The Way it Truly is
Maybe for reasons of history and culture! Since the main precursor organised states of the present Nigerian state, were the more than half a millennium old Islamic state of Kanem-Bornu and a century old Sokoto Caliphate, that once occupied the territories forming about 17 out of the 19 states, spread across three geopolitical zones of North-west, central and East of the present Northern Nigeria.
Maybe that was why the later Christian social and political solidarity in Nigeria, is not as potent and die-hard-like, as Muslim social and political solidarity. A simple check on the health and the status presently, of South-west Yoruba/ South-east Igbo/ South-South and Northern Christians in solidarity, will reveal this truth as compared with that of Yoruba/Igbo/South-South/Northern Muslims.
Regardless, a Northern Christian – and away from agenda servicing media works and other forms of divisive symphonies – is usually most comfortable in an alliance with a Northern Muslim than any from the other groupings he shares the same faith with. In fact a typical Yoruba, Igbo or South-South Christian can hardly differentiate between Christians and Muslims from the North. This is similarly true as an Igbo Christian would prefer a deal with a Northerner than a Yoruba even when they share same faith.
As a casual observer, one should be able to see that; though vociferous, pompous or intimidating, as it is, Nigerian national Christian solidarity (NNCS), is always struggling to imitate and hopes to be as strong – without much success – as the Nigerian national Muslim solidarity (NNMS).
Muslim South-west and Muslim North in Politics
But there is one fundamental question in all these. Can a Nigerian Muslim outside the Sokoto Caliphate or Kanem-Bornu, provide the Northern Muslims with enough representation and a wide sense of belonging to guarantee any national stable political arrangement?
The way I see it, Kanem Bornu and Sokoto Caliphate, are Muslims cultures that have formed alliance since the dawn of the Nigeria’s first republic. Ahmadu Bello of the Sokoto Caliphate was the premier of the Northern Region then, and Sir Kashim Ibrahim of the Kanem-Bornu was the Governor; Sultan of Sokoto was the leader of the then council of chiefs as the Shehu of Bornu deputised him!
Therefore the two cultures are most comfortable with each other, than they are with other Muslim or non-Muslim cultures within Nigeria (The Kanem-Sokoto). Perhaps, had there been a sort of tripartite alliance that included the South-western Muslims then, maybe the story of cultural proximity, sameness and seamlessness among them would have been different now (Kanem-Sokoto-Yarba?).
What went Wrong?
Years of engagements with both South-western and Kanem-Sokoto Muslim intellectuals over time, gives the narrative of how several efforts have been made by the first republic leaders of the cultures in question to facilitate such alliance.
But unfortunately they met with a strong counter effort. From the political leaders of the then South-west. They are primarily symbolised by the philosophies and person dubbed as the sage of Yoruba politics and the then region’s premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo; who believed that religion or Islam must not be allowed to be the main index of the region’s cultural consciousness and progress but rather ethnicity _ Yoruba Nationalism!
He saw the effort of Northern cultural leaders, in ‘his’ territory, as not a fair act that will usher in a greater good for the people and the country, but rather an encroachment in a desire for no good end but only for a sort of imperialistic accomplishment!
He then too tried to launch a similar counter assault on the northern territory, where he help fuelled the fire of revolt among the minority Christians against the prevailing order of the day. That, despite the glaring efforts of the leading culture then, to establish a fair level playing ground and ensure the provision of equal opportunities for all, Muslims and Christians alike, in the region.
The visionary cultural leaders then, obviously wanted to have a thriving Muslim operational culture, that even non-Muslims can lead it at its greatest height! But unfortunately the south-west Muslims whom by the reason of history should be part of the project, were grudgingly excluded by its own leadership!
The Awolowo Middle-Belt Script in Subsequent Years
It can be said that in the short term, the Awo Middle-Belt Script have failed. Since it cannot accommodate the Middle-Belters, in its worldview and culture even if it succeeded in making them to abandon their alliance with Kanem-Sakoto.
