The North and its Conspiracy Theories

Ever since terrorism found a home in Nigeria, especially in Northern Nigeria, there has not been a shortage of theories and opinions about this scourge, from what and who is responsible to finding a way out. Like with all things Nigerian, it is an increasingly complex situation. It is a case of the more you see, the less you understand. There seem to increasingly be new dimensions to the issue of Boko Haram: political, religious and criminal.

It is without a doubt that this crisis did not emerge from a vacuum, but there was a fertile ground in which the seeds of terrorism was planted. Many commentators have fingered endemic poverty in the North, together with chronic underdevelopment and illiteracy. But the North has not been the only region experiencing poverty; other factors came into play that made it easy for this situation to arise. In this January blog post of mine, I linked one of the main factors that has brought about terrorism in Nigeria is the politicization of Islam.

However, I have continuously heard various conspiracy theories amongst my fellow Northerners attempting to posit as explanations for the sorry situation we find ourselves in:

One theory claims that the on-going violence in the North is fomented by the Federal Government which ‘is now controlled by Southerners’, since they have also always blamed the North for dragging Nigeria backwards. In their words, ‘Northern leaders have been unfairly tagged as failures’. I find this theory very ridiculous. The fact is that Northern leaders have indeed been failures. Of the 52 years Nigeria has existed post-independence, power has been held by one Northerner or the other for 39 of those years. Yet, not only has Nigeria stagnated and even gone backwards, the North is worse off. Add to that the numerous present and past governors, local government chairmen, legislators and all other public office holders. How many can be pointed to have improved the conditions of their people?

What will a ‘Southern-controlled’ government benefit by causing instability in the North? It was not enough that the South is way ahead of the North in terms of living standards and incomes; it is also now a far more attractive place to invest. So far, the terrorism menace in Nigeria represents just another business risk to investors, as long as these attacks do not extend there. Agreed, there is quite a deep anti-North sentiment in the South, and one not without basis. If I was a Southerner, I would likely feel the same way, especially when I know opportunities are skewed against me. Government policies such as federal character and quota systems in school admissions favour the North excessively, a far less competitive place, than the South, where the competition for employment and admissions are more intense.

Another theory is to consistently point fingers at the West, especially the United States of America, for destabilizing the North in order to foment a civil war and an eventual break-up of the country. They claim that the US is interested in Nigeria’s oil and figure that the best way to get a greater hold of it is to engineer a splitting of Nigeria, especially using religion. They then cite the examples of Sudan as one ‘victim’ of such American foreign policy, where it has now been split along the lines of an oil-rich Christian South Sudan and a Muslim Sudan; and also of how the US is always releasing terror alerts of impending attacks, which always come to pass. Those who spread such conspiracy theory are grossly ignorant of both history and contemporary geo-politics.

To start with, comparisons of Nigeria with the Sudan/South Sudan situation are misplaced. The two Sudans were engaged in a war for 25 years, before the discovery of oil in what is now South Sudan forced the Arab North to sit down for peace talks with the South, because of the appeal of oil revenues in 2005. They agreed on autonomy for the South and a referendum in 6 years to determine whether the South chooses independence or to continue remaining with the North. The South needed no ‘instigation’ from the West to know their future lies best as an independent nation, rather than with people who did not believe in equally co-existing with them and were more interested in lording it over them. Nigeria is not, and God willing, will never be in this situation.

Also, the US does not have to instigate a splitting of Nigeria before they can have greater access to our oil. They are already Nigeria’s biggest oil customers, despite increasing demand from and supply to China. More than that, the present US administration has made energy independence one of its cardinal goals, and has so far to cut down its fuel imports to 45% in 2011 from a record high of 60% in 2005. Wouldn’t intending to split Nigeria for our oil be going in the opposite direction to its goals? We are no Iraq, neither will we ever be.

