The story I’m about to tell is a true life story weaved between the ironies of fortune and misfortune which in any event are the contradictory but necessary aspects of life generally.
So, I put out the facts of life that indeed, I have the fortune and misfortune of being raised as a child in Northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria has in the last four decades become the hotbed of religious upheavals of blood chilling dimensions. Northern Nigeria also has the singular notoriety and dishonour of having a large pool of political, religious and traditional elites who actively work on the prism that their recognition and elevation in the larger scheme of things on the political firmament of this deliberately weakened nation-state called Nigeria is depended largely on how loudly they become as Ethno-religious bigots and promoters of religious disunity. This is the reason you find out that the leadership recruitment process in the North is controlled by those entrenched religious and Ethnic forces that have held on to the controlling layers of politics in the North since the days of the first Republic.
In the first place, as a fortunate Northern Nigerian raised citizen, there were services and privileges that were granted to everyone growing up in Northern Nigeria such as the strategic issue of attending public schools in the early eighties that were efficiently equipped and staffed by scholars recruited then and posted across board in schools in Kaduna state from every parts of the World.
The Northern state governors were known for recruiting expatriates from as far flung as India, Philippines and from nearby nations in the West African coasts such as Ghana amongst many others. The Northern States also maintain longstanding relationship with such Countries like Niger, Chad and Sudan basically because of shared Islamic ideological values and common practices. But this suspicious diplomatic overtures by these Northern States have over time led to the uncontrolled and unregulated influx of illegal aliens who have quietly assimilated and have claimed citizenship rights dubiously, over and above some Nigerians from Southern Nigeria.
I remember vividly too that as a young student of the then Kafanchan teachers college in the mid-eighties, we were privileged to enjoy free rides in the brand new buses bought and donated by what was called parents teachers Association. There was also the issue of the other privileges like receiving sporting shirts and writing materials for free unlike our Southern colleagues whose Parents were put under dire financial strains to pay for such services. Recall then that in the eighties, Nigeria was mostly under military dictatorships and then the Constitution was suspended meaning that such provisions like the universal basic education that we now have in the extant 1999 constitution was absent thereby making education more of a business of the Parents. The Northern states which was actually facing massive poor enrolment in schools then rolled out measures and educational subsidies to motivate pupils to stay back in school. Those were the days some of us fortuitously grew up in the North of Nigeria.
But the unfortunate thing about growing up in the North was that most of the communities especially in Kaduna state, have often faced tumultuous inter-ethnic and inter-religious battles amongst the diverse ethno-religious peoples that make up the Northern communities. To make matters worst, these skirmishes are usually stoked up by external political forces who seemed to be gaining tremendously whenever such bloody clashes occur. Some of these Ethnic and Religious champions in the North who were at the forefront of championing and igniting these religious wars were rewarded with national offices and most of them nominated companies that handled the disbursements of relief materials.
I have also had the misfortune of witnessing as a growing child, different war- like encounters between and amongst the diverse ethnicities and religious affiliations that co-habit the geographical areas known as Southern Kaduna. We were unfortunate to have seen as direct eye witnesses how the precious lives of our hitherto play mates were decimated and gruesomely slaughtered only because they were either Christians or Moslems caught up in the wrong sides of such senseless conflicts. I personally lost many friends in the many conflicts that flared up in Kaduna State including the very one that was ignited from a nearby school to mibe known as Advanced Teachers College which shares boundary with our school. Indeed, we were told that the Advances Teachers college was actually erected on the properties of the then Teachers college Kafanchan which was a missionary school which was later confiscated by the government and made a government sponsored school. So you can imagine how unfortunate we were to have been compelled by circumstances to constantly run for dear lives from the armed marauders who claimed to be fighting for their so-called gods of religion and tribes.
I recall in those days, indeed in the early post-primary school days when such infightings between the aforemened people flared up in Zango-kataf local government area and Kafanchan in Kaduna state in which hundreds of people were needlessly killed just for professing different faiths from their killers.
It is therefore safe to conclude that Northern Nigeria has become notorious for bloody inter-ethnic and inter-religious confrontations.
To a very large extent, it can also be said that climate change is not necessarily the genesis of the ongoing terror campaigns allegedly waged by armed Fulani herdsmen targeting farming communities in Southern Kaduna and several other Christian dominated areas in the North Central States of Plateau, Nasarawa and Benue. Religious differences may be the indirect causative irrational motivation for these killings.
I think the Senator representing Central Kaduna, Mr. Shehu Sani, who until he went to the Senate was a reputable civil rights leader and writer, had captured these religious wars in the North succinctly in one of his books titled: “The Killing fields: Religious violence of Northern Nigeria”.
