Kaduna, My Kaduna

Posted: June 24, 2012 in Uncategorized



By Malcolm Fabiyi

12 years ago, I penned a lamentation for Kaduna, the city of my birth. It was the height of the Sharia crisis, and then, as now, Kaduna was ground zero for the battle for Nigeria’s soul. Sadly, nothing has changed. I leave you with that lamentation from 2000. In Nigeria, time it seems, changes nothing. If anything has changed, it is the unbridled optimism I had 12 years ago, that a natural dynamic would make things right.

Now, I believe that concerted, deliberate action is necessary if Nigeria is to survive.

I was born in Kaduna. The city, which was named for the many crocodiles (Kada) that were in abundance in the majestic Kaduna River provided me with the playgrounds of my childhood, the excitements of my youth, and the moderate little rented bungalow that my family calls home. My mother was born here. My father schooled in Zazzau (Zaria) province, which with the new Kaduna-Zaria dual carriageway is just less than one hour away. At home, in our modest little bungalow, we speak as much Hausa as we do our native Yoruba tongue. My siblings were all born here, except for little M who was born in Zazzau. Little M was last. Ndo, a stately Fulani woman was his nurse. Just as Halima, a Hausa woman, and the kindest soul on God’s earth had nursed D, before him. For years after M and D were weaned, Ndo and Halima would drop by with gifts of kuli-kuli, masa and kunu, for their ‘little ones’. We loved them. They loved us.

It is in this city that I am connected to the earth. My umbilical cord is buried somewhere here. When occasionally, we all packed ourselves into Dad’s car to travel to Ekirin-Adde, beyond the confluence at Lokoja, a place from which my roots are derived, it always feels like a visit. It was always a visit. These visits were always occasioned by some special event: A marriage, a chieftancy ceremony, and oftentimes a burial. The visit over, the social obligation fulfilled, we would all pack into the car, and my dreams would be of home, of the sprawling metropolis of Kaduna.

I have chosen the path of nostalgia into this article, so that my pain can be better understood. And I do so for another reason: To make clear that when I lapse into a seemingly illogical optimism, I do so not because I am incapable of rational thought, but because when ‘home’ becomes the issue of discourse, sentiments become the overriding ruler of the mind.

Anyone who knows this city as I do, cannot help but ask the question: Why Kaduna? Why do all the problems of Nigeria appear to be played out in this city? Why do all the fractured inconsistencies of our nation appear to find outlet in this city? And then inevitably, we must also ask the question: How? How can a people who have lived together peacefully for so long ‘hate’ one another so much? How can people despite such tragedies pull their lives together in such a short space of time? How can another crisis of equally catastrophic consequences, follow on the heels of another, so quickly?

Kaduna, with its moderate brand of Islam, with its tolerant Christianity and its great diversity of peoples has always drawn people to itself. It is that kind of city that could almost lull you into thinking this was ‘home’.

Unlike other cities in Northern Nigeria, where the foreigners’ quarters are marked out by the Hausa appellation of ‘Sabon gari’, Kaduna has no such segregation. Your neighbor in Narayi might just as easily be Ndukwe, as it would be Yomi or Bassey or Shehu. But the open nature of Kaduna also meant that of all the cities in the north, this more than any other drew the attention of the restive entrepreneurial elements of the southern populations. These elements were mainly in search of an outlet for their creative energies. They needed markets for their wares, land for their farms and factories, as well as jobs to utilize their skills and apply their expertise. One most definitely had to have a vision in one’s heart before taking the decision to travel the famished roads that lead from the West and East to Northern Nigeria. This vision was often wholly economic. It was as good a vision as many, and this has been the major reason for the movements of people, whenever such movements occur.

The arrival of these émigrés, mostly educated, mostly driven by ordinate ambitions, mostly energetic, mostly southern, has brought the contradictions inherent in our nation to the fore. There are jobs to be taken because the talakawa is largely un-educated. There is a large untapped market, because the Hausa-Fulani hegemony that held sway in this region encouraged a fatalism that was cloaked in religious piety. To discourage the inevitable aspirations that people would have had, as a result of the inequalities in feudal Northern Nigerian Society, the notion of pre-ordained states was encouraged. The talakawa was destitute and illiterate because Allah ordained it so. The Prince was wealthy and affluent, because Allah ordained it so. To question the sanctity of these pre-ordained stratification of society was to question the wisdom of God. Society was gradually ossified in these consciousness-stifling modes. The attendant consequence of this is the lack of drive amongst the talakawa, and thus a largely untapped market. There was land to be taken, bought of course at a price from some agent of the ruling oligarchy, because the destitute talakawa had no means to buy the land.

