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

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I took a break of some sorts out of a deliberate intent. The Nigerian Pre-Post-Election violence and the attendant loss of lives and property is still fresh in our memories and it will be outrightly insensitive to hold to one side of perceived truth at a time we are inundated with propaganda.

The first Casualty in a war is truth and we don’t need to hear the drones of warships to know we are in one.

In my first post, THE CAP FITS, I casually described the Al Majiri as destitute in defining the Talakawa concept, so I come today to probe a bit further.

What does Al-Majiri mean?

Ask the average Southerner who has been inundated with Newspapers of the South for the South and by the South, all he sees is a set of ‘miscreants’ who kill Southern Christians in the North.

Some questions however continue to linger: If the Al-Majiri are guilty as charged, why do we not have a massive clampdown and outright proscription a la Boko Haram style? as for Boko Haram, why were Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf and Alhaji Buji Foi dispatched in haste before confessional statements could be extracted? Why has the activities of this group peaked since then, unlike that of the Maitatsine sect when Mohammed Marwa Maitatsine was killed? (it is noteworthy that the Boko Haram leaders were killed in cold blood, unlike Maitatsine who was killed in action)

You know, it’s easy to grow up on Ted Turner’s CNN; Rupert Murdoch’s Fox and miss out the fact that there is a huge media gap between the North and the Southern part of Nigeria. Major Newspapers which are printed in down South Lagos State do not get to the North till the next day, the average ‘Northerner’ believes strongly in the Gospel according to BBC because BBC has full Hausa service broadcast!

While the Arab world decided to build up Al Jazeera to tell their own side of the story, we sit down on our lazy butts and prefer the cyber-militant approach.

Who is the Al-Majiri ?

Let me start by stating that a good number of words used in Hausa parlance were derived from Arabic roots. Al-Majiri is derived from Al-Muhajirin/Al-Muhajirun (the emigrants) and the concept began from the early, initial Muslims who followed Prophet Muhammad on his Hijra (withdrawal from Mecca to Medina). If you are a lover of syntax, you would notice the root similarity between Hajirun, Hijra and the word El-Hajj/Alhaji.

The concept later evolved to include anyone who forsakes material comfort in quest for Islamic knowledge. The great reformer, Usman Dan Fodio (whose words ‘Conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal it’ ironically graces the Editorial column of The Guardian) would fit in perfectly into this.

It is however sad that fast-forward to this present day, calling anyone Al-Majiri sounds extremely insultive.

Usman Dan Fodio had no ‘Western Education’ but he wrote about 480 poems in Arabic, Fulfulde and Hausa; what is the modern Al Majiri in the North taught today?

For a man from a family of affluence to leave all the comfort behind for ‘spiritual’ purposes is not unique to Islam. There are Buddhist Monks the same way there are Convents in the Catholic Church. As at 1204, the man later revered as The Poor Man of Assisi (Father Francis) who was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, left all the affluence for a life of poverty and service.

Unfortunately, itinerancy is no longer necessarily synonymous with the quest for knowledge (if you will ignore the increasing rate Nigerians are sending their wards abroad for Tertiary/Post-Tertiary education), even worse, the circumstances have changed.

The new trend has it that the Quranic instructor migrates to the city, recruits Al Majiris from nearby villages; preferably ages Seven to Fifteen, these recruits are laden with the burden of fending for themselves and bringing ‘returns’ to their instructor. I still recall the drama in 1998 at the Fidau prayers for the late General Sanni Abacha when a ‘Mallam’ set his Al Majiri on the food meant for guests because he was not ‘attended to properly’!

Anyone familiar with Western flicks will have a clear understanding that the easiest way to create a brute is alienation. Separate a child from his parents and make him hunt for the bare necessities of life and you have in your hands a potential ruthless murderer.

We are quick to mock those who kill ‘infidels’ with the hope of having a harem of ‘wide-eyed houris’ in the afterlife but we never bother to wonder what makes this present life so unappealing that the afterlife beckons with so much promises. Why would the average ‘Southerner’ prefer to hang on to the vicissitudes of this life instead of the promise of a better hereafter? To answer that, I’d quote Sam Cooke in his song ‘A change’s gonna come’

It's been too hard living but I'm afraid to die
Cuz I don't know what's up there beyond the sky

How ironic it is then that Sam Cooke tragically was killed at the age of 33 and the same song became the anthem of the courageous American Civil-Rights Movement of the 1960s.

A man who has lost everything is someone no one should trifle with; ditto a man with nothing to lose. The Northern Nigeria has suffered years of neglect which benefited the Masu Sarauta to the detriment of their own people, the high-point of which was the clinical trial of the ‘Trovan trojan’ vaccine which left several children dead or maimed in the wake. Pfizer’s complicity in the issue still remains a big knot in the throat of our collective history as Nigerians.

That is what amuses me about the ‘Zoning’ arrangement. The average man from the South will say ‘The North’ has ruled Nigeria for long, really?!! When we say ‘North’, are we referring to geography or demography?

Chief Obafemi Awolowo was only a Premier/ Opposition leader when he revolutionized the South-West. The Cocoa house (first skyscraper in tropical Africa), the first TV Station in Africa, the Liberty Stadium (first of its kind in Africa) Oduduwa group, Free Education and Healthcare are the legacies he left behind and he was never the President. The whole nation pays lip-service to Awolowo today; ironically, he was rejected at the polls for two clear dispensations!

In contrast, and I do not intend to be insultive, the Northern ‘leadership’ had nothing to do with Northern interest. The closest the North ever had was with Mallam Aminu Kano, and unfortunately, his vision for the emancipation of the Talakawa is far from being nurtured to fruition since his demise.

One huge problem I see militating against the ideologies of Mallam Aminu Kano is the faulty reasoning prevalent in the North and at times propagated in the South that poverty and riches lie solely at the prerogative of destiny. Rabonka in Hausa, Kadara/Ayanmo in Yoruba and Akala-aka in Igbo. That exactly is the bane of the Al Majiri.

With no hope for a better life in the now, a man promised a better after-life if he can kill a perceived enemy that has kept him entrapped in that system would not hesitate to do so.

If the 2006 census puts the Al Majiri population in Kano alone at a whopping 1.2 million, it is only a question of time before we are compelled to stop playing the Ostrich.

I for one do not necessarily hold the view that Western Education is Superior, having been exposed to deeper Poetry than I ever found in English Language in the Yoruba dialect for instance, while witnessing the advancement of the Asian tigers in the field of medicine. Mathematics, I have mentioned in a previous post is far developed in the Arabic world.

My grouse is, the education of the Al Majiri should go beyond ‘Alif-ba-ta-ta-gim-ha’, horsewhips and Street-begging to advanced education where they can aspire to become someone in this life.

Leaving them in this current state is an invitation to imminent anarchy…and Yes, I SAID IT.