Sunday, March 1, 2020 9:00 am
By Festus Adedayo
Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s speech at the recent 60th birthday ceremony of the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, a recent protest by beggars against the continuous arrest of their members by officials of the Lagos state government and the ban on street begging by urchins, popularly referred to as Almajiris, by the Kano State government, are a tripod that put into context the famous The Beggars’ Strike by Aminata Sow Fall and the two holy books of the bible and the Quran.
Emir Sanusi, unarguably a gadfly of the North, has consistently put the North, in relation to the rest of Nigeria, in perspective. At that birthday ceremony, he had reportedly charged Northern leaders to take a second look at the danger that poverty portends for the north, especially how rigid adherence to religion has literally helped destroy the region. During the event, the Emir brought out scientific gross implications of the chronic poverty, illiteracy and out-of-school children dropouts in Northern Nigeria and did not mince words to say that the North’s future was bleak.
“You cannot be happy about 87 per cent of poverty in Nigeria being in the North. You can’t be happy with millions of Northern out-of-school children. You can’t be happy with nine states in the North contributing almost 50 per cent of the entire malnutrition burden in the country. You can’t be happy with the Boko Haram problem. You can’t be happy with all the issues,” he had said.
The aspect of the Emir’s speech that I found most instructive is the connect between poverty and religion. He was quoted to have asked his audience why Zamfara State, which was the official bastion of the Sharia, having been launched in that state during the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo, even with a symbolic amputation of a man called Jangebe, today parades just about five students with credit passes in the West African Examinations. Sanusi was not done with his rhetorical questions. Citing some Hadiths and Sunna of the Prophet, he was able to state that even the Prophet said that poverty was alien to Islam.
Up there in Kano State, the Umar Ganduje government also announced a ban on street begging by Almajiris. Spokesperson to Ganduje, had said: “If Almijiri teacher thinks he cannot accept the new policy, he has to leave the state. When Almajiri are caught begging, it is not only that beggar (who) is caught, but his parents or guardians. Such parents or guardians would be taken to court to face the wrath of the law.”
However, in flagrant disdain of these emerging Northern mindsets against centuries of decadence in the North, the Kano State Council of Ulama deplored this move. Chairman of the council, Ibrahim Khalil, said the Kano government was not serious about this decision because it did not follow “the right steps” which, according to him, included following Quranin precepts: “There are beggars who were sent by their parents from the rural areas to come and be begging in the urban areas. There is also begging engaged in by some physically challenged individuals.” Similar to this warped thinking was that of Lagos beggars. They were reported to have stormed Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s office in ten buses and seven tricycles. Reports also had it that they barricaded the entrance to the State House of Assembly, demanding audience with the Governor. One would have thought the best persons to barricade their offices and homes were the hundreds of Northern leaders since independence who had abetted that decadent system of begging.
The above puts Sow Fall, a Moslem Senegalese female novelist’s The Beggars’ Strike at the centre of consideration. Like the beggars’ issue, which has been engaging the minds of perceptive northerners in recent time, issues like begging, polygamy, inordinate political ambition, superstition and strength in unity also engaged Sow Fall while writing the book, originally published in French, in Dakar in 1979, with the title, La Greve des Battu. Like the Kano Council of Ulamas, Sow Fall, ostensibly due to her Islamic background, seemed to believe in the interconnectivity of all things, expressed in the fact that society could not run without this “important segment” called beggars. She believed that all human beings play very important roles in the human conundrum, regardless of their economic or social status and that thus, the social, political, economic, spiritual and biological life of society was not complete without beggars.
Thus, in the book, while the beggars were becoming a social dis-advertisement to the people of The Capital, with the tourism minus which beggars’ physical deformities represented, with the squalid looks and physical nuisances portended by their presence at popular intersections in the city, Mour Diyae, Director of Public Health and Hygiene’s decision to clear them off brought glaring pleasure to society. Diyae’s competent assistant, Keba Dabo, however carried the cleansing act with a charged zeal that was borne out of his own childhood experience of poverty. The beggars were given serious beating and imprisoned. However, upon achieving physical aesthetics of the city, the spiritual dilemma of the rich having no beggars to give alms to, so as to get spiritual favour from whoever, soon cropped up. Mour Diyae, who was aspiring to be Vice President, who was told by a marabout that he needed to give alms to achieve this aim, then entered a dilemma. With the beggars having moved out of the city, Aminata Sow Fall, with her gripping, fast-paced satire, tells the story of the hypocrisy of society.
