Kaduna State witnessed another round of violence recently. The Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, announced a statewide curfew to curtail it. He’s the latest of Kaduna governors to confront a problem that’s rooted in the past, a pre-colonial condition that continues to engender tension under different pretexts. The complexity is reflected in some 60 ethnic groups (according to Tukool.com) spread across the state. The tension comes down to one thing – a perennial suspicion of the other group, with the growing propensity to want to push back those considered to be outsiders. Dealing with it has been a thankless job. No Kaduna State governor has ever been given credit for efforts to curtail sources of tension, especially el-Rufai who got the Federal Government to establish two Army barracks in Southern Kaduna alone.
I shall not go into historical facts that constitute the fault lines in Kaduna State. Yet, my view here is linked to what the past has to tell us about the people of this state. What I state here applies to all Nigerians though, any section where people make a point of hating fellow humans because of the group they belong to. In a nation where everyone professes a religion, how anyone can hate for any reason at all baffles me. But it’s there online and on other media platforms.
Most people lose that focus of our common humanity; ethnic and religious groups that others belong to embitter them. To such people, their own ethnic group is perfect. Others don’t deserve to exist. This isn’t the first time I state this point, but I return to it in light of recent violence in Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State where many people lost their lives.
Governor el-Rufai on October 21, 2018 stated on NTA News that the cause of the violence was in the idea some were pushing that fellow Nigerians shouldn’t live among them. To him, every Nigerian has the right to dwell wherever they choose. Kajuru LGA isn’t the only place in Kaduna State where the idea of outsiders-can’t-stay-among-us is fast gaining root. This must be stopped. People behind the idea have their kin in far places. They do well there and live peacefully. But in their own locality, they want “outsiders” pushed out. We know such fanaticism often has its root in the matter of access to resources, positions, jobs etc. I’ve stated it on this page that Nigerians don’t have issues living together as neighbours. But once the matter of who gets what appointment, has access to what land, gets what title as traditional ruler comes up, ethnic, religious and settler-indigene arguments are raised. Our laws haven’t helped matters either. In Kaduna State, however, the current government is doing something that’s against the norm, something that other states should adopt. While speaking on NTA News, el-Rufai repeated what he had been saying before he arrived office as governor. He said there are no indigenes, no settlers; all Nigerians are citizens in Kaduna State. He actually reflects this in governance. Many of his closest aides and top government officials are people whose names one wouldn’t ordinarily link to Kaduna State. To some Nigerians, that’s crazy.
Back to the historical angle that I refer to. Ethnic tension is often fallout of the belief in purity of blood and a historically distinct ethnic identity. Meanwhile, historical facts don’t support such belief. Historical records that I’ve gone through indicate that nothing in Nigeria’s past supports the distinct ethnic purity that some Nigerians are currently promoting, and which they use as a basis to insist that “outsiders” should go. From the writings of the late historian, Dr Bala Usman, of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, to colonial records and some epic Nigerian films, the notion that any person has purely the blood of Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa, Igbo, Edo, Tiv, Idoma, or Igala tribe exists only in the imagination of those who choose to think so. Africa was in a constant state of flux in the pre-colonial period. This ensured much blood crossed different ethnic lines. Each person in Nigeria is likely to have blood from ethnic groups other than the ethnic group into which they are born and which they fanatically claim. Across the world, DNA tests have made many to shed tears on realising this.
For instance, popular black American pastor, T.D. Jakes’ Y chromosome showed him to be of Igbo descent. The black American actress, Whoopi Goldberg’s blood admixture test revealed her ancestry to be of 92% Papel and Bayote tribes in modern-day Guinea-Bissau (in Africa), with 8% European blood. The billionaire American talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, had tentacles spread farther afield. Her blood shows an admixture of 89% of Kpelle people in Liberia and Guinea, Bamileke people in Cameroon, and of a Bantu tribe in Zambia. In addition, Winfrey is 8% Native American and 3% East Asian. No wonder she’s a beautiful woman. It’s a fact that people who have blood from diverse groups have better physical features. Imagine some being so fanatical about ethnic purity. Winfrey reportedly broke into tears upon hearing the outcome of her DNA test. How could she have considered some people alien to her, when in fact she had their blood flowing in her veins?
El-Rufai can make some ethnic-focused people in his state shed tears too. They’re likely to be humbled when they discover that somewhere in their past, they had an admixture of blood of the same people they consider “outsiders”.
The erroneous notion of ethnic or racial distinctiveness exists in advanced nations as well. The difference is that governments out there adopt measures to dull the negative uses to which such is put. A few years ago, people of English, German, French and other origins were asked whether or not they would like to belong to races and nationalities other than theirs. The English swore they would never wish to be Germans. The same assertion was made by others. Well, researchers tested their blood and they found that these people (unknown to them) had in different percentages admixture of English, German, French and other blood acquired sometime in the past.
There has been plenty of such admixture of blood across ethnic lines in pre-colonial Nigeria more than many Nigerians realise. How could it have happened? Past empires and kingdoms brought under them different ethnic groups and uncountable intermarriages took place. Kingdoms waged wars and took people from mostly minority ethnic groups, some of whose women war leaders married. This practice was common among kingdoms and emirates in northern Nigeria and the kingdoms in the Middle Belt area, all the way to Oyo Empire. Even without war, intertribal marriages happened. My ancestor, Oranmiyan, the founder of Oyo Empire, married a Nupe woman in about the 14th century and the product was Sango. Kingdoms and emirates got females as tributes from minority ethnic groups that they overpowered. Such became wives and concubines to the ruling class during the pre-colonial period, especially in the emirate in Kaduna State which once claimed the territory from Kaduna’s north down to Keffi in Nasarawa State. We know prominent Ni were from minority ethnic groups. The implication is that today many ethnic-focused people in Kaduna State erroneously consider as ‘outsiders’ people from ethnic groups among whom they have distant cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles and aunts.
El-Rufai can initiate a programme that encourages members of ethnic groups across the state to voluntarily take tests to find out the DNA of other ethnic groups that they may have. The government should gather the data and keep it even if it’s only for the purpose of reminding ethnic bigots that many of the people they regard as “outsiders” are actually relatives. The programme should be free, and the government should also encourage both the high and low in the society to use the outcome of the test as a basis to build bridges, members of different ethnic groups paying one another courtesy visits as distant relatives. The programme can be housed in the Peace and Recompilation Commission that el-Rufai set up not long ago. A DNA test for all the people in Kaduna State may sound like a crazy idea. But el-Rufai had been known to execute ideas many considered crazy when he was the FCT minister, and even now as governor.