Again, I sincerely believe the global community has genuine concerns about the state of Nigeria’s security and want to see us remain one indivisible entity because they know the ripple effects and the destabilizing effects a break-up would have across the continent. They know that Nigeria has no clear dividing lines and any break-up would just create another Somalia, where anarchy reigns and it is just a place on the map where people die. We have a population greater than that of the rest of the West Africa sub-region combined. Imagine how the influx of refugees into surrounding nations in case of a civil war/break up would cause wahala. There can be no ECOMOG peacekeeping troops to return order, because not only is Nigeria its biggest sponsor, it is also the country being able to provide the manpower in the form of soldiers. The West knows that another Somalia-type country would create better breeding grounds for terrorists who will end up targeting them eventually.

I also think pointing fingers at the West as the sponsors because their terror alerts come to pass is short-sighted. Rather, we should be pointing fingers at our security services for not acting upon those alerts as tips and to forestall them coming to pass. The embassies issuing the alerts are merely looking out for their citizens, to whom they have a primary responsibility. As to how they always know of impending attacks, it is not a secret that they have foreign intelligence services in this country, as we do in other countries (or at least, so I believe) in the form of the National Intelligence Agency.

If there is anyone to be blamed for the situation today in the North, it is we Northerners: both the leaders or elites and the common people. Our leaders have squandered their opportunities in government to improve our lives, choosing instead to line their pockets with our money and improving only the conditions of their families. There have been both conscious and unconscious efforts to make sure that common Northerners are poor, illiterate and uneducated, so as to use us as easy fodder in their games of politics. If there is any proof I need that this opinion of mine is true, it is in that January blog post of mine. There was not a single response disputing all the facts in the blog post, and it was a widely circulated and syndicated article.

We as common Northerners are also to blame because we have refused to change a lot of our habits and thinking with time. Many Northerners till today spend their entire lives cocooned in their small worlds, either entirely within their town/state, or among their ethno-religious brethren. A young man is born and bred in Katsina, and the only place he has travelled to is Zamfara. When he then finds himself outside the region and among people who are not from his part of the country, he struggles to adjust. In a world today where it is ideal to get a lot of experience by interacting with as many different backgrounds of people as possible, we have chosen to remain in our neat little circle and deny ourselves of not only of learning from other cultures, but from having rounded worldviews. This has also affected how ambitious we desire to be in life. We cannot compete academically and intellectually outside the region, and even worse, we do not care. We are content being local champions; big fishes in small waters. Even when Northerners find themselves outside the North, this habit persists as they stick together in entire neighbourhoods, which become known as Hausa Quarters or areas. The same refusal to truly integrate with their communities, interact properly and learn from each other where necessary persists.

It is about time we quit the conspiracy theories and the blame games and be radically honest with ourselves. It is a pity we have found ourselves in this quagmire, which God willing, shall soon pass. But after all this is over, we must also ensure that we take the destiny of our region in our hands and make the determined push to take ourselves ahead. Even beyond ensuring that we have people with a hunger to bring change and development to our areas, we must also individually develop ourselves. We must also have an attitudinal change where we wait for government to do it all for us. We should remember that we are the government; even more, that government will always be a reflection of the people we are. We should be educated and exposed enough to be globally competitive and yet locally relevant. We must cease to see our towns and states as the only stages on which we can excel. With a great mass of educated people, we can lift our region even without the help of government. We can organise ourselves into groups and associations and find specific problems we want to provide solutions to.

I still dream of a vibrant North, economically advancing and appealing to people from all over the world to come, live and do business in. Deep inside of me, I believe that this dream is still a realizable one. But it cannot be realized if we keep hiding our heads in the sand like ostriches, blaming others for our predicament rather than seizing control of the situation and finding solutions to our problems.

26 Comments on this post

  1. Brilliant article! However you did not posit your own opinions on the possible factors that led to the rise of the terrorism in the North. Why did it suddenly become attractive?
    Do you have any ideas as to the cause of its escalation?
    Theories my friend may be deemed to be shots in the dark but are not without value since you just might hit ‘something’; especially since no one seems to have any clues yet.

