Sometimes such a long time looks like yesterday but you realize it was a long time because you can no longer visualize exactly the form of some faces you used to know, faces of people who were once closed friends. Over 20 years is a long time even though it is crystal.
And my childhood friend Smart Ombor-romeo brought these memories back. Sweet and sad memories intertwined of my stay in Bama, Borno State. Today Bama has been almost totally destroyed by Boko Haram, thousands killed, thousands kidnapped, family displaced, lives devastated by both terrorists, incompetent Nigerian leaders and the people themselves who embraced the new religion for whatever reason assuming it was change, pushed by political class and an elite who wanted to cash in on political Sharia that in the end brought war, death and great suffering.
I have always opined that it was the people who brought this on themselves. It started gradually, long before now, even before I left Borno State for Kano finally on 1st December, 1994, shortly after secondary school and one year remedial studies at Umar Ibn El-Kanemi College of Education. All these signs were there. The people were already embracing something new. Borno State was already changing. And it was people in government and the intelligentsia who started it all.
The Kanuris were great Muslims and Islamic scholars. In fact Islam entered modern Nigeria through Borno Empire, a large empire that stretches from Borno to most parts of Chad, Niger and some parts of modern Libya. They were also very calm people and not in any way troublesome. Because they lived with other tribes who were not Muslims when I lived there, they benefitted from diverse culture that surrounded them. They were accommodating and good people. In fact a lot of Kanuri people would tell you that Bama is not an originally Kanuri town because they were another animist tribes who lived with them, the Gamargu, Wula and Mandara tribe who before Boko Haram preserved their culture intact. They were not Muslim or Christians. And they were able to preserve their culture inside this great Muslim empire. It tells me Muslim then did not force others or blackmail them and ostracized them to join their religion. That’s why in places like Chibok, you now know Chibok because if the Chibok girls, most of the people have same tribal marks as Kanuri but almost 90 percent indigenous people of Chibok are Christians. If the real Islam was such militant that it forced everyone to join Islam, that whole area would have been converted into Islam centuries ago. It was Uthman Dan Fodio Jihad that is giving people the impression today that Islam is about war and conversion of people by force into Islam. I think Uthman da Fodio was a mixture of spreading Islam and the Fulani kingdom. It wasn’t all about Islam as some Scholars would want us to believe.
I grew up in the heart of this empire. Being privileged to be the son of a policeman, I have traveled with my dad from Dikwa to Gulumba and later years I participated in activities that took me to most parts of Kanuri and Shuwa Arab land. In fact religion was serious on the surface but the people in private were not religious. They drank alcohol, especially Shuwa, they took other drugs and patronized the local brothels. They drink Burukutu and had a social life that would be anti-Sharia in totality and they were not judgmental.
They were a people of very colorful rich culture, from their weddings, to their dance and dressing, folklores and even local medicines. They were great hard working farmers.
But the change that was to change everything started long ago before even Muhammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram and Shiekh Abubakar bin Shekau, the new leader even knew much. The change started from the intelligentsia, government, the elites and political class, the change that would become Boko Haram.
There was a startling difference between Kano and Borno, the Hausa/Fulanis and the Kanuri/Shuwas, Kano city and Maiduguri, in 1994 from the observation of a teenager like me. First, Kanuri and Shuwa are an entirely different languages from Hausa and Fulani. They have different cultures too. The only similarity is that most African communities are agrarian and nomads, because of proximity have done businesses with each other for hundreds of years and share some parts of their culture. Islam is however the unifying factor.
For me going to Kano was going to Bayero University. My cousin and guardian was a journalist, he lived in Shagari Quarters, Zoo Road, Kano. We always had all sorts of magazines and newspapers at home, especially Newswatch magazine because Dan Agbese of Newswatch is an uncle.
It was in December of 1994 that Gideon Akaluka’s head was chopped off and paraded around Kano. I was in Kano that December and read details of the story in Newswatch. You see, such things doesn’t happen in Maiduguri and Borno State, none that I knew of before I left Maiduguri. But before I left things were already changing and changing fast.