This brilliant activist and political rights campaigner, now a practicing politician had blamed ethnic and religious manipulations for these bloody encounters in Northern Nigeria. He is right on point. I can say this from the benefits of hindsight.
He said: ethnic and religious manipulations have been the major cause of the lethal conflicts that have come to characterize relationships among different religious and ideological adherents.
Ethnicity he wrote has become such a potent tool for mobilization in Nigeria to the extent that ethnic nationalism engendered by the process is fast replacing true nationalism.
Ethnicity and religion ought to have served as instruments of national integration, he lamented just as he stated that they ought to have been used as tools of actualizing national objectives.
Sadly, religion has not been used to serve its purpose and this has to do with the perception of the Muslim and Christian faithful to issues, have given room for misconception in the inter-religious relationship between Muslims and Christians, he affirmed.
They, the two religions, have bred assumptions, stereotypes and suspicions which as long as we insist on passing judgment on others by the verdict of our perception and refuse them the opportunity to explain themselves to us who and what they are, we are creating room for conflicts in our inter-personal and inter-religious relationships, Comrade Shehu Sani maintained.
“Ethno-religious conflicts have also resulted in the destruction of property and death of several hundreds of thousands of people. The death of thousands of men and women has resulted in the irreparable loss of human resources that could have been used for developmental purposes.”
Sani posited that although, there are no verifiable records to know the exact number of deaths, the loss in terms of lives cannot also be quantified, but media records bear a clear testimony to the fact that indeed thousands of lives were lost in past ethno-religious conflicts.
No wonder, he recalled newspaper headlines that screamed, “53,787 lives claimed in Plateau crisis,” “Plateau communal clash claims 48 more lives.” “Another 30 killed in Kanam Local Government Area”.
Sani then asked, how does one account for these several hundreds of lives that had been stolen by the visit of swords, daggers, bows, arrows and dane guns?
Blunt as Shehu Sani pointed out in that book, there is the undercurrents behind the persistent religious wars that have come to define Northern Nigeria to such a notorious extent that the religion has produced two of the World’s most dreaded terror organizations namely the boko haran terrorists and the armed Fulani herdsmen who as we write are rated within the first five mist dangerous global terrorists bodies in the international rating system.
The Northern state governors have contributed significantly to creating these chasms and divisions amongst various Ethno-religious communities depending on which faith groups dominates which state in the North.
The majority of the States in the North whereby Moslems constitute the political ruling class, Islam is treated like a state Religion to an extent that Christians from those communities are treated as second class citizens and are denied basic constitutional rights and freedoms.
There are genuine complaints that Christians are denied Certificates of occupancy to erect their Churches in such places like Jigawa, Katsina amongst others even when there are Christians that are indigenous to those Communities. The Nigerian Constitution in section 42(1) prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. The majority of the Northern States have created state funded institutions that build Mosques for Moslems and thereby committing constitutional crime which prohibits the elevation of any religion to the level of a state religion. In Katsina as well as Niger States, Christian teenage girls are abducted and forced into Moslem marriages without the consent of the Parents. These are some of the underlying causes that unsettles these communities and breed mutual mistrusts leading to breakdowns of law and order.
These religious wars in the North CN only abate if all communities are afforded fair hearing and treated as equal partners in the Nigerian projects. This is exactly the reason for the criticism going to President Muhammadu Buhari who appointed only his fellow Hausa/Fulani Moslems as heads of strategic national security agencies including the heads of all the Intelligence agencies who are from his own state of katsina. In Plateau state recently, the Director General of the Nigerian secret police who is from Katsina State, a Christian man was arrested for facilitating the conversion from Islam to Christianity of a University undergraduate girl. Such misuse and abuse of power and authority to promote private religious obligations are the triggers that ignite religious wars in the North. President Buhari and the National Assembly must sanction the DG of SSS for this alleged infraction.
These tendencies of most Northern Political class is the reason the style of the Borno state governor who accords equality of rights to ll persons in Borno state has attracted national acclaim from the cross sections of civil society and Christian communities.
Daily Post, a reputable online national newspaper had recently reported the President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama as stating that he is attracted to the qualities in Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima because he has proved not to be “narrow minded and myopic” but rather one who is broad and fair to adherents of all religious groups as being testified by Christian leaders from all denominations living in Borno.
Kaigama stated this in Maiduguri recently when he led Bishops to pay courtesy call on Governor Shettima.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference leadership was on an empathy visit to Borno to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Maiduguri catholic diocese (1966 to 2016).
