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To Your Tents, Oh! Nigerians

By Sunday Dare, The News, 9 May 2000

Lagos—Northern leaders are panicky as Igbo and Yoruba settlers embark on an unprecedented human, material and financial exodus. As most of the emigres vow never to return to the North, some are moving to avoid being in the wrong part of Nigeria if the planned declaration of Biafra goes ahead on 27 May

At the Mando and Kachia Road Television motor parks in Kaduna, motley mounds of bags and boxes, along with their owners waited for their turns to board an assortment of buses heading to Nigeria's south.

It was two months after the two-day religious mayhem that engulfed this hitherto melting pot of Nigeria's over 250 ethnic groups. After close to one thousand deaths, the massive destruction of property and business, the amputations and decapitations, Kaduna offers no more comfort to its aliens. Daily since February, many southerners troop out of Kaduna, vowing never to return. Despite the appeals by Governor Ahmed Makarfi, the wave of emigration continues, the emigres made more desperate by the planned declaration of Biafra on 27 May by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra.

The outbound movement of southerners has also hit other northern cities such as Kano, Gusau in Zamfara, Sokoto, Zaria and others. Sharia is running them scared. So is MASSOB's plan. So are the fears and expectations of another inter-ethnic riot and bloodletting. But of all the northern cities suffering from this massive outflow of human traffic, Kaduna and Kano remain the worst hit. In Kano for instance, the leader of the Yoruba community admitted that no fewer than 300,000 Yoruba have left since the vengeful attack on the Yoruba by the Yandaba, the miscreants of Kano, in the aftermath of the Yoruba-Hausa clash in Shagamu, Ogun state last year.

Our people have been moving from Kano since July when the Hausa started slaughtering them in their homes at night, says Prince Ajayi Memaiyetan, the spokesman of the Yoruba community.

According to statistics supplied by Memaiyetan, eighty per cent of those who fled are self-employed, mostly taxi drivers, mechanics, electricians and artisans. About one million Yoruba live in Kano.

Those left now are people who have acquired property in the city. Most of these are professionals who were flushed out of the state's civil service after the expiration of their contracts. Some of these people have now established themselves. According to Memaiyetan, most of the professionals had been flushed out since 1984.

This is why we're calling for a sovereign national conference to address some of these problems, argued Memaiyetan, a self-employed public relations practitioner.

Among the Igbo in Kano, the story is not different. There are about 500,000 Igbo living in Kano. About 90 per cent of this figure are businessmen and traders. Like their Yoruba counterparts, the Igbo are also leaving in droves.

According to Chief Tobias Idika, spokesman of the Igbo, about half of the Igbo population have left Kano, while the remaining are set to leave as soon as the situation becomes more precarious.

People are moving their properties and families home because they are unsure of what lies ahead, Chief Idika said. For non-indigenes in Kano, the scarecrow is the Muslim law called Sharia, and how it would affect their lives and businesses.

In Sabon-Gari where over 80 per cent of non-indigenes reside, there are about 3,000 beer parlours, brothels and hotels. In addition there are about 1,000 liquor shops. The Sharia, if introduced, would put the owners of these businesses in serious jeopardy.

People, mostly Christians, are leaving Kano because, according Memaiyetan, they are afraid of Sharia and especially the inciting statements of the Kano Ulammas. People are not sure whether the Kano State government would be able to protect their lives and properties any time religious zealots go to the extreme, said Memaiyetan.

The exodus is already affecting business and social life in the ancient city. The once bustling neighbourhood of Sabo-Gari has become a ghost of its former self. Nightlife is almost nil now, and many prostitutes and liquor sellers have relocated to Abuja and other states.

The banks have been hit too. Most of the Igbo traders have transferred their deposits to other states, leaving barely 20 per cent of their deposits in their Kano accounts. Sources in some of these banks like First Bank, UBA and Union Bank confirmed that millions of naira has been transferred out of Kano.

