In 1943, the editor of Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo, Nigeria’s first Hausa newspaper was selected to join the first West African Press Delegation to the United Kingdom mainly to see wartime Britain in the middle of the war with Hitler. Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, then editor of West African Pilot was also invited.
While in London, at the West African Students Union (WASU) Centre, Imam was asked to make a speech, to the students in the centre which at the time had no single Northern Nigerian student amongst their ranks, a summary of which was translated and put in as an editorial in ‘Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo No. 101 of December, 1944. The complete speech as documented in the book “Abubakar Imam Memoirs” (Mora 1989) I will be excerpting at various stages in this piece.
These slices from history project a lot about the state of our nation at present and the bridges that unfortunately have not been able to be mended for years, and inadvertently, seem to have even degenerated further with passing of time. So what has been the problem, and what is it that is still causing this rift? Imam had some apt words in perfect tandem to our current predicament:
“So far there is not yet sufficient mutual trust and confidence between Northerners and Southerners. But whose is the fault?
If the matter is viewed dispassionately, it is clear that it is the Northerners and Southerners themselves who create differences amongst themselves.
Let me tell you of the barriers to full understanding between North and South. The first is that we despise each other. We call each other ignorant. The Southerners are proud of Western knowledge and culture, we of Eastern. Theirs is the knowledge of the day, of the type desired by the European, and since power is in the hand of the Europeans, their type of knowledge is the one recognised rather than ours.”
Indeed Imam was right, we have unfortunately created these rifts and this has been a major issue that has been cancerous towards our progress as a nation. We outgrew our days in the hands of the Europeans, but instead of uniting to push the nation forward, we just kept devising means to cause rifts. Another deep problem is the taking of news at face value, which is gradually becoming habitual in us all. Some actually have no idea about the details contained in a headline, or a broadcasted agreement, but they will be at the forefront of dispatching blames and insults, dividing the country more and tearing us apart. We are just willing to accept statements at face value without even thinking, and then move to howl without reminding ourselves of its consequence. This is something that continues to disrupt national development. The media as a tool, owned mostly by sectional elites, with a higher dominance in the southern part of the country has been used in the forefront of pushing forward hideous propagandas, and recently the unfathomable use of the social media to explode vile agendas. This is not something new, it has been occurring for years as Imam noted:
“Now, if a Northerner does anything which is at all irregular, the Southern paper will go all out in giving the incident the widest publicity, with sensational headlines: “HAUSAMAN STABS COUNTRYMAN WITH KNIFE” … “TWO HAUSAMEN LOCKED IN FIGHT AND EACH LOSES A HAND” … “HAUSAMAN EATS TOO MUCH RAW CASSAVA AND DIES” …
Such things do not promote friendly feeling. They show the Hausa up as a backward sort of person. Then, when the Southerners have finished humiliating us in this way, they turn around and say that we are their brothers …
Again last year, an article appeared in one of the Southern papers in which disrespectful language was used against our Emirs … was it necessary, seeing that it is unity that we want, for such a thing to be printed? It could only give rise to ill-feeling … But the only road to unity is for Northerners and Southerners to give more consideration to each other.”
From our day to day happenings, it is really incredible how our psyche has been so much distorted that frivolous nonentities from our diverse cultures that should be harnessed for mutual understanding are not appreciated but used as a bandwagon to spread hatred and malice, a point Imam illustrates further in his speech:
“Let us take another example. When I left Lagos there were three qualified Northern dispensers in the hospital at Lagos. But in order to get their medicine accepted by the people, these qualified men had to refrain from wearing Northern clothes. In other words, a Hausa is considered an ignoramus.
This question of dress is childish, and we ought not to allow small things like that to divide us. It is the man himself we should think of, not his dress.”
It is without gainsaying that we need to engage the mainstream media and the ever-volatile social media with morality, honesty and truthful out views for this nation to progress in the right way. Imam was one of the earliest proponents of honest living:
“We are not influenced by anything except the truth. It is for that reason that I am telling you of ourselves so that you can understand something about us … our aim is to be united.
I have expressed myself before you as a typical Northerner. Now let my critics have their say. I have been talking to you also as a Muslim. Hypocrisy is detestable and only the truth should be spoken.”
I have not excerpted these profound statements to cause any disruption or castigate certain people. Indeed if there is anyone who sees the faults of the Northerners from the Southerners point of view, by all means let him speak, objectively. We need sincere honesty so that we can move on. Unity is what this entire county desires for its development.
And to the elites too, the elders, and the traditional leaders who are so much far away from the majority of the populace, it is time they and our ‘modern traditional’ leaders begin to interact with the teeming youth, even if not on social media, at least on the pages of the newspapers, town meetings or the likes. It is not un-becoming of the tittle of a traditional ruler like an Emir if he addresses vital issues personally, by writing to objective media outlets both in English and even in Hausa translation to other booming Hausa newspapers. After all even the old emirs like Emir Ja’afaru of Zazzau regularly wrote personally to Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo when necessary.
I will put my pen to stop with the sage words of Malam Abubakar Imam as he concluded without fear in far way London more than 70 years ago, and spoke with dripping honesty to his brothers from mainly Southern Nigeria, the truth that needed to be told for the betterment of a nation he loved so dearly:
“It is always the same between North and South: neither can tell what it is that the other wants.
Let us not deceive ourselves. If we want unity, the first thing to do is to build the foundations of mutual friendship. Northerners and Southerners must not look down upon each other.”
Malumfashi is a writer living in Kaduna. He can be engaged with on twitter via his handle @sadaoverall