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Strictly Personal

Who Is Dividing The North? By Lasisi Olagunju



Speaking at a book launch in Kaduna Thursday last week, Prof Ango Abdullahi, leader of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), accused some unnamed persons of engaging in destructive campaigns to destroy the north. “I have to state here that we are witnessing some of the crudest and most unproductive campaigns to create divisions between Hausa and Fulani people, and create distances between Christians and Muslims in the north,” he said, and promised that “these contemptible attempts will fail.” He hinged his optimism of victory on what he called the campaigns’ lack of “support in history going back centuries, or in the recent past.” The north, he said, may differ in faith and ethnicity, but “history, geography and our experiences in living as Nigerians have created roots and bonds that cannot be destroyed by desperate political gambits.”

Do not dismiss Ango Abdullahi’s cries; he has his reasons. For many in the north, W.H. Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ is their day’s opening and closing glee: There, clocks have stopped ticking; pianos are silenced, drums muffled; there is at least a mourner in every home. The public doves of the north are in black; rural terror and urban bandits have put out the stars; they have poured away the ocean, packed up the moon, and dismantled the sun. Whether Muslim or Christian, farmer or herder, Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy’ tolls the knell of their toil. It is their song of dispraise. The owl has been long out unchallenged; birds of death fade the glitter of their landscape; they brown the greenery. It is ghastly, the people are tired but the end is not yet.

A silent debate is going on in Hausa/Fulani northern Nigeria. It is challenging a status quo that has dominated lives and living in that corridor for almost 220 years. Ango Abdullahi’s screech flowed from this reality; it was timely and his fears real but the etiology he ticked and the prognosis he chose are very wrong. He did not mention names but his choice of words suggests his oracle sees southern politicians holding long knives and seeking to divide the north to win the coming presidential election. The oracle is wrong. The death of the kola nut is right inside its lobes, not anywhere else. The Fulani north fed the tiger’s tail to their dog, should they now wonder why the big cat is on the prowl? The Hausa are seen in television documentaries accusing the Fulani of ruining their farming lives; the Fulani are seen boasting and accusing the Hausa of destroying their nomadic existence; the federal government of the north wines away in ethnic insouciance.

Ango Abdullahi thinks “desperate political gambits” from outside the north are behind the ethnic and religious rumblings in the north. If you are close to him, tell him to ask the marabouts of Maradi why the scales are falling from the eyes of the oppressed and why the ancestral falcon no longer listens to the call of the feudal falconer. If things are falling apart and the centre no longer holds, the discerning will lower his eyes to see the nose. William Butler Yeats’ lyrical poem, ‘The Second Coming may be a 1919 masterpiece, but it speaks to the 2022 realities of the poor north, the larceny of the elite, and the crocodile tears of the elders. Yeats’ muse tells him that history stammers and, with every stutter, every repetition, the gyre, the spiral, and the vortex widen. The northern privilege gapes at anarchy as it unfurls, stark naked; the poet sees the monster as it is “loosed upon the world.” But what is the antidote? None. The only message the prophet is given is that “some revelation is at hand.”

That ‘revelation’ is now. When the children of slaves start dancing ‘Buga’ and the feudal vassal is asking questions and demanding answers from the liege lord, then there is every reason for the men at the top to be afraid. That is what is happening between ethnic and religious groups in the north. It is the reason Ango Abdullahi spoke in Kaduna last Thursday. The central question that rankles there is: The Uthman dan Fodio Jihad of 1804 which overthrew the Hausa kings, was it driven truly by religious piety or by politics of ethnic supremacy and hegemony? There is a frantic effort to kill the question and defuse the bomb. Descendants of the displaced are talking about their paradise lost and it is not funny. They stalk the thrones; palace spies and guards also stalk them. Mallams and more Mallams are daily speaking out against rupturing the peace of their graveyard. The discourses are in Hausa language and it is a back-and-forth thing that ends up uploaded on Facebook. Fortunately, Facebook’s translation tool works near-wonders and I use it to follow comments and trends. Could those asking the subversive question be truly from the Muslim north or they are heathen ghosts wearing the fur skin of the faithful? Are they politicians outside the north seeking to profit from the autumn of a region at sea? From Ango Abdullahi’s charge and the videos of the Mallams that I watched, it appears that many in the conclave still live in denial of who the enemy is. The enemy is the victim – the north itself, not anyone else.

