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The Revolution Won’t Start from the North—Or Anywhere

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi Northern Nigeria’s cascading descent into the abyss of anarchy, particularly with...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Northern Nigeria’s cascading descent into the abyss of anarchy, particularly with the ongoing indiscriminate abductions of moneyed aristocrats in the region, has stimulated a flurry of prognostications that “the revolution” will start from there; that it foretells the nascence of a revolt from below; that the forgotten, despised, and hungry almajirai are striking back. That’s wishful, erroneous thinking.

The emerging picture of the demographic profiles of the kidnappers that have been tormenting northern Nigeria does not square with the image of distraught, economically disaffiliated almajirai. They are former herders, from within and outside Nigeria, who have lost their cattle for any number of reasons, and who have taken to mindless, avaricious, and self-interested banditry. Anyone who expects the seeds of a revolution to sprout from the thoughtless brigandage of these sorts of insensate philistines must be clueless about what revolution entails.

Disparate strands of resentments might coalesce into a mass resistance, then blossom into a protest, and culminate in a rebellion without ever achieving the status of a revolution. In a revolution, a vanguard takes ownership of the rebellion and uses it as a ladder to climb to substantive power. The kidnappings in the far north are not a mass resistance. Nor are they a self-conscious, systematic protest, or even a rebellion. So they have not a snowball’s chance in hell of ever transforming into a revolution.

The northern hoi polloi who bear the real brunt of Buhari’s cruelly strangulating and escalating incompetence won’t resist, protest, rebel, much less revolt, because they have been socialized into accepting their economic suffering with equanimity. The only thing that rouses their passions, that animates them to mindless violence, is religion.

You can smolder the Northern masses with economic asphyxiation, as Buhari is doing now, and they would make peace with their fate with listless acquiescence, but blaspheme their religion, or even icons of their religion, and they would rise up in arms and murder indiscriminately.  Appeals to religion is the easiest way to ignite the raw emotions and solidarity of the northern masses. The region’s elite know that intimately and habitually exploit it to perpetuate themselves in power.

With a few honorable exceptions, the region’s clerical elites, known as the Ulama, are in bed with the political elites to keep the masses perpetually in a state of suspended animation. Amid the inexorably intensifying breakdown of security in the region, compromised clerical elites are also intensifying fraudulent theological rationalizations for the rise of kidnappings— and, of course, exculpating Buhari of responsibility for this.

Many people were scandalized when the Chief Imam of the Presidential Villa, Sheikh Abdulwaheed Sulaiman, was reported to have said, on May 8, that the widening and deepening of insecurity in the North was a “test from God.” The imam didn’t implore Buhari, who sat by him, to devise creative ways to contain the insecurity that has made people prisoners in their homes; he instead shifted the burden to the very people who are traumatized by a problem that is aggravated by the president’s incompetence. He beseeched beleaguered Northerners “for repentance and prayers to avert the current security challenges confronting the nation.”

The Aso Rock Imam’s exasperatingly bald-faced theological fraud is unfortunately the template the vast majority of the Ulama in Northern Nigeria deploy when they protect leaders who feather their nests. And it’s intended to keep the masses in check and to anesthetize them into not just accepting the incompetence of their leaders as an inescapable divine design but to bear responsibility for it.

In other words, Northern masses are fed the sterile, mendacious theological staple that the avoidable tragedies that befall them are not the consequence of the ineptitude of their leaders but a product of divine punishment for the iniquities of the masses. So in addition to the trauma of living with the disabling dysfunctions created by their elites, they are blackmailed by cold, calculating, conscienceless clerical aristocrats into internalizing moral guilt for their conditions.

My good friend Sheikh Dr. Ali Isa Pantami is now the object of Twitter attacks by young educated northerners who remind him that his cold detachment from the horrors that afflict northern Muslims today is such a disconcerting contrast from his erstwhile persistent, shrill, and lachrymose attacks on former President Goodluck Jonathan from his pulpit. In a widely circulated audio tape, he tearfully told Jonathan that, as president and commander-in-chief, he should take responsibility for the daily mass murders of Muslims in the North.

Today, more Northern Muslims are dying and being violently kidnapped than at any time in Nigeria’s entire history, but Sheikh Pantami hasn’t placed the blame for this on Buhari in whose government he now works as DG of NITDA. He defended his curious silence by pointing out that because he has access to the president, he routinely reminds him, in private, of his responsibility to secure the lives of people he swore to protect.

I don’t doubt the Sheikh whom I have known to be an embodiment of righteousness and honor. Nevertheless, he has rendered himself vulnerable to charges of weak convictions. It means, at best, that his earnest, impassioned harangues against Goodluck Jonathan were actuated by his lack of access to the man. In other words, if he had had access to Jonathan, as he does to Buhari now, he wouldn’t have expressed any public outrage over the mass murders of Muslims in the North.

While that reality diminishes his moral standing, I can understand it. Access to people in the corridors of power tends to blunt revulsion toward them. That is why people who want to stay true to their convictions should avoid dalliance with wielders of power. Power does not brook opposition within its reaches; it coopts, contaminates, or neutralizes.

