And It Came To Pass… Revisiting the 1987 Zaria Crisis By Onyeagba Joseph
I have struggled for days, trying to pick the constituent words of this article carefully given the volatile nature of an average Nigerian when issue bothering on ethnicity and religion takes the centre stage.
This article is not part of the usual buck-passing game which has become one of our trade-marks as a people, but, a candid reflection on why we must re-examine our nationhood in the light of truth.
Many political analyst, observers and commentators are of the opinion that the primordial problem with the Nigerian state is the “incompatibility” of its constituent nations, usually along the ethnic and religious divides.
A forensic analysis of the major conflicts/crisis in Nigeria reveals that they have either an ethnic background, a religious setting or both.
Beside the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, ethnic and religious crisis has cost us more lives and properties than natural disasters in the history of the country.
Of course, these twin demons(ethnicity and religious extremism) are not peculiar to Nigeria alone, but, history and experience has shown that we have done(or are still doing) nothing to truly address the situation.
The March 1987 Zaria crisis is one of the best documented religious crisis in Nigeria with the publication of “And It Came To Pass…” by the Christian Association of Nigeria(CAN) . The 263-page book gave a detailed chronology of the events that led to the burning of one hundred and thirteen(113) churches by Muslim rioters within 20 hours on the 10th/11th of March 1987.
In addition to other things, the book revealed the culpability of the Nigerian institutions(both national and traditional) in the wanton destruction of lives, properties and the terrorization of the Christian populace during the 20 hours carnage .
Twenty-six(26) after the carnage, we have gone from bad to worse.
Just a few days ago, the United States of America officially designated a Nigerian Islamic movement – Boko Haram as “Foreign Terrorist Organization(FOI). Even President Jonathan, the commander in-chief of the Nigerian armed forces told the nation that he does not know if truly the purported leader of the group, Imam Abubakar Shekau is dead or alive.
Boko Haram seeks to establish an Islamic system of government in Nigeria. If you think this movement started in 2001, i am sorry, you are dead wrong.
In 1987, Sheik Abubakar Gumi(1922-1992) was credited with the following statements :
* “If Christians do not accept Moslems as their leader, we have to divide the country”.
* “The two-party system of government will not be south against north, but Islam against Christianity. Once you are a Moslem, you cannot choose a non-Moslem to be your leader”.
* “Nigerian Unity is to try to convert Christians and Non-Moslems (to Islam). Until the other religions become minority and do not affect our society. Gowon was a good leader. Had he been a Moslem, (he) would have been better”.
* “According to Islam, you can’t say someone is corrupt unless that person is caught… If you are not his guardian, you are not to expose what he is doing unless he exposes himself”.
Yes, Sheik Gumi was not the first to call for the division of the country along ethnic or religious lines.
General Chukwuemeka Ojukwu started the Nigeria-Biafra war in 1967.
But Sheik Gumi was not just an ethnic leader, he was the Grand Khadi of the old Northern region.
During Gumi’s acceptance speech – King Faisal’s certificate, he said:
” I now call on all Muslims to emulate the jihad posture and total commitment to the cause of Allah as exhibited by the late King Faisal by carrying the banners of modern jihad beyond your country borders to foreign lands where teeming millions of Muslims are asking for your solidarity, they are asking you for schools to save their children from being enticed to pagan or other religions”.
“For instance, in Nigeria where i come from, out of a total population of 100,000,000, 70 per cent of the people are Muslims who are looking up to you for proper Islamic guidance.
Yes, i say we can, if we wish to see the return of old Islamic Empire; the return of the golden days of Islam – similar to the one seen in the 6th-9th centuries; then you should invest your wealth, your knowledge and your bottled up jihad energy in the education of your Muslim brothers in Africa, in Asia, in Far East in the form of educational jihad to all those who are desperately in need of it”
“The (Ulama) Council has also asked for fundamental changes to be made in the Nigerian Police Force so that non-Moslems police officers cannot be posted to Muslim areas, as they have become sources of corruption and moral pollution” .
Twenty-one(21) years after Sheik Gumi’s death-
– Most arrested Boko Haram suspects are non-Nigerians.
– An Iranian was caught shipping arms/ammunitions to(through) Nigeria.
– Muslim extremists no longer burn churches, they bomb them.
– We have graduated from religious extremism to terrorism.
– Extremists still kill Christians and destroy properties up North.
– Most Northern states are officially practicing Sharia Law.
– People are proposing a law that can enable them marry a 5-year old girl.
– Extremists slaughter their victims like rams.
– We still vote along ethnic and religious lines.