Who is dividing the north along ethnic and religious lines? The down people may lack eloquence, but they are not necessarily dumb. They nurse their peppered children and see children of the rich being pampered with pepper soup. A certain Bello Turji, Zamfara’s decorated bandit warlord, looked into a reporter’s camera and triumphantly announced that he had lost count of the number of people he had killed. The people he killed belonged to the other ethnic side and he said so with cavalier calmness. There is Ado Alero too, a numero uno bandit who also confessed on camera that he had killed as many as the sands of the desert. The state did not go for him; it went for the channel that made it possible for us to hear him. Then we heard that the confessed killer would be given a chieftaincy title. Everyone, including his victims, said, no, it was not possible. But he was, indeed, so turbaned in broad daylight; and nothing happened. Nothing happened to the two kingpins except that the state government announced that Turji, the mass murderer, had become their partner in fighting killers.

There was a lady called Deborah Samuel who was murdered and her corpse burnt at noon in her Sokoto school compound. She was a northerner; her killers were northerners too. The murderers were not seen wearing masks; they video-recorded themselves celebrating their chilling feat. They showed no fear because they were goats of the king; they could eat any yam in any barn. And it is logical; you do not have the king and have fears. Where are the killers of that lady? They are not in jail; they are not in court; they are in freedom. Their victim is buried deep somewhere in an unmarked grave; her parents and siblings are displaced to the south. The police announced last week that they were still looking for her killers. What would the victims say other than that the north’s official flies are taking sides with their ethnic sore?

So, who is dividing the north? Those dividing the north are the religious scholars who approve of murders and teach terror to the young. A 37-year-old Jigawa singer, Mukaila Ahmadu, last week used a pestle to kill his father, then his mother, because of religion. He had no regrets and he told the world so with defiance that was out of this world. The enemy is the ideology that inspired that man to run mad. The enemy is the religious school that is inspiring a million others to kill and maim.

Ango Abdullahi also spoke about history. The history I read does not support his optimism. He should go back and read the history of his north: war, subjugation, poverty. Those are the keywords and they appear in every chapter.

We should be involved in preventing a bigger explosion in the Muslim north – bigger than what we’ve seen so far. The first time there was a convulsion there (1804-1808), everywhere else in most of Africa lost their peace. The Uthman dan Fodio jihad ruptured clan and family ties across swaths of land beyond what history could ever record. Historians say the ripples of the jihad “stretched 1,500 kilometers from Dori in modern Burkina Faso to southern Adamawa in Cameroon and included Nupe land, Ilorin in northern Yorubaland, and much of the Benue River valley.” They add that from the savannah to the Red Sea, the Fulani war of faith altered the course of history while “providing inspiration for a series of related holy wars in today’s Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, and Sudan.” Yorubaland, where I come from, owes its first era of political convulsions and bitter divisions and recriminations, directly and indirectly, to that epoch. It created enemies at home and foes abroad. It constructed the alleys of slavery and slave trade for those described by Ghanaian writer, Ayi Kwei Armah, as Arab predators and European destroyers. It produced an era when it was pure suicide for an Ijesa to be seen in front of Bashorun Ogunmola’s compound in Ibadan; it was also self-murder, at that time, for an Ibadan person to be caught passing by the homestead of Sodeeke in Abeokuta. But that era is long gone in Yorubaland. It would not have gone if the leaders had done what today’s northern ostriches do, burying their heads in the sand while injustice reigns across their land.

The bandits of the north filed out mainly from one ethnic hole. They have reportedly been joined by ISWAP terrorists. Their victims are of other ethnicities. Yet, both sides have been around each other like two friendly rivers, herding, and farming, for hundreds of years. And both poles are mainly Muslim and you ask why the war? This is not the first time that that question has been asked. The question came up in 1805 when dan Fodio’s jihad attacked Kanem-Bornu (present Lake Chad area) and was decisively repelled. The Muslim inhabitants of the attacked area were shocked that their supposed brothers-in-faith were killing them and destroying their lives. In a series of letters written by an Islamic scholar, Muhammad al-Amin ibn Muhammad al-Kanami (El-Kanemi) “to the Fulani ulama and their chiefs,” the jihadists’ religious mission and credentials were thoroughly questioned. He accused dan Fodio of killing fellow Muslims in pursuit of land, gold, and glory. The other side also replied giving reasons for their campaigns. Some historians are certain of nine such letters: One from El-Kanemi to dan Fodio; two from dan Fodio to El-Kanemi; one from El-Kanemi to dan Fodio’s son and successor, Mohammed Bello, and five from Bello to El-Kanemi. The central issue in all the letters is why the dan Fodio people believed they were more qualified than others to define who a Muslim was, who deserved to die, and who should be enslaved. I quote from El-Kanemi’s first letter to dan Fodio:

“The reason for writing this letter is that when fate brought me to this country, I found the fire which was blazing between you and the people of the land. I asked the reason, and it was given as injustice by some and religion by others. So, according to our decision in the matter, I wrote to those of your brothers who live near to us asking them the reason and instigation of their aggression, and they returned me a weak answer, not such as comes from an intelligent man, much less from a learned person, let alone a reformer. They listed the names of books, and we examined some of them, but we did not understand from them the things which they apparently understood. Then, while we were still perplexed, some of them attacked our capital, and the neighbouring Fulani came and camped near us. So, we wrote to them a second time beseeching them in the name of God and Islam to desist from their evil doing. But they refused and attacked us. So, when our land was thus confined and we found no place even to dwell in, we rose in defense of ourselves, praying to God to deliver us from the evil of their deeds, and we did what we did. Then when we found some respite, we desisted, and for the future, God is all-knowing….Tell us, therefore, why you are fighting us and enslaving our free people. If you say that you have done this to us because of our paganism, and it is far from our compound. If praying and the giving of alms, knowledge of God, fasting in Ramadan and the building of mosques is paganism, (then) what is Islam?….”

Strictly Personal

Independence, Whose Independence? By Festus Adebayo



Yesterday, it was 62 years since Nigeria got her independence from colonial Britain. While some countrymen say the October 1 celebration rituals are worthy of flinging the cymbals, some others say it is a day to drench ourselves in sack clothes and ashes reminiscent of mourning moments for biblical Israelites. For decades, until the October 1 saturnalia began to lose its savour, successive governments made a good job of conflating the frills of the rituals as a representation of our national joy and unity. Children looked forward to the symphony or National Day orchestra, the perfect chemistry of matching feet at stadia across the country, and the arresting drums of police bands.

A musical rendition of this October 1 ritual that succinctly captures its mesmerizing glee is in the 1971 recorded vinyl of Ligali Mukaiba, Yoruba Apala musician. Mukaiba, widely known as Baba L’Epe, having been born in the riverine Epe area of Lagos, was a musical petrel of the 1960s, through 1980s. Mukaiba had a mellifluous and almost effeminate voice that singled him out among his peers. He was a social crusader, commentator and musical prodigy, serenading Nigerian fans and the west coast with his very sublime, penetrating Apala music. I am yet to listen to a more penetrating account of the Midas touch, arresting power, and talismanic power of the female gender as evocatively delivered by Mukaiba in the track he entitled Kurukere. He sang that when a woman enters the head of a man – bo ba nwuni, to ba njaraba eni, he called it, she destabilizes all his organs of reasoning and he begins to act in dissonance to his actual person. Sorry, I digressed.

In his song entitled Eyi Yato (This is different) wherein he had the particular track, Ominira – independence, Mukaiba narrated what transpired on October 1, 1971, at the Race Course. It was where the Union Jack was lowered and was eventually named the Tafawa Balewa Square, after the murder of Nigeria’s mercurial first Prime Minister.

October 1 celebrations, which have become perennial rituals in Nigeria, respect for the Nigerian flag, the national anthem, and many more, are some of the totems that successive governments use as objects of nation-building.

Nigeria’s fragile togetherness has since worsened. Two very instructive fables speak to what led us to the precipice we are in today in Nigeria. In those fables, we are covertly told that when more than one people come together, with recognized differences, there must be mutual respect for one another, equity, and a sense of rightness. The absence of these factors has led Nigeria’s disparate peoples to go their separate ways in spirit. The two fables got promoted in the songs of Ibadan-born Awurebe music singer, Dauda Akanmu Adeeyo, popularly known as Epo Akara.