    Eric / Reply
    • I explained that in a previous blog post. Read ‘The Beginning and End of Boko Haram’ and there’s a link on this post to it

  2. Wow this is a brilliant piece!! I am not a northerner but have lived there – Kano state to be precise for over 25 years. I have see the good sides of living with these people (believe me there have been good times) and I have also been a victim to the unfortunate follies of ethno-religious riots, and more recently Boko Haram. You really have approached the subject quite objectively and it did prove to be an interesting read. More power to your elbow.

    Olaoluwa / Reply
  3. I agree that we are the cause of our own predicament. Poverty burns through out the country. Things are worse up North but do not underestimate the state of things down south. There are many hungry faces about and they are frightening; especially to people who are supposedly better off becos I hold black berry – a device that should not be a thing of luxury. If the west isn’t interested in Nigeria negatively, why is America bent on establishing a military base in this country? Can they allow another country to estab same on their sovereign territory? What about the fuel subsidy wahala? Who jumpstarted the push to dip thieving hands further into our pockets ontop of all this poverty? No be Western financial institutions? I believe the west has been funding the greed of corruption in this country for so long. The acutely few times we’ve had anything close to good governance in this country (military and otherwise), somethng always truncates the whole effort. Muritalar Muhammed of blessed memory is one. I believe the west has a big hand in that man’s death cos he stood against their poverty inducing trade policies for Africa – the only African leader who took such a position back then. Then Buhari/Idiagbon arrived with clear intentions of cleaning the country up. I believe the west had a hand in IBB’s coup against those men. And surely enough, the basterd signed SAP into our economy as soon as he came to power. The thing (our economy) wey dem talk say wan crash b4 (na today? Wey Okonjo Iweala dey prance about saying ‘it is about to collapse o’) kuku come yamutu patapata and those loan sharks from IMF were grining toothy smiles at us while the infamous brain drain began. Am I saying our leaders are not responsible for our woes? Of course not. They are the ones in the driver’s seat driving us to hell nah. But then, the whole scenario also served a global western agenda where trade and resources are concerned. IBB was the first to remove the so called fuel subsidy, a term of agreement to borrowing from IMF. Then we had the most free and fair election ever in Nigeria. I had never seen the whole country that united. America carry Abiola away promising protection. Then they brought him bak saying they will back him in claimimg his mandate. I remember the day he arrived. American secret service men in long coats and dark glasses escorted him off the plane. The man no know say they siimply brought him home to be murdered. Nigerians bcame further disillusioned. ‘No hope for this country’ was what people were saying. U think Southerners are educated? We’ve been talking of half baked graduates since the early nineties- one of the perks of SAP. What do u think gave birth to yahoo-yahoo? The west never left us alone. Independence was a charade. They stayed close by and monitored our progress and controlled it. Just ask Patrice Lumumba. When they were leaving Nigeria, what curse did they leave behind? A rigged National election. No wonder the few times we went to the polls have been marred with massive rigging. Who taught us how to loot? When it bcame certain that Britian had to leave, massive looting began and the Colonial officers were the culprit, using Nigerian officials, teaching us that greed and looting is the way of democracy. Mind u democracy is still very much a foreign concept and when they were laying down the rules for us, they included subjugation of citizenry and the looting of the treasury. What brought the first coup? Corruption nah. The thing don old well, well for Naija. Just ask Okotie Eboh, the one time finance minister. Google his name and u will find that one way he was described is that he was a fifth columnist for the Colonials. The west has many more in our midst. It is my belief that most of our leaders can be defined as such. We are the architect of our demise. Yorubas have a saying that if the death threat in ur house is unable to kill U, the external one can’t do you nothing! There is another one that says ‘ without the wall opening a crack, the lizard will have no way to gain access into it. The west has no love for us (don’t be decieved by all the aid money. Na lie! They know the both government and NGO people are chopping the dollar yet they keep pumping the damn thing in here. The money is funding corruption. Period!) But that’s nothing. It still comes down to us. The majority of our national leaders may have come from the North. What about all the ministers and governors and chairmen of local government as u metioned. We need to wake up to the enemies both within and without is all this long talk of mine is saying o. Nothing more, nothing less. Thank U.

