(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 27 September, 2021)
Alhaji BabaAhmed, a Mauritanian cow seller, plied his trade from his country to the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and to Dahomey (now Benin Republic). Business was very good but at a point, his customers in Dahomey, with impunity, refused to pay for his cows. Is it not the law that every seller must collect the proceeds of his sale? This was not the case with the cow seller who was not a son-of-the-soil in Dahomey. The options before him were very limited. My people say if the landlord offends the tenant, it is the tenant who must go; again, if it is the tenant who has wronged the landlord, it is still the tenant who must go. This trader from Mauritania had to move out of Dahomey, leaving his money behind. And he moved, crossing over to Nigeria; first to Sokoto and later to Zaria. He entered Nigeria all alone but soon found Zaria a very conducive environment for his business, for his Islamic scholarship and for raising a family (See Daily Trust of Saturday, January 13, 2018). The Mauritanian finally settled in Zaria around 1920 – that was about 100 years ago – and died on November 5, 1987 in Zaria, reportedly at the age of 104 (see Facebook post of Abdulrahman M. Baba-Ahmed of 9 July, 2021).
Alhaji Baba Ahmed loved all and was much loved by all around him. He prospered in Zaria, Nigeria, had 33 children – and got all soundly educated. One of the 33 children of that Mauritanian businessman is Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) who spoke down to the entire southern Nigerian people last week. What did the south do to him? Because southern governors met in Enugu days earlier and demanded that the next president of Nigeria must come from the south, Hakeem, mouthpiece of the north, came out, emitting fire. The son of the Mauritanian immigrant shouted down the south and its 17 governors and boasted that his north had enough votes to defeat them and produce the next president. “We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before. Whether we are president or vice-president, we will lead Nigeria. We have the majority of the votes and democracy says vote whom you want. Why should we accept a second class position when we know we can buy a form and contest for first class and we will win?,” he was heard saying so on television and in viral video clips. He said more: “If they don’t like the fact that it is a northerner who may emerge as the next president, too bad…”
I feel that was rather crude – and rude. Is it no longer the case that a guest does not break the dishes of his host? I am from the south of Nigeria and I feel hurt and insulted by what Baba-Ahmed said of my people. If you say you won’t ever play second in a game of two supposed equals then who will? Baba-Ahmed’s father was not an indigenous Nigerian but so was Joseph in the holy books. He was not an Egyptian yet he ended up as Prime Minister of Egypt. But could Joseph have achieved that lofty height and lasted in grace by spitting in the face of those who prepared the grounds for his ascendancy? If a first-generation northern Nigerian was that audacious and so condescending in talking to the south, I wonder what those whose fathers’ placentas were buried in the soil of Nigeria would do. Ethnic converts are like religious converts in zealotry. They swim in extremism. Remember Enoch, the “proud, zealous, and belligerent” Christian convert in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Remember, how, with his mouth, he serially provokes violent clashes with ‘the other side’ – his own south. And, remember that with his belligerence, he rips apart the mask of the sacred Egwugwu finally putting a knife on the things that hold his land together. That is the import of that insult from Baba-Ahmed.
Even if the south were his cows’ grazing ground, it should still get some measure of respect. Baba-Ahmed spoke to a south he took as his inheritance, a vast land of slaves. A carpenter thinks always of hammer and nails and there is an eternal connection between the earth and its fruits. The taproot of this talker is Mauritania, the very last country in the world to officially outlaw slavery. It did so as late as 1981 – 40 years ago. Even then, there are still castes of generational slaves in that country. The fair-skinned there are freeborn; the dark-complexioned are serfs. They are still there. The way Hakeem spoke against the south and the applause he got from his ABU, Zaria audience could only mean that he and his people thought (and think) the south is a camp of bondsmen and women; an enclave of enlightened slaves – with no useful votes; a band of hapless states whose governors are second class. The north holds the hammer of incumbency, and they will do anything with it. The people Hakeem Baba-Ahmed speaks for see the south and its loud denunciation of Nigeria’s current structure as impudent nails that must be hammered down. And they are hammering and breaking the nails one by one. I heard Baba-Ahmed say something like ‘we’ will produce the next president then let’s see what ‘they’ will do. Whenever I hear that kind of fire-rhetoric, I look at the chirping bird and the branch on which it stands. How about you produce your president, and I produce mine? Something like nail driving out nail as said by Desiderius Erasmus. But whose purpose will that anarchy serve?