The first fable, as narrated by Epo Akara, happened in the animal kingdom where both the Partridge, a bird which the Yoruba call Aparo, and the Crab, Alakan or Akan, held occupied territories, with each controlling his own resources. While each was doing well in his own sphere, they both reckoned that there was the need to forge togetherness so that their lots could be better catered for and they could grow stronger in shared resources. The Aparo superintended over a government bountiful in yam resources and the Alakan’s government had abundant water resources. Hitherto, each and their children required what the other had.

Coalescing their thoughts, one day, they held a conference of the two nationalities. Aparo and Alakan sat on the table to discuss theirs and the futures of their offspring unborn. Aparo spoke first. He recognized that each of them had limitations in resources. After consuming the barn of yams located within his borders, Aparo said, he would need water to wash down the meal. Could Alakan open up his borders for him and his children to have access to his aquatic territory while he too would open his barns for his children to have easy access to yams?

They both saw the shared opportunities in this coming together. The deal was sealed and delivered, the next day, Aparo flew into the Alakan territory with his children and they fetched gallons of water. They did this for weeks. However, in the third week, Alakan sent his children to go to Aparo’s farm to harvest yams for the family’s consumption. At the farm, Alakan’s children shouted his name and he replied garrulously, in the words of Epo Akara, “Ta ni np’Aparo?” – who is calling Aparo? And those ones replied, “Omo Akan ni” – we are the children of Alakan. Then Aparo flew into a rage, calling their father unprintable names. Alakan, in the expletives from Aparo, was unevenly shaped by the Creator, with hands and legs shaped like pincers, a boulder for chest, deceptive strides such that he walks awkwardly – “O s’oju hati-hati, o s’ese hati-hati, ab’apata laya, owo meji bi emu…”

Incensed by this sudden flouting of relational terms of agreement by Aparo, Alakan’s children went back to their father and reported their encounter with him. Convinced that they had misrepresented what transpired, Aparo himself left the river bank where he was busy with some aquatic assignments and went into the forest to meet with Aparo. The partridge repeated the same excoriation. In anger, Alakan and his children came back home and that was the end of this attempt to forge a nationality from their disparate territorial leanings.

The other allegory as told by Epo Akara in another song was the consort of four animals who came together in mutual understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. They were Lion, Hyena, Cobra, and Tortoise. At the conference they held, each confessed his weakness to the others. The Lion was the first to speak. “If I am in the forest hunting, no one must dare behold my face,” he charged. Anyone who dared this, said the Lion, would have died as recompense – “enikeni to ba dan wo, Asalailu ni o si mon lo,” said Epo Akara.

For Hyena, no one must spill sand on his sacred body. The Cobra cleared his throat and said, “You could step on my head and I will keep mute; step on my back with no blowback but anyone who steps on my tail will die.” The Tortoise on his own told his fellow conferees that backbiting was his major put-off. Anyone who does this to him provokes the beast in him.

For decades, they lived in amity and hunted games collectively. However, one day, they sent Tortoise on an errand. Assuming he was without hearing the shot, the Hyena cleared his throat and began to speak. He bemoaned the Tortoise’s self-righteousness, stating, in that deep Yoruba aphorism, that everyone could haggle with the launderer but not an Ato’le – one stricken by incontinence of bedwetting.

The next day, as they were hunting in the forest, Tortoise then provoked discord. He looked straight into Lion’s face. Enraged, Lion spurted sand up which hit the Hyena and who in turn stepped on the Cobra’s tail, with the serpent spraying his lethal poison on all of them, leading to their mutual deaths.

The two Epo Akara fables speak to the Nigerian so-called togetherness. While our colonial heritage is the bane of our overall crises, there has been an internal re-colonialism of our own people by our own people. As foremost Political Science scholar, Prof Eghosa Osaghae said, the colonial heritage of states soldered together by force bequeathed on them a contested state. Africa is a good example. Flakes that naturally flow from this forced togetherness are the crises of corruption, violence, terrorism, economic dysfunction, and many more that we face today.

Today, what can bring Nigeria back from the brink of collapse is for her rulers to stop seeing Nigeria as an ethnic commodity, a conquered territory of the feudal North. In place of this, they must start empathizing with the people under their watch because transiting from statehood no nationhood can only be actualized when people start perceiving their president as the president of Nigeria and not the President of Fulani people.  To proceed from here, Nigeria has to re-negotiate her foundation. Proceeding from here is not about throwing saturnalia on October 1 and wriggling like maggots inside the sewer of celebration that Ligali Mukaiba painted in that 1971 vinyl.