In Kaduna, Kachia and parts of Zaria, the depopulation of these areas was palpable. The Narai and Rigassa neighborhoods still bore the scars of the mindless massacres of February. There are no more habitable houses, as all had been burnt. The shops, the churches and mosques are scarred and empty. The streets too are now empty as residents had fled.

In the whole of Kaduna township, gone was the hustle and bustle, the distinctive spirit of the city before the February madness. Only the central market 'Kasuwa' presented a facade of normalcy.

Governor Ahmed Makarfi of Kaduna State is unhappy. He blamed advocates of confederacy for the exodus, claiming that their unguarded utterances were responsible.

Certain calls by national leaders confuse the people and they don't know whether it is the end of the matter. They just get confused and when an ordinary man gets confused, without getting any explanation, the natural thing for him will be to be moving from one place to another.

Nigerians were living in harmony with one another until the exit of the military last May. But no sooner than the soldiers' tails disappeared in the horizon than ethnic tensions blew into the open. Shagamu, Ogun State recorded the first ethnic flare up. Yoruba and Hausa settlers who have been living together for more than a century, went fighting, over a dispute said to have been triggered by a traditional rite. Both groups lost many men in the war. Kano flared up thereafter, as the bodies of the Shagamu riots victims were rolled home in trailers. Yorubas were the targets here. Hundreds were slaughtered. Ketu in Lagos, Ibadan in Oyo State also recorded their own share of the ethnic battles. But inter-ethnic suspicions worsened as elected governors of some Northern states made known their plan to implement the Sharia, an Islamic legal system. Zamfara led the way, followed by Kano and Niger. When the multi-ethnic, multi-religious Kaduna state joined the Sharia bandwagon, hell and its fury was let loose. The level of deaths and destruction came second only to the level recorded during Nigeria's civil war.

Mr. Charles Achilike, until the Sharia riots was a dealer in exotic window and door blinds on Lagos Road, Kaduna. Before the riots, Achilike made enough profit off his N800, 000 stock that he could feed his family of five children. But all that is now history.

When rioters stormed Achilike's post, as they did to many non- northerners, they reduced his shop to ashes. Now, the erstwhile comfortable businessman is a pauper. But he was nonetheless lucky. His entire family survived the Sharia war.

Achilike took his family to Aba in Abia State, where he is a citizen. Although he appreciates the fact that he is lucky to be alive, he is sad he is a burden to his younger brother, who at present, accommodates and feeds the distressed family. Achilike is thinking of going back to the North to pick up the pieces of his business. This time, however, Achilike will not return to Kaduna, or any state in the core-North for that matter. He would rather relocate to Jos or the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. To him, these cities are relatively safer.

Many Igbo victims of the Sharia riots are taking similar steps. David Onye, a spare parts seller in Kaduna until he was brought to ruins by the rioters said in Enugu he would soon be leaving for Abuja, where he planned to find a new abode in the suburbs of Yanyan or Karu or Gwagwalada.

In Onitsha, Aba, Umuahia, Okigwe and Enugu, returnees from the North still at home were found to be few. Many have relocated. Achilike attributed this to the fact that Igbo men are naturally adventurous people in terms of business and would feel idle in the East doing nothing. He added that most of those who returned home couldn't easily establish businesses for reasons of cash crunch.

It is easy to start a business in the North. You do not need as much money as you do here in the East to do it. Moreover, all the major towns here are already well-developed in terms of business, so the competition will be too stiff, reasoned Achilike.

Onye said unless he goes to his village, there is no way he can stay in the East. I just don't have enough money to start a business here, unless I want to be an errand boy. And I don't think I can ever do that here. I will rather go out, Onye asserted.

The Igbo Pride is what Valentine Okoro called his eatery and beer drinking joint in Gusau, Zamfara State. Okoro ran back to Umuahia in the wake of the adoption of the Sharia law in Zamfara State. Although he was lucky to have come back home with all his property, next month, Okoro will be moving to Jos where, according to him, a brother has already secured a shop for him. In Jos, I can do my kind of business unmolested, he said.