Since 2016, at least three prominent people have arranged a meeting between Buhari and me, and I politely declined. I also refused to speak with Atiku Abubakar and spurned his emissary’s invitation to meet with him when he visited the United States in January 2019. I make no claims to being an unblemished, nonpareil moral superior, but nothing is more important to me than my independence of thought. When you gain privileged access to people in power whose feet you hold to the fire, you can’t sustain your independence because they will strategically coopt and silence you.

Now, if the revolution can’t come from the North because the masses of the people there are under the grip of a corrupt clerical establishment, is there hope from other parts of the country? None that I can see. Much of the rest of Nigeria is beset by a different iteration of the same problem in the North.

The deeper the nation descends into the nadir of despair, the more fatalistic, superstitious, and pre-scientific many people tend to become. Nigerian Christian Pentecostalism has particularly predisposed many people in the South to believe that they can “pray” all their problems away, that they don’t need to take their destinies into their own hands. It’s akin to what anthropologists call cargo cult mentality, that is, the superstitious belief, first recorded among pre-modern tribes in Melanesia, that all the goodies of this world will magically and effortlessly appear because people wish it into existence through staid rituals.

That’s not the way the world works. Any society where the vast majority of the people recoil in fatalistic resignation while their oppressors have a field day will be stuck in protracted infancy. Revolutionary tremors are good for every society every once in a while.


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    1. A beautiful scratch on the surface of the Politico-Socio-Economic Quandary we are experiencing in Nigeria. The only window that presents a detailed overview of the goings-on in the Nigerian state is the window of the system. All problems, issues and challenges stem from Systemic Error, Disorder And Dysfunction.

  2. Awesome write up......Senior you rock. May your ink never go dry.

  3. You have provided an informative and enlightening analysis of the political dynamics in northern Nigeria but ignorance and religion are only the means of oppression. They are not the cause or ultimate source of oppression. Ignorance and religion do not explain whose interests are served by oppression or why that oppression is maintained.

    Your focus on Buhari and the ruling elite doesn't identify the overarching influence of imperialism in Nigeria, doesn't point out the fact that Buhari and our so-called elite are a comprador class - nothing but traitors and agents of imperialism.

    They are the 21st-century version of those African kings who sold their own people during the Slave Trade.

    1. We can not take imperialism out of the whole equation but for now let's implicate ignorance and systematic oppression.

  4. "Any society where the vast majority of the people recoil in fatalistic resignation while their oppressors have a field day will be stuck in protracted infancy. Revolutionary tremors are good for every society every once in a while." Since I have almost nothing to add, I choose to quote your concluding paragraph. A certain Igbo former Nigerian diplomat in South Africa, gunning to be Governor of Abia State has sold this fatalism as an anti-IPOB mantra. What won't our people do for fleeting power? On a lighter note, it would seem as if your fans are staying up Friday night awaiting your Notes From Atlanta. This matter is serious!

  5. Wow!Wallahi Prof. your argument is so compelling that cannot be reputed.

  6. This is classic as usual. Please keep your independence and good works. This may not be financially rewarding, but you are held in high esteem by majority of your followers.

  7. We can not take imperialism out of the whole equation but for now let's implicate ignorance and systematic oppression.

  8. You hit the point on the head. No dilly dallying. Ride on Prof.

  9. How many bandits are operating in the far north? Is it Boko Haram the Herders or the almajaris. This is serious insecurity;incompetence and a failure in leadership. Please do not blind fold us that you have not seen revolution taking place any where in this contraption call Nigeria. Religion as an opium of the populace can be used to overshadow the north but the Biafrian Igbos are moving on. Keep a date with us. Cheers

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  11. Even n the much more civilized countries where we have Seen Revolution taken place, were all chaired/led by their civil right activists. Where are our own renowned CSOs and Activists? They only make noise on Dailies and TVs but end up collecting their "Brown Envelops" behind the back doors and business as usual. Looking forward to your thought on breaking of Kano Emirate.

  12. What about the West? We are not beholden to the spiritual delusions of the rest of the country.Can we spearhead the revolution?

  13. Wonderful piece, this is a s naked truth which they won't listen till it's too late, there is nothing you haven't said before and still saying it but one may surprise what the hell is right inside our leaders heads.
    Prof. We are indeed waiting for your analytical writeup concerning the security situations and farming activity in northern part of Nigeria.

  14. Great write up as usual. Only thing is, the realization that there's no hope for revolution in Nigeria is in itself hopeless.

  15. Great write up, ride on prof. The weak among us are manipulating us with their impunistic styles of governance. God dey.

  16. The Boko Haram insurgency is a "revolution" of sorts in northern Nigeria,insofar as its explicit aim is to overthrow the existing corrupt, infidel regime of the Nigerian state, although Allah (in whose name they want to establish a caliphate) seems to have abandoned them. Like ISIS in the Middle East, Boko Haram's territory has now shrunk to almost zero, thanks to the relentless pursuit of the Nigerian military, which is also dealing a blow to the banditry in the North West.

    Revolution in the far North could only come about if there were a restructuring of the country in such a way that the region were excised from the rest of the federation (as Major Gideon Orka had demanded in his coup during Babangida's military regime). In such a scenario, as easy cash deceased to flow from the federation coffers, and the internal contradictions of sharia became more manifest, the talakawa would become increasingly restive and embark on a kind of "Arab Spring" revolt in the region, aided considerably by Salafist and Shi'te opportunists. Their triumph would thus vindicate Boko Haram's starry-eyed millennial project.


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