"What Maketh a Northerner"

One of my recent Google-ing procrastination exercises - come on, I got to do something in the morning while I'm still practically brain dead and waiting for my first cup of Earl Grey to cool down to a drinkable temperature! oh, the magic of quality tea! - had me come across this gem of an article by Abubakar Suleiman, which I think is quite interesting in the context of my research and article in particular, you know, some kind of background reading:

Yes, what makes a northerner a northerner, northern culture northern culture? What makes northern Nigeria northern Nigeria, distinct from Southern Nigeria or the Middle Belt? What makes northern Nigerian culture, Hausa culture, Fulani culture, Kanuri culture and the cultures of the many ethnic and linguistic minorities living in the area northern Nigerian culture? What does 'northern' stand for in the Nigerian context?

Not a question for me to answer but one that lurks somewhere at the back of my research topic because that is how I naively framed my research topic (now almost three years ago): How shall I address this? Shall I address it at all? ... Well, as far as this blog is concerned from now on I will simply refer you to this article and the following discussion that developed in the comment section because it is probably closer to what 'northern' stands for in the Nigerian context (or shall I say for different Nigerians?) than anything I could ever write. – Well, yes, I am aware that internet fora such as the ones on which I found the article can only ever reflect the opinions of the few who actually access the internet but I think they still provide an interesting insight into the variety of opinions (and, let’s face it, most of the people I have been seriously discussing such things with in Nigeria belong to those elected few anyway). – So, yes I am a bit uncomfortable as regards this question but as not only my research topic but also the name of this blog point towards it let’s briefly address it here, though I will refrain from any analysis but let the below speak for itself – the least, I hope you will gain from it is an insight on why I am as an outsider feel pretty insecure about the definition of the very same ‘northern Nigeria’ I am referring to in my title, how the very question could draw me into Nigerian identity and power politics.

I found the article on Busuguma’s Dan Borno blog but it looks like it has been originally published at the The Nigerian Village Square – this is also where you find the equally or even more telling commentaries (at the bottom you can navigate to, currently, 17 more pages of reactions). It has also been republished in the Daily Triumph.

Here just a little excerpt of the original article, for the complete entry check out any of the above sites:

[…]

And yet again, I am a northerner! A ‘hausa-fulani’, a ‘northern apologist’ and a ‘mallam’. I am a dozen failed presidents and a thousand crooked ministers. I am a murderer of Igbo traders, a street urchin and a beggar. I carry the burden of the ruling elite, the military junta, the feudal lords and the religious cults. Yes, they call me a northerner and they say I am the problem of the nation. I am the one who built Abuja with stolen wealth, I refuse my people immunization and silently decreed illiteracy so that people will not read and understand. I am the man that counts my cattle and adds it to the population of my people, the same man that collects the ‘soft earned’ oil money from the Delta to buy luxury homes in Dubai. It is I that is renovating petroleum institute with more than $100 million dollars so that the ninety percent of my people who till the land can get better produce. I am the northerner, the unschooled, the corrupted, the lazy and the most ‘stupid’ and yet I am the ruler of a quarter of black humanity.

A Negro and an African, a Nigerian and a Northerner and, yes most definitely a Muslim. I carry the burden of the world on my shoulder yet I stand straight. I stand with my head held high because I am truly all that I have been called but I am far more than that. I am a man. I have my principles and a clear objective. I seek to live an ethical life, a life of impact. I am hard-working, I read, I listen and I talk. I think. I think Ngozi is good (brilliant) and Ndidi is bad (disastrous) , I hold Bode Agusto as exemplary and Bode George a shame, I know Sanusi to be straight and Shamsudeen a sham. You see, I am beyond the north, I am more than the nation, I am better than the continent and black is merely the color of my skin.

[…]

Next time you talk about the northerner, I want you to know that you are talking about me and that I am more than the sum of failed leaders with ethnic agendas (How an agenda can be considered ethnic when it subjugates 99% of the same tribe beats me). Next time you call on the north to step aside, remember you are asking 99% of my people who are nowhere near Aso Rock to step aside- from their desert encroached farmland and their dry muddy wells, from the tree shades where their children are taught the alphabets and the irrigation canal that has found a home in a luxury estate in south Africa. You are asking for my silence in the face of tyranny, a tyranny that killed my children before it gave your offspring dysentery but I shall not be silenced. What you are asking is that Nigerians should be made to shut up because Nigerians are fraudulent- we will not be silenced even if a million Nigerians are fraudsters and drug barons. Even as my sister from Edo is walking the ‘street’ of Rome, so shall my brother from Benin be crowned an Archbishop at the Vatican. As you seek to crucify UMYA, so you shall seek to enthrone Ribadu (these are difficult times so we must lower our standards). The north produced Buhari & Babangida; we are also responsible for Major Abubakar Umar and Major Al-Mustapha. This system produced Ken Nnamani and Andy Uba. Africa is responsible for Mandela and Mugabe; and both Mobutu and MLK Jnr. are black. You see, I am a northerner but not that ‘northerner’, no! I am not the northerner who engages in ‘nocturnal meetings’ to take complete control of my country. I am not the northerner on whose behalf these meetings are held and in whose interest these crimes are committed. I am that other northerner, the one whose uncle cannot afford fertilizer; whose niece has no school to go to. I am the northerner that Nigeria needs because I am half the nation and none of its problem. I am more than seventy million men and women waiting to be unleashed, raising my voice and voting for change.

There is a depths of (for the researcher/anthropologist interested in ethnicity/identity) interesting commentaries in the comment section. I beg you to have a flick through them as they contribute a variety of different views upon the same question and in doing so locate the writer’s opinion in a wider Nigerian context. In addition, there’s probably a lot more on the net and certainly in the literature on ethnicity, ethnicity in Nigeria, Hausa (Fulani, Kanuri etc.) identity in particular but let’s leave it here for the moment … Got to get back writing on my chapter and I’m already slightly behind schedule!

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