A country of ethnic nationalities can only evolve into nation states from the resolve of its various peoples to make it so. From my Enugu experience, I learnt the crucial lesson that we are who we decide to be. The political leaders and people of Enugu have decided to be one, irrespective of ethnic differences and they have achieved this…
Attending a wedding ceremony in the holy month of Ramadan is rare for a typical Muslim because Ramadan is usually observed in sober piety and abstention from all worldly pleasures, including food, drinks and carnal relations with the opposite sex from dawn to dusk for twenty nine or thirty days. It’s a period of spiritual renewal when one reflects on Allah’s mercies on mankind, remember’s his majesty through the constant recitation of his words, as contained in the holy Quran and humbling oneself in repentance for one’s transgressions. The month of Ramadan is also characterised by voluntary nights of supplication to the Almighty Allah by Muslims seeking his intervention in their affairs. Therefore, it was a departure from the norm, when I hopped into a waiting vehicle with two very distinguished Nigerians representing Kogi State at the federal House of Representatives, Tajudeen Ayo Yussuf and Mohammed Kabir Ajanah, heading for the eastern Nigeria city of Enugu, on the special invitation of Pat Asadu, a senior ranking member of the House of Representatives from Enugu State to attend the wedding ceremony of a mutual friend. Enugu is home for me and I looked anxiously towards the usual generously warm reception I am usually accorded there. I was not disappointed and was in for a more pleasant surprise.
Our search for a complete set of cuff links with the compliment of button accessories that would match our richly embroidered babanriga took us round the city of Enugu to some of the leading supermarkets, without success. Just as we were about giving up on the search, in order to return to our hotels and get set for the church service and wedding reception, Hon. Ajanah came up with an idea. “Is there a Hausa community in Enugu”, he asked Casmir, our tour guide, who is also a legislative aide to Hon. Asadu. “Yes sir!” He answered with a glow in his eyes that portrayed excitement. We made a detour and went towards an area located off Ogui road known as “Ama Hausa.” This predominantly Arewa settlement is said to be over a century old, with a number of generations of families that were born, bred and are permanently residing in Enugu. I was surprised to find such large population of Arewa Muslim men, women and children in Enugu on the eve of Eid al-Fitr. I had expected a deserted settlement, as most inhabitants would have moved North to celebrate the end of Ramadan festivities. The only explanation for this is the fact that for the Arewa community of Ama Hausa, Enugu is not simply home, but also the only home they have ever known; a home they have lived in all their lives and contributed immensely to its socio-economic life without let or hinder. They can be rightly described as Arewa indigenes of Enugu, because their settlement is permanent on their own acquired landed properties.
From the sales of the cuff links and button accessories, we went in search of fabrics, food items, locations of cattle breeding and operation of slaughter slabs. The vast business activities of the Arewa community of Enugu is a testimony of the strength in our diversity as a nation. The money market of Enugu is a near monopoly of the Arewa indigenes of Enugu, with their countless bureau de change operation outlets in the city. Also, their mastery of the Igbo language is an indication of the level of the integration of the Arewa community into their host communities. The looks on the faces of the men, women and children while carrying out their brisk businesses showed confidence in the unity of their fatherland, without any anxiety over the possibility of the break up of the country. You could almost swear they are unperturbed about the separatists’ agitations of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB and the reactionary quit notice on the Igbo community living in the North. They know, as much as all patriotic Nigerians do, that what binds us is more than what separates us.
The high point of this socio-political integration was when Suleiman Ibrahim, a member of the Muslim community was elected as councillor of Ezema, one out the three wards that constitutes Ibagwa Aka town. The current vice chairman and organising secretary of the PDP in Amebo/Hausa/Yoruba ward are also individuals from the Muslim community.
This year, the celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid fitr in Enugu can be compared to the celebration of Christmas in the Christian majority state because of the full participation of the state government under the leadership of Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi in the festivity. The governor began the celebration with the hosting of his visiting Muslim friends and some indigenes of Enugu State at the Lion Building to a lavish Iftar. At the dinner, the governor revealed his plans to celebrate the end of Ramadan festivities with the Arewa indigenes of Enugu State. For a man who is reputed for fidelity to his words, Governor Ugwuanyi kept a date with the Muslim citizens of his State when he visited the Enugu central mosque to celebrate with them on this very special occasion.
The next day, the Eid al-Fitr celebrations moved to the Nsukka axis of the State, as Hon. Pat Asadu, who is one of the many consistent voices for national unity from the South-East, hosted the Muslim community in the two local governments of Igboeze and Nsukka, which he represents at the National Assembly to a grand celebration. This was no ordinary commemoration as it was a observance of unity in diversity as a nation. Hon. Asadu is a unifying figure for the diverse peoples of his federal constituency. Ibagwa Aka town in Igboeze local government is home to the largest Igbo speaking Muslim community in the entire South-East region. The oldest mosque in South-East Nigeria, which is about a century old, is situated in Ibagwa Aka town. The Arewa community in Ibagwa Aka has not only been assimilated into the indigenous ethnic Igbo Muslim community, but has been socio-politically integrated. The high point of this socio-political integration was when Suleiman Ibrahim, a member of the Muslim community was elected as councillor of Ezema, one out the three wards that constitutes Ibagwa Aka town. The current vice chairman and organising secretary of the PDP in Amebo/Hausa/Yoruba ward are also individuals from the Muslim community.
I agree completely with Chidi Odinkalu when wrote, “no nation is a fact of nature”. A country of ethnic nationalities can only evolve into nation states from the resolve of its various peoples to make it so. From my Enugu experience, I learnt the crucial lesson that we are who we decide to be. The political leaders and people of Enugu have decided to be one, irrespective of ethnic differences and they have achieved this; little wonder that their diversity is celebrated by all as a source of pride and strength. The current ethnic groupings that we all fit into were as a result of backward integration of diverse peoples who shared even the least cultural commonalities, as identified by European social anthropologists. Today, we only need to resolve to loosen our rigid ethnic identities by focusing on our similarities and forgoing our differences and embark on the forward integration of our diverse peoples in order to evolve into a united nation state that can survive the new world order.