Feminism

Hakka Allah Yena So: It’s God's Will

Image:  The Nation

Image: The Nation

As generally perceived and shown by research, Northern Nigeria remains the poorest region in the country. In more ways than one, it lags behind the South, as though inherent in the Nigerian constitution; a sort of twisted symbiosis in Nigeria’s functionality. As a nation, we have exhibited an unconscious permissiveness of poverty, and have found solace in attributing the blame and responsibility to someone- or something- else

‘It is well’ we say, as we turn a blind eye to the socio-economic imbalances, for which we ought to furiously and intently ask whys and hows. For those who have, the answers they have found range from unequal revenue allocation and insecurity to educational deprivation during the colonial rule, to poor governance. Also prevalent is the relationship found between culture and religion, particularly in the North: one in which religion and culture merge, and are exploited.

 

IMPASSÉ, OR PASSED ON?

When thinking of the North, the first thing that comes to mind is Islam. Perhaps as a result of the summers I spent in Kaduna as a child, mesmerised by the vocal range of the call to prayer bellowing from minarets; or, the fact that Muslims make up over 90 percent of Northern Nigeria. Islam - which was introduced to the North through the Bornu Empire as early as the 11th century and then used as a uniting tool in the 19th century after a jihad launched by Usman Dan Fodio - has been both instrumental and transformative to the North.

Unofficially, this jihad established the Sharia law in 1812, and a presence of a “Northern block” - similar socio-cultural ties in religion. These ties were further “re-established” by the British colonial rule when creating a Northern Protectorate that mirrored Dan Fodio’s Sokoto Caliphate. Though the official power was transferred to the High Commissioner, the existing structures remained in place, allowing the British to implement an indirect rule through traditional Muslim leaders, under which an extremely powerful Muslim elite was created.

This elite would then rule the region with an iron fist and see that though culture was evolving, it remained conservative. This resistance would transcend to the 21st century, and involve the former Kano state Governor, Shekarau’s Nazi-esque task of book burning of littattafan soyayya, - romance novels primarily written by women - the strict rules in Kannywood and anything considered against the “Islamic and Hausa culture.”

This resistance to culture change is also evident in the gender relations and dynamics in the region - one in which women are put at a disadvantage. In the North, and widely, culture and religion are puppeted by men in power; with pleas for the enforcement of women’s rights, the abolition of child marriages and a Gender Equality Bill referred to as “an attack on religious and cultural beliefs.” Rather than strengthening ties and creating a common (equal) ground, ‘culture’ has instead been abused, and become systematic subjugation.

 

CONSPIRACY THEORIES: FOR THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE

The historical undermining of culture and religion spans beyond the arts, education and women, and continues to extend to areas such as health. In the case of the latter, most notable is the (lack of) response to the 2004 polio crises and 2005 measles epidemic that occurred predominantly in Northern Nigeria — which left only 5.3 percent of children in Kano immunised. As opposed to adopting effective measures to eradicate polio, Islamic clerics in Kano instead advised the people against the vaccines on the grounds of the drugs as tools to render Muslim women infertile.

As with the 2005 measles epidemic, this saw an increased morbidity and mortality rate in Northern Nigeria, and widened the poverty gap. A decade later would prove no different, if not worse, with the reaction to a new strain of cerebral meningitis in 2016. Meningitis, which had accounted for up to 500 deaths as of April 2017, was seen as an offspring of impunity within the most affected states - Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and Kebbi. That is, in the words of Zamfara state Governor, Yari, “God’s punishment for sin.”

This statement not only reeks of manipulation but also reflects one of two things. First: a person entrusted with the highest political power in state government believes that the spread of the viral disease, in a meningitis belt country, devolves the government of its responsibilities. Alternatively, that this high level official alludes to a widespread belief in God’s wrath, therefore baiting his government's inefficiencies on the conservatism of the masses.

Either scenario is a different side of the same coin: the first posing an interplay of a systemic ignorance veiled as religion, and parcelled to relevant state office(s). In addition, there is an obvious exploitation of this same ignorance in the people — perhaps, owing to literacy rates as low as 49 and 14.5 percent in Kano and Borno, respectively, stemming from its colonial roots. Whatever the case, this response, vis-à-vis the proactive response of Lagos state in the wake of the 2015 Ebola crisis, remains at a tangent.