All is now calm generally in the East. Most of the people who returned home in February have been relocating in safer areas. Even Northerners who fled the East when there was a backlash of killings have returned. Among this group are Salisu, Ibrahim and Idris, the three sons of the Seriki Hausawa of Aba, Mallam Baba Bello.

The News encountered them at the 99 Hospital Road, Aba residence of their father. Part of the building was destroyed by rioters during the February revenge protests. The Seriki and his family were lucky to escape unhurt. Although the Seriki has since left for his hometown in the north, the sons have no such plan for now. Ibrahim expressed fear of a repeat of what was visited on them last February. Though the Seriki was born in Aba where he in turn had all his children, the Bellos have never been accepted as citizens of Aba. All the Bellos speak Igbo fluently. The dead grandfather was said to have settled at the 99 Hospital Road residence in 1903. Ibrahim said that as the 27 May date the MASSOB threatens to declare a Biafran state draws near, he and his brothers may have to go into temporary hiding.

This is in spite of the assurances given by Prince Eze Chukamnayo, the Abia State Commissioner for Special Duties to non-Igbos that they would be protected.

In Ogbomoso the returnees from the North are referred to as Ogunlende (a person driven home by war). There are about 5000 of them. Almost in every street of Ogbomoso there are returnees. But the most affected areas are Ile Lanjugbuda, Ile Ogidi, Ile Onisona, Odufa Compound and Ariji Compound. Others are Onikoyi, Alagbede Ada Ara, Onikora, Baba Onisapa, Ile-epo, Atala, Arubiewe area and Sekoni area.

Chief Yusufu Ishola Oyedeji is the Baale of Abede area in Ogbomoso. Today, he has an unenviable task. Most of his subjects who were living in the North returned home empty handed. He has been feeding most of them and he is tired of doing so. But none of the returnees is ready to go back.

Oyedeji understands their problem. He was one of the Nigerians deported from Ghana by the Acheampong government in 1969. Oyedeji began living in Ghana in 1937. He lost all his property in Ghana. Now his subjects are experiencing the same thing in Nigeria.

You see, when their properties have been destroyed what are they going there to do again?, he said.

Michael Tunde Ishola was born in Kaduna 32 years ago. Until now, he lived all his life in Kaduna. Tunde was a businessman dealing in auto goods, but during the crisis, his mother's house at Tundun Na Powa was burnt and two of the tenants killed. He and other members of his family have since relocated to their family compound in Ogbomoso. He is now selling kerosene in bottles to feed his wife and children. Tunde told The News that he plans to repair his mother's house and sell it. To him, nothing can take him back to the North again.

Pa Jimoh Alao who, with his children, lived in Fizz Alubi Road, Kaduna has vowed never to set his foot on the Northern soil again. Iya Ahmed of Arubiewe area of the town is now surviving as a sales girl in a palm wine bar. She was prosperous in Kaduna, but that is now history. Also, Baba Ibeji of Sekoni area of Ogbomoso was once a proud owner of state of the art cars while in Kaduna. Today, even though he is jobless in Ogbomosho, he has vowed never to go back to the north.

While some of the returnees are now working in garri processing factories at Odo-Oba, a village near Ogbomoso, some others have gone to other towns in Yoruba land because they could not locate their family house at Ogbomoso.

This magazine learnt that about 5,000 Ogbomoso indigenes resident in Kaduna have returned to Ogbomoso. Some of the returnees are being taken care of by the Ogbomoso Parapo, the town's union and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the five local councils and the Muslim community. Some of the migrants are daily given food rations and relief materials.

For the Ogbomosos, famed for their great capacity to migrate out of their area in search of the Golden Fleece, fate is being cruel for a second time in 30 years. The first was the Ghana experience.

The nightmarish memories of the February riots are blamed for the hatred Southerners now have for Kaduna and other northern cities. Senior Evangelist Idowu Agbeleyanka told The News that after eight years in Kaduna, he has no desire to live there any longer. During the Kaduna riots, Agbeleyanka lost all personal belongings save the shirt and trousers he wears, when not in his white robe.

