***This essay is not a criticism of Islam. Rather, it expresses my exasperation with a very specific group of people in Nigeria who have oppressed other Nigerians through cronyism and unchecked violence for many years now. While the essay presents some objective facts, the tone is 100% biased.***
Today, as I was driving home, I found myself wishing that all the Hausa Muslim people in Nigeria would disappear. Not like die, or migrate. Just vanish into thin air, permanently. I thought about how much less shitty things would be in this country without them (I won’t go as far as to say things would be better). Our infant mortality rate would go down significantly; our literacy would rate would go up a little; Nigeria would finally be declared polio-free; no one would kill our vaccination workers; there would be no more recruits for Boko Haram – there would be no more Boko Haram; Nigeria’s overall life expectancy would go up, even if only by a few months; there would be no more legalized child rape marriage; the number of girls suffering from VVF would plummet; ninety percent of street beggars would vanish; no more women would be stoned for “adultery”; there would be no more arbitrary lynchings in the north . If I had one wish…
I must sound pretty prejudiced, maybe even hateful. You know what? I don’t care anymore. I used to care, but there is only so much tolerance that one person can be expected to have, especially when the people you’re tolerating couldn’t give less of a flying crap about how their actions affect you. I will however specify who I am railing against: contrary to Western media’s broad stroke division of Nigeria into 50% Muslim north and 50% Christian south, the reality is a lot more complex than that. There are many Muslims in the southwest, and many non-Christian-non-Muslims in the south-south and southeast. There are also Christians, animists, and other ungroupables in the north. Also, despite popular tendencies to lump all northerners as Hausa-Fulani, northern Nigeria is quite ethnically diverse. However, looking at history (which is rare in Nigeria now that it’s been erased from the public school curriculum, because stupidity), the region north of the Niger and Benue rivers (before part of it was outlined on a map and called Nigeria by some greedy British imperialists), was successively conquered by Hausa, then Fulani imperialists, thus we have many people who speak Hausa in the north who may not be ethnically Hausa. It’s the same way English is now Nigeria’s lingua franca, even though we’re not English. Out of all these groups, the ones I’d like to see gone are specifically the Muslims who are ethnically Hausa. Why? Well, if the reasons I listed above aren’t quite enough, no worries, I have some more.
A brief history lesson
Returning to the topic of conquests and empires, before Africa became the slave farm/hunting ground of the White people, stuff actually happened here – although some European historians like to pretend otherwise1. One of such things was the establishment of a Muslim Theocratic Sultanate in this region shown on the map.
This empire was hierarchical in nature, with social mobility discouraged, a bit like the situation in medieval Europe. There was a ruling class, a very tiny middle class that aspired to join the aristocracy if possible, a merchant class, and a peasant class. There was also a military class who were sort of apart. When Islamic jihadist conquerors arrived in the 18th century they cemented this hierarchy . Moreover, things were now run by the religious leaders who (much like the Catholic church in early and middle-age Europe), planted themselves right beside or supplanted the ruling elite and claimed that God had established the hierarchy and challenging it would be akin to challenging God (blasphemy punishable by death). Another modification that the theocracy brought to this area was that when poor people got poorer, they were not encouraged to find work, but to beg for a living. According to the clerics, this gave the rich people a chance to practice zakat or almsgiving, one of the five pillars of Islam – thus the introduction of the begging class.
There were other ethnic groups living in the region that the Hausas conquered. They were predominantly farming communities and were more or less left to their own devices as long as they paid taxes to their local/regional leaders. When the Hausa Empire became the Hausa-Muslim Empire though, they were less tolerant. Everyone had to adopt Islam, or at least not appear to ostensibly reject it. Till date, there are non-Muslim communities in the north where women cover their hair just to blend in. However, this Islamic conquest did not extend very far south of the rivers Niger and Benue – the southern peoples were mostly left alone. Don’t worry- this wasn’t out of respect for other people’s beliefs. You see, Islam forbids the enslavement of a fellow Muslim, and since empires are built on the backs of slaves, it would have been economically unsound to make everyone in the surrounding area convert.
This, in a nutshell, was the situation the British met when they decided to invade (between 1888 and 1914) what eventually became Nigeria2. There was the Hausa Empire, plus other villages and communities north of the rivers. Then there were the disparate kingdoms, cities, villages, towns, and hamlets south of the rivers that were divided by language and culture, and had little interaction apart from trade. The British took over the north via indirect rule – the local rulers could remain in power as long as they recognized the authority of the Crown, whatever that meant. The Brits had a harder time dominating the south though, especially when they arrived in Igbo land. You see, unlike the northerners who had many years of practice of being subdued and subjugated, southerners are not about that social hierarchy business. Sure, there were communities where there were chiefs, or kings, but the idea that a leader was in power by divine right was foreign to most southern communities. At any given time, a king’s (or queen’s) authority could be challenged by anyone who had amassed enough wealth and/or allies. As for divine right, the gods belonged to everyone and if you bribed them enough, they would help you ascend to power. Granted, there are still many differences among the ethnic groups in the south of Nigeria, but this idea of social mobility and (more or less) equal opportunity was fairly widespread. Rather, what held most southern people back was superstition, but this is not the right forum to discuss such a meaty topic.