 

REDEFINING CULTURE

Such archaism and practice of 13th century Islam, as the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi calls it, cannot continue to coexist in this 21st century world. “We can’t fix the North until we face our [cultural and religious] taboos” and bridge the ignorance gap. This, of course, neither suggests an enforcement or acceptance of western values, nor does it say that cultures in Northern Nigeria are inferior. 

The problem is neither with Islam itself, as many thriving Gulf countries, as well as Malaysia, have upheld their cultural and Islamic values, yet embraced advancement. The problem, however, is the use of culture and religion as a political tool to impose socio-intellectual obscurity on its followers, as opposed to a people preserving mechanism. The ignorance of the masses is the strength of the elite. 

Perhaps a form of hybridity may be the answer. The North, however, needs more leaders and citizens like Amina J Mohammed and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who speak against the normalisation of oppressive cultural elements that suppress development. It requires its populace to break free from such confinements and the idea which its leaders hide behind — the idea that Northerners are content with the little they have.

 

Lagos Through Wonuola Lawal's Lens

As part of our theme in April to showcase Lagos, (its) history and culture, The Book Banque caught up with photographer and writer, Wonuola Lawal, to discuss her phenomenal work, and in particular, her work on a fusion of Lagos and other cities - The Displacement Series. She also speaks about the neglect of history and colonial buildings, and socioeconomic issues in Nigeria. 


Through your (photographic) lens, Lagos tends to look like a collage of opportunities, chaos yet beauty. What excites you about Lagos?

Wonuola: There's a certain vibe Lagos has that I can't explain. I can feel it in certain places like art galleries and spoken word events; I also feel it when I'm around Marina. I guess that's what excites me - being around people that share similar interests to me, and being around places that celebrate art and music, and the talent our generation has. Lastly, being able to make pictures excites me. There's nothing I find more exciting than capturing Lagos life.

The Displacement Series’ has been a remarkable collection, and has even been featured on CNN Africa’s Instagram! What was the inspiration behind the series?

Wonuola: Thank you! I love answering this question because the answer isn't what people expect. I was working on my final project for a Digital Photography class I was taking in Philadelphia. I had no idea what to do for my project, and was even more anxious because I didn't think I was that creative. Anyway, I was looking at boring pictures I'd taken in Lagos and even more boring ones I'd taken abroad, and I was thinking what a waste the pictures were because I couldn't use them. All of a sudden (and I have to emphasise how weird this sounds) it felt like an idea opened a door on the left side of my head, walked into my brain, sat down and said 'Why don't you join the two pictures together?' That's how the series was created.

In an interview in 2015, you linked a nostalgia and longing for home, being a Nigerian living in the Diaspora, as a further source of inspiration for the series. What makes home (Lagos) home?

Wonuola: What makes Lagos home? I'd have to say my family; our culture because there is nothing like it, and just the everyday hustle and bustle that goes on. These are the things I think about when I think about home.

One thing your work does, by contrasting Lagos against cities like New York and London, is highlight how Lagos blends in yet stands out. Was this your intention?

Wonuola: I'm glad you noticed that. It wasn't intentional. The images from Lagos stood out on their own and in my opinion, it kind of reinforced the thought that despite living in the diaspora, there's no denying that Lagos is my home. I took that as a reminder that no matter where I am, I should never ever forget where I come from.

Two particular favourites are women hawking in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia and a lady selling nuts and milk on a narrow street in Sitges, Catalonia! To some extent, trading without a licence and peddling/hawking in such provinces are illegal and/or uncommon. However, in Lagos, they seem to make up ‘everyday life’. Would you regard them as part-and-parcel of the culture in Lagos?

Wonuola: I definitely would! I repeatedly express how hawking is part of the culture in Lagos. It's amazing how we're able to buy anything in traffic. I remember seeing hawkers selling turkeys on Christmas Eve in traffic and marvelling at how such a sight would have been strange in another country.

That's why I strongly opposed the hawking ban that was enforced in 2016.