All would have been well, but for the arrival of the southern émigrés. ‘Well’ in a clearly ironic sense. With education in total shambles in the north, the northern elite would have been able to get away with this travesty, but then they came. The émigrés: They came on trains, on trucks, in cars. They were Igbo, Yoruba, Efik, Ijaw, Tiv, and Nupe. They came in search of a dream that they felt could be better realised in other parts of this nation of theirs. They came in search of opportunities. Opportunities that were there because of the lack of opportunities of the indigenous talakawa. Because they were hard working, they prospered. And the prosperity of the pioneers brought even more and more émigrés northwards. The northern talakawa scratched their heads. They stared in wonder as Yomi, Uche and Osaretin, arrived with only a shirt on their backs. They watched as they toiled, and they saw fortune smile on them. The delicate balance was breaking down. Gradually, the notion of a divine pre-ordination of social strata was being eroded. But short of blaspheming the name of the Lord God almighty, how could they explain what they were seeing around them? This wasn’t supposed to happen. And so, when on occasion, the opportunity arose to enforce these divine pre-ordinations, God would be given a helping hand, and the southern émigré would be reduced to the state that he was truly supposed to be in. Homeless, penniless, destitute. Just like the talakawa.

Another center for dislocations, is the fact that while the educated northerner, is almost always guaranteed the status of an elite, the educated southerner is not. He is just one of several thousands, millions maybe who have realized that the future lies in that ‘little scrap of paper’, that one obtains after toiling hard for a set number of years. But for the talakawa, education was never encouraged. And suddenly, he found ‘normal’ people like him, all around him, living on his streets, trading in his markets, working as electricians and mechanics – everyday people, making nonsense of his long held view that it was those on whom the gods had smiled, the blue blooded feudal overlords in whose hands the almighty had reposed their lives and destinies, that were permitted the knowledge of the book. No doubt, the feeling of alienation, the loss of an identity, the discovery of the localization of values once thought to bear universal truth, all these have contributed to the tensions that exist between the communities of Kaduna.

It must be understood that this article aims simply at trying to present a rational explanation for a set of seemingly irrational actions. But rational thought is relative, and until the issues which permit the mental rationalizations that turn peace loving people to cold blooded murderers are addressed, a real solution to the crises that currently plague us will continue to elude. If one has located the behavior of the talakawa in an ethno-religio-social context, where does one locate that of the warring ‘Christian-Southern’ communities?

One must separate out the issues. The non-Hausa indigenous peoples of Kaduna, are almost entirely Christians. They are referred to as the Southern Zaria peoples (a term which many of them would spit at, as it locates their identity within a Zaria centered orbit. They would rather be referred to as being from Southern Kaduna). For these, the various crises that they have found themselves involved in, have been for the sole reason of throwing off the yoke of Hausa-Fulani domination. Theirs is a struggle to right the ills of a local colonialism, in which an Emir in Zaria selects their rulers. The recent crisis is thought to be rooted in the decision of the Kaduna State government to create chiefdoms for the Kataf peoples of Southern Kaduna. It is incredible, but true, that in Nigeria today, there are still people who have vestiges of a local colonialism still imposed upon them.

As for the Southern Christians, their involvement stems simply from the human desire for survival. It is evidence of the refusal to leave themselves at the mercy of the ‘other’, and it underlies a more worrying prognosis: The total lack of confidence in the ability of the state or of its agents, to ensure the security of their lives and property. The location of the Southern-Christian belligerence in a defensive context lies in the fact that it is a recent addition to the landscape of conflicts in Kaduna. It is therefore reasonable to see it as a stance that has emerged over time, and is not innate in the southern émigré. It must however also be pointed out that the impression that all southern émigrés in the north are Christian is patently false. But what is true is that although the crises start out with a proclaimed religious basis, they inevitably end up bringing indiscriminate damage, death and destruction to the southern émigré irrespective of his religious affiliations. It is only when the issues are located in a broader, more encompassing context with sociologically structured roots, can we start to understand why this is the case.

