The 22-year-old Sudanese, Alaa Salah, has of recent become an epitome of all what a patriarchal society stands to demonize for obvious reason.
Her heroic turnout for weeks in passionate chant of freedom from oppression in Sudan coupled with unwavering passion to accentuate a signature that glaringly refutes the notion restricting women to the “kitchen and za aza room” and from which a dreaded dictator submitted to bid his throne an inescapable farewell.
I have taken my time to observe this amazing lioness for long with keen interest, mobilizing not only fellow veiled women to break the chain of servitude but also ginger her male counterparts up with her outstanding charisma and relentless commitment. This iron lady will no doubt continue to make special mention and cheerful recognition by the posterity whenever history of women’s struggles comes up for review in Africa.
Salah’s tenacious outing notwithstanding has never occurred in a vacuum, considering the number of fellow courageous, supportive and agile young women beautifying those skillfully coordinated processions, in such a large number which seems to surpass that of male peers.
This scenario springs a hunch in me; a demand to know all that Northern Nigeria shares in common with Sudan as regards to Islamic orthodoxy and ultra-conservative lens that patriarchy shrouded in religious garment had framed to be used by all and sundry in viewing who woman is, her needs and the societal expectations on her. Sudan with its Nubian heritage is of late assessed to find itself sieged by corrupt and tyrant rulers under Omar Al-Bashir who in search for better populist idea to perpetuate power had resorted to theocratic arrangement. With its flexible rhetorics, Shariah always stands out to serve as the best tool to harbor corrupt and incompetent leader and at the same time be used to gag freedom of expression by translating any dissenting voice to waging war against God’s legislations, a similar lullaby desperate and inept politicians in cohort with some corrupt Sheikhpreneurs exploit to play power game in the North to the detriment of ignorant voters.
The irony however points to the fact that Northern Nigeria as half part of the republic by constitutional supremacy comparatively enjoys better avenue to exercise freedom of expression and entitlement to civil liberties but why do I still maintain a strong conviction that, an avatar of Salah would hardly be allowed to emerge in my beloved region in the nearest future. Why? The campaign of calumny and character assassination that greeted Kadaria Ahmad’s recent match in Abuja to protest incessant killings in Zamfara State is still fresh to serve a testimony.
Why the emergence of my Alaa Salah in as politically freer environment as Northern Nigeria compared to Sudan is becoming a far-fetched dream remains the elusive question ringing bell in my little head. Not that we don’t have numerous young and educated women of her caliber down here but the systematically structured patriarchy that extrinsically goes beyond religious underpinnings we always rush to associate Islam with (after all Sudan is as Islamically conservative as Northern Nigeria if not more).
If the foregoing highlight can clearly picture the two homogeneously unique societies by religious characterization, but differ greatly in which role is woman capable of playing in tandem with status the duo ascribed to her respectively, such a normative intrigue honestly calls for a formulation of many research questions.
1- Can it be academically meaningful to build a hypothesis interrogating our core values before the coming of Islam if some cultural misfittings left some yet to be discernible mutations over time from the result of infusional stages between pre-islamic gender norms and doctrines of newly found Religion (Islam) before Fulani Jihad? But our Gimbiya Daurama of Daura and Queen Amina of Zazzau had made it out to make this assumption more implausible than not.
2- Had the abject relegation of women in present day North marked its precedence from Dan Fodio’s Jihad? Yet Nana Asma’u’s pragmatic sense of leadership, gender advocacy and articulation of ideas as showcased by her literary works is also making this postulation less likely.
3- Will it be considerably fair to question the infiltration of Wahhabi ideology in the region that was newly hatched in 70s as schemed and sponsored by Saudi Arabian regime with subsequent formation of its organizational structure (JIBWIS)? This proposition may infer some possible correlations (not necessarily causality) considering the fact that, Asabe Reza, Hajiya Gambo Sawaba and some few contemporaries despite inaccessibility to formal education opportunity have lived to politically register their revolutionary footprints before the pervading upsurge of Wahhabi movement in the region.
These questions and possibly many others can come with impending need to revisit our cultural memes for desirable answers on either correlational or causal effects between the variables one may choose to formulate questions on, with some degree of validity.
I’m just imagining the response expected from the parents of an average girl in the North if she dares express an interest to join a protest for whatever cause, the worst in all is the gender-mixed match exemplified by Salah and her peers in Sudan. In another twist, what first comes her mind when the idea of making herself available to contribute in such physically abrasive episode pops up?