Therefore Northern Christians have continued to subscribe to the vision of Kanem-Sokoto decades later. In fact there was no time they acted most in solidarity to the culture then the period of Nigeria’s civil war, 1967-70, and the subsequent years later. Their elites also benefited most from it politically, as it helped them produced the longest serving Nigerian head of state, General Yakubu Gowon (1966-1975)!
Then entered the period of the military national leadership of General IBB, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (1985 – 1993). For his inordinate ambition to continue to rule; he had earned himself the moniker, the evil genius! It is in one of his maradonic moves the famed Awo Middle-belt Script was dusted off from the archives and applied again on the unity and virility of the Kanem-Sokoto culture.
His stewardship marked the first time religious conflicts became known and ubiquitous between the Christian ethnicities of the Middle-belt and Muslims in the Northern region. From 1987 Kafachan; 1992 Zangon-Kataf in Kaduna; Tafawa Balewa in Bauchi and parts of Muri in Taraba state, grounds were often littered by drops of blood!
During the time of his successor, General Sani Abacha (1993 – 1998), surprisingly the reports of the pockets of religious crisis reduced to the barest minimum. The Awo Middle – Beltern Script was suspended!
Until when it was deployed again, with the return of democracy in 1999. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo had wanted to extract his pound of flesh from the section of the Kanem-Sokoto elites; who wished to strengthen the cultural base by extending the boundaries of Sharia legal system being practiced in the region, as sanctioned by the national constitution, to include its criminal provisions.
Since then, series of violent religious conflicts have happened between Muslims and Christians in the traditional hot spots around Kaduna; and the grounds of Plateau state was also sacrificed!
Though, a respite in the inter religious conflicts, mainly between Christian groups and Muslim ones, can be said to have been recorded in the last 7 years of President Muhammadu Buhari stewardship. But since before him the menace of Boko Haram, banditry and kidnapping, in the Northwest and Northeast, have already been added unto the mix! The virility of Kanem-Sokoto culture is being thrashed to ashes!
Tinubu and His Running Mate
Since after the recently concluded Nigeria’s ruling party, All Peoples Party (APC), presidential primary election in preparation of the next year’s (2023) countrywide general election. In which, a south-western Muslim, Chief Ahmed Bola Tinubu, emerged victorious; breaths are held deep, in expectations of his choice of running mate to fly the ticket for success.
However way it goes, the success or failure of Tinubu, in that elections would strongly depend on the running mate he picks. A Northern Muslim from Kanem-Sokoto or non-Muslim from the Middle-Belt!
Whichever way he goes, one reality is certain to manifest itself afterwards. That Nigeria is not truly an alliance between different geographies, geopolitical zones or regions, but rather an alliance among different cultures, of which South-west Yoruba Muslims on one side, are seen to be distinct from Kanem-Sokoto on the other side.
The Vision for the Future
The pertinent question to ask in this new mix, pregnant with diverse possibilities, is, what constitute Chief Ahmed Bola Tinubu policy towards Kanem-Sokoto? Covert and overt! Whether he chose his running mate among the Muslims or among the Middle-Belt Christians.
Being a veteran of the old Awolowo political school and its exclusive South-western worldview; will he dust off the old Awolowo Middle-Belt Script and play it over Kanem-Sokoto, in order to accentuate divisions in the North, and for the dream of complete conquest and destruction of the region; in service of Yoruba supremacy over all in Nigeria agenda?
Or will he tow the line of honour and strength by facilitating a greater level of cultural exchange, unity and cooperation between the Yoruba and Kanem-Sokoto; and help the region bury the ugly monster of division and conflict that has almost brought it to ashes now?
These, in my little foresight, I believe, should be the major questions that should occupy the mind of Northern Christian and Muslim leaders, public intellectuals, media houses and social media spaces of patriotic Northerners, who desire peace and consolation for the region, culture and the entire country!
So that if Tinubu can convince us fairly and squarely, we can mobilise both the altars and the pulpits for him; come the rainy season!