As for the elite who fuel the crises, as evidenced by the high profile accusations that have been made in this latest round of fighting, it is their interests which drive them. The need for relevance in an atmosphere of extreme political dislocations summarizes the behavior of some the elite of Northern Nigeria. Like drowning men, they are clutching at all that is in their path, determined to drag anything that their desperate hands can latch onto, into their spiral of destruction. For years, decades, they kept the talakawa happy with a few token handouts – rice, meat, and kolanuts. Now that the national treasury is not as accessible as it once was, the financial props that helped prevent the talakawa from seriously accessing the injustice visited upon them by those in whom they had entrusted their destinies is no longer as readily available as it used to be. To do nothing, would be to invite a revolution. To do nothing would be to stoke the embers of that inevitable political conflagration. Distractions had to be found to keep the increasingly questioning, restive talakawa occupied. Restiveness borne out of their growing awareness that they are not in a position to benefit from the dividends of the new democratic dispensation because of a grand betrayal, by those whom they trusted. The various crises of the past few months, have been the products of the workings of those reprobate ‘elitist’ minds.

I called home yesterday. Actually, I called a neighbor’s home. Sirajo, our Hausa-Muslim neighbor took the call and promptly called my parents. We have lived peacefully as neighbors for years with Sirajo. He understands the real issues. I am certain Sirajo too will say he has lived peacefully with us. We too, understand the real issues. Perhaps it helps that we are all educated. Maybe that is why we understand the real issues. In that moment of introspection, I realised that the greatness, the survival of Nigeria depends on how quickly we can resolve the contradictions of the Nigerian State. The educational backwardness of Northern Nigeria must no longer be the source of scorn and disdain. We must address that issue with great seriousness, with all urgency. A chain, they say, is only as strong as its weakest link. As long as there is a sector of our population, which because of its inability to seriously analyze and debate issues, lies helplessly vulnerable to the political maneuverings of their supposed guardians, then peace will continue to elude us.

I hear Kaduna is almost back to normal. Burnt homes are being put up, burnt out shops are being reconstructed, the heart of the city is starting to beat again. Today, Christians will buy from Moslems, and Moslems too will do likewise. The northerner will enter a southern owned taxi. Today, Shehu will call Ndukwe to find out if he survived the carnage. Bola will call Halima to commiserate with her on the loss of her child, husband, lover, or friend – in the carnage. I was unable to speak to my mother when I called. She had gone to work. Work? People fail to understand it, they cannot understand how a people can be ravaged over and over and over again, and still find a way to carry on. I think I know why. It is because deep inside of each of us, we know that all of these differences, these supposed differences that make us tear at each other’s throats, are rooted not in any innate hatreds of the various groups and peoples who make up this city for one another. We know they are artificial differences – as artificial as the imaginary lines that demarcate states and regions. We have tasted the beauty of togetherness. We have heard laughter in Efik, Ibibio, Igbo, Yoruba, Kaje, Ijaw – and we have realized that all men laugh in the same language. We now know that all men weep in the same language, snore in the same language. That resilience must be respected. It must be saluted. But while we marvel at how they manage to pull through all the pain, we must ensure that the reason for the pain is removed, banished forever from our midst.

For starters, the elite who fuel the crisis, who arm the belligerent factions, who begin the murderous whispers, they should be held accountable for their deeds. In this crisis, as in the ones before, the authorities have declared that there are ‘powerful and influential forces’ that are the real puppeteers, directing the fratricidal war games that are being played out. When will we finally get to know to whom the faces behind the mask belong? Perhaps the resolution to this crisis lies in the eventual deconstruction of these self-proclaimed demi-gods, for whom people are but marionettes, and lives are nothing but bargaining chips.

But not all is gloom and doom. In the resilience of the people of Kaduna, in their dogged refusal to be overwhelmed by their circumstance and misfortune, by their demonstration of the incredible human capacity for forgiveness. In all these virtues, we catch a glimpse of true godliness. We see in this microcosm of the universal state of the black man, just how it is that we have managed to survive slavery, then colonialism, then neo-colonialism, and finally, the debilitating tyranny of our own kind. The solution to this crisis does not lie with the inter-religious committees being raised all over the place. Religion is but one, of several factors that underlie the conflict. The solution lies not in any sermons or admonitions for good and decent behavior.

The solutions are in black and white. Chalk on blackboard, pen on paper, books, lectures, jobs, and economic empowerment. Until we help the talakawa to make informed decisions, they will remain tools – helpless and willing, an army in the wings. And while the talakawa remains in a state of illiteracy and economic deprivation, while the local colonization of the Southern Kaduna people remains un-addressed, while an aura of invincibility hangs over the facilitators of our numerous crises, then ours will be one endless tale of carnage, crises and retaliatory attacks.

We salute the people of Kaduna, who inspite of all, continue to keep alive the spirit of one Nigeria. May their strength never wane. May their tears cease to flow. May their wounds find healing, and above all, may their hope in a just and peaceful future, hold true.
God bless Kaduna.

Malcolm Fabiyi
Cambridge, May 2000


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