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CONFLICTS IN NORTHERN NIGERIA: 13 years of civil rule in perspective

Akinlade in this second edition of the discourse, argues that the introduction of Islamic religion in the  twelfth century and the conversion of the king of Kano opened a new chapter in the dominance of the north by the Hausas
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ACKGROUND to conflicts in Northern Nigeria: Northern Nigeria is a conglomeration of over a hundred tribal groups, with the various groups having different accounts of their historical episode as they migrated into the regions, from various places chiefly by the desire for safety during warfare as well as adventure. The various groups also attempted to dominate the other through warfare as typical of every traditional society. The Hausa race, however, was and is still the most populous of the various ethnic groups.

Hausa community was divided into Hausa ‘bokwa’ and Hausa “banza”, under the powerful rulers, who ruled according to custom and tradition, but the introduction of Islamic religion in the region “in the twelfth or thirteen century”, and its eventual firm root, following fresh band of Muslim Wangara and Fulani traders and scholars, who entered the land from Mali in the fourteenth century, as well the first royal convert which occurred, when Ali Yaji B. Tsamia, the Sarki or king of Kano converted in the fourteenth century, opened a new chapter in the land.

Heavy taxes and injustice

Meanwhile, heavy fighting (jihad) broke out in Gudu in 1804 which extended to other Hausa land, as Uthman dan Fodio, a popular and respected Fulani Muslim preacher led Muslim community resisted the attack of “King Yunfa of Gobir, along with other Hausa Kings”.

King Yunfa, a former pupil of Fodio, and his father – his predecessor had earlier enacted against the wearing of veil, turban (head gear), public preaching of Islam unless by Fodio alone, and ordered a return to traditional religion, by all converts.

File Photo: one of the survived victims of Jaji bomb blast
File Photo: one of the survived victims of Jaji bomb blast

The peasants, already frustrated by heavy taxes and injustice in the land greatly contributed to the fall of Hausa royalty and this made Sharia to come to lime light, as Uthman dan Fodio introduced it in all conquered territories. The Sharia system brought the Hausa states under a federation, with the state capital being in Sokoto and Gwandu and this brought considerable unity among the Hausas, as the Fulani race also came into prominence.

The Hausa/Fulani community also engaged in “slave-raiding expeditions in the middle belt,” the minority groups and the two groups threatened the existence of one another, but the Hausa/Fulani community was seen as a great threat. This formed the basis of the hatred between the Hausa/Fulani and the minority groups. Therefore, when Christianity was introduced, the minority groups accepted as a means of unity among themselves and resistance to the perceived threat of the Hausas. This partly explains why conflicts appear religious, in the north. The new administration Emirate system soon met its waterloo, as Lugard’s West African Volunteer Force crushed it with its fading legitimacy, occasioned by a return of the elite to the pre-jihad corrupt life style. Although the people put up great resistance, British attack was not without some support as some of the people celebrated, as they sang nasara ka dede ba ka zoba, ko bah au dokin hawainiya ne? which means “white man, you took so long to come, is your horse a chameleon?”

The invasion ceded the sovereignty of the Hausa/Fulani state to Britain. British colonial rule consolidated the already tensed relationship between the minority groups and Hausa/Fulani group, as they made no attempt to unify or create an understanding between them. Rather than make them live together, “Sabongiri” strangers quarters were built for non-Hausas including Southerners resident in Hausa communities. This could not afford the people the opportunity of having understanding among themselves. It needs being stressed that, the British indirect rule system worsened the situation. The necessity of politics, however, made Sir Ahmadu Bello to work effortlessly, for the unity of the North, through his Northern People’s Congress, NPC. He reasonably distributed projects and political offices among the ethnic and religious groups. This explains why the slogan of NPC was “one North, one people irrespective of religion, rank or tribe”.

Independent Nigeria was like a period when storm is experienced in a bucket of water as the administration soon met its waterloo, starting with the Action Group Crisis of 1962 and dispute over the 1962/1963 population census. The Northern version of the crisis, was the 1964 wrath of the soldiers and police, experienced by Rafin Gora community in the present day Katsina State, on the directive of the Native Authority, for associating with Northern Element Progressive Union, NEPU, that was sympathetic to Southern political elite. Dandunni village, also in Katsina suffered the same fate. The Tiv riot in the present Benue State added to the devastating experience of the period as the riot continued till 1966. The Tiv uprising and military operation that followed in the area, dealt an untold blow on the future unity of the North, which people in the 1980s, 1990s and the 21st Century have come to live with.

The Tiv Crisis, 1964 general election and the Western regional election crisis of 1965, brought law and order to nothingness, as anarchy raged, thereby “paving the way for the ascendancy of the specialist of violence, the military,” who eventually turned the scene to a semi warfare, through coup of January 15, 1966 and counter coup of July 29, 1966. This was followed by crisis in the North, over Aguiyi Ironsi’s unification decree of May 1966 and the September killings as well as eventual civil war between the Federal Government led by a Northern minority and Republic of Biafra.


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