– Igbos are still clamoring for Biafra.
– Lagos state is deporting South-Easterners
– Abia state government is firing non-indegenes.
– Ombatse religious sect “gallantly” reduced the Nigerian police force to a mere Boy’s Scout Organization.
– Niger-Deltans are still fighting for resource control.
– The call for the division of the country is louder than ever.
We have become a people accustomed to viewing national matters via our myopic ethnic or religious lens.
The recent corruption cases involving Stella Oduah, James Ibori, Patricia Etteh and Faruk Lawan has shown how far we are willing to go to defend “our own”.
No doubt, we are gradually approaching the rubicon. Posterity will judge us all, and it won’t be long before the realities of our (in)actions becomes glaring.
We need to act now! We need to decide what we want as a nation. We need to initiate a reconciliation process that will re-examine our corporate existence as a nation.
We need to stop the Cold War, pretending that it does not exist cannot invalidate it.
In his speech titled: “Are We Truly Ready to Develop and Unite Nigeria?“, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi said:
“The problem is: everywhere in this country, there is one Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba and Itshekiri man whose concern is how to get his hands on the pile and how much he can steal.Whether it is in the military or in the civilian government, they sit down, they eat together. In fact, the constitution says there must be a minister from every state.”
“So, anybody that is still preaching that the problem of Nigeria is Yoruba or Hausa or Fulani, he does not love Nigeria. The problem with Nigeria is that a group of people from each and every ethnic tribe is very selfish. The poverty that is found in Maiduguri is even worse than any poverty that you find in any part of the South. The British came for 60 years and Sir Ajayi talked about few numbers of graduates in the North (two at independence) . What he did not say was that there was a documented policy of the British when they came that the Northerner should not be educated. It was documented. It was British colonial policy. I have the document. I have published articles on it. That if you educate the Northerner you will produce progressive Muslim intellectuals of the type we have in Egypt and India. So, do not educate them. It was documented. And you say they love us (North).”
“I have spent the better part of my life to fight and Dr. (Reuben) Abati knows me. Yes, my grandfather was an Emir. Why was I in the pro- democracy movement fighting for June 12? Is (Moshood) Abiola from Kano ? Why am I a founding director of the Kudirat Initiative for Nigerian Development (KIND)?
“There are good Yoruba people, good Igbo people, good Fulani people, good Nigerians and there are bad people everywhere. That is the truth.”
“Stop talking about dividing Nigeria because we are not the most populous country in the world. We have all the resources that make it easy to make one united great Nigeria . It is better if we are united than to divide it.”
“Every time you talk about division, when you restructure, do you know what will happen? In Delta Area, the people in Warri will say Agbor, you don’t have oil. When was the Niger Delta constructed as a political entity? Ten years ago, the Itshekiris were fighting the Urobos. Isn’t that what was happening? Now they have become Niger Delta because they have found oil. After, it will be, if you do not have oil in your village then you cannot share our resources.”
“There is no country in the world where resources are found in everybody’s hamlet. But people have leaders and they said if you have this geography and if we are one state, then we have a responsibility for making sure that the people who belong to this country have a good nature.”
“So, why don’t you talk about; we don’t have infrastructure, we don’t have education, we don’t have health. We are still talking about Fulani. Is it the Fulani cattle rearer or is anybody saying there is no poverty among the Fulani?”
Can there ever be unity and development without peace? Your answer is as good as mine.
Peace is a by-product of reconciliation, and reconciliation can only be achieved through dialogue.
Anything short of the above process is a scam, cosmetic surgery and deceit that will never stand the test of time.
The time for a sovereign national conference is now. Every constituent nation of this country must be allowed to bare her mind on issues of national importance.
Contentious issues can be subjected to a referendum to determine its acceptability or otherwise.
The clock is ticking, an explosion or implosion is inevitable. It is time we stop the buck-passing game and face reality because time they say, waits for nobody.
History has shown that you cannot solve a problem by sweeping it under the carpet.
We have swept a lot under the national carpet, starting from the 1966 military coup’d tat to the Civil war.
From the unresolved deaths of Dele Giwa to Andrew Azazi.
From the “Apo-six” to the “Ezu river-eighteen”.
From the Zaria 1987 crisis to the present day carnage by Boko Haram.
We need to sit, talk and resolve these differences if we ever truly want to unite and develop this country.
Most actors in the March 1987 Zaria crisis are now aged or probably dead, but, their souls will continue to wander the face of the earth until justice prevails.
As they say, pikin wey say him mama no go sleep, him sef no go sleep.
Onyeagba Joseph C (Mazi Joseph)
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