thrown at him. What his opponents simply need to do is to dangle money in the legislature and he will readily trade off the interest of his people. Otherwise, they would mount pressure on him in the press, threaten that Nigeria will break up if he does not concede to their request. He will then readily acquiesce, unconditionally, as he did on zoning and power shift. He is defiant to the advice of Malam Saadu:
Farfagandar makirci duka
Sai a bar ta, a bincika gaskiya
Hudubobin kinibibi duka
Dangin zance na filaniya
A jaridu ko a matattara
A wurin lacca da hatsaniya
Life, after all, according to his complacent philosophy, should be taken lightly. He would claim, “Duniya ce kawai.”
Kai, bahaushe ba shi da zuciya
Za ya sha kunya nan duniya
Today, I am sending a telegram to Malam Sa’adu in the grave, saying:
Kunyar duniya mun sha ta kau
Allah ka tsaremu ta lahira
The 1950 Bahaushe in Malam Saadu’s poem is still afraid to come out of his thick shell of tradition.
Do not be deceived by his mobile handset, his brocade or his posh car. His penchant for consumption is still as pervasive and rudimentary as that of the “Dan Kauye ya shiga alkarya” that Abubakar Ladan described in 1969 as:
Ga riga na diban hakki
Ga kantar dauda ba wanki
Sai ya hango mai alkaki
Ya kira ya saya ya ci yai tanki
Gogan sai ya ji yana hakki
For his strong resistance to change, he is today losing even his sisters to others. Kaito. When the sisters see him from a distance or speak about him in his absence, they will respectively whisper and refer to him with his latest nickname – Malam B.
24 May 2001