    Kunle Dada / Reply
    • I get your long talk, and I do understand where u r coming from. Definitely, the US have been no saints, but in this case, I do not see an obvious benefit for them through destabilizing Nigeria. AFRICOM is a dead idea, believe me. Obama is not interested in pushing it.
      Corruption is really a scourge in our country. There’s nothing more I can even add.

  4. Insightful piece, expounding truths which re self evident. The descent into chaos in the north is inevitable due to years of malevolent leadership that has turned a region with the greatest potential human and material into an explosive mix of hate,ignorance,inequality and poverty . its obvious the centre cannot hold anymore. The bell tolls for nigeria.

    odisi / Reply
  5. Mark, while I agree with most parts of this post, I disagree with the assertion that the west has no hands in our troubles. You only get to realize how perverted their thinking is only when you get to go through some of their declassified files. If by God’s grace we ever met in person, there is a book I will give to you to get a better insight into their way of thinking. Your article has done the good Job of helping us identify the problem within ourselves. This only half of the job. We must also know those people working hard against us in order to succeed. Like Sun Tzu said “Know Thy Enemy, Know Thyself”

    Abubakar Gambo / Reply
    • I’m not totally ruling out the possibility of foreign involvement, but I’m saying it is not for energy security as consistently claimed by some of our people

    • I’m not saying foreign involvement is impossible, but definitely not with the goal of energy security, cos in the light of prevailing factors, it doesn’t make sense to me.

  6. insightful piece..

    keavey / Reply
  7. In order to solve a problem,one has to first recognize that such problem exists.I find it ridiculous that some Northers,either ignorantly or mischievously,choose to blame their present predicamenton extraneous factors.The problem with the North is systemic and endemic.It’s only the Northerners that can work out solution to their multiple set backs if only they can come out of self-denial and tell themselve the honest and inconvenient truth.Nothern elites,who ought to know better,have used Islam to tie their people in perpetual bondage so that they can remain servile and amiable to manipulations that serve only the interest of those elites.I still don’t buy into the suggestion that Islam is averse to education and modernity.Afterall,Turkey,Indonesia,Malaysia etc that are now taking giant leaps into development are moslem countries.But in the far Northern Nigeria,the religion is used as instrument of subjugation and control of the down-trodden by the elites.For the far North to make any appreciable progress towards development,their ctizens need a radical re-orientation and a more flexible mentality.They have to start being tolerant and welcoming to non natives in their midst.They have to prove that they can tolerate and co-exist with people of different faiths and cultural background just as the South does.In that regard,the Middle Belt has made tremendous progress.It is now friendlier,more liberal minded,more accommodating to “outsiders,”more embracing to western education and modernity,and,of late,have refused to be subsumed with the far North who are seen as “barbaric and backward.”

    Danny / Reply
    • True. Islam is definitely not a backward religion. There are numerous modern Muslim nations such as the one you mentioned. Sadly, the politicization of the religion by Northern elites has not done us any good. But hope is not lost. It might take us time to correct the situation, but it is not impossible

  8. This is interesting and all what you’ve said is excactly what we are facing in the north. Our leaders have killed us because of selfish interest. You have done very well keep it up may God bless and reward you.

    umar mohammed / Reply
  9. Note, this comment will offend some people, here goes: I think my common phrase to my Dad when I started college in the States is that as Northerners “We think too small”… To be more blunt, my exact words were “We are Stupid”. One will find generations of Southerners abroad, using the little that they have, most with money that isn’t even half of what some families in the North have, but they will hustle and fight to integrate abroad. Even if it means they sweep the floor, they will put themselves through college and make something of themselves. And what do most of us do? As you rightly put it, stay in our little corners, or claim that the rest of the world is bad or would spoil us and so we never give ourselves or our kids that opportunity to expand ourselves. My plan is to change that… starting with my family and my friends… our thinking needs to change if we are going to change the future of the north… and of course with more people like you, that will definitely be a success God willing!

    But of course this is not to day that I’m not proud of the fact that no matter where you go you will find Nigerians (even if they are more likely to be from the South lol), working hard to make something of themselves… I just wish this efforts/opportunities/ambitions were more balanced across ethnicities.