As you can probably imagine, there was significant culture clash among the southern groups, and an even bigger clash between north and south when the British declared us a united protectorate in 1914, and then a nation in 1960. I think that in the minds of northern elites, the British had simply extended their empire for them, an idea that may have been reinforced when the British rigged our first set of elections to give the northerners the most seats in parliament (well, not overtly) before briskly hotfooting it out of the country before things got real messy. As far as these northern elites were concerned (and still are) everyone else, including the southerners were their subjects – but not even that, you see. We from the south are neither Hausa nor Muslim, so we might as well not be human. In 1966, they happily massacred thousands of Igbo people who had ventured up north in prior years to trade (the effects of this massacre snowballed into the civil war of 1967). In 1993, a Hausa-speaking Kanuri man (Sani Abacha) murdered our first fairly elected president (a southwesterner) M.K.O. Abiola, and then had his henchmen gun down Abiola’s wife for good measure. Abacha then declared himself head of state and began killing people for sport, most notably, Ken Saro-Wiwa, a popular writer and environmentalist from the south-south.
From our independence till date, the (predominantly Hausa) northerners have ruled Nigeria for 33 out of 56 years (39 if you count Tafawa Balewa’s tenure as Prime Minister). What is more, they have dominated our military, and enjoyed majority seats in government and top level positions in our federal civil service – most ministers, permanent secretaries and director generals in Abuja are Hausa (speaking) northerners. Yet, Abuja was chosen as a neutral capital to separate tribal affiliations from government. Closer inspections reveal that most of these people did not serve in lower level positions as is required by the Scheme of Service. They are often planted in these positions by other Hausa-Muslims. I thought this last one was a conspiracy theory until I saw this year’s list of shortlisted candidates for EFCC recruitement. The ratio of Hausa-Muslim names to other groups’ names is… interesting. Yes, there is nepotism and tribalism everywhere in this “country”. But when only one group holds most of the power to the detriment of other groups, it is troubling.
If we step out of the realm of government and into society, it gets worse. Since the 90’s, at least once a year in the north, there is some kind of “ethno-religious” riot. Definition: a group of Hausa-Muslim men, mobilized by their political or religious leaders, arm themselves and attack and kill anyone who is not Hausa or a Muslim or both. My friend’s aunt was burned alive in her home during one such “riot” – the men who killed her were her (Muslim) neighbours whom she had prepared Sunday lunch for several times. Sometimes, these people give some flimsy excuse for their violence like in 2005 when they claimed they were protesting a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed drawn by a Danish artist (yes, DANISH as in DENMARK, as in nothing to do with West Africa let alone Nigeria). Other times, they don’t bother with explanations – they just kill because they know there won’t be any consequences because their aristocrats hold most of the power. Before Boko Haram spun out of control like a pack of rabid dogs, they were originally political thugs sent to attack mostly southerners and non-Muslims because a south-south man dared to be president [Jonathan turned out to be a crappy president, but that’s not the point].
And while we’re on the topic of Boko Haram, the group was made up of poor, disenfranchised, starving, desperate Hausa-Muslim boys who were the victims of their own social system. Remember the begging class I mentioned earlier? The Hausa-Muslims took it a step further by establishing the almajiri system: young boys who are sent away from home to live with Mallams (Islamic teachers) to study Islamic doctrine. The problem with this is that poor polygamous families with too many children (in the north of Nigeria it is prohibited to talk about, let alone sell, contraceptives) take advantage of this arrangement to dump sons as young as three years old to become someone else’s problem. This someone else, however, is not remotely interested in taking care of children that aren’t his: the mallams usually send them out to beg all day and take all they manage to collect. Feeding, clothing and shelter (because sometimes one mallam can have up to fifty boys who couldn’t possibly fit in his house) they have to figure out for themselves. Tell me, if some wicked person takes this already volatile and vulnerable group and tells them that the source of their suffering are the “infidels” and that they would go to paradise for killing these infidels, what are they supposed to do?
In the last few months: a Christian woman, a mother of seven, outside Abuja was beheaded (by Muslims) while preaching on a public road early in the morning. Abuja is not under sharia rule. Yet, there were no consequences for this crime. Meanwhile, every mosque and makeshift mosque has a powerful loudspeaker that propagates all five Muslim prayers everyday without fail. No one has beheaded any Muslims because of this… In Kaduna state, during Ramadan, a non-Muslim carpenter was brutally attacked for eating at his workshop… In Kano, a non-Muslim Igbo woman trader was beheaded supposedly for “blasphemy” … In Suleja, a church was attacked by a mob of Hausa-Muslim men who claimed that no one else should have religious meetings on Fridays, since Friday is the Muslim day of prayer… Meanwhile, our Hausa-Muslim president has not addressed a single one of these atrocities.
Right now, even though I’m probably not supposed to, I want these people to disappear.
- “…the noted British historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper, still held on to the myth of an Africa without history. Trevor-Roper stated in an article published in 1963: Perhaps in the future there will be some African history to teach. But at the present there is none; there is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness… and darkness is not the subject of history”
(Toyin Falola, Africa: African History Before 1885, Carolina Academic Press, 2000, 11)
- Watch Jide Olanrewaju’s Naij: A History of Nigeria for information on Nigeria’s history from 1914 to 1999
***Most of the information in this post is contained in either of the references above. Some facts can be checked via a quick Google search, and some others are taught in primary school Social Studies in Nigeria.***