Northern Nigeria, particularly Muslim northern Nigeria, has become by far the most dangerous place to live in Nigeria— and one of the most dangerous places to live in the entire world. Terrorist bandits have almost literally taken over the region.
Terrorists habitually waylay and burn passengers alive, kidnap Islamiyya and conventional school pupils, murder imams and worshipers in mosques, slaughter innocents in their sleep and incinerate their homes, vandalize and burn harvested crops and farms, and constitute a source of permanent terror.
The carnage and terror are unabating. They are spreading out to previously sedate parts of the region. Niger State, which used to be insulated from communal upheavals, is now becoming the new epicenter of terrorist banditry.
This is clearly the most precarious moment in northern Nigeria’s history. But amid the growing precarity of life in the region, a federal government dominated by northern Muslims at best only pays lip service to security.
Yet there are only muffled, barely audible voices of outrage from everyday northerners. Sure, there are now a few timid, emergency northern social critics who rail against the Buhari regime’s outrageous incompetence and cruel unconcern, but there are no mass protests in the streets and no consistently violent maledictions against Buhari in mosques—like there would have been if the president were a Christian.
Most people in the region initially wanted to conceal the hurt they were nursing because they cared more about the image of Buhari than they cared about their own lives. Although much of northern Nigeria had been drenched in oceans of blood since at least 2017, even as late as February 2020 many people in the region still lived in denial.
Those of us who called out the ineptitude and insouciance of the Buhari regime were smeared, cursed, and ostracized. The emir of my hometown called an emirate council meeting specifically to request me to stop criticizing Buhari. Several people from my place often reached out to me to tell me mosques invoked on me a kind of Islamic imprecation called “al-Qunut.” It’s a special supplication for Allah to destroy someone or something.
My mother would cry on the phone and request me to leave the Buhari regime because she feared that the al-Qunut prayers that brain-dead, low-IQ, Buhari-worshipping morons were invoking against me would destroy me. I ignored her.
I recall a particularly intriguing phone call I received from someone in New Bussa in Niger State in December 2019. New Bussa used to be my local government headquarters until it was ceded to Niger State in the early 1990s. The caller told me all mosques in Kwara and Niger Borgu, my natal region, had been insistently calling forth Allah’s wrath on me through al-Qunut prayers for opposing the Buhari regime and that I should prepare for an incalculable calamity to befall me in the coming months.
I laughed him out of my phone and told him if the imams’ al-Qunut were any good, they should use it to repair the terrible roads in Borgu and cause the governments in Kwara and Niger states to consider them legitimate parts of their states. At the time, the insecurity that had consumed the rest of the North hadn’t come there.
In early February 2020, almost exactly two months after the random caller from New Bussa told me the combined might of the al-Qunut invocations of Borgu mosques in Niger and Kwara states would visit an irrecoverable catastrophe on me unless I stopped criticizing Buhari, the Chief Imam of New Bussa, Malam Habibu, was kidnapped, along with 19 others. One person was murdered. Again, in early September 2021, the Dodo of Wawa in Borgu Local Government Area of Niger State was kidnapped.
Of course, these are just unfortunate coincidences. But many of my friends whom I’d told about the call from a New Bussa caller in 2019 reached out to say the al-Qunut against me boomeranged and that it was because of the spiritual fortification I received from my late father who was also an Islamic cleric. That’s superstitious bunkum.
As I pointed out in a previous column, life is too complex to always be amenable to deliberate, predetermined designs. There are coincidences, happenstances, misfortunes, serendipities, flukes, etc. that don’t require planning, that aren’t, and need not be, the consequences of machinations or metaphysical forces.
I’m narrating this anecdote just to illustrate the ridiculous extremes much of the Muslim North is prepared to go to conceal Buhari’s doggone incompetence and suffer in silence. Had a southerner or a Christian been president while the North is passing through its current existential throes, Nigeria would have probably collapsed from the weight of righteous anger that would emanate forcefully from us.
Nonetheless, what I have described Muslim northern Nigeria isn’t unique to it. There is an indwelling human predilection for invidious selectivity in expressions of outrage. We are wired to perceive and interpret reality in ways that reinforce and soothe our predetermined prejudices.
