Northern Nigeria: Between Stereotypes And Facts, By Buhari Aminu
The recent uproar by “Arewa twitter” as the northern bloc of Nigerian twittosphere are fondly called finally gave me the impetus to put pen to paper, on what appears to be a myriad of burning issues that have taken different dimensions over time, culminating most recently on gender subjugation, oppression and the role of northern culture and islamic faith in perpetuating it.
The whole polemic seems to be erroneously hinged on the assertion that secular/western education is the only viable form of education and a narrow minded definition of islamic education that seeks to view the two forms of education as parallels. In anyways such assertions are not scholarly but naive and diminutive, because they ignore the rich, complex, culture and history of the Northern establishment vis-a-vis islam regards women and education in Nigeria. It’s a truism that western type education does hold sway in today’s world and not acquiring it would be quite the folly.
How much difference can there, if both forms of education primarily seek to empower the human mind and spirit to become an instrument for the development of this material world culminating in individual refinement and national development. Islam takes it a step further by setting down a set of ideals & principles to govern the mind that engages in such a pursuit, so that one may prosper in this material world and the next. Theodore Roosevelt captures it aptly when he wrote that “to educate a man in mind and not morals is to educate a menace to society”.
For it was Islam that picked up the gauntlet when the light of enlightenment was dwindling on the Greeks, while Europe was still groping in the dark ages. Laying the foundation in fields of medicine, philosophy, architecture, history, poetry, mathematics, astronomy and optics which the west is building upon today.
By the time colonialism reached the shores of Africa the north was a civilization in its own rights, thats why direct rule couldn’t be employed unlike the other regions. Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello wrote in his autobiography that there was in effect what we’d today call a university in present day Katsina, with scholars and students coming far away Arabia, Malaysia and other parts Africa, with no other motive than seeking the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and obeying prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who charged all muslims centuries ago by saying that “if anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the roads of paradise”.
It is pre-critical to simply dismiss the segment of society as ignorant, plagued by poverty or ruled by inordinate patriarchy because they choose not to want western/secular type education for their children both male & female. An overwhelming number of them enroll their children in islamic schools as soon as they learn to talk, while making sure they learn a craft or trade.
So they actually feel justified as having fulfilled their parenting roles because as far they’re concerned an islamic education coupled with a craft or trade is enough for their children to lead a decent life style without compromising their chances of success in the hereafter because, in Islam success is two dimensional so for any one to be truly thought of as successful they must have lead a decent life without compromising their chances in the afterlife. Even today in western societies we have people whose children are exempt from being taught the theory of evolution in schools, there are also the Amish cultures that shun modernity and choose to live simple lives in seclusion.
The point of contention was when colonialists came with their brand of education that primarily sought to further their agenda of subjugating the populace, through Christian missionary schools with their own obvious agenda of “winning souls”. The rest is history, they say. Permit me to digress a bit.
The Kanem-Borno empire which spanned from present day northeastern Nigeria to what is now southern Chad, northern Cameroun, eastern Niger and southern Libya from the 9th to the 19th century is an illustrious example to commence with. Its hierarchy had a ruling council of only women, that was made of up the Magira the [Queen-Mother], the Magara [Mai’s senior sister] and the Gumsu [Mai’s wife].
Their roles included not only unbringing of the princes, but they also were also imbibed with the power to make and influence political decisions, they played pivotal roles during interregnums and have been known to usurp an incompetent Mai [King]. The role of Queen-Mother and in effect steward, Magira Aisa played in shaping and training of her son Mai [king] Idris Alooma the would be heir has been well documented and the resultant effect of that upbringing was a king unlike no other.
Mai [king] Idris Alooma is today revered for being a statesman ahead of his time. His military skills, administrative, legal reforms and islamic piety are unparalleled in the history of the empire that brought about unequalled prosperity as well. And we also know of the Queen-Mother that ordered the then [king] Mai Biri be imprisoned. We’re all privy or should be to compelling accounts of heroine and Amazon of her time Queen Amina, whose wartime exploits and administrative prowess are being extolled till this very day.
Nana Asmau foremost teacher, poet and princess of the Sokoto Caliphate is today being revered for her scholarly attributes rather than anything else. Hajiya Gambo Sawaba foremost politician, activist and nationalist during the first republic, who had to endure persecutions from the colonial authorities and the native administration was also a pace setter in her own right.
The pivotal role women played in the life Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) the man all muslims are obligated by divine decree to view as role models and strive to emulate is well documented. From the prophet’s birth mother, Amina to his foster-mother and wet nurse Halimatul Sa’adiyah to Khadijah bint Khuwaylid his beloved wife who was his greatest pillar of support, his employer, his moral support, and his financier. She was the one that comforted him and gave him words of encouragement after his first encounter with the Angel Jubril, left him terrified and disheartened.
She had the foresight to take him to her learned and Christian cousin Waraqah bin Nawfal, who was the first to acknowledge his call to Prophecy as authentic. It was also another another of his wives that advised him on how to go about getting the muslims to pay their zakats, by paying his own first in effect lead by example after his previous attempts to convince them to pay proved unsuccessful. Aisha (R.A) is amongst the top three narrators of hadiths and scholars are quick to mention the uniqueness of the hadiths she collected because of the special relationship she had with the prophet, so much so that she became a scholar and eminent jurist after his death.
Nusayba bint Ka’ab (R.A) another Sahabiyyah whose heroics on and off the battle field serves as a radiant example of uncommon valor and bravery. It’s instructive enough that when the rasul was asked why there aren’t “any women prophets”, his responce was that “women already have motherhood”, indicating that Allah (SWT) considers motherhood as equal to prophethood or above it. Could there be anything more complimenting than that?
The pioneering role of women in islam is also what lead Fatima Al Fihri to establish what is considered the very first university in the world, in Fez Morocco. Founded in the year 859 the university of Al Qarawiyyin is the worlds oldest continuously operating degree awarding university in the world by the Guiness Book of World Records.
Its difficult to explain how a people bequeathed such a beautiful, rich and complex history that is the union of northern culture and traditions and islamic ideals and principles could find themselves in the doldrums we are today. We’ve all seen the damning statistics and figures on education, poverty, VVF, Child mortality e.t.c in northern Nigeria.
Yet some are trying to push the notion of a grand scheme at work to hold women back, why then are Almajirai only males. It’s supposedly educated women who should know about family planning, day care centers that engage in employing a child that should also be in school to look after their own babies while they acquire a degree.
The Almajiri system have been subverted to serve as a source of cheap labour, amongst other things called upon to run errands for us and other menial chores, most times for nothing more than some left over food, and if they prove to be loyal, consistent and hardworking they’re given pieces of mostly used and worn out clothes and shoes and food on a regular basis.
If this isn’t reminiscent of slavery then I dont know what is. Long before Bokoharam started recruiting them to use as cannon fodder, Politicians have used them to disrupt the rallies of opposition and other dastardly acts. We are leading in virtually every negative indices of development and these are realities which no one is today proud of and only serves as a constant reminder of our collective shame and failure as a people.
Maybe our problems are simply a failure of leadership, but that argument doesn’t hold much weight when one comes to term with the fact that a leader must inevitably work within and exist in a certain political environment,under a set of laws. Simply put a leader is bound by a preexisting system of structural limitations, present and inherited challenges.
To simply lump all this on the short comings of a gender which are numerous to say the least is just a convenient way of avoiding the complex and deep embedded nature of the problem ranging from institutional, cultural and historical.
The author, Buhari Aminu.K is a medical intern and can be reached on twitter @aminbuhar and firstname.lastname@example.org.