    Mwajim (@mwajimal) / Reply
    • I’ve also thought the same. Northerners rarely or never aspire to travel out, apart from pilgrimages. We don’t seek that global viewpoint and mindset and are disconnected a lot of times from what is going on in the world

  10. Good job,but i still don’t believe that west has no hands in our country corruption insecurity,poor leadership because is only who they think can serve there interest can be a president that’s why they imposed there Fucking demo-crazy in our country and continent at large.

    Bala Musa / Reply
    • Democracy isn’t synonymous with corruption and poor leadership. We’ve had those even with the military. But your democracy has empowered you to be able to talk and push for better things. With time, we’ll get there

  11. The points raised in these comments are the same things you hear Northerners discussing about. The good thing is that even uneducated Northerners have been discussing some of these issues. Issues like; why we prefer buying and selling than manufacturing. Issues like; our leaders only remember that they are Northerners or Muslims only when they seek our support. The real challenge I think is not our inability to identify the problems, the real challenge is our inability to correctly identify why we have those problems.
    Have we ever asked ourselves why the South is more open to change than the North? If we can find the reason why, then I think we can fastrack our journey to development.
    My opinion is that the North is resisting change because of our past heritage. The North is the part of Nigeria that had a well structured political, social, economic and military system well before the coming of the colonizers. After colonization, instead of evolving these systems to come at par with modern times, we instead chose to dismantle them and replace them with something new. The people are still finding it difficult to identify with the new system. That is why in the North, people revere their emirs much more than they revere the state governor or even the president. Naturally you don’t expect to replace a system that is existence for more than a thousand years in just a little above fifty years. It is the shock of this sudden change that is manifesting in the many problems being faced by the North. Our challenge as progressives is to help evolve the Northern society society such that it progresses into the future by making it competitive without losing it’s heritage that it jealously guards. Even the so-called educated ones among us are not immuned from our perpetual nostalgia and clinging to the past. That is why it is normal to find a professor or even an ex-vc of a university happily contesting to be the chief of his village.

    I do not believe that Northerners don’t like to travel or get out of their local environments. The problem is we look for them in the wrong places. The average South-westerner is obsessed with the UK, the average South-Easterner is obsessed with the US. If you are looking for Northern adventurers look in the direction of the middle-east. Do some search in Chad, Niger, Sudan, South Sudan, Libya up to Yemen and Saudi Arabia and you will be surprised about the Number of Northern Nigerians you will find. Hell, you can even find many in places like Gabon, Central Afrique and DR Congo. The Northerners that don’t like getting out of their localities unfortunately are the so-called educated ones. Funny enough, many of the so-called illiterate Northerners laugh at us for how little of the world we know.
    Many times I agree with them. We the educated ones have to get down from our high pedestal and start relating with our uneducated brothers.

    IG / Reply
  12. Mark,
    This is a good one and the comments has shown that most Nigerians want to live in a peaceful and united country.
    We have been pretending as northerners that we do not know what has brought us to the sorrry state we are in today.
    Northern elites particularly traditional rulers,civil servants and ,politicians of the HAUSA/FULANI/MUSLIM stock have been manipulating government decisions ,appointments etc to favour their kith and kin to the disadvantage of christian Northerners.
    They promote themselves and allocate leadership position without recourse to ability to perform as far as you belong to their group..This has been going over the years particularly in the military era.Such mediocres have promoted fraud and corruption leading to deprivations,poverty squalor and disease.
    They have thus created an aura of sacredness and invincibility.
    With advent of the 4th republic electoral fraud and corruption has being promoted to statecraft visionless mediocres in flowing robes and suites parade around as our leaders.

