By Farooq A. Kperogi
I perfectly understand the mass sensation of powerlessness and hopelessness that a vast number of Nigerians feel about the attack. For one, it dramatizes the impotence of the military in the face of domestic nihilistic and terroristic violence. For another, it removes any ounce of illusion that Nigeria’s premier military university is training a corps of officers to defend the nation.
An institution that is putatively equipped to fight and contain external aggression but which failed to repel an abduction of its members by domestic terrorists on its own premises can’t protect the nation. It’s like bearding the lion in his den and living to tell the story. That’s not a lion to dread and trust to protect the animal kingdom. That not even one kidnapper was shot and demobilized throughout their operation is indicative of the emasculation of not just the military but the whole country.
Apart from Aisha Buhari’s claim that she’d relocated to the United Arab Emirates because of “insecurity” in the Presidential Villa, on May 10, the Peoples Gazette reported that "armed men" had "invaded" the Aso Rock residences of Ibrahim Gambari, Buhari's Chief of Staff, and Abdullahi Maikano, an Aso Villa admin officer, and made away with "valuable assets."
The presidency all but confirmed the authenticity of the story (after one of its officials initially predictably called it “fake news”) but spiced it up with the mandatory official falsehood statements from the government must have by insisting that the breach was only a "foolish attempt" at burglary. In Nigeria’s more than 60 years of existence, there had never been any record of a “foolish attempt” at burglarizing the residences of key government officials in the Presidential Villa.
In my May 15, 2021 comments in the aftermath of this incident, I wrote:
“If even the most fortified place in the country isn't secure enough for Buhari's wife to stay in—and his Chief of Staff is vulnerable to armed raids in it—where's safe?
“It’s worse when the person who should be most concerned about this isn’t even alive enough to know what’s happening around him, much less what’s happening in the country.”
So, the invasion of the Nigerian Defense Academy is only an outgrowth of much worse security breaches in the very seat of power—and elsewhere. Even the characteristically restrained Sultan of Sokoto has said that abductions and murders of people are grossly underreported by the media. Most people know this, but it takes courage for a traditional ruler like the Sultan to voice it openly.
This regime has spectacularly failed in “the first and only object of” its existence and has lost the moral, and even legal, justification to continue. Any government that fails to protect life and property has no reason to exist, and opposing it is a moral imperative.
After every elite wedding in Hausaphone Muslim Northern Nigeria, social media chatter always obsesses over how the conduct of the weddings negate the ethos of Sharia and how the anti-poor, hypocritical moral police called Hisbah chooses to look the other way when these transgressions occur but wax all holier-than-thou and aggressively self-righteous when poor people as much as wear a hair style.
The consequence-free violation of Sharia moral codes by the children of northern Nigeria’s political and cultural elites has caused people to say that the rich and the powerful are exempt from the self-denials of Sharia and that Hisbah is merely a gaggle of sickeningly sanctimonious and spineless thugs.
This is a legitimate critique, but beyond the obvious hypocrisy of differential moral codes for the rich and the poor in Muslim northern Nigeria, I’m seeing an intriguing quest for social homogeneity between the children of Northern Muslim elites (who are typically culturally insular) and Southern Nigeria. This has a lot of implications for the future of Nigeria.
And because they are immunized against the sanctions of Hibah by their wealth, social status, and symbolic capital, scions of Arewa’s highest social hierarchy are instituting a new culture that bridges the distance between the North and the South.
A new generation of Nigerians, mostly from the South, is generating a vast repertoire of national identity symbols in songs, dances, cinematic experiences, and other forms of cultural expressions that the rest of the word has come to regard as uniquely Nigerian. Because of the time-honored political and cultural tensions between the north and the south, it was always thought that the north wasn’t partaking in the emergent southern-inflected Nigerian songs, dances, and cultural practices that the world increasingly recognizes as distinctively Nigerian.
I didn’t reckon that the relative cultural provincialism of the far North would loosen and find common grounds with the South. The surprising fluency that the children of rich northern Muslims show about modern southern culture during weddings shows that the structural integrity of the hermetically sealed cultural silos of the North is giving way.
This is particularly significant because it involves the elites of the north who can—and do—subvert the region’s appointed and unappointed moral police without consequences. In conservative societies, cultures often evolve through the osmotic pressures of elite emulation, that is, through the conscious and unconscious aping of the ways of the cultural elites who enjoy symbolic and social prestige. With time, even the moral police will give up and take on new battles.
So, for me, if there is any redeeming feature in the decadent, Sharia-defying weddings among the upper crust of northern Nigeria, it is that, in spite of itself, Nigeria is self-fashioning in ways that transcend its hitherto rigid cultural boundaries.