Monday Column By Emmanuel Yawe
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Chatting with other Nigerians where we usually cool off the other the other day, we drifted to the topical issue – security. Another set of students had just been stolen from a secondary school in Zamfara, northern Nigeria and herded into a thick forest, as if they were some wild beasts.
“The worst thing that can happen to any society is what is happening to us now: deny children the right to education and acquisition of skills,” a member of our group noted.
I have been a newspaper reporter in northern Nigeria since I graduated from Ibadan University in the late 70s. This has brought me in one contact or the other with some Islamic movements – some peaceful, some violent.
The Maitastine that made his debut in Kano in 1980 was very violent. The founder of the sect Mohammed Marwa instigated his followers by his uses of vile language and curse – laden speeches against the Nigerian state, which earned him the name ‘Maitatsine’, the one who damns. But he never sacked schools, took students as hostages and demanded ransom. From his jumbled, staccato interpretation of the Quoran, all he wanted was a return to Islam as practiced in the medieval years.
Akilu Haliru, then a Major and Commanding Officer of 146 battalion of the Nigerian army in Kano led his men to speedily bring down Maitasine once he was commanded to do so after the police failed to dislodge the Maitasine and his band of perverted murderers. We the reporters on the beat loved his professionalism and courage at the time.
I was also dispatched to Maiduguri from Kaduna by my Editor, Abba Dabo of the New Nigerian in 1982 when Maitatsine staged another violent revolt in the Bulunkutu ward of the Borno State capital. That revolt also lasted a few days before it was put down. ASP Ayuba, a very gallant police officer was the major casualty here. I met his bereaved family who graciously gave me his picture, the only one that appeared in the media.
The group then moved on to Yola, the capital of Gongola State. Their leader there Musa Makaniki was a damn good mechanic who was personally known to me because he worked on my car so often. But he had a problem because at his age about thirty years or so, he used to wet his bed every night. Because of this strange habit, he was mocked by his mates, his wives and those who knew him closely. His decision to stage a violent insurrection in Yola in 1984 was a reaction to the mockery he was often subjected to. By then I had joined the government of Bamanga Tukur which was dislodged by the coup that brought General Muhammed Buhari to power, January 1 1984. I lost my job as a result of that coup and also lost interest in Maitatsine riots which were exposing me to too much bloodshed that I believed was harmful to my spiritual growth. I never covered Maitatsine again even as they continued staging their bloody shows in the north.
There is a similarity between Maitatsine and the current wave of violent campaigns that started with Boko Haram in 2009. Both preach a return to medieval Islam with its cruel and barbaric punishment of those who offend Islamic injunctions. This is very eerie. Outside this, there is very little similarity. Maitastine riot wherever it occurred was a very local affair and government’s swift action was able to contain it. Boko Haram as the name suggests has a disdain for western civilization which is spread by western education. They have an ambition which goes beyond their locale of operation. Nigeria should be split; northern Nigeria should go to Muslims where Sharia law will be practiced while southern Nigeria should go to Christians. They have access to and take advantage of modern weapons of war like arms and the media, which the Maitastine group never had.
In 2014 Boko Haram opened a new chapter in Nigeia’s terrorism history with the novel and spectacular kidnap of 276 school girls from Chibok government secondary school. The global outrage caused by that act – attracting protests from Michelle Obama in the White House – is what terrorist always crave for – publicity.
This was immediately realized and used since then by Boko Haram and their fellow travelers as an avenue for extortion. Over 1000 students have been abducted and 600 schools closed in the north which already lags far behind the country in terms of education. Already one of five out of school children is from Nigeria. Evidently education is crumbling in Africa’s most populous nation worsening a deeper impairment, hollowing out Nigeria’s education system to create a “lost generation” of youth across much of the country.
The erosion of education for a generation of schoolchildren particularly in the north will reduce their abilities to earn a living and bring skills to the reconstruction of their communities. It will increase their risk of being radicalized amid the region’s conflicts.
As an Editor in Kano in the mid-eighties, I followed my Managing Director, Abba Dabo as one of the initiators of Kano Foundation, a non-governmental organization whose one of the principal motives was to integrate western education into the Islamic one. This would have given the graduates of such schools the skills to face the realities of life in Nigeria. Unfortunately for all the huge amounts that were raised at the launching and subsequently, nobody hears of Kano Foundation again.
The horde of almajeri – untrained, unskilled, unemployed and unemployable youth – who move around menacingly around the major cities of the north and its vast landscape, remain the major security scare of the country. The government needs to do something immediately to save these children from themselves and also save us from their wrath.