By Donu Kogbara
We often simplistically refer to “The North” as if it is a monolithic unit. It is easy to forget that there are actually different Northerners and that a significant number are not Hausa-Fulanis or members of the Sunni Muslim majority.
This complex diversity – and the tensions it generates – was highlighted during a recent bloody clash between the Army and a Shiite Muslim group in Kaduna State…and in a sad and thought-provoking letter that a Christian engineer from a minority tribe in Borno State sent me a couple of days ago.
Here are some excerpts:
We Christians comprise 45 per cent of the population in Borno State. But, like Christians all over the North, we are treated like a conquered people and held back by a glass ceiling.
We don’t bother to vie for elective office because there is no point vying for what you won’t get. When it is time to share political appointments that are due to Borno indigenes, Muslim Kanuris get priority, followed by non-Kanuri Muslims, followed by us.
We always come last.
In the history of the Borno judiciary, only one judge has ever been a Christian. In the University Teaching Hospital in Maiduguri, only Kanuris make it to the chief medical director rank. And I know of cases where Christians who teach medicine or other subjects have been overtaken by their students when senior jobs are being allocated.
We are also discriminated against when it comes to school admissions and employment in the state civil service. If you check out all of the appointments from my zone in the past few years, you will realise that what is going on is a kind of ethnic cleansing.
Even at the Federal level, we are blocked by Kanuris and Muslims generally. And I’m sorry to say that many Christians from Borno have converted to Islam out of desperation, in the hope of advancing their careers. It is unbelievable that persons should be made to feel that they must compromise religiously to make progress.
Can this nation remain as one when this kind of injustice is happening?
Afraid to speak
We are too afraid to speak out about the oppression we suffer because we fear further persecution. Please help us, Madame. We have nowhere to go. And no supporters.
The average Southerner automatically regards me as a Muslim or semi-Muslim when he hears where I am from. Meanwhile, Muslims would gladly behead me and my people!
May God bless you and use you to save the silent Christians of North-Eastern Nigeria.
I almost wept when I read this letter and wish I were as powerful as its author imagines and influential enough to assist victims of religious and tribal intolerance!
Journalists CAN support the downtrodden by drawing attention to their plight. But in an essentially unprogressive country like Nigeria in which the elite is predatory and consistently abuses its privileged position, journalists are rarely able to achieve change. Sometimes, I am filled with despair and I have frequently wondered whether there is any real value attached to having a media platform.
The best I can do is to a) appeal to Southerners to adopt a more open-minded and empathetic attitude towards their Northern Christian brethren….and b) appeal to President Buhari to do the right thing, behave like a father to all and go out of his way to protect the millions of his compatriots who need protection.
Federal Character laws
It is absolutely unacceptable for any Nigerian to be treated so shabbily by greedy, domineering religious bigots and unrepentant tribalists.
We have Federal Character laws. And if they are too broad and insufficiently detailed – that is, if they do not already reflect the needs and interests of EVERY SINGLE sub-section of the citizenry – they should be amended with immediate effect…and then rigorously implemented within individual states and nationally.
If Borno State, for example, is entitled to 10 positions at the centre, for example, sincere efforts must be made to ensure that some of those positions go to Borno natives who are neither Kanuri or Muslim. And within Borno State itself – and EVERY state in the Federation, for that matter – it should be illegal for certain communities to be marginalized. Equality should be enshrined across the board.
At his inauguration on May 29, 2015, Mr President told the world that he belonged to everybody and belonged to nobody. And I was very impressed by this enlightened statement and clapped very loudly from my seat in Eagle Square.
But I’ve subsequently had cause to be disappointed because there are times when Mr President displays blatant favouritism towards his personal constituency.
The recent NNPC Board appointments are a case in point. Southerners are outnumbered by Northerners who don’t come from oil-producing areas.
The new Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr Maikanti Baru, is from Bauchi and an exemplary and intelligent professional. I know him, like him and have a lot of faith in him. And I’m glad he got the job and think that he will perform laudably.
But I – and many other onlookers, including some Northerners and several foreigners with whom I’ve discussed this issue – feel that the President should have been more politically sensitive when he was appointing other NNPC Board members, especially at a time when the Niger Delta Avengers are bombing pipelines to bits and drastically impacting on oil production.
Neglected Northern Christians
Neglected Northern Christians are not fearlessly aggressive like Niger Deltan militants or the noisy Biafran activists in the South-East. But many are also very upset and angry; and they may eventually summon up the courage to fight back.
We are all human and we all make mistakes. But errors of judgement can often be reversed at a later date. And I pray that Mr President will avoid regional bias henceforth, heed the cries of the aggrieved and address their grievances compassionately and pragmatically as soon as possible. It’s the least he can do, if he believes in the One Nigeria ideal and wants to be loved by most Nigerians.