This essay is an attempt at identifying the remote and immediate causes of the incessant religious crises in northern towns and cities, if you’d rather the so-called middle belt political zone of the north. In expressing this view, there is no intention on my part to mock the bones of those who died so long ago and who tried, however ineffectually, to lead their people.
The thrust of this piece is that the nuisance of religious crises in the North is essentially a result of the manipulation of religion to score political goals: using religion to confuse or destabilize; which set the stage for what we experienced time and again: series of violent provocations, reactions and counter reactions; all in the name of religion. This manipulation of religion is orchestrated and masterminded by selfish elements within the so-called elite class of both the Islamic and Christian religions, herein referred to simply as the manipulators.
The motive for the manipulation of religion is a self centred one, a means through which selfish politicians seek to attain undue political leverage in an otherwise politically competitive level playing field. The reason for this is, in the words of the late Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman “to enable this class (the manipulators) to cover themselves with religious and ethnic disguises in order to further entrench division among our people (and) slow down their awakening at any cost.”
This is because any single one of them (the manipulators) “cannot appear as what he really is in the political economy of Nigeria. He has to find a cover. He cannot claim political leadership openly on the grounds that he is, or wants to be, an exporter-importer, a contractor (etcetera)… he has to take cover as a Muslim or Christian … the manipulation of religion in Nigeria today is essentially a means of creating the context for this fancy-dress ball, for this charade of disguises.” (See Dr. Y. B. Usman’s The Manipulation of Religion in Nigeria 1977-1987).
Ever wonder why religious crises in Nigeria are essentially a northern affair? Kafanchan, Zangon-Kataf, Tafawa-Balewa, Yelwan-Shendam, Jos, Kaduna, Bauchi etcetera; in most places it happened more than once.
Between 1804 and 1812, an Islamic state, what we now referred to as the Sokoto Caliphate was established as a bye-product of the Islamic reform movement started by Shehu Usmanu Danfodio in Hausaland at about 1774. The Sokoto Caliphate comprised of a large chunk of pre-colonial Hausaland: Kano, Katsina, Gobir and Zazzau; Western flank of the pre-colonial Borno before the Shehus of Kukawa: Hadejia, Gumel, Kazaure, Katagum, Misau and Gombe; Benue valley and the Bauchi Plateau, including the present Jos Plateau; Nupe and Ilorin emirates.
The Sokoto Caliphate was regarded as a bye-product of the Islamic reform movement because Shehu Danfodio did not set out to conquer lands and territories, but rather to call, as Sheikh Abdullahi Fodio wrote in Tazyin al-Waraqat “to the revival of Faith, and Islam, and good works, and to abandon customs contrary to them.”
Following the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate, the successors of the Shehu and the flag bearers failed to sustain the spirit of the Islamic reform movement; rather they were so much after the luxury of life and the delights of power. As Sheikh Abdullahi Fodio lamented in Tazyin al-Waraqat “ I am left in the midst of liars and hypocrites who say one thing and do entirely another, people who do not value knowledge and its pursuit… people whose preoccupation is attainment of political power for the procurement of sensual comfort through concubines, flutist, gorgeous clothing and brisk horses…”
Having derailed from the path concretely mapped out by Shehu Danfodio, the successors of Shehu and the flag-bearers found it more convenient to subjugate and exploit both the non Muslim Hausas (Maguzawa) and the several hundred animist minority tribes and ethnic groups within their domain than to call them to the Islamic faith. For one hundred years, these non Muslim communities were fit only to serve the Caliphate as major suppliers of slaves, concubines, food and raw materials.
In 1903 the Caliphate was overthrown by the British. When the Whiteman came with the Christian religion to this doomed people, a marriage of convenience was inevitable: he offered them hope; they accepted his religion. The rest is history.
In my article titled Nigeria: Washing Our Dirty Linen in Public published by Gamji in 2007, I described the features of northern Nigerian Christianity when I wrote: The Northern Nigeria brand of Christianity is, probably, the most politicised version of Christianity on the surface of today’s earth. Christianity in the North has a distinct meaning and flavour from anywhere else. In the North, Christianity is, more or less, a political banner, movement or platform upon which all non-Muslim ethnic Northerners flock in opposition to what they perceived as Hausa and Fulani led oppression, both real and imagine.
This northern Christian mindset is clear if one look at what the average northern Christian consider the political (read: Christian) Middle belt as distinct from the geographical Middle belt. The average southern Christian, until very recently, views issues with the Hausa and Fulani led north essentially in regional and tribal terms. The Northern Christian reduces all issues, social, political and even economic, within the North simply to Islam v. Christianity. Islam is viewed as the symbol of Hausa and Fulani corrupt power and materialism which must be fought at all cost. Some church leaders indicate to their followers that the secret of their wretchedness can be explained in the prosperity of the other side. This set the background for the fear of the other side. How easily fear leads to distrust, to hatred, to dehumanisation and, to death.
Which way out of this quagmire? Manipulation is the root cause of all these crises. “Manipulation” wrote Dr. Y. B. Usman “means essentially controlling the action of a person or group without that person or group knowing the goals, purpose and method of that control and without even being aware that a form of control is being exercised on them at all”. From the foregoing it is clear that the manipulators succeeded in manipulating the people because the people are not aware of being manipulated.
The corollary to this premise is that the people will not accept to be manipulated if they are conscious and aware enough to see through the manipulators’ lies. The one million dollars question then is: How do we equip the people with the tools necessary for them to be not only conscious and aware of the manipulators tricks, but also to be able to effectively resist them? Dear concerned Reader, let us brainstorm to come-up with an answer to this question. This I believe, will be a right step in the right direction towards finding a lasting solution to this nuisance of incessant religious crises in our dear country.