How do you decide to take the livelihood of people without offering a better alternative? To make it worse officials used force to seize and destroy their goods, and even took some to jail. The bail fine was 90,000 Naira, and I asked myself ‘how traders - that barely make up to 5,000 Naira - a day could afford to pay the fine?’ They forget hawkers are also people with mouths to feed and rent and school fees to pay. It's extremely unfair.

The removal of danfo buses (big yellow buses) is also something I have to point out. What would Lagos be without the yellow buses? If the new buses that are to substitute the danfos are yellow, then we won't have a problem.

Among your work are also pictures of colonial buildings in Lagos, which are either not widely recognised, dilapidated, or are being pulled down. What do you think is responsible for the cognitive, physical and cultural negligence?

Wonuola: There's a lack of appreciation for our history and, as a country we're very bad at maintaining things. This lack of appreciation is why our Nigerian history isn't a compulsory subject in schools, which is why most of us know nothing about our history. Our lack of maintenance is why many colonial houses have been torn down and replaced with newer apartments - no offence to those in the real-estate business as I understand business is business.

It is also the reason why many amazing colonial buildings in Marina and other places are shadows of themselves. I remember when I heard there were plans to convert our National Theatre into an ‘entertainment city’ - a less dignifying outlet, considering all the history contained within the structure. I was disappointed at how easily the government wanted to throw all of that for nothing.

I have to give a shout out to Kelechi Anabaraonye (@oc.wonder on Instagram) because he captures our colonial buildings, and he knows the history of so many of these buildings in Lagos. He now conducts photo walks he calls the 'Waka Tour' - one of which he’ll be hosting in collaboration with The Book Banque in May - where he gives you a history lesson on every colonial building you encounter during the tour. It's really amazing.  

If you could lend your voice to reconstructing Lagos, what would you say or do?

Wonuola: I would definitely begin with the refurbishment of the colonial buildings that are still standing, and definitely fight for Kelechi to be in charge of the buildings, and the narration of our history to our people and foreigners, as we could use them to boost our tourism sector.

I would contribute to the construction of a proper waste management system because there's a lot of stagnant water during the rainy seasons, which acts as breeding grounds for mosquitoes - hence why Malaria claims thousands of lives in Nigeria. The flooding in Lagos is terrible, so we'll fix that as well.

Bad roads will definitely be fixed, and the implementation of trains will be useful in reducing our traffic problem, as it is one of our biggest problems because of congestion. In a ‘perfect Lagos’, I imagine people commuting to and from work with ease.

To reconstruct the city, you'd also have to reconstruct the way its people think, especially its leaders. We'd educate the people on social issues such as how rape is never the victim's fault. There will be an emphasis on how it doesn't matter how the victim is dressed, and instilling in men that no means no. We'd educate them thoroughly on the topic of feminism and how it means equality for women. We'd decolonise the minds of the people because we treat foreigners better than we treat ourselves in our country. These messages will be in every form of media; newspapers, TV adverts and radio, in local languages and in English, in order for them to resonate.

I think I sound as if I'm running a campaign.

Primary and Secondary education will be made free so the less privileged wouldn't have to worry about paying their children's fees, and will also be able to get an education themselves.

Alternative housing would be provided for the homeless especially those people that have been brutally run out of their homes by officials. No one would be sleeping on the streets.

There will be reform on our University education. There've been many protests at UNILAG, and no one is listening to the youth. That will definitely change.

The implementation of a proper solar energy system to generate electricity would be vital. As a result our electricity and power problems can be a thing of the past. We won't need to buy diesel, or suffer during fuel scarcity, and we'd be using a cleaner method of generating electricity even though the method itself has disadvantages of its own.

These are just a few ideas. If I could write an essay, I would.

Miss Lawal had us chanting 'Wonuola for Governor!' as we read. We cannot overemphasise the importance of all the points she raised in our interview, especially the need for reconstructing mindsets and listening to our youth. We are grateful for the opportunity to host her voice on our platform. To see more of Wonuola Lawal's work, visit her website, or follow her on Instagram.

For more information on the 'Waka Tour' with Kelechi, kindly send us an email and/or follow our social media pages for details!