There is a reason the North of Nigeria is yet to be “on top of the situation”, as our policymakers tend to say even when a crisis is out of control, in the quest to redeem the escalating social problems that abound there. It is because we are in denial of the origins, starting from our manipulation and misapplication of religion in governance to the stark deficiencies of our ruling class, and its implications on the present.
The North is a generation or two behind the South. Critics of this underestimated tragedy have been quickly made persona-non-grata in their constituencies by a class of people one can only understand as the Conservatives. Some have been severely cited as bad examples for “speaking ill” of their people or region. One of the prominent characters in the Black Book of the Conservatives is Sarkin Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II. He wasn’t a recent entrant into that book though, having first become a recurring figure in “embarrassing the North” as a sharp-shooting, cerebral social commentator then known as Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.
His emergence as Sarkin Kano, after a historic disapproval of the Jonathan-led government he once promoted, catalyzing the nation’s rush to replace that infraction of an administration, was the advent of a revolution long overdue. Why? Because, whether as Sanusi Lamido Sanusi or as Sarkin Kano, he’s a vastly well-informed and cosmopolitan thinker in a society awaiting revolutionary overhaul of certain socio-cultural, political and pseudo-religious thinking and practices. The road to revolution is an uphill one because he’s bound to stir the rage of anti-intellectual and robotic characters programmed to reject even the rumor of changing an institutionalized cultural malpractice.
If nobody foresaw the ongoing rage from familiar quarters over Sarki’s method of addressing the region’s social problems, it only means he or she had been a truant in the study of an aspect of the region. Radical confrontation of defective norms in this region has always been interpreted as “girman kai” - arrogance - or an effort to impress "yan kudu” - southerners. A radical critic is either portrayed as spoiling for a fight with the subjects of his or her frank observations or exhibiting “iyayi” - know-it-all disposition - instead of unsentimental rebuttals. I should know. In my little corner of Minna and in my little sphere of Nigerian literature and political discourse, I have been confronted with this bewildering reality.
But Sarki’s problems didn’t even begin with the so-called Conservative elements who accuse him of desecrating the throne of the Kano Emirate for simply rousing the consciousness of the region. It was the pro-Buhari partisans who first launched a volley against him, for his critical remarks on the government’s mismanagement of the economy. And what these legions of critics expect or have proposed is, Sarki is intended to serve as unheard and rarely seen advisor, like the other hundreds of “monarchs” playing the same role in the region and all over the country.
Before Sarki’s remark in Kaduna, at the summit hosted by the Kaduna state government between April 5 and 6, Zamfara state Governor Abdulazeez Yari attributed the meningitis outbreak in his state to the wrath of God, that the implication of his inability to provide primary healthcare facilities in his state was in fact due to divine punishment for the Zamfarawa’s deviation from the way of God. Sarki addressed this rather devastating clowning in Kaduna, offering that “we have adopted an interpretation of our culture and our religion that is rooted in the 13th century mindset that refuses to recognize that the rest of the Muslim world has moved on.”
At the Mo Ibrahim Forum in Marrakesh, Morocco, a few days later, he shattered the glasshouse that is Zamfara state, faulting the gimmick the politicians impose on the people as sharia and that, despite which, “(Zamfara state) has the highest rate of poverty in the country today.” His diagnosis of sharia as a mere conduit for political power can be corroborated not only by the economic mess that is Zamfara state today but the legacy of corruption left behind by its past leaders, especially the primal Senator Ahmed Yerima, perhaps the most successful political scam artist amongst them.
This brutal honesty polarized public discourse, pushing the angry to resort to publishing false claims of Sarki’s private life, some already refuted, including a photograph of him and his wife presented as that of him and a mistress. This is the style of shallow intellectualism and incomprehension we are reduced to in northern Nigeria, amused by how even holders of postgraduate degrees interpreted his commentary absurdly differently, describing it as an affront to the region and to Islam, when it's only an indictment of their literacy.
