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JOS: A Passport of Mallam Ilyia

By Charles Okwuobi, Toronto, Canada.
”In the southmost sections of the North, known as the Middle Belt, the move toward an independent state had progressed to the point where the disaffection with the dominating NPC superstructure had precipitated rioting among the Tivs in 1960, and 1964.”

-Alan Feinstein , African Revolutionary, New York: Triantlantic Books 1998, Page 210.
”The recent Jos crisis has punctured the legal fiction called ‘One North’.The idea that the North is one happy family with a common identity and a single collective future is not only patently fallacious: it is based on dangerous hypocrisy and make believe. If it ever existed at all, it is now a divided house, a broken calabash.

It is a delusion that would not go away becuase it suites the interests of both the Muslin North and their deluded counterparts in the Middle Belt, who are obsessed with enhancing their bargaining clout with Nigeria’s competitive ethno-regionalism….it is a dude cheque in political terms, a marriage of convenience that died a long time ago, although the couple are still going through the emotions.

The Muslim North has a heritage rooted in the traditions of Jihad and the Caliphate. The Christian Middle Belt has an identity rooted on Christianity and resistance. ”
-Bishare John Goni, Phd, Geneva, Switzerland.

About a month ago, a friend from Nigeria sent a gift to me in Canada – and I must tell you the traffic of gifts is not normally in this direction.  Ever so often my friend would ask “have you received it yet?” to which I would answer in the negative. Then came the Jos massacre.

We chatted about it. Once again, “have you received it?” my friend asked. “I’m sure it’s on its way” I replied. Finally it arrived last Friday, the week after the avengeful, Jos massacre.
It was a book.

My friend graciously dedicated it me and “my love for the written word.” It was the book, The Passport of Mallam  Ilyia from  Cyprian Ekwensi written in 1948, and published in 1960. It was a quick read which I devoured in a few hours.

Now, this book is no ordinary book. At least not in this present time. It is laced with ironies, paradoxes, and similes with that of the Jos crisis. It is about a narrative by Mallam Ilyia set in Northern Nigeria, at a time – according to the narrator – “when life was cheap.”

Ever so often I would look at the books’ cover to be sure it was written by the author; an Easterner, because as they say, a good writer writes about experiences close to his heart; and ironically, not a word, name or place was written about the authors Eastern or Christian roots.

The entire story was narrated on a train to Jos, in the presence of “the Hausa men and the Biroms from the Plateau”, and with Mallam Ilyia in the throes of death having been stabbed by his adversary, the rebel, Usuman, who claimed to be the son of an Emir, and who had orchestrated the murder of Ilyia’s wife in addition to burning his house.

It was a story of vengeance.

For the better part fifty-years, Mallam Ilyia had chased his Hausa compatriot across every city of Northern Nigeria and beyond. And at every point they met, blood was drawn, houses were burned, lives were lost, and none was the better. Such was the passion to avenge the death of his wife, that even when they met at prayer in Mecca – as they often hoppped upon each other – they couldn’t resist the temptation to draw a duel.

It was no deterrent that Mallam Ilyia was paralyzed in one arm from his last encounter with Usuman, or that the latter, a true hooligan, was far taller and stronger than he – and who, as the tale would go – had fooled many an army into looking for him at the wrong place and time.

That Mallam Ilyia had known first-hand from their maiden encounter, that Usuman had “eaten the medicine of iron”, which protected knives from penetrating his skin could not dissuade him from the opportunity of a literal stab at his chance.

Not even the promise of peace, that was extracted from him by his mentor, Mallam Gobir, at the death bed of the Koranic scholar, could make a difference. From the point that Mallam Ilyia had become paralyzed and left for dead, Mallam Gobir had helped “improve his mind and taught him great truths and that made life more purposeful.” Even that they had made the pilgrimage to Mecca together – could not wean the well-bred Ilyia off his passion for revenge…

And it is through this prism that I see the current Jos crisis. One may know the dynamics of life’s challenges in Nigeria and the issues peculiar to these warring Hausa-speaking factions that delineate the Jos plateau; what one doesn’t know is who amongst these fervently religious people, in the light of their personal loses, will be able to better live-out the creed of their religions than the proverbial Mallam Ilyia.

Needless to say, that venture in Mecca some forty-years earlier was not to be their last. As such stories end, on this very train, he met with Usuman for what was to be their last fight. They both died on the train as it made its way to Jos.

I hope the moral of the story makes for good food for thought.
Thanks to my friend; to the vision and foresight of writers, and to Cyprian Ekwensi who has made ‘the written word’ come alive!

To all who have read this; my best wishes to a peaceful resolution of this crisis.

Ike Charles Okwuobi, author of the Quagmire, wrote from Toronto, Canada.
*Editor’s Note…. Cyprian Ekwensi late Nigerian award winning Novelist, was born on the Plateau, Minna, Niger State


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