I was born and raised in Port Harcourt, and although I’m not Hausa, everyone assumed I was because of my name. So, I experienced a series of teasing and slight Islamophobic and bigoted comments from fellow Nigerians in that part of the country.
I am from Kogi state, which is considered to be in the north — especially during election periods. Now that elections are getting closer, I believe I have earned the right to speak as a Northerner.
To be frank, many of the Hausa folks I came across in Port Harcourt – whilst growing up – did unskilled jobs. The few times I would see an educated or wealthy Northerner would be in a big, nice, fancy car (far removed from my reality) or on TV, as a Minister. This used to confuse the hell out of me. Add that to the news of regular riots in places like Kano, Bauchi, Kaduna and Jos, and then you get the picture.
This, by default, gave most of us living in the South the impression that Northerners are mostly illiterate, backward, and without any ambition other than fighting and killing during riots. Such stereotype was further promoted by portrayals of the Hausa man in Nollywood movies as some buffoonish gateman called Dawooda or Musa.
This is also why it is not uncommon for a Southerner to look in awe whenever they see a Northerner interacting with so much intelligence and confidence. You get stupid remarks like, “Wow, are you sure you’re Hausa? How come you sound so intelligent?” Or some patronising comments like “You don’t look like a Muslim or Northerner. You look and sound so different.” As if that’s supposed to make you feel any better.
My ignorance of the north started to slowly disappear during my first visit to Jos, many years ago. The time spent in this lovely city really opened my eyes to a lot of things. I met and spoke to – and became friends with – several northern people from working-class families from Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, etc. – and I learned a lot from them.
For example, I learnt that not everyone in the core-north is actually Hausa or Fulani and that not all of them are Muslims, even though they may have Muslim-sounding names. It’s very common, for example, to find someone with the name Simon Musa from Bauchi state who is a Christian, or Danjuma Suleiman, from Nasarawa state, who’s also a Christian.
I also saw, for the first time, the predicaments of the Almajari street kids. These kids usually looked very hungry, tired and unkept; with red and yellow and purple bowls begging in the streets of Jos, and being swatted away by their fellow countrymen like flies. It was a very sad sight to behold.
There is also an extremely high rate of poverty in the north!
My next experience with Northerners would be in the United Kingdom. The group of Hausa-Fulani folks that I met in the U.K. were kids of very wealthy aristocrats – both old and new money. This sort of completed my northern education. It also gave me a lot of sleepless nights. These kids were a world apart from the ones I had met and became friends with in Jos, and a million miles away from the realities of the desperately poor ones living in squalor – whom I had prayed side-by-side with – in Port Harcourt.
Because of the huge amount of poor people from the north living in the south, an average Southerner who has never travelled to the north would automatically assume that most Hausa or Fulani people are illiterate and lazy and only got ahead in their careers because of strong connections. And, if like me, you’ve spent a lot of time with rich, educated Hausa-Fulani folks, you can tell that they don’t like this narrative very much. They’re embarrassed by it and are trying very hard – too hard, if I may say – to change it.
They would say: Oh you ignorant Igbo man! Oh you ignorant Yoruba man! How dare you call us illiterate and lazy? Do you not know that the north produced the likes of Sir Ahmadu Bello, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Aminu Kano? Do you not see that we currently have Amina Mohammed, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Nasir El Rufai, Dr Farook Kperogi and Aminu Gamawa? How dare you!
Now, it’s easy to blame the Southerners for their ignorance but the northern elites aren’t entirely blameless, either. For some bizarre reasons, the level of inequality in the north is unmatched anywhere else in Nigeria. How could this be?
We cannot expect a standing ovation just because we have a few El Rufais and Amina Mohammeds here and there when in fact, for every Amina Mohammed we produce, there are thousands of Khadijas being married off by their parents at a very young age because there just isn’t enough food in the family. Or for every Aminu Kano we manage to produce, a thousand young boys are being dispatched to the streets of Zaria, Jos and Kano as Almajaris, which inevitably prepares them as willing tools for riots and ethnic and religious crisis. This is totally unacceptable.
Few things to ponder:
As a privileged, educated Northerner, how are you contributing towards the social upliftment of your people?
How much money, time and resources have you invested in the education and wellbeing of the downtrodden and deprived people of your local community?
How many free maths or reading classes have you given to the kids of your poor, illiterate servant or gateman?
As an educated Northerner, are you using your voice and influence to hold government officials to account, or are you enabling them in their tyranny?
As an educated Northerner, how are you using your privilege to reduce the stereotypes surrounding your people?
I think we need to start looking from within and begin to make the necessary changes. The level of inequality in the north is shameful and inexcusable, and something needs to be done.
All these poverty, hatred, anger, riots, violent protests and killings aren’t going to disappear (anytime soon) until we begin to make the necessary adjustments.
Suleiman Ahmed is a UK-based software engineer and writer. He tweets from @sule365.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Nigerian Diary.