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Mark Amaza: One month after Yakowa: Time to have a discussion about tribe and religion

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Mark Amaza: One month after Yakowa: Time to have a discussion about tribe and religion

by Mark Amaza

Every part of Nigeria belongs to every Nigerian, and no-one should be made a second-class citizen by virtue of his or her ethnicity, religious faith or place of origin.

Saturday, 15 December 2012 is a day most Nigerians would not forget in a hurry. Towards late evening that day, news broke that a naval helicopter had crashed in the creeks of Bayelsa State. Aboard the helicopter were the then governor of Kaduna State, Sir Patrick Yakowa and the former National Security Adviser and former Chief of Defence Staff, General Andrew Owoye Azazi. They were leaving the venue of the burial of the father of presidential aide, Oronto Douglas, together with some aides. All of them, together with the pilots flying the helicopter died.

Right then, I knew that the political equation of Kaduna State in particular and the North in general had changed.

The late Governor Yakowa had been a director and permanent secretary in the federal and Kaduna state civil services, a federal minister, secretary to the Kaduna state government, and deputy governor before finally becoming governor. In all these, Yakowa was never one of the political heavyweights in either his home base of Southern Kaduna or the entire state until he became governor when his predecessor, Arch. Namadi Sambo, was appointed as the vice-president by the newly sworn-in President Goodluck Jonathan.

In all honesty, it cannot be said that the late governor was an exceptional performer in all these posts held. His approximately two years as governor was fraught with insecurity, terrorism, and in one particular ugly case, sectarian crisis. This might have given him some sort of sympathy from the state, but his tenure was not marked by any major achievements. Yet, when he died, most of the nation was utterly speechless and deeply sorrowful. Thousands of people lined up the streets when his corpse was flown in and thousands more attended his funeral.

Why was there such a great outpouring of grief for him? The truth can be found in that as the first Christian and Southern Kaduna man to break the 45-year old jinx to become governor, he had enjoyed a lot of goodwill from his people. In an election that was tense and preceded by ethno-religious violence due to the results of the presidential polls held before it, the former governor had made history. The election also changed the political equation of the state, but it had suddenly ended when the people were still in the honeymoon phase.

Sadly, this was one fact that most of the political office holders who spoke before and during his funeral avoided mentioning – that he was well-mourned because of the circumstances of his emergence. Rather, they preferred to shower him with beautiful tributes, deftly dodging the issues of ethnicity and religion, which is typically Nigerian to pretend like these are not weighty issues in our politics and society.

It is time for us Nigerians to stop playing the ostrich and hiding our heads in the sand when it comes to the issue of religion and ethnicity in our politics and society. We are a country where in almost every state, there exists those who are marginalized due to their religious faith and/or ethnicity, and those in whose hands power has always been concentrated. The issues of ethnicity and religion are factored into every election, appointment, and even the siting of government projects across states and the country. Yet, when we discuss issues and talk about events in the public domain, we avoid talking about the factors behind them. At most, we discuss it among ‘ourselves’: people of the same region, religion, or ethnicity.

The fact remains that Nigeria would never put aside such parochial thinking and archaic mind-sets unless we come out and tackle these things in the open. Sentimental thinking is a product of fear and stereotyping, which in itself, can only be addressed by first, truly dwelling among each other, and then secondly by openly discussing our fears and disagreements with each other.

The first is becoming harder and harder to achieve, especially in the North, as cities are getting more divided on the basis of religion. Cities such as Jos and Kaduna have exclusive Christian and Muslim areas, meaning generations will grow and never interact with each other. Other Hausa cities such as Kano have from times past had sections called ‘Sabon Gari’ (New City/Town), which was reserved for non-Muslims. Even though the old city has grown into these reserved sections, there is still not much interaction among different faiths and ethnic groups. As a result, the myths and theories we have about each other multiply and increase our fear and suspicion of the other.

As for the second, opinion leaders whom we look up to, to set the agenda of discourse either tap into our fear and suspicion of ‘the others’ in order to seem popular or avoid the subject altogether in order to look politically correct. That then leaves us pretending to each other that all is well while in our minds, we are at each other’s throats and that is what truly guides our actions.

The fact remains that for Nigeria to have an enduring democracy and a truly growing economy, it must create a level-playing field and an all-inclusive society for everyone, irrespective of what language we speak, how we worship, where we reside in the country or where we originate from. We have to tear down the walls of division that exist between us, and it must be done proactively. We must start admitting that inequalities exist in our societies and actively seek to address them.

Every part of Nigeria belongs to every Nigerian, and no-one should be made a second-class citizen by virtue of his or her ethnicity, religious faith or place of origin.

In between studying for a degree in Environmental Management from the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, and playing Football Manager, Amaza manages to find time to run a small business consulting firm focusing on strategy, innovation and branding, MINDcapital, and contributing to his blog as well as numerous other sites including Nigerians Talk and omojuwa.com. His passions are politics, business, youth development, entrepreneurship, and education, Nigeria in general and Northern Nigeria in particular. He describes his political ideology as 'reformist.' Twitter: @amasonic

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