A variant of the imprisonment of the Northern Ulamas’ minds and indeed, their hypocrisy, can be found in Southern Nigerian rigidity to a divorce between it and unscientific reasoning. Recently, a 22-year-old female student of the Lagos State University, Favour Seun Daley-Oladele, was killed and dismembered somewhere in Ikire, Osun State by her boyfriend, Owolabi Adeeko and her body parts made into pepper soup by a Cherubim and Seraphim prophet, Segun Philips Adeeko. The boyfriend was said to have contracted one Prophet Adeeko to do this, so that he and his mother could get rich quick. Similar methodology to this today in Southern Nigeria is how churches and mosques are besieged by aimless young men and women who believe that inside those places lie their monetary and indeed, existential redemption.
What links the Northern Ulamas’ and their Southern accomplices’ minds is an unscientific reasoning. Granted that scientific reasoning was not part and parcel of us as Africans, ab initio, we have had a dalliance with science for so long that we ought to have seen the futility of some of these under-developing mindsets that we parade as features of our existence. Yes, even Austrian-British philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, student of famous Bertrand Russell, was one of the fiercest critics of science and its logic, the un-science of the mind of the Nigerian today rankles and needed to be purged so that he does not ruin his chances in this age of modernity. This un-science is promoted by religion and many decrepit parts of our traditional African culture. Sanusi, the Emir, has variously submitted and probably Ganduje too, that we cannot desire the fruits of a modern world that is propelled by science and yet be enslaved by our centuries-old religious and cultural precepts. These have imprisoned us and we stand no chance of escaping until we purge ourselves of pseudo-science and ancient culture that bear no connect with the science of modernity.
Sanusi’s homily is very clear. The North cannot continue to be tied to the apron strings of a Quran that was probably written thousands of years ago and still expect to be a competitive player in a moving world that even Greek philosopher, Heraclitus claimed could be likened to a river wherein you cannot step into twice. Born in 544 BC, Heraclitus had been quoted to have said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” In the same vein, some precepts in the bible, written for a people alien to Africa centuries ago, have to bow to a modern age if we are serious of being players in modernity’s roulette game. Or else, we will continue to encounter contradictions like our youth believing that if they sacrifice human parts, they would become millionaires or that if they stew in churches/mosques, God would make them rich like Mike Adenuga. Same question applies to those who want the North to step into the river of a 2020 world with the leg of the precepts of a Quran that is centuries old?
Same subsists for those who believe that the metaphysics of wealth exists in rituals and frequenting churches/mosques. The truth is that, money-making is more of science than metaphysics. Remember the famous Chaucer quote, to wit, “If that any wight ween a thing to be otherwise than it is, it is not only unscience, but it is deceivable opinion”? It is a deceivable opinion to believe that anything apart from mental exertion and careful planning, with a dosage of prayer, can bring wealth. The richest people in the world can articulate how they make their money scientifically. American business magazine, Forbes compiles world billionaires’ names periodically and I cannot see anyone of them who arrived at being wealthiest billionaires in the globe on account of their being embroiled in human rituals. I cannot see among those wealthiest people anyone who sleeps in church or mosques. Even Aliko Dangote or Mike Adenuga’s religious colour is at best opaque. In 2018, 2,208 people made the Forbes list and that included 259 newcomers. Most of them were from China and the US. Sixty-three of them were under 40, with a record number of 256 women. The average net worth of the people on that list was said to be US $4.1 billion, up US$350 million from 2017. 2018 wealthiest human alive, Jeff Bezos, with an estimated wealth of $131 billion, and his billionaire ilk, are not reported to sleep in mosque or church or fiddling with human entrails to make money.
This same un-science mind infiltrates virtually every aspect of our lives. This is why we are under-developed and the rest of the thinking world sees us as some baboons in a cage. Why, for instance, would the people of Borno State declare a fasting and prayer session, as they did about a week ago to fight Boko Haram, when it was obvious that they could have protested to the Aso Rock dungeon of Muhammadu Buhari to get him to change his Acheulian age, Oldowan military technology, purchase modern sophisticated arsenal, sack his fat-stomached security chiefs and lift the morale of the Nigerian soldier fighters? It is this selfsame un-science mind that is in every stratum of our lives. The moment we leave this realm of un-science and embrace science, we will be able to play in a competitive world that does not have space to accommodate our useless metaphysics.
-Dr. Festus Adedayo, lawyer, journalist and social critic, writes from Ibadan