By Obi Nwakanma
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Emir of Kano, is an Islamic modernist and reformist. I arrive at this conclusion by the sheer weight of his contributions to contemporary Islamic thought, particularly on the question of Islamic Economic thought and Law, and particularly in its applications in what we now generally call “the Muslim North.” I am always a bit careful about a blanket description of the North as “overwhelmingly Muslim,” because we have no credible census to determine that. No one knows the number of Christians and Muslims living their lives daily in that part of the upper North of Nigeria.
Many Nigerians, until quite recently did not know that Chibok, and vast parts of Borno for instance have huge Christian populations, or that there is a history of Yerwa or Manga people – subsets of the Kanuri – who remained “animist” till well into the ‘60s and are more significantly Christian today according to some of the studies I’ve seen. But one could quite honestly say that a distinct Islamic culture does exist and has been long established in very large parts of areas we call “Northern Nigeria.” And the most dominant version of Islam in the North has been the Wahhabi practice, with its utterly conservative, and fixed ethos. Two contradictions have emerged from these parts of Nigeria where Islamic culture have been predominant, and because traditional power was established in these parts of Nigeria by Jihad, Muslim culture have circulated, not as democracies, but as feudal tyrannies. The stratification of the classes which saw the mass of the landless – the “Talakawa” – as dependencies of the powerful princes of the state has limited the growth of human development vertically in these parts, and have largely emphasized horizontal mobility reserved for a very narrow class.
The question of the situation of the Talakawa was the subject of virile debates and discourses on the campuses of Nigerian universities in the 1970s and 1990s, spearheaded particularly from the Ahmadu Bello University which was the hotbed of Marxist thought in Nigeria in those days, with the likes of the Marxist historian, Yusuf Bala Usman at its center distilling the condition of the northern “Talakawa.” The issue has always been, how could a society permit the profound marginalization of a vast segment of its population reduced to poverty and beggarliness? Why is poverty such a phenomenon in the North? These questions, aside from the urgency given to it by the discourse around the “Talakawa” by these Marxist intellectuals, amounted to very little in terms of solutions. In the inter-regional politics of Nigeria, what was always at stake was which region got what money and what infrastructure.
Nigerians in the South have complained that the Federal government has spent money providing such infrastructure as roads, electricity, and such like in the North, at the expense of the South, where more people consume these necessities, and thus presumably need them. As a matter of fact, one of the very initial acts by the now late Bola Ige on assumption to office as Minister of Power under the Obasanjo presidency was to publish a statistics of power distribution that showed that more “needless” energy was diverted to the “North” where it is not as needed apparently from areas like Lagos with high industrial density and domestic consumption. Such questions and concerns obscured the very fundamental human tragedy playing out – the terrible marginalization of the impoverished population of that part of the North we call the “upper” or the “Islamic North.” The result today is that the long awaited “revolution of the Talakawa” long predicted by the Marxists at ABU is afoot, but it is not “revolutionary” in character. It is reactionary – and its first phase is the “Boko Haram” movement. This evolution did not begin from Zaria or Kano or Kaduna or Sokoto – although they are flashpoints – it began in Borno, of the Kanuri. Boko Haram, properly situated, is the movement of the discontented and dispossessed poor who fell to the zealotry of religious demagogues who directed their inarticulate anger to what they call “book learning.”
But it is a first phase, because the real pressure is mounting: an ignorant and dispossessed mass rising as a tide is like a human bomb. This is the subtext of Sanusi’s recent indictment of those he described as the conservative leaders of the North who have failed to listen to the march of time. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s indictment was contained in a blistering keynote he have at the KADINVEST event in Kaduna, aimed at attracting investors to Kaduna.
The Kano Emir’s statement basically laid the blame for the poverty and underdevelopment of the North at the footsteps of those leaders who have remained stuck in a 13th century code of Islamic behavior and culture. “We are fighting culture, and we are fighting civilization.” The facts are bare: the leaders of the North have always been stuck on the question of opening up opportunities for the underprivileged; providing education, and allowing access to opportunities for the so-called underclass which would open up the narrow spaces of power in the north.
The trouble with the north is the repression of a vast and silent population. We should consider the intriguing observation of the leader of the British expeditionary force through Kano to Sokoto in 1903 in his diary, that while the British were staging their military campaign, the general population looked on unconcerned, unmoved to defend either its leadership, or the social order that they lived within. It was an indication for the British of the alienation – the distance between the rulers and the ruled – which made the colonial conquest of the North possible. This mirrors even now the situation in the North. There is a discontented population.
Islam is also under severe pressure, with contending tendencies, including a rapid rise of Christianity in the North circulated mostly by new settlers from the South, and a growing sense that time and tide – civilization – is leaving the North and its 13th century Islamic ethos behind.
The real question however, which Sanusi did not raise is: where did the money go? Since 1960, the Federal government has poured billions in the North to aid human development – to build schools, public hospitals, public housing, etc – where did all the money go? Who kept them since nothing shows of the development of the North, in human terms, in spite of all the programs, including the use of the “quota” allocations? It is Sanusi’s duty to push these questions.
I always thought that Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, should never have sought to be Emir of Kano – a terribly limiting anachronism unsuited for the realities of the 21st century. If our values were not so twisted, Sanusi should have been appointed to a Professorship at ABU, or Nsukka, or Ibadan, and from there stage his next move, which should have been a return to higher state service. But it is in the nature of our society that the things that elevate other societies are decidedly ignored or mislaid in our on society.
It is also quite true that it feels as if the North and the South of Nigeria exist in two different countries, and Sanusi has put a finger to it: a conservative northern leadership, unwilling either to advance the cause of human development in the North, or afraid of the consequences of freeing the consciousness of the vast impoverished population of their underprivileged, rely on an outmoded interpretation and practice of Islam to keep vast parts and populations of the North stuck in the 13th century. As Sanusi has said, the Wahhabi practice of Islam in the North constitutes its own contradiction. Sharia is neither divine, Sanusi says, nor is it fixed and unchanging. We need more Sanusis