His words: “I have met Governor Shettima at different Fora, and I must say I have been very much attracted to his personality. He is not the narrow minded and myopic kind of leader. He is a leader whose vision is broad and whose hands are large enough to embrace everybody. He is also very humble.
“I told His Eminence, the Cardinal, that in some places we go, we have to wait for two hours or three in order to meet some government personalities but in Borno State, the Governor was the one receiving us and bringing us in. We came from different parts of Nigeria, and we are Catholic Bishops.
“It is our tradition to meet always, to interact, to pray, and to express solidarity with ourselves and those who are in need. We are a voice for the people. Our voice is a prophetic voice. We see where things are good, we say it so. Where things are bad, we say it so.
“This is our mission and today we are in Borno State. We are truly overwhelmed with what we have seen. I can tell you we are already convinced that Borno State is on a very high level gear of progress. They say seeing is believing. We have come, we have seen, and we are convinced there’s a lot of good happenings here.
“Despite all the negative stories about terrorist attacks and so on, there are determined people on ground who have a capable leader in the person of the Governor determined to forge ahead, to inspire peaceful coexistence to encourage people to transcend the temporary obstacles in order that they can build a very solid and vibrant State.
“We are witnesses, and I can tell you we shall go from here to Lagos to Ibadan to Onitsha to Calabar to Lokoja to Abuja to tell this story” Archbishop Kaigama said.
Earlier, the Archbishop of Maiduguri Diocese, Bishop Oliver Dashe, spoke of how Governor Shettima has been rebuilding churches destroyed by Boko Haram in Borno State, supporting activities of Christian bodies for all denominations and being fair to Christians in the affairs of Government the same way he is fair to the more populated Muslim community.
“I want to tell you all (Archbishops) that Governor Kashim Shettima has been a father to all of us. Under his regime, we are experiencing fantastic relationship between the government and Christians in this State.
The Governor makes sure he carries everybody along as far as his administration is concerned”, Archbishop Dashe said.
The Christian Association of Nigeria is known at the national level for speaking truth to power and for condemning practices by President Buhari that promotes Northern Islamic interests. Christians have also taken exceptions to the sectional form of appointments of national security team by Buhari made up of an entire Hausa/Fulani team to the consternation of objective minded Nigerians and right thinking persons all around the World. Buhari hurriedly labelled the indigenous people of Biafra as a terror organization even when the members are non-violent but he has failed to classify armed Fulani herdsmen as terrorists and is applying national security measures that favours the alleged killers.
But in Borno state, Bishop Naga Williams Mohammed who is the Chairman of Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN), Borno State and also Secretary of Northern Bishops incorporated is praising the Borno state governor for being fair to all cotizens irrespective of the Ethno religious differences.
The Christian Leader hails from Gwoza, Borno State, a place once seized by Boko Haram and declared as their Caliphate. The Christian cleric who spoke in an interview with a group of journalists in Maiduguri on the support Gov. Kashim Shettima has given to Christians in the wake of the Boko Haram crisis in rebuilding the churches that were destroyed by the insurgents in Borno State.
My brothers, those who are not from Borno State may not know, but you and I know better. In the history of Borno State, there is no Governor that has been fair to the Christian Community in this State as much as Governor Kashim Shettima. I am saying this in the presence of God Almighty and this is nothing but the truth. Governor Shettima, in the history of Borno, is the only Governor that has sponsored highest number of Christian Pilgrims every year since 2011. I am speaking boldly without fear or favour because as CAN Chairman I do not receive salary or kobo from Government or any institution, but the facts need to be told. This Governor has shown compassion to the Christian Community. For example, when Gwoza people were driven from their ancestral homes, they fled to Maiduguri, and the Governor personally came to CAN Centre in Jerusalem ward two times in June and July 2014. He gave N10 million for their upkeep at first instance, by the victims were not many. By the end of October 2014, the IDPs from Gwoza increased to 42,000 in that camp alone. Governor Shettima came again and gave another N10 million. He also gave additional N5 million for Christians from Borno who fled to Cameroon to be returned home. He gave another N5 million for non-indigenes who fled to Cameron to come back to Nigeria. The Governor even directed the Borno State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA to be supplying food directly to the IDPs in under the Christian leadership. In fact, the Governor insisted that he wanted Christian IDPs to stay together with their Muslim counterparts in various designated IDP camps here in Maiduguri but we the leaders felt it wise to separate Christian IDP’S to avoid frictions between displaced persons dealing with trauma.
To end the perennial and incessant religious wars in the North, all the state governments must treat all citizens as equal under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. With all the inherent imperfections embeds in the Constitution, under the strickest compliance to the provision of non-discrimination can bring to an end the various raging silent and loud religious skirmishes in Northern Nigeria.