Notice that anytime the terrorist bandits inflict the kind of macabre horrors they are inflicting on Muslim northern Nigeria on Christian northern Nigeria, it usually generates more mass indignation. But Tiv-Jukun sanguinary conflicts or Jukun-Kuteb bloodletting, which are more frequent than you know, barely make the headlines.
And, although the terrorist bandits have murdered more Muslims than Christians (they now even murder their victims while they are praying in mosques), any attacks on Christians are immediately invoked as a “jihad” to exterminate Christians.
A US-based Christian rights activist (who fancies himself as a “human” rights activist) and who feeds conservative Christian groups in America with the misleading information that the terrorist bandits in northern Nigeria are an anti-Christian Muslim militia ticked me off the other day when he sent his factually malnourished pro-Christian propaganda to me on WhatsApp.
As I told him, a group that murders more Muslims than it murders Christians can’t be said to be specifically anti-Christian. It’s simply anti-human. More Muslims have been murdered in mosques than Christians have been murdered in churches by terrorist bandits. An Islamic, anti-Christian terror group would spare Muslims and target only Christians.
In fact, a kidnapped Maiduguri-based, Kaduna-bound Muslim journalist by the name of Abdulkareem Haruna who asked the bandits to allow him to pray was denied the opportunity. “I had to offer the morning prayers from my heart,” he wrote in the Premium Times of January 1, 2020. “Islam allows its faithful to pray that way in such a situation. I never expected the criminals who spent the night playing music off their phones, smoking cigarettes, and marijuana to think about praying in the morning.” To call these kinds of nihilistic beasts an anti-Christian Jihadi squad is to be disingenuous.
The opposite would have been true, of course: had the bandits terrorizing Muslim northern Nigeria been Christians or even southerners, Muslim northerners wouldn’t have been the sitting ducks that they are now. Instead of impotently mouthing “Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un” and “Allah ya isa,” they would have organized and fought back.
Psychologists who study cognitive biases point out that our default positions as humans is to support our kind, to selectively expose ourselves to and perceive, even retain, only those points of views and perspectives that reinforce our prejudices. It’s often an unconscious process. So, it takes nothing to be prejudiced. It’s effortless. What isn’t effortless is the capacity for conscious distancing, for dispassionate reflection, for self-criticism.
It takes self-reflexivity and self-awareness to rise superior to the default impulses that so readily and so easily crowd and becloud our minds in moments of emotional tension. Very few are capable of this, and that’s why some people question the practical utility of the idea of deliberative democracy—the idea of government by rational conversation.
For a recent example, read the cacophony of infantile rants that came from Yoruba nationalists and Pentecostal Christian zealots when I called out the systematic oppression of Yoruba Muslims in their land. Many of these commentators imagine themselves to be “progressive,” are perpetually obsessed with pointing out what is wrong with the North, but a simple pointing out of the speck in their eyes, which should have provided an opportunity for introspection and self-critique, inspired insane fits of apoplexy.
Since then, no week goes by without video clips of the harassment and sometimes physical assault of Hijab-wearing Yoruba Muslim women, which the mainstream media in the Southwest conveniently ignores. For example, a video circulated of Professor Lawal Ajibade, said to be the dean of the Faculty of Nursing at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) in Ogbomoso, physically and forcefully removing the hijab of a married Muslim woman. That’s physical assault.
Similar videos, including one where Muslim school students were forced to attend a Reinhard Bonnke conversion session in Ibadan, have trended in Yoruba Muslim social media and are covered by such online news sites as Sahara Reporters and Legit.ng. But none of the triggered columnists who hyperventilated about Yorubaland being a matchless Nirvana of religious harmony said a word.
So, it isn’t only northern Muslims who are hypocrites. Most people are. But it is easier to accuse others of selective outrage and double standards than to recognize it in ourselves. Those of us who are critical of our people and of ourselves aren’t self-hating; we are only self-reflexive. The world would be an infinitely better place if we can all question our taken-for-granted assumptions and acknowledge our cognitive frailties.
Prof Farooq A. Kperogi is a lecturer in communication