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Visions of the Alfa Talakawa, from the Proletariat...Nigeria, as I see it

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


It baffles me a great deal how artifacts abandoned by Africans based on ‘fetish’ connections found their ways to British and French museums.

Egypt had to cut ties with the Louvre Museum late last year for France to agree to return theirs.

The Nigerian case is pathetic. In 1973, General Gowon was invited to Britain and was anxious to bring a gift to say thank you for British support during the Biafran civil war. He commissioned a replica Benin bronze but was disappointed with the result. Just before his departure, he telephoned Ekpo Eyo, director of the museum, to say he was coming to choose a gift. General Gowon soon arrived; and took one of the bronzes from the display. Dr Eyo was horrified, because it was quite ‘improper for the state to be raiding the museum’. The rest is History.

For General Gowon, I would only quote Mel Gibson in the 2002 American War Film, We were Soldiers: ‘we were soldiers once…and young’ because he is one former Head of State that still gives his all to the nation, most times, I feel the Gentleman is burdened by a lot of what went wrong that he is convinced he owes the Country a lot. He was only 32!

Unfortunately, that would not be the only time the artifacts were taken away with gross impunity. As a matter of fact, the most devastating raid was the Benin ‘Punitive’ Expedition of 1897 where the Palace was looted as punishment for Benin’s preemptive strike on Lieutenant James Robert Phillips who was on his way to raid the Palace anyway. Only two British officers had survived that strike.

An estimated 2500 artifacts were ‘stolen’ and redistributed till today to British, German and French museums and private owners.

France has magnanimously returned two Monoliths. The Queen Idia Mask, used as the mascot for the Second Black Festival of Arts and Culture still sits in the basement of the British Museum.

I know we have a dark history linked with our Arts, I know that but for Mary Slessor, the people of Calabar would probably still be casting their twins into the evil forest to perish, but I KNOW that it is hypocritical to keep these artifacts that you condemned as heathen!

Okay, the Benin people are around to demand for what was taken from them, what of The Nok Terracotta? We do not even know who those people really were because they ‘mysteriously vanished’ about 200 AD. As a matter of fact, the only reason we call their arts Nok is because they were dug up in the village of Nok near the Jos Plateau region of Nigeria while some Englishman was mining for tin.

Pits dug in the search for Tin abound in Jos till date. The search for tin and artifact thus attracted settlers to the city of Jos. With an altitude of 4,062 feet (1,217 m) above sea level, it enjoys a more temperate climate than much of the rest of Nigeria (average monthly temperatures range from 70° to 77°F or 21° to 25°C). These cooler temperatures have meant that from colonial times until present day, Jos is a favourite holiday location for both tourists and expatriates based in Nigeria.

That also meant that Jos attracted a lot of immigrants.

Then arose a man called Mohammed Marwa Maitatsine; a violence disposed Cleric who was born in Cameroon. His was a quasi-Muslim fringe group that eventually sparked religious riots in Kano in 1980, and Kaduna, and Maiduguri in 1982 after police tried to control their activities. The disturbance in Kano alone resulted in the deaths of 4,177 people between December 18 and 29, 1980. He was killed by Nigerian security forces in 1980 during the Kano insurrection. His followers were able to lead several insurrections after that spanned into the late ‘80s and a good number of those fleeing for refuge found a haven in Jos, this act of hospitality looks like what turned out to be Jos’ undoing.

In 1987, religious conflict took dark dimensions when unprecedented violence between ‘Muslims’ and ‘Christians’ erupted at secondary schools and universities. Clashes at the College of Education in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, left at least twelve dead and several churches burned or damaged. The rioting spread to Zaria, Katsina, and Kano in few days. Bayero University in Kano was closed after about twenty students were injured in clashes. In Zaria, Muslim students burned the chapel at the College of Advanced Studies and attacked Christian students; the riots spilled over into the town, where more than fifty churches were burned. A curfew was imposed in Kaduna State, and outdoor processions and religious preaching were banned in Bauchi, Bendel, Benue, Borno, and Plateau states. All schools in Kaduna and five in Bauchi State closed. The then President Babangida denounced these outbreaks as "masterminded by evil men . . . to subvert the Federal Military Government." He also issued a Civil Disturbances (Special Tribunal) Decree establishing a special judicial tribunal (which would sadly be used as the instrument to hang Ken Saro Wiwa and the remaining 8 Ogoni much later under a different administration) to identify, arrest, and try those responsible, and banned preaching by religious organizations at all institutions of higher learning. In June and July 1987, Kaduna State authorities twice closed the exclusive Queen Amina College girls' high school in Zaria after clashes between Muslim and Christian students. At a particular point in time, Kaduna became irrevocably separated into a predominantly Muslim North and Christian South.

All of a sudden, Kaduna ceased to be the hotbed and the ‘axis-of-evil’ tilted to Jos. President Babangida created Jos North in 1991 and with the modified vehicle plate number scheme; the Jos North came to be represented by JJN. JJN stands for Jasawan Jos North; Jasawa is the identity of the Hausas in Jos.

The Berom, Anaguta and Afizere were the indigenous people of Jos. But with the mining industry, Hausa settlers had multiplied. With an organized system of government, The Hausa settler population in Jos had a Hausa Chief in the Tin Mine settlements (There has been a Sarkin Jos since 1902!), which they answered to. The indigenous tribe primarily the Berom felt the need to also organize themselves politically, especially after converting to Christianity. With the British system of indirect rule, a Native Chief was preferred to a Hausa Chief because of their religious and ethnic peculiarities. In 1947 the title of any Chief of Jos became Gbong Gwom Jos. Unlike the conventional thrones, it is a political throne, with no initial basis in Berom traditions as the Berom people were an ethnic group with clan-centred leadership.

The complex power-play became the keg of gunpowder that would implode later. The Jasawan had grown and were economically relevant in Jos. A generation of youth who were born in Jos and had nowhere else to call home had been born (Palestine-Israel, anyone?) and the battle for the soul of Jos-North intensified.

Islam had always been valid for Hausa mobilization. This dates back to Usman dan Fodio (1754-1817) who emerged an Amir al-Mu'minin, a political as well as religious office, consequently with authority to declare and pursue a Jihad, raise an army and become its commander. A widespread uprising consequently began in Hausaland. This uprising was largely composed of the Fulani, who held a powerful military advantage with their cavalry. It was also widely supported by the Hausa peasantry who felt over-taxed and oppressed by their rulers.

Usman dan Fodio was a great ruler and brilliant scholar whose reforms and ideals birthed the Sokoto Caliphate in 1809. As it turned out, subsequent Sultans of Sokoto automatically became Heads of the Islamic community. Unfortunately, this heritage became a tool for manipulations too. The way an American is proud of Uncle Sam is about the same way the predominantly Muslim Hausa community is proud of the Caliphate.

Alas! Clashes began to originate out of flimsy reasons like a lady walking seductively or an alleged burning of Mosques by Christians during Church Service.

Is the Jos crisis Religious? Is it Political? I will not tell beyond this backdrop. Is it utterly senseless and inhumane? To that I say an emphatic YES!