By Hassan Gimba
Last month was really not a good one for Nigeria. It was a month that witnessed more than one mass abduction of secondary school students apart from other forms of kidnappings and killings by marauders. It was also a month in which on two occasions Boko Haram released kidnapped people, one a bride and her bridesmaids and the other a local pastor. It was a month of many things but the overall picture was that of hope – hope that Nigerians will overcome their differences and embrace one another as brothers and sisters.
Anyway, why should there be no hope when Femi Fani-Kayode, a man who loves to hate President Muhammadu Buhari, his region, his religion, his people, his tribe, gobbled up his vomit and came to the president’s party in a manner that set tongues a-wagging?
Yes, we are human, with all the human frailties, accentuated by our diverse backgrounds; with parallel, at times clashing, cultures and fire-eating clerics fuelling conflicts.
It is this hubris in us that bared its fangs in Billiri, Gombe State, threatening to shatter the age-old serenity of the state.
Mai Abdu Buba Maisheru (II), the 15th Mai Tangle (Tangale), returned to his creator after being on the throne for 20 years. Soon a group of Tangale women spread into the streets of Billiri to protest what they thought was the silence, or foot-dragging by the state government in naming a successor, a new Mai Tangale.
The protest was peaceful but protests have ways of assuming lives of their own. And in more cases than one they get hijacked by undesirable elements. Such turncoats have no qualms about causing havoc, mayhem and unimaginable pain to society.
Unfortunately, such harbingers of pain get aided by certain factors. The day of the protest and the leaning of security agents could swing the action. Any protest in Nigeria that occurs on either of the two worship days – Friday or Sunday – can spiral out of control. The religion of the majority of the protesters generally determines the day the protest would start and the path the protesters would follow. Nigerians can protest over religion and tribe but hardly over how such is used to mismanage them.
But security agencies can always nip such protests in the bud. This is so because all protests begin with small talks here and there – in churches, in mosques, in markets, where people gather, etc. One can see the storm gathering in people’s frustrations and venting of anger. Sometimes the air thickens with impending trouble. Therefore a dutiful security agent can pick up the scent of impending mass action and pass it to his supervisors who know what to do. But in Nigeria, sometimes security agents are part of the problem.
The Billiri protest started on a Friday, unfortunately, and the obvious targets would be Muslims and mosques. In viral videos, you could see fully kitted security agents watching the mayhem calmly. Their calmness and body language gave the impression that they were not against what was happening.
It is just unfortunate that the Billiri or rather Mai Tangale succession issue became embroiled in violence. The Tangale people are generally some of the most friendly and most social of tribes in the North East. It is hard to believe that they can dissolve into violence.
But should religion even be a problem in selecting the Mai Tangale? This is because the Mai is not an Imam that leads the Muslim faithful in prayer or a pastor that shepherds the congregation. He is just a custodian of the Tangale culture and tradition and that duty can be done by any, either a Muslim or a Christian.
Perhaps this is why there have been baton changes between Muslims and Christians among those that have ruled the Tangale. Being a chiefdom created by the British to ease their indirect rule, the first Mai, Galadima Yilah Ashile, a Christain from Dantha ruling house, was appointed in 1906. He was deposed in 1923 and Maiyamba Tara da Uku or Kwa (1923-1951) became the first person from the Billiri clan to rule the entire Tangale.
The Tangale history has it that their past rulers practised the traditional religion of their ancestors. However, MaiyambaTara da Uku later converted to Islam. Iliyasu Maiyamba, who succeeded him was a Muslim and ruled for 35 years between 1951 and 1986. Again, his son Muhammad, who can be seen to be a Muslim from his name, succeeded him and was on the throne for 11 years.
When he died in 1997, and after a protracted legal tussle (a story for another day, perhaps) Dr Abdu Buba Maisheru, a Christian, became the Mai Tangale in 2001 till his death after 20 years on the throne. The Muslims, then, did not challenge his emergence, nor was there any protest of any kind.
This may be one of the reasons why a statement signed by Reverend Liman Umaru, Tangale DCC chairman, and Engr Istifanus Amlai on behalf of Christian elders, condemned the actions of the disgruntled few and went on to say that “these actions by these few individuals do not represent what the people of Tangale and Christians stand for. We condemn their actions in strong terms and we disassociate ourselves from them and their actions. These individuals are very few and they do not speak for us through their actions.”
“The Holy Bible in Romans Chapter 13 V. 1-7 teaches Christians that they should not rebel against constituted authorities because they are established by God, as the Bible admonishes us to be obedient.
“We, therefore, recognize that the final and utmost decision and approval of who becomes and ascends to the throne of the next Mai Tangale is vested upon the shoulders of the governor!”
To show that all responsible Tangale sons frowned at what happened, the Billiri Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend John Joseph, went out of his way to apologise on behalf of his flock to the state governor, Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya, and consoled the Chief Imam of the town, Alhaji Abubakar Abdullahi, over the loss of lives and property, including places of worship of Muslims.
All these can only happen in climes where there is so much trust deficit that people believe they can only get their wish through blackmailing leaders and governments through religion and tribe. In the Billiri case, they are all one tribe, though various clans.
However, it is in times like this that great leaders are forged. Whatever happened has happened, the next step is that of damage control and proactive measures to unite a people temporarily disunited by mistrust. And this is where Governor Yahaya demonstrated his skills in assuaging frayed nerves.
He organised a stakeholders’ meeting that brought everyone together. Warring factions came together and ironed out their differences and a lot of others saw through their folly. He made them see that in a small state like Gombe, all are brethren because schools, markets, places of worship and work, business environments and leisure spots have brought a greater percentage of people of different backgrounds into contact with one another. Therefore they should not allow their beautiful, fast-developing state to be turned into a cauldron by persons pursuing a parochial agenda.
Gimba is a publisher and cerebral columnist