On the 34th anniversary of the death of Malam Aminu Kano, Nigerian writer Aminu Sumaila reflects on the challenges facing Northern Nigeria.
The following was first published in aminusumaila.com:
Many years Ago, I stared at an impressionist painting of a man walking by sunset, chained and frail, the mail rises from his swollen arms only to land at the silhouette of two horsemen leading his limping figure. It carried a message subtle but strong, something I am sure the artist intended. He’d called it “1000 miles for freedom” and it depicted a moment epic in the history of my people. The frail figure was Malam Ibrahim Illah Ringim. In the 1950s he was arrested in his native Ringim on charges of sedition, chained and made to walk from Ringim to Kano and back again. It was an iconic moment in the history of Northern Nigeria. Turbaned lords clad in native titles reigned supreme, they usher decrees and swiftly depose of any woman or man that threatens their hereditary hold over the 40 million souls that inhabited the old North. Ringim and his friends had risen amidst the torment of that despotism to challenge the order that kept it alive, and like any tyranny, nature demanded the system fights back.
While that Iconic moment had been immortalised on stencil, it actually does little justice to the abuses which many others had endured. Women were raped and laid barren, some were jailed and ‘forgotten of ‘, others were killed, but after 50 years of movement, women were eventually given the vote, the native structures that presided over the atrocities were disentangled and the people of the Nigerian North were allowed to breathe, or were they?
My subject today is the man who saw the movement through this victory of social transformation. Today marks 34 years since the demise of Malam Aminu Kano. He lived and died in a world I was blessed to have never seen, a world of cruel tyrants we can only know of through ink. But this year, it’s particularly important because I and many others from my generation can only watch in absolute hopelessness as other even more terrifying tyrants metamorphose before our eyes.
Unlike the feudal lords of the old provinces of the North, these tyrants have colonised the hearts of men, they have appropriated divine authority and with it, they deal swiftly with any that challenges their claim. In place of the horrific “Yan Doka” they churn an even more ruthless legion of followers from Madarassahs and Masjids; young, willing, ready to strike, waiting for the cleric’s call. What could be more tragic than this, seeing a revolution paid for with the blood of thousands, stolen and ruined by opportunists who desire nothing more than to see the hands of time rolled back and a return to that despotic age?
70 years ago, in a bid to challenge the use of religion as a stamp to justify those oppressive laws, the progressives introduced the concept of Islamiyya. In essence, it’s a religious school but debunked of the traditional methods of the Sufi seminary. Instead they had the Prussian method and trained pupils in the religious sciences free from the prying eyes of the Emirates. This was a revolutionary concept, it together with political mass meetings showed that mass mobilisation was possible even without our native institutions. The plan worked, victory was swift and the eyes of the masses were opened, to quote the Emir Aminu of Zaria, by adopting these methods, “Aminu Kano taught the talakawa how to say no”
But while the progressive movement was decimating the feudal lords of the North, another movement with equally a political agenda was festering in the background. It languished in near obscurity, all the while adopting and using Progressive methods with dangerous success. 34 years ago, months after the death of Malam Aminu Kano, the Army struck, ended the second Nigerian Republic and in so doing sealed the fate of the 2nd Sawaba which Aminu Kano had “led to victory with great affair”. Against the backdrop of martial rule, with politics in the background and Democratic Humanism in disarray, the time was now ripe for that other movement to peer its ugly head. This religious movement which had once pined in private quarters unveiled its banners and proclaimed its political ambition.
I- -,JI- – -, JO- -, Submitters- -, the list goes on and on, all proclaimed they had answers divine. They attributed the failures of our past to the sins of our fathers and then proceeded to attack all the social reforms once envisaged by Sawaba -with a Bin Laden style rhetoric.
So today, as we celebrate 34 years since his passing, I stood in Gidan Mumbayya, dreaming in the light of day with my eyes wide open, of Aminu Kano. I asked him about Sawaba and he asked me about Nigeria. I told him of an insurgency that is threatening to engulf my people, about Kukiya and Dikwa, about cities and towns built over a thousand years ago wasting in the east.
He was still, shocked, couldn’t believe my words. What about the PRP, what about Redemption, what about Balarabe, Junaidu and Lamido? They allowed this to happen?
Should I tell him they were helpless, that it was a storm non had foreseen?
“But what went wrong ?” he asked.
There, the golden question.
Should reply with all honesty?
Should I tell him about the groups? About Boko Haram and all the terror they’d brought?
But silence is golden, it answers so many questions.
In more recent days Kano had been engulfed in the same, strange, near cataclysmic out pouring of emotion. An Emir had called for reforms- social and economic, something not unlike what Aminu had preached, but to have an Emir do so was unthinkable in Aminu’s time. However, even more surprising was the hostility that awaited this progressive Emir. A stream of grotesque accusations the timing of which were simply too good to be true, an unfiltered campaign that touched on everything from adultery to embezzlement, and then there’s that infamous misadventure led by fundamentalists who’d accused him of having “insulted” Jaafar Adam or sent his “unclad” daughter to represent him.
But a conservative has always been the smug who celebrates radicals decades after they are dead. It is probably an understatement to say had he been around today, like Emir Sunusi, Aminu Kano would have been declared “a Kafir”, “a modernist” by these religious zealots.
Like Shahida, they’ll see in Hajiya Shatu another “unclad” and no doubt, they’ll try as much as they can to twist the public discourse into one about morals. We know this because it has happened before.
Like that disheartening propaganda video which featured a cleric accusing the Emir of “near apostasy”, Malam was accused of being a Kafir for standing against the crown, and like the reeving crowd that went berserk burning down the homes of blasphemers, reactionaries took to the streets burning alive Bala Muhammad. And just as those progressives bygone were better than their detractors, despite all you might have heard from Jafaar Jafaar, so too are the progressives of today. He’d never used donations from the helpless to buy exotic jeeps or kept quite at the face of injustice just so he could keep a lucrative appointment. He’d never went around town arresting people for their haircuts or for wearing ¾ shorts, no, those were the handiwork of our modern ‘clerics’.
They’ve used the methods of Sawaba to snatch the mantle of change and are now holding our religion to ransom. Like the sole native administrator of the 50’s, they’ve claimed sole authority to interpret the Quran and Sunnah, an authority they exercise through videos used in castigating men who’d called for unity between Muslims and Christians. If Aminu Kano were around, these ultra right groups would probably be his main adversaries.
So on this 34th anniversary of his death I found myself thinking, if Aminu were around would he find an ally in Sanusi? An Emir that’s progressive? Maybe? I’m not sure. And while I’m personally not a fan of any law that even remotely infringes on civil liberties, which I think the marriage Law does, the circumspect nature of the campaign against him is simply too “extremist” to ignore. It’s a classic strategy of “deflectionism”- that Nigerian idea of answering a question with an un-Socratic question, It all reeks of religious intolerance, the sort of intolerance that bred Boko Haram.
So while my father stood on the other side of the Emirate, willing to do anything to see to its undoing, I find myself moving more and more across the aisle towards it. The North I was born into, free from the shackles of Turbaned Emirs is facing an existential threat from Turbaned sheikhs. It’s a zero sum game, we either win or we are done!