Sunday Owolayemo, 50, lived in Kaduna for almost 25 years until 27 March, when he set for home. The Sharia riots pauperised him. On Monday 21 February, he lost his two buildings, a private car, two commercial buses and other belongings. He and his family were able to survive because they sought refuge at the Army barracks. On 27 March, he hired a bus that conveyed his family and what was left of his belongings to Ibadan. He was convinced that no matter what happens, ... your people at home will not reject you, so the better if you let your legs talk for you before the next round of violence, Owolayemo told The News.

Eze Chukwu, an indigene of Awka-Etiti in Anambra State, who sells spare parts, did not wait for the Sharia riot to break out in Kano before he took off. His 10-year stay notwithstanding, he hired a lorry and moved out his entire family. Asked why he was leaving while there has been no Sharia riots in Kano, he replied, My brother, nobody will sympathise with you if your property is looted or burnt or you are killed. Just wait and see. It is only a matter of time and the Sharia issue will come up here.

Agbeleyanka, Owolayemo and Chukwu, represent the groups of southerners that have cut short their stay in what appears a 'foreign' land- victims of the Kaduna, Kano massacres, people who do not want to be caught napping when the fire of violence rages again.

According to officials of the Igbo Union in Kaduna, at least 100 successful Igbo traders hurriedly sold off their houses as of last February. The houses were sold for peanuts. Their Yoruba counterparts have also been left with no other choice.

In early March, Governor Abdullahi Kure of Niger State had to visit parks in Minna to beg southerners not to leave. He gave assurances about adequate security being put in place. Kure, who was earlier quoted to have said, Wallahi, Talahi, no going back on Sharia or rather I will resign, had backed out.

But assurances, like that of governor Kure, are not taken seriously and have been unable to dissuade many from leaving the northern states.

Venerable Peter Dambo, chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria, Zamfara State Chapter, in a telephone interview with The News confirmed that ladies were now being kidnapped in the state and that the Sharia phobia is affecting the state.

So many people have left the state, especially the non-indigenes for Abuja and Jos. In my church, the congregation is becoming fewer and fewer.

In Abeokuta, Ogun State, returnees are not finding it easy relocating after decades of living outside their ethnic base.

Madam Balogun, who now resides in the Sabo neighbourhood of Abeokuta after fleeing Kaduna, vowed never to visit Kaduna again, not to talk of living there. She is bitter that her 15 years of labour all went up in flames and to looters during the Sharia riots. Interestingly, Madam Amonotu Sunmonu, a.k.a. 'Iya Kano', a returnee after 21 years in Kano, will in the near future think of a return. 'Next time, I will be very careful when I return and will study the situation very well. Sounding rather nostalgic, she thinks her friends will want her back because they are missing her food.

Reports from Sagamu, in Ogun State, revealed that the council chairman actually dispatched two trailers to Kaduna three weeks ago to bring indigenes of Sagamu Local Government and that of Ogun State who are stranded back home from Kaduna and Kano. The council boss told this magazine that his support for the return of his people was informed by the extent of damage and deaths recorded during the Sharia riots and the retaliation by Kano people to the Sagamu riots.

Meanwhile, the Middle-Belt States are playing hosts to new settlers.

Investigation carried out in Jos revealed that the Easterners, mostly Igbo are taking refuge here, exploring new business opportunities.

Emeka Nnadi told The News that he ran away from Kaduna since February during the riot and could not go back because he had nothing there again. I have lost my shop to vandals and my few wares have been taken to my home town Mbaise in Anambra State, he said.

Chukwudife, a spare parts dealer in Zamfara said he had to relocate from Gusau to Abuja with the hope of establishing a business there. But he could hardly cope with the high cost of living in Abuja.

For Chukwudife, who came to Jos 15 March 2000, he has not really been able to start any real business. But to him, the peace of mind he now enjoys is a big deal.

Amadi, a supermarket dealer from Nnewi in Anambra State, told a pathetic story. He came to Jos 28 February 2000 and stayed with his kinsman in the Apata area of Jos. By 5 March, he travelled home to settle his family with the hope of coming back to face business squarely. On returning from home 9 March 2000, he ran into robbers who shot him on the shoulder. After recovering, he started a small business by operating a shop around Terminus Market. Within two weeks of opening the shop, a nearby shop caught fire and all my goods got burnt. Now I am a beggar, he recounted.

