I had a really hard time writing my column last week. I felt mute. The post-election crisis was something I felt that poetry could address better than any sort of attempt to make sense of it in prose, which is why I have gone a week on this blog without posting anything about the violence that followed the presidential elections, other than Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream,” which expresses about how I felt last week, and a quickly composed poem that I wrote to go along with the painting. But because I have a weekly column to write, I pushed this out, with many misgivings, to my editor later than I’ve ever turned anything in. Bless his good heart, he did a great job of editing what I sent him. I’ve made 2 small last minute changes in the text I copy below.
In the column I mentioned one story of a pastor who was protected by a Muslim brother at a car park here in Kano. This morning, I read this very touching article in NEXT, about a Muslim man in Minna who risked his life to save several Christian families. He told Next reporters that he took inspiration from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (who had also in a charter of privileges given to St. Catherine’s monestary in Egypt said: “Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.”):
“I kept thinking of the prophet,” he said. “One day some men came to kill him and failed. As they fled, the prophet noticed that they were going in the direction of his more militant supporters, Saidi na Ali and such. So, he told them not to go that way, to avoid the route because they might get themselves killed. He helped them make good their escape. That is my example. That should be our example as Muslims.”
I would like to focus on these stories (less heard but very common) of Muslims protecting Christians and Christians protecting Muslims in time of crisis (especially the most recent crisis) in my column for this week. If anyone has such a personal story or knows someone who does, could you please email me by Tuesday night at carmenmccain @ yahoo.com with the story and phone numbers for verification purposes.
Here is this week’s column. To read the original as published, click on the link here to read it on the Weekly Trust website or on the photo below to read a hard copy. Otherwise, read on below the photo.
Threat of hate, hope of love
Monday morning, 18 April, I heard the roar of a mob and gunshots on the street outside of the compound where I stay in Kano. I stayed at home, checking Facebook and Google news, making calls to friends to make sure they were OK.
As the rioting on the streets quieted to an uneasy calm, the fighting continued in Kaduna and elsewhere. Violence in the streets unleashed violent words on social networks in cyber space. Regional, political, and religious biases began to crack through the net, with friends and strangers calling each other barbarians and beasts, fools and hypocrites, questioning the commitment of the other to live in the state of Nigeria.
Although I’ve lived through crises in Jos and I’ve read of previous crises in Kano, this was the first time I’ve experienced serious rioting in the North’s largest city. The current violence seems to have started out as political outrage against Northern leadership seen as betraying the interests of the people. Whether or not they had anything to do with the current elections, current and former leaders were targeted. In Kano alone, the house of former speaker Ghali Umar Na’abba; the house of former ANPP presidential candidate Alhaji Bashir Tofa; the residence of the Galadima of Kano, and others were set afire. Even the emir of Kano was not exempt from the rage, as his Dorayi palace was attacked and burnt. Government offices were also burned, including, ironically, the Kano Pension Board office where records are kept. If it had remained at that, we could perhaps describe it, somewhat simplistically, as a revolution of the northern proletariat against a resented elite, but there was something uglier here than class rage. As sympathetic as I am for the leaders who lost property to the mobs, what I find the most alarming is how politically-motivated mayhem spilled over into violence against non-elite communities stereotyped as the “other” and assumed to be “at blame” for this disenfranchisement.
On Tuesday, I stopped by Gidan Dan Asabe on Zoo Road, which hosts a complex of studios, to check on friends. Kannywood actor Mustapha Musty and musician DJ Yaks described how a mob of young men had come searching for a well-known actor who had campaigned for PDP. Although he was not there, the mob threw stones at glass and ripped down signboards. This ‘scape-goating’, as Hausa filmmaker and Kannywood elder Aliyu Shehu Yakasai, explained to me is often less a question of ideology among the unemployed youth in the streets as an excuse to loot and steal. Political fervor was mixed with opportunism. The glass front of Karami CD Palace was knocked out and hundreds of thousands of naira worth of property looted, from VCDs to the ceiling fan to money stored in a cabinet. The internet café next door was not spared, as its glass was also smashed and some printers and computer accessories looted.