We must first acknowledge that the independence we got from Britain in 1960 is pseudo independence, which has failed calamitously. The second is for us to begin to put in place the machinery for a Second Independence, as canvassed by Prof Osaghae. We must begin to decolonize our minds, preparatory to giving ourselves authentic Independence.

If Rwanda, a country riven by ethnic crises, could rise to become what it is today, Nigeria, with good leadership, can rise from the ashes of this hopelessness.  Like the animals in Epo Akara’s fables, the nations that makeup Nigeria have differences. Let’s recognize them. The northern part of Nigeria has over the decade behaved like the Aparo. Moving forward, let us come to a discussion table and agree on how we want to proceed from here.

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Strictly Personal

The likes of Dadis issue orders that people dare not oppose by Jenerali Uliwengu



Captain Moussa Dadis Camara — remember him?—is back in Conakry, Guinea, claiming that he has chosen to come back to “clear my name which has been dragged through the mud.”

Does this kind of action depict a man so full of bravado that he can come back to a place that is literally his crime scene and claim innocence, or does he want to tell us something we have not been told as yet?

Three years ago when Dadis was head of the military junta ruling over Guinea, hundreds of men and women gathered in that stadium in Conakry at a rally protesting military rule that has plagued the country since the founding president of that country, Ahmed Seku Ture, was overthrown after his death in 1989.

Yes, I am saying that on purpose, for Ture had been such a terror to his people that they had to wait until he was taken sick and then flown to Morocco where he died, and his people could now overthrow him! That is how a military coup d’etat was carried out on a dead president!

Relinquish power

Now, this Dadis had come to power courtesy of another military coup and had shown no sign he was planning to relinquish power any time soon, and his people had gathered in the stadium to tell him he had to leave.

Instead, he ordered his soldiers to open fire, and a bloodbath ensued; more than 150 unarmed civilians lost their lives. Apart from the deaths — themselves horrendous enough—the soldiers unleashed a raping spree in which tens of young women and girls were gang-raped, tortured, and maimed — many dying on the spot or shortly thereafter, succumbing to the ordeals they had suffered.

According to many eyewitness accounts by even people who had become inured to the barbarousness of West African military thugs, that day had not been experienced before.

After that horrific incident, Dadis fled to neighbouring Mali, where he has been living in soft-cushioned exile until he decided to come back home “to clear my name”.

It certainly will be interesting to hear what he has to say in his defence, and it will certainly be a riveting story as prosecutors lay down the charges and call to the stand as eyewitnesses those who saw and experienced the massacres and the rapes first-hand.

We all know what a bloodbath looks like, or we think we do. We have recollections of Sharpeville in 1961 and Marikana in 2012, for instance, two incidents in one country, perpetrated by forces supposedly diametrically opposed but unfortunately bound together by a shared callousness where black lives come into collision with the interests of capitalism.

Onto the bloodbath in the Conakry case, add the scenes of mass rape, and a scene emerges that is hard to visualize.

Some of the women who have gone on record have shared stories of untold brutality and suffering which have had repercussions on their reproductive health ever since, heart-rending narratives that would make a brute monster break down and cry bitter tears.

Law and order

I am intrigued and want to know what this Didas will want to say in his defence.

Was it a case of trying to re-establish ‘law and order’ as we hear our rulers say so often, that people were threatening to sow chaos and disrupt normal lives? Had the military junta at that time received intelligence suggesting the protesters were enemy agents sent to bring their (itself illegitimate) government down?

Hardly. Neither of these feeble excuses would hold water, because there is no evidence to suggest there was interference from outside, and clearly indiscriminate shooting of unarmed civilians and rape is no way to establish “law and order”.

But Dadis could benefit from an unstated defence that would be understood in some quarters, even if not spelled out. That he gave orders to shoot because he saw a threat represented by the demonstrators in the stadium as an attempt to reinstate so-called civilian regimes are in fact all military except in name.

Any time

They have given up any attempt to persuade their people to approve their policies, of which they actually have none; they have ruled by issuing orders that their people dare not oppose; all too often when their people showed signs of wanting to rebel, they were kept in check by the same brute military force that the likes of Dadis and others are now using. Morally, there is no justification for castigating Dadis and his boys.

But all that does not explain the overkill in civilian body counts, and the rapes. Dadis will still be up shit-creek without a paddle.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail:

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