It all started from the new intelligentsias who found themselves in government. Around 1988 or 1989, thereabout, some Commissioner of Education, I heard she was female, suddenly decided to separate all mixed secondary schools to all male, all female schools. It was about that time that hijab was introduced. It used to be head tie or scarf for female students, even though some students sow theirs like hijab. Now the whole hijab thing was compulsory. This change was not just happening in schools, it was a form of Islamic renaissance. We in schools were just experiencing the change.
Soon there were laws against brothels that used to be very popular among the locals and hotels. Television stations started showing more Islamic preachings instead of the Indian and American films that we used to enjoy as children. And about that time you hear your playmates started referring to you and others who are not Muslims as ‘Kirdi,’ which means pagan, infidel or something related to it, something like non-believer. You are tagged. It was like the Nazi forcing the Jews to wear some sort of arm band.
The same thing was going on in Kano. When I arrived Kano in 1994, people were selling alcohol in my area in Shagari Quarters, Zoo Road, and some of these people running these joints were Muslims. CTV Kano, the state television used to show some of the baddest action movies at night before closing hour at night, we used to look forward to watching these movies. Within few years the programs all changed to tafsir (Islamic sermon). One of their popular program was Ahmed Deedat, some South African preacher who loves to debate Christianity versus Islam and was bent on proving that Islam is superior to Christianity. These tafsir was sponsored by politicians. I remember late Abubakar Rimi was sponsoring one late night tafsir. I was in the University with his son Nura Rimi and his sister and they were more Western than Westerners.
Soon the government clamped down on these beer parlors and alcoholic drinks can only be sold in Sabon gari. This was long before Sharia Law introduction.
In fact if you were in the University when I was in the University in the north, you would definitely know of the Ustaz take over of the campuses. That will be our next topic.
Like I have said earlier, the change that in my opinion led to the creation of the likes of Boko Haram started slightly over two decades before 2002. In my university years in the mid and early 2000 when the South had a serious cultism problem, we in the north had the Uztaz problem. The Uztaz, a gang of militant Muslim students, through force ensure there wasn’t any form of social life on campus. They somehow succeeded in coercing the school authority into succumbing. They wanted to form their own little Sharia state in the university. Like with most cases of fanaticism, such people don’t think others such think differently and they must impose their will on everyone. In some cases the school authority support them tactically when they have an overtly religious Vice Chancellor. It was in this atmosphere that I graduated from Bayero University Kano.
The same thing was also going on in the University of Maiduguri. I recall one time sometimes around 2013 the English department student were having a get together and the Uztaz attacked them. I left Maiduguri shortly before that incident but my sister Habiba Bature who was an exco was attacked in that incident. Just get together. I recall the school authority did nothing about it. This was also going on in places like ABU Zaria, ATBU, Bauchi and major northern Nigerian universities, exception of places like University of Jos that has a serious problem of cultism, even till today, but that’s another story.
After I graduated from the University I went to Maiduguri for a visit, Marxist Kayode J. Adden would remember that. I traveled to Bama in the early 2000 and I still remember my visit to Abba Kaumi, the younger brother to the Emir of Bama who was then his secretary. Very nice hospitable chap. I am sure Marx remembers this journey because we went together.
Bama had changed. The hotels were gone. The brothels were gone. The music that blared at night had gone. The soul of the city had simply died. No more social life. Everything was now either religion or wrapped in religion. That was the last time I would visit Bama. People that I knew were beginning to move out of town because business was dying or was dead. The town that I went to secondary school, played soccer and became one of its icon on the football pitch was a shadow of itself.
I moved to Lagos where I was working with the likes of Samuel Yunana, a friend to my younger brother, before moving out of the country. These were the early years of Sharia Law implementation that was welcomed in Borno State with the destruction of the statues of fishes at the roundabout, a man on a horse signifying the image of the great people of Kenem Borno Empire and all other beautiful images which has a semblance of a living thing. Some of these were the remote causes of what led to the creation of Boko Haram.
The immediate cause has its roots in the terrorists attacks in the United States which is today known as 9/11 and what followed afterwards. But that is another story all together.