In Abuja, the new settlers are trying to eke out a living and start life all over again. The settlers mostly Eastern and Western Nigerians live on the outskirts of the outskirts. Accommodation costs in satellite towns of Kubwa and Gwagwalada are prohibitive.

Areas like Maraba, Yanyan, along Keffi in Nassarawa state, Toge, Lugbe and villages along Airport road, continue to provide abodes for the fleeing non-Northerners and Christians from Sharia prone Northern States.

Some have even gone as far as Bwari town, 25 kilometres away from the Federal Capital city. The influx of these new settlers is straining the security mechanism of the FCT. Crime is on the rise. So is nocturnal prostitution.

A hair stylist told TheNews: I have lived in Kano for many years. But since I would not want to allow myself be a sacrificial lamb for the Sharia, I had to leave the state. Abuja, no doubt is a tough place, but I have to still do something all the same.

Asked how she has been able to take care of her accommodation problem, she said: All I have, apart from my dresses is a dryer which I bought while in Kano. I have taken my dryer to where I am working now. For my sleeping, forget it, God is in control, she added.

In Kuje town, nine kilometres from the Airport Junction, many of the settlers have found a new home.

Mr. Samuel Adebayo from Kwara state who lives in a shack told The News that he came from Zamfara state two months ago following the religious crisis. I hired this piece of land where I put up this zinc structure. I hired the land for N30,000 for two years. Samuel, a mechanic and head of a family of six has since settled down and is practising his trade.

In virtually everywhere in Yoruba land the home coming has remained real. Osogbo is believed to have the largest concentration of the returnees-about 10,000 persons in the last two months. In nearby Inisa, this magazine's investigations revealed that no fewer than 4,000 indigenes of the town have returned home. In Offa, Ilorin, Kabba and Lokoja an equally impressive number have returned home. It's like sleeping with one eye. I cannot continue my life like that, said Folorunsho Esenyin, one of the returnees.

For returnees in Osogbo, making ends meet is turning out a big deal. It's like starting all over again. Many now rely on their aged parents to provide shelter and food.

To the returnees, the fate of children of school age is most challenging. While many of the children have had their education broken by the forced dislocation, others have had to enrol in schools far lower in standards than the ones they attended in Kaduna.

But eight-year old Olumide Ogundele who now lives with his grandmother in Offa, said she is happy at home. Kaduna is evil, she said, adding that my father said I will start school soon. I don't want to go back to Kaduna.

Olumide is not alone in the reasoning. While she derided the city, her father had returned there to explore the possibilities of selling his only building in the city.

The News gathered that many of the returnees who had landed properties in the town have been at a loss over what to do with such properties. Since the returnees appeared rigid in their decision not to live in the North again, either of two options appeared feasible. Such buildings could either be sold or kept for rent. Each of the options is the devil's alternative. The landlords were particularly worried about the ridiculous prices offered on such buildings. Pa Adeyemo for instance said he was not eager to sell his houses in Kaduna, because my friend was offered N10,000 for his bungalow. Pa Adeyemo himself had considered the two options the day the riot started.

I stood in front of my house. I assessed all the possibilities and I felt sorry for myself. It was a wrong decision to build a house there. I sincerely regret it. He deserves to exhibit such emotional attachment to the buildings. For one, he had toiled day and night to erect them only for him to be deprived of their usage. He noted that all his former tenants had evacuated the houses for cover, and so they offered no serious economic prospects.

But Adeyemo's prospects ebbs to insignificance when compared with the harrowing and rather nightmarish experience of Hamisa Bamidele who cheated death through naturally inexplicable means. Hamisa who narrated his ordeal to this magazine recalled that he was attacked in front of his residence at Rigasa by a band of Islamic vandals, who requested for his gun. I told them that I am Muslim and a mechanic so I have no connection with a gun. As I was talking another one just came from a distance and started cutting me with a cutlass. I fell down and became unconscious. Taking him for a dead man the rioters abandoned him after slashing his throat. Indeed, testimonies of that bitter encounter were written all over his body. Both deep cuts and light ones were visible on his stomach, the legs, back, head and his neck. The loss of an eye would forever remind him of that assault.

