Nigeria: Pyrrhic Indignation

23 October 2019

If you live in the North, particularly in Kano, you could not have missed the astounding story of the nine children stolen from Kano city, taken to Anambra State, sold and processed through a new culture, complete with changes in their faith, names and languages. You may also have seen or heard of a video showing fully-clad northern Muslim women receiving enveloped handouts from a catholic priest and assistants to relieve their suffering from poverty and ravaging conflicts. The stories of 'rehabilitation centres and Islamic schools' run by clerics being busted by police and political leaders are grabbing attention, with the likelihood that more are being targetted.

Anger and indignation over the nine retrieved Kano children went notches higher when a list of another 40-odd missing children was released by parents who had long formed an association to put pressure for their discovery. It appeared that the bustling city of Kano had for a while become a thriving locale for stealing Hausa children and selling them to people in the East who turned them into Igbo children for a variety of purposes. This anger and indignation has barely been scratched by the deluge of condemnations from a wide spectrum of opinions, including the local Igbo community. Even President Muhammadu Buhari commended the police for rescuing the children. The atmosphere provided ample opportunities for speculation as well. People asked how many other children may have been stolen from Kano and other northern cities. In a region living with over ten million child beggars on the extreme margins of security and comfort, is it possible that hundreds of this floating population have long become settled members of distant communities? Some with a sense of history recalled the uproar which followed the elopement of Ese Oruru, the 14 year old who followed a young man all the way from her home in Yenegoa, Delta State to his home in Kano to become a Muslim and marry him four years ago.

At a time when it is rare to hear any commendation for our beleaguered police, it has to be said that retrieving these children was a good job, no matter what the pressure behind it was. The community in Kano also needs to look inwards and ask some uncomfortable questions. In spite of voices raised (including the influential voice of the Emir of Kano) on raising awareness over population growth and levels of parental responsibility, the vast majority of adults continue to behave as if there are no consequences for unbridled marriages and reproduction in a context that is making it increasingly difficult to provide for, educate and protect children. In many instances, huge numbers of children are left by mothers who are confined and fathers who are away all day to meander through an uncaring city virtually unsupervised. Community values and structures have crashed; policing is virtually non-existent and vices like illicit drugs, violence and, as we now see, child theft find Kano a fertile ground to flourish.

Many northerners were deeply offended by Patience Jonathan's swipe that northerners 'bear and troway' their children in the heat of the campaign preceding the election which her husband lost, but they should look critically at millions of almajirai and millions of other unguided, untutored and unprotected children against today's threats and a difficult future. Children of the North's poor are literally being thrown away by irresponsible parents, opinion, religious and traditional leaders who have abdicated responsibility to those who need guidance, and political leaders who are ill-prepared to lead even social clubs. Nothing justifies the theft of our children, but should we not do something about putting them out there and making it a lot easy for them to be stolen?

There is a slightly more muted indignation (and, to be honest, a lot more shame and soul-searching) about the video of Christian clergy handing out envelops to Muslim women as relief. The backlash against the initial goal of posting the video which, clearly, was to hint at an evangelizing campaign feeding off the poverty, hopelessness and vulnerability of Muslims has been fierce. Countless comments from Muslims have turned the tables, as they should, at the Muslim community that has failed to look after its most vulnerable members. The cost of a single wedding reception involving a fairly well-off couple in the north today can feed a village for an entire week. Muslim clergy go for Umrah and Hajj in their hundreds, spending hundreds of millions(a lot of it provided from public funds) while widows and children sleep on empty stomachs.

Local Government Chairmen and State Governors spend public funds on cronies, aides, girlfriends, families and relatives as if there is no day of reckoning. Muslims in the north believe it is entirely the responsibility of governments and the international community (the latter being predominantly non-Muslim) to provide for victims of the insurgency and all types of disasters to which the poor are particularly exposed. The leadership insists that life is not as difficult as the wailing of the poor suggest, and the Minister of Agriculture insists here is no hunger in Nigeria, where you can have a full meal for N30 today. The North(and in every way this applies to its Christian communities too) is being increasingly divided between those who have lost the battle against basic survival and those who are desperately trying to ignore them. If Muslims care about their faith and their dignity, the image of dozens of Muslim women clad in Hijab kneeling before Catholic clergy to receive handouts should spur them to rally around and provide help and support to the needy as their faith demands. In case they do not know, it is the same thing Nigeria does before the global community to feed and cater for its millions of IDPs and other victims of an insurgency with pretensions to defending the Muslim faith.

Oh hypocrisy, thy face is North. We are now waking up and discovering houses of horror in the form of 'rehabilitation centers and schools' run by Muslim clergy. We have lived with these monstrosities for decades because there are no places to rehabilitate hundreds of thousands of drug addicts, persons with mental illness and young criminals. These nightmares holding people that need special care can only chain, abuse and torture, but governments that are celebrating busting them have known all along that they existed, and, more worrying, they will do nothing to replace them with better institutions. Inmates will be released, as they should, but the streets will take in more of the mentally ill, juvenile criminals and drug addicts. A year from now, desperate parents and relations will beg the clergy that promises cure or rehabilitation to take in their problems, because by this time next year, our leaders in the North would have moved on beyond concerns for poor people with mental illness or drug habits.

There is a lot of anger in our Northern communities, but it is best directed inwards.

Abubakar wrote this piece from Abuja


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