The North is stasis largely because of our doing. We are too disorganised, unorganised, divided, and disenchanted with one another. Almost everything is either sectionalised (remember the Northeast Development Commission saga?) or interpreted based on one’s sectarian or political affiliation. Year in, year out, we debate on Maulud. In recent months, we argued over Sheikh Usman Bn Fodio, the dresses of Malam Kabiru Gombe and Bala Lau in Europe, the place of Stephen Hawking in the hereafter, and today on the-yet-to-be-interred, late Sheikh Isyaka Rabiu. How sad and unfortunate!
Known to many, migration of discussion fora from physical to virtual space began in the mid to the end of the penultimate decade – 1995 to 1999. Hausa people of Nigeria are some of the first to utilise the new platform in Africa with the creation of Kano Online, Dantata Online, Gamji, etc. websites. The South followed up a little later, I think, with sites like Naija Pals, Nigerian Village Square, Nairaland, etc. While the northern-based are now largely moribund, the southern ones still flourish, though less than before due to the emergence of more interactive media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. So, the northerners have been online for a long time.
I, for instance, have been on the internet since 2003 and became active in 2006. I was a member of several online fora and social media such as Kano Online, Nairaland, Yahoo! Messenger, Meebo, hi5, among others before the emergence and subsequent popularisation of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, etc. However, there had not been a period in which I began to re-think my online presence, or call it “activism”, in all these years as now. I, in fact, lack the enthusiasm to feel proud of my identity as a northern Nigerian Muslim.
A couple of years ago on Twitter, a hashtag #HausaLanguage trended for a day. A very popular southern tweep (i.e. a person who uses Twitter) was surprised, thus asked whether or not there were truly many Hausa people on cyberspace to make any topic trendy. He was right, for I was also surprised. I know we are many, but we have not had any northern cause trended as we are more often than not only disagreeing, arguing and fighting with one another. That seems more like our forte.
An archetypal example of our fight over inanities was the last year’s free-for-all over Philosophy. While it’s true that public outcry on the social media today do seldom influence the government’s decisions and policies, it has never been in the North’s favour. Film Village was cancelled not because of what we said on the social media but what our Ulemas said on their pulpits. But, our Southern counterparts have, on several occasions, forced the government to act. Remember the alleged kidnapping of Ese Oruru by Yunusa Yellow in 2015; the death of female corps member, Ifedolapo Oladepo, in the Kano orientation camp in 2016, PMB’s meeting with Naomi Campbell a month ago, etc. These are a few cases when the government had to intervene due to their outcry.
I conducted an inconclusive, quick survey and realised that one of the biggest bargaining chips for cheap popularity in the Northern Nigerian cyberspace is one’s ability to write good English and to express creepy, explosive religious ideas. The theories are, at best, weird and, at worst, witless, for they achieve one thing: dividing further our already fractured religious sects in the North. Some of those folks’ raison d’être on Facebook is, arguably, only to bash sects other than theirs. I am afraid to say that we cannot go anywhere with this sort of notion, and signifies more conflict down the road unless we change our attitude for the better.
The Northern, nay Nigerian, major problems are corruption, education, especially of the girl-child, the absence of proper healthcare (the country’s health workers are currently on strike), security, and creation and distribution of wealth. I used to underrate the impact (and, of course, the effect) of what we write here but not anymore. Many young men and women look up to us – although most of us are young as well – for inspiration, learning and whatnot. You never can tell. The kind of praise and/or condemnation one often gets after a particular write-up says a lot about the audience we are communicating with and to.
Late last year I posted some pictures I took at one of the most beautiful mosques in the world, which is, surprisingly enough, in Cologne, Germany. I praised the West, even though reservedly, for their tolerance. Some friends thought that was wrong. But it’s beyond any doubt that we are not tolerant and accommodating. Don’t go anywhere as far as the West; look around you, to verify my hypothesis. For instance, around the time I made the post, I learned of a quarrel over the ownership of two mosques between Mal. Abduljabbar Nasiru Kabara and some people in Kano. But for Allah’s providence, blood would have been spilt. This is within us – Muslims! I have never heard of a similar altercation among our fellow Nigerian Christians, and I didn’t say they don’t.
Yes, Nigerians (both Muslims and Christians) are, generally, not very religiously broadminded. However, Muslims’ intra-religious altercation is infamous. Christianity is not a monolithic religion either. However, I have never come across a post in which Catholics tag Jehovah Witness apostates; or Pentecostals insult Anglicans, etc. Conversely, however, hardly a day goes by without Sufi followers insult Wahhabists, Shiites curse Sunnis, and vice versa. Some do that 24/7 and yet, hypocritically, call for unity amongst Muslims, progress in the North, the end of favouritism, etc. As long as we continue this way, unity will remain a mirage for the North; we will stagnate; and nepotism will flourish unabated as everyone would want to favour only their “brother or sister in sect”, qualified or not. Friends are becoming foes, allies falling apart, etc. all because of their ideological differences.
I have myself unfriended some of those self-identified free-thinkers who, however, refuse to let others be free, and sectarian pundits not because I lack the thick skin to tolerate them but for peace and harmony. I have never hidden the fact that I am more inclined to Sunni than any other sect, but I believe in the human value and freedom of thinking and practice. I have lived very happily with Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and atheists. I presently work with non-Muslims who, however, do not care a bit about my religion.
For a typical example, my former landlady, a Christian, Caucasian German, had always washed my clothes, cooked for us and swept my room for the four months I lived in her apartment. I have not – yet – been discriminated against because of my faith. It was almost the same story in my two-year stay in India (2013-2015). The secret behind our coexistence is the mutual respect we have for each other’s belief. The Qur’an chapter 109 says that: “To you your religion and to me mine”, and period!
For God’s sake, let peace reign on our timeline, our homes, places of work and business. Understand that no matter how and what, you cannot convince everyone to subscribe to your sect, religion or way of life. We are different and plural. We never can be the same. That is how The Creator of the Universe wants to see us. You cannot help it. It is impractical. Impossible. In other words, making an effort to do that is a waste of time, even worse. Speak only when your words are better than your silence, it is said. If we could apply this dictum, we would avoid controversies. Let’s grow up, please.
Muhsin teaches and studies at the University of Cologne and can be reached via [email protected]