    In most states in the North these elites are beclouded with sharing the spoils of government that they have forgotten to improve the living conditions of the people
    The young Northerners tend to look at Christians as second class citizens and even hate them.We hear of christian religious studies not being thought in some states.
    We hear of students being denied admission because they are non hausa-fulani/muslim northerners ,we hear of people winning multimillion Naira contracts just because of who they are.
    The elites have over time sown the seed of hatred which has been manifesting it self in the various riots in the north with weapons such as knives cutlasses etc.
    Now this has graduated to the use of bombs and guns.
    The Northern elites through their columnist,newspapers and electroinic media have over the years being orchestrating hatred instead of promoting development.I was amaze that in a university like BUK they do not have christian place of worship–they have to use lecture halls ,what do you think other students will look these christians –second class citizens of course .With such mindset they can buy into extremist ideologies .
    We need to promote equality,justice ,fairness and rule of law against nepotism ,corruption and greed.
    Where we now in a situation where we have a large army of uneducated and poverty stricken youth both amongst christians and muslims.
    Above all we have visionless leaders who cannot think beyond their stomach. .


    ,EXCEPT WE CHANGE OUR LEADERS(field in our best)

    LAUPALI / Reply
  13. […] Back home, as the State of Emergency takes over our senses, a throwback to this piece on the North and conspiracy theories – […]

  14. A wonderful read I must say and some assertions here are spot on. Absolutely enjoyed most of the comments that followed suit.

    However one thing stands out, that BH insurgency is certainly an imported phenomena. Terrorism of this nature goes against the Northern Nigeria framework and genetic make up. We cannot get away from the underlying fact that some one anti North or anti Nigeria is behind this menace, but as a northerners living in the north, we are even more clueless about the perpetrators than our southern counterparts are only because they live out of the affected areas and can draw personal conclusions albeit wrongly.

    I do want to direct some facts at Laupali, I do not know what North you are talking about but the one I know of certainly admits more christians into federal universities than even the northerners, I may not have the statistics but before you see a Hausa name on the admissions list you scroll past at least 4 non Hausa names.

    And please CRK or Christian studies is certainly taught in most schools.

    I can go on and on to refute most of your claims but that will not serve any purpose, and just because you do not ascribe to our heritage does not make it none existing. Thank you.

    Marie B / Reply
    • To start with, when you made mention of ‘your’ heritage and me not ascribing it, I should point out that I am a Northerner from Borno State, as Northern as they come. So most of what I write are based on knowledge of what is on the ground.

      Terrorism a la BH-style is not much of a big jump from religious crises in the North. We may want to blame ‘hoodlums’, but in every crises, there are people who plan attacks on people and places of worship. Every factor ready for terrorism in the North exists: poverty, religious extremism, etc.

      As for admissions, fact is, in almost every state, there is that lopsidedness towards a certain religion, region or ethnicity. In the North, it is mostly towards religion.

      As for CRK in Borno State, only 3 out of 27 local government areas teach CRK in public primary schools and those are the LGAs that are run by Christian chairmen. I don’t know of other states in the North, but I know of Borno State.

      Thanks for coming by

      Mark / (in reply to Marie B) Reply
  15. @ Mark, the later part of my comments were directed at Laupali’s comments and not you.

    And am talking based on facts here, the population of southerners in BUK outweighs that of the locals. This sadly may show our lack of commitment to fighting hard for success, but in terms of numbers this is the reality. There are more southerners than northerners on kano campuses. Only a few departments have it the other way like Education dept and Religious studies.

    I however beg to differ on BH issue, I would say its a huge jump from religious and ethnic clashes that have happened in the north. The targets are far reaching, the modus operandi is mass panic and the strategies are more sophisticated, and all of these done under the guise of religion another decoy. You need to understand that survivors from most of the attacks relay stories of foreigners as the key attackers, how do you then explain this? The funding, where is it coming from? Most religious and ethnic clashes were in the past undertaken with local weaponry not the sophisticated weapons used by BH. I have never heard gun shot sounds before the subsidy protests when security personnel were breaking up crowd approaching Government house and now only with BH attacks and counter attack by security forces. So how can we say its not much of a high jump? It is countries apart from where am seeing it.

    Thank you.

    Marie B / Reply
    • My point about it not being a huge jump is that there exists among us people with sufficient extremist religious indoctrination to become terrorists. Definitely, there is a lot of helping hands from abroad: Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, etc. But without people on the ground, it will be hard for them to succeed

      Mark / (in reply to Marie B) Reply

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