“Everybody has a right to vote for
anyone they want,” Mustapha Musty told me. Although he thought it was best for actors not to campaign for politicians so as not to alienate fans, he told me his brother had recently been voted into the House of Assembly under the CPC. “But they didn’t care, yesterday, whether you were actually CPC or PDP,” he said. They just destroyed everything. Musician DJ Yaks described reasoning with one mob and hiding from another in a small generator room while trying to lock up an office. He told me that actors and musicians were easy targets because “people know our faces,” and that they were all assumed to behave and think the same way, when in fact many of them had the same political loyalties as their attackers.
The CPC presidential candidate, Mummadu Buhari has recently pointed out a far more serious issue, “it is wrong for you to allow miscreants to infiltrate your ranks[….] the mindless destruction of worship places […] is worse than rigging elections.” On 21 April, I spoke with Reverend Murtala Mati, a Kano indigene who has a weekly radio program “Ban Gaskiya Kirista” on Pyramid Radio. He had researched and put together a list of twenty-two churches burned in Kano during the rioting, seventeen in Nassarawa Local Government and six in Kumbotso Local Government. There were seventeen confirmed deaths of Christians, and fifty bodies yet to be identified. “What does this political problem have to do with Christians?” Reverend Mati asked me in an earlier meeting on 19 April. He speculated that Christians were scapegoated because of an assumption that “those who do not vote for CPC are Christians. They think PDP is a Christian party because the presidential aspirant was a Christian.” Yet the assumption that Christians are a monolithic group voting along religious lines is not correct, he argued. “Many of our members voted CPC,” he told me, saying that Christians had the same concerns about living conditions and corruption as their Muslim neighbors. The spilling over of politics into religious identity has meant even more severe consequences for Kaduna, where Civil Rights Congress reports over two hundred from both faiths’ communities dead, and churches and mosques alike left smouldering.
As the news of violence in the North spread across the country, I saw the similar assumptions of monolithic identity applied to the entire north or to all Muslims by those who posted virulent, hate-filled rants on the internet. And while words do not literally kill, burn, or break, they fan a flame of hatred and misunderstanding that threatens to engulf Nigeria. The problem with the assumptions made by both the irrational mobs that destroy in the north and in rants of those who stereotype the entire north in conversation and media, is they make assumptions about entire communities, they group “those to blame” for their struggles as members of one whole career, one whole religion, one whole class, or one whole ethnicity, overlooking the complexity that lies within.
Hope lies in fragments, in the stories of human love and goodness that emerge out of ruins. Pastor Habila Sunday, who pastors a church in Kwanan Dangora village, Kano State, and had worn a church T-shirt to travel in on Monday, told me how at Unguwa Uku Motor Park he was threatened by a man with a knife. A Muslim man held back the man wielding the weapon, and told him “This man is one of us. He has nothing to do with politics. Before you kill him, you’ll have to kill me.” He then hid the pastor in a nearby shop and sat outside for four hours guarding the door. When a policeman they had called refused to enter the neighborhood, the man escorted the pastor on a winding path to the main road. The actions of this Good Samaritan, who risked his own life to protect a fellow Nigerian, are representative of many Muslims and Christians who protected both neighbors and strangers. These stories are less heard, but they provide hope that Nigerians are knit together more closely than the rhetoric and the terror committed by the most extreme of the society admit.
As I left DJ Yaks’ studio on Tuesday, he turned on a yet-to-be released song by Ibrahim Danko that floated out into the blackened streets and expresses wistfully what I think most of us long for at this time :
“I say, why, why, why, we dey hate each other? /I say, why, why, why, we dey fight each other? / I say, why, why, why, we dey kill each other […] One love, people together/ Nigeria…”
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I live in Nigeria and I just came across your blog.
We’ve had violence in the usual flashpoints for several years and you can never get used to it.
We have too many poorly educated unemployed young men in Nigeria, especially in Northern Nigeria. I spent a year in Northern Nigeria and I experienced it first hand. These boys feel they have nothing to live for, so they can be encouraged to kill for as little as a thousand naira. (In South Eastern Nigeria, unemployed youth have taken to kidnapping and extortion).
Mix their desperation with fundamentalist Islam / cynical politicians and you have a combustible mix. Nigeria is suffering from it.
(You have probably observed in Kano that electricity supply is epileptic and there are very few jobs for even University graduates.)
Nigeria critically needs to create jobs and opportunities for its young people if it is to survive another twenty years.
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