If Nigeria burns, descendants of the Mauritanian have Mauritania to relocate to. They are citizens by descent under that country’s laws. Mauritania’s Nationality Code of June 12, 1961 says any child “at least one of whose parents is a citizen of Mauritania, regardless of the child’s country of birth” is a citizen by descent. Their old man died 34 years ago, yet the road to Mauritania has remained a familiar terrain for his surviving children. On Saturday April 17 this year (2021), Hakeem Baba-Ahmed with his brothers and sister and uncles had a family get-together in Nouakchott, Mauritania (see his Facebook post made on 18 April, 2021). That is the man threatening fire unless ‘his north’ has its way in Nigeria’s 2023 and at all times. When a man that has more than one home stirs trouble, the Yoruba have for him a saying: Asa o naani a nkun’gbe, igi da, eye oko fo lo (Kite does not care if the bush burns; when the tree falls, the bird flies away).
Now, let us look again at the words of the kite: “We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before. Whether we are president or vice-president, we will lead Nigeria.” If you boast that you have led Nigeria all the time, including when all you had was Vice President, and the nation is this down and out, what does that tell you about your score? You failed; you are a failure. And do you think any sane people would put their future in care of such castes of failure? We go to his next sentence: “We have the majority of the votes and democracy says vote whom you want.” Baba-Ahmed’s north is so proud of its Almajirai population buoyed by ceaseless streams of illegal immigrants. Beyond using the overcrowded households to vote on election days, what else has been the benefit of that ‘majority’ to Nigeria? Omo beere, osi beere (many children, much misery). Every Yoruba child is taught that sense very early in primary one. If you can’t feed them, don’t birth them. Beggars give birth to beggars who also give birth to beggars on the streets of Lagos and Ibadan. They are there as I write; they procreate every minute and suffer generational misery. They are northerners without the care and empathy of northern elders. What excites their strange elders are the next elections and the veins of gold in their vaults. There should be no pride in birthing a pack of millions without skills beyond the menial and mendicancy. You hatch them in billions and load them in open trucks for your southern neighbours to house and feed and you mount the mountains now to proclaim your supremacy over that same south! Shamelessness has no better definition.
It is strange and surprising that Baba-Ahmed’s north still think southern agitation and restiveness are about posts and positions. No. That was the case years ago. The spirit roaming the streets of southern Nigeria today is not about Nigerian presidency or about who sits in there. It is about how to escape the north and its curse. They call it restructuring. The experience of recent years has told the south that having even a southern president won’t ever make any positive difference. Baba-Ahmed confirmed exactly that in his impudent statement. He said on the very few times when the north did not have the president, it was still the captain of the ship. Or what else did he mean by: “We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before. Whether we are president or vice-president, we will lead Nigeria.” He added forcefully that a southerner would be supported only if the person would serve the north’s interest.
When a sheep says it wants to grow horns, it should be prepared to have its ears cut off. Baba-Ahmed’s Mauritanian people have some other interesting proverbs which should have guided his lips. They say: “He who begins a conversation does not foresee the end.” They also warn that “one must talk little and listen a lot.” And this one: “He who wears too fine clothes shall go about in rags.” That is rather deep! Now, apart from its production, harvest and circulation of terrorism, banditry, mass death and mass misery, what has the north achieved for itself and for Nigeria with its decades of being in power? If you spit in your partner’s face and tell him it is saliva then you are bold. But you can’t do that and forbid a reaction from the assaulted. Nigeria’s case now borders on the insane; it is the folkloric “Omoye” who has entered the market stark naked. When you listen again and again to Baba-Ahmed and you remember that this is a highly educated man who was even at a time the secretary of our electoral commission, you conclude that Nigeria’s ailment is truly beyond cure. But if you are right behind someone on a journey and you discover that the person does not behave normal, what do you do? You retrace your steps without letting him hear your footfall. The southern vibes and vibrations are exactly about that.