That the North builds its cultural and religious practices and formations with the thirteenth century mentality is an overrating of our culturally unadventurous spirits and rearward growth. The thirteenth century, noting its ideological conflicts, was actually the peak of the Golden Age of Islam, an era of ground-breaking scientific breakthroughs and intellectual pathfinding by Muslim scientists, philosophers, artists, scholars and clerics which began in the eight century. If Northern Nigeria had adopted that period as a model and its achievements as inspiration, we would have been somewhere around the front rows in this modern civilization.
We are, as Sarki also said, in denial, and the whys are an everyday eyesore: “The north-west and the north-east, demographically, constitute the bulk of Nigeria’s population, but look at human development indices, look at the number of children out of school, look at adult literacy, look at maternal mortality, look at infant mortality, look at girl-child completion rate, look at income per capita… The north-east and the north-west Nigeria are among the poorest parts of the world.”
It's heartwarming that someone who heads an agency of our traditional institutions has the courage to serve as mirror to the unsightly society we have built. What Sarki has been saying, again and again, isn't strange to us. What we have had in short supply over the seasons past are leaders who combine knowledge and audacity as he does. And if I had not been a witness to his audacious confrontation of topical issues, I would have predicted his eventual taming by the conservative establishment.
The idea that a turban should serve as a rein is pre-medieval era mentality. To say a monarch must act like a deity, by avoiding or limiting interactions and associations with the public, only shows we are yet to erase our memory of the master - slave relationships our forefathers fought to abolish. It's even more troubling when such position is being promoted by those who have previously ridiculed the redundancy of our traditional institutions as a waste of human capital and public funds.
The difference between Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Muhammadu Sanusi II is the latter had no effective platform to match his words. The similarity, however, is both are the subjects of scathing attacks and damaging labels, dismissed, at various points, as Shiite, westernized, apostate, ignorant, arrogant, Zionist mole and more—empty labels from those incapable of appealing to reason, only sentiments. It's a pity to have one's faith and personality questioned by a generation mis-educated by this anti-intellectual system of ours. There's no challenger of a malpractice or flawed thinking based on a perception of religion or culture, who hasn't been labeled. It was so with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, as it is with Muhammadu Sanusi II.
Our delusional Conservatives are worried that the Sarki fraternizes with “peasants”, shaking hands and posing for selfies, destroying their pre-medieval era perceptions and portrayals of the monarch as a deity. What they highlight as a fault is, in actual sense, a praise. But that’s a mere telling of their ignorance of the happenings around the world, of humanizing monarchs and the implications of such laudable fraternity. We must choose what we want, a redundant Sarki or one who rouses our consciousness. A few months ago, the visionary ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Muhammed Al-Rashid Ibn Maktoum and his son, Hamdan, were seen on a public train in London, interacting and posing for selfies. They were all in T-shirts. It didn't make them small, it only made them human. Their idea of monarchy isn't to pretend to be deities, as promoted by a people with slave mentality in my part of the world. Royalty shouldn't be confused for divinity, but embraced as an opportunity, an opportunity to serve as the cultural visionaries and revolutionaries of one's society. Even if without constitutional powers to execute one's proposals, as is the case with ours.
Imagine the reaction of the so-called Conservatives here if constitutionally restricted Sarkin Kano or any monarch from the North of Nigeria is spotted in that way, in T-shirt and in public transport. Yet, the T-shirt-wearing monarch isn't incapable of procuring the entire Northern Nigeria if the region, with its seventeenth century infrastructure, were a public enterprise. The world has evolved and so should our thinking - of solutions to tackle these fast-evolving problems that breed almajiranci, Boko Haram, poverty, illiteracy, and mentally unfit leaders of Yari's class.
The way out of this cultural entrapment is a mental revolution. “We must wage an intellectual war,” the Sarki proposes. “Because Islam is not univocal; there are many voices, there are many interpretations, there are many viewpoints, and we have for too long allow the ascendancy of the most conservative viewpoints. The consequences of that is that there are certain social problems.”
You can follow Gimba on Twitter @gimbakakanda.