By Aisha Umar Yusuf
In the run up to the 2019 general elections, from late 2018, the main theme of most Southern criticism of the North was it’s all-pervading poverty. After the elections, insecurity become the more dominant theme.
But in all this anti North hype, one thing was glaringly missing, an exodus of Southerners from the North. As someone who has been around for a number of decades, I have seen my fair share of post-crisis exodus from the North to the South and vice versa.
The 1990s had witnessed many sectarian crises, which made some Southerners flee from the North to the safety of their home towns and villages; though they always made their way back in no time.
In the same way I’ve been a living witness to the many North-bound truckloads of my country men fleeing the South because the OPC (Oodua People’s Congress) or Lagos Area boys or Egbesu boys and other ethnic militias in the South, had unleashed another round of violence against them. Such truck convoys always consisted of those where only dead bodies of friends and relatives were stacked. This is to show as evidence of what they managed to escape from and to give their dead some decent burial at home.
These same Northerners too, always allowed the dust to settle and then stealthily make their way back to the South.
However today, the worst criticism of life in Northern Nigeria is being touted to high heavens but it’s amazing to see that Southerners have chosen to stay put.
Even in places worst hit by the current insecurity, such as Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Zamfara and now Katsina states, the Southerners are spread all over, doing their own thing as if nothing is amiss. In fact nothing shows how much our Southern compatriots don’t wish to leave the North than their reaction to the ‘quit-North ultimatum’ given to them by some Northern ‘youths’ two years ago.
As soon as the Abdulazeez Suleiman-led Northern coalition gave the ‘leave our North’ order, as a reaction to the insults of IPOB’s Kanu, Igbo elders flooded the North and kept seeking the support and cooperation of our emirs and other elders, in condemning the Northern youths’ position. So rattled were these Southern elders, by the quit-North ultimatum, that when Professor Ango Abdullahi spoke in support of Abdulazeez and his group, a high-powered Igbo delegation went and begged him to withdraw his support.
This is how desperately Southerners want to remain in our poverty-stricken, backward, illiterate and crisis-ridden North. Isn’t it ironic?
Yet, if you read what these same Southerners write daily, against the North especially on social media, you’d think that no power on earth can make them live here, with us. In fact a foreigner reading all that anti-North stuff would never believe that Southerners, especially Igbos ever allow themselves to spend the night anywhere in the North. The impression they’ll get is that the North is where these trapped Nigerians go to do there legitimate businesses, and then rush to the safety of their educated, enlightened south before sunset. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The other day I was talking to my cousin Muhammad, who has been living in Zamfara for over ten years, about life in the shadow of banditry and kidnapping. He told me that things have improved a lot now, unlike before. I asked whether Southerners had left Zamfara in droves when things were really bad, and he told me that there was no such exodus even in the worst of times. Muhammad added that the amazing thing was how no Southerners ever fell victim to the crimes that were previously being committed in Zamfara. Now isn’t this curious? Why would the criminals choose not to go after the Southerners in their midst? Is there a conspiracy somewhere? Who is exactly behind the banditry and kidnapping in Zamfara?
While we wonder what the answer to this is, we must remember that though Southern wailers condemn us at every little opportunity, they have no better place than the North to live and flourish. In a recent piece titled ‘A message to the North: The South is getting fed up’ one Dr Ugoji Egbujo tried to tell us all the problems of our dear North that has made it a liability to the rest of the country. But he failed to tell us why his people are all over the North and pleading to remain. The least one expects from someone who is fed up with others, is to keep their distance from the offensive party. Yet from all indications a distance is one thing Southerners have no wish to keep from us.
Until the day I see Southerners packing their stuff and making hasty exit from the North, I’ll never believe that they have anything better to offer themselves in their supposedly rich, educated and enlightened part of the country.
Insulting Northerners, belittling our achievements and amplifying our problems, to the level of peddling falsehood, has always been a stock-in-trade of our Southern compatriots.
Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sakkwato and the late premier of the Northern region, hinted as much when he launched the New Nigerian 54 years ago. In a speech he delivered on January 1st 1966, titled ‘The greatest weapon is truth’ Sir Ahmadu Bello said: “This region has in the past been a frequent victim of prejudice, distortion and down-right falsehood on the part of certain organs in the newspaper world. I hope this newspaper (The New Nigerian) will not descend to such levels against anybody, anywhere. The greatest weapon is the truth.”
In the light of this, we know that Northern bashing has been a time-honoured pastime of our Southern compatriots. But we can’t afford to continue ignoring their unfair criticisms and falsehoods because our children are reading these same venomous pieces and could end up believing that these lies and exaggerations are the truth about our beloved North.
The Hausas have a saying, “If you see a rabbit running into the fire, what is chasing him is worse than the fire.” Therefore, no matter what these foul-mouthed Southern commentators are busy telling the world, until the day I see a massive exodus of Southerners from the North, I will forever believe that our North is a better and more hospitable place to live and flourish in, than their so-called rich and educated South.
Despite our much touted poverty, illteracy, almajirci and insecurity, we seem to be the best option for most Southerners, who not just have homes but numerous investments in the North. So to Dr Egbujo who says the South is fed up, it’s time to call all your Southern brothers home as proof, otherwise shut up and accept the hospitality and prosperity the North gives your people for free.
First published on Daily Trust, February 29, 2020.
By Aisha Umar Yusuf