Particularly worried about the exodus is Makarfi of Kaduna State who told The News in his office in Kaduna that the Sharia riots was indeed a sad incident and was not the wish of the generality, ... but life must go on and we must be wary of those who come to instigate us. Whatever the religious or ethnic differences, we must live with one another. Makarfi not only agreed that it will take some time to restore confidence and trust, he expressed much enthusiasm about the 36-man committee consisting of 18 Christians and 18 Muslims set up by the 19 Northern governors to find out areas of agreement and disagreement on the Sharia controversy. He believes they will reach a consensus that will be acceptable to all the 19 Northern states. Worried about the aftermath of the riots and the grave economic and political implications it has for his state, he disclosed that government will soon ban almajiris hanging or begging in the streets, as soon as the blueprint for an inclusive education policy that will accommodate them is worked out. This, it is believed will take them off the streets and make it difficult for anyone to use them as willing tools for riots.

Makarfi lamented thus: I have come to realise that politics is being mixed with religion, ethnicity with politics and religion and this has got to stop, otherwise we will all be hijacked to a point that is not the point we had intended to go.

But if Makarfi, Kure and a few others are worried by the exodus, the Council of Ulamas and Dr. Bala Usman do not see it as a big deal. At a press conference in Kano, the council's spokesman, Dr. Datti Ahmed said the country was operating a democracy which allowed freedom of movement and choice of religion. So if any individual feels too uncomfortable with any set up established by the majority in any state, he has the right to choose another state.

For Datti, the purported agreement by the National Council of States in Abuja to revert to the existing penal code was an attempt to oppose their efforts, democracy and the federal system.

In an interview with The News, Datti dared the other big tribes to leave the North. He supported the call for a break up of Nigeria. Let everybody simply go his own way. In the North we feel it is the South that is dragging this country backward.

Dr. Bala Usman, radical ABU lecturer, in an interview with The Comet, called the bluff of the Igbo and Yoruba who continue to move out of the North. Bala Usman, exuding what critics called the typical Northern arrogance, equally dared the Igbo and Yoruba to go. He argued that a compelling economic interest will force many of them back to the North.

This idea of people running around here in Zaria or in other towns in the North that the Igbo are going back to other states is unrealistic. I said they should go, if they can't live here, let them go away. They will soon realise we need one another...

Indeed, this is the opinion shared by many Northerners. The same economic interests and the fact that we need one another has made it difficult for many Hausa businessmen and traders living in the East and Lagos to take a decision to leave.

It is not only the southerners who are moving. This magazine gathered that thousands of Muslims who are living in the Eastern part of the country are also moving to the North. Reports said that in Port- Harcourt, the Rivers State capital no fewer than 11 trucks fully loaded with the Northern Muslims left Port Harcourt for the North early March. The trucks which, this magazine learnt, took off from the military cantonment Bori Camp were escorted by heavily armed soldiers. The situation was also the same in Delta State. Chairman of the Hausa Quarters Central Mosque Committee in Warri, Mallam Hamz Mohammed told a Lagos based daily recently that 2,500 Northerners had fled Delta States. In Kaduna, as well as in other parts of the North where the Sharia law is expected to be fully implemented, a serious foreboding of an imminent violent Sharia combustion is palpable.

The immediate and long-term consequences of the massive return of non-northerners are indeed frightening. Already, the Nigerian Union has suffered multiple hiccups. Suddenly, cracks, hitherto patched up successfully for decades have magnified and the slide may have just begun. The calls for confederation, true federalism and a sovereign national conference find justification in our most recent history, amplified further by the Sharia massacre and the inflammatory comments of leading northern leaders.

The casualties at the end of this entire crisis will be the Nigerian citizens and the country's putative democracy.