To say Nigeria is a polarised country is an understatement. Every little issue no matter how trivial, is a subject of debate along whatever fault lines. We don’t as a people find any issue worth promoting unity and good governance interesting. That is why the country doesn’t have universal values that the citizens respect. The values we all seem to share and hold dear across the ethnics, regions and religions’ divide are poverty and bad governance. We don’t complain about them. We celebrate them instead. We are comfortable with how much we suffer or badly we are governed.
Everything is, sadly, reduced to, and seen from, political, regional, religious and ethnic premises. That is why you hardly differentiate between sentiment and principle, or statesman and Mai shayi. Or least separate literate from illiterate; politician from thug, whenever such issue arises; because it’s an extreme social communicable disease that afflicts almost every segment of our national life.
Last week, John Kerry, America’s secretary of state was in Nigeria, ostensibly to discuss fight against terrorism among other related issues thus met with Sultan of Sokoto and some Northern governors (note, not all, some). Some voice as supposedly uniting as CAN’s, found it enough reason to fry religious nerves at regional level, and at national, as usual, some played in addition to that, the regional as well as ethnic cards; accusing Sultanate and entire North of conspiring with America, of all countries, to ISLAMISE NIGERIA.
By sheer coincidence however, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, visited Africa for the first time and his destination was Lagos, Nigeria. He conducted some activities in the course of which he expressed his love for or should I say INTEREST in Hausa language which he said he incorporated into the list of languages Facebook users can choose from. This is purely to promote his business interest and nothing more. But some people have already made issue out of it. This time saying that, Mark, being American as Kerry, has came to accomplish the mission embark upon earlier by Kerry. Never mind the visits are different: Kerry’s was a state visit, representing America’s interest, while Mark’s was entirely to promote his business’.
This point could have make sense to them, but then they decided to look the other way. Sooner Mark made that statement about Hausa, they occupied his Facebook page to register their grievances that the CEO’s choice of language has not reflected NATIONAL CHARACTER. Poor Mark. He didn’t know Nigerians. He thought they were happy about his comment on one of Nigerian languages therefore demanding more be included. He hence only promised them to have more languages included as Facebook expand. But Mark didn’t choose Hausa because he loved it over other Nigerian languages or out of love for its speakers first and foremost but purely on business ground, they should understand. And including it in Facebook languages was not a breaking news, it has been included and in use months ago I think. Mark’s thought was; millions of Hausa speakers aren’t still on Facebook because of language barrier mainly. If he therefore bridges the gap, the number he will have on board is only imaginable. To Mark, Hausa means money.
Hausa, to this people’s note, has been international language of trade and diplomacy for centuries. From 15th century upward to the last decade of the 18th, Hausa land remained the major centre of trade and scholarship in West Africa. The impacts the people and the language therefore had on the region and beyond were enormous and documented by renowned scholars and have continued to attract the interest of researchers across the globe (you can visit Ado Ahmed Gidan Dabino’s Instagram page) or read Hausa Factor in West Africa by Prof Mahadi Adamu. “Hausa is the most studied language in Africa” said my linguist friend, Jalaludeen Maradun.
In the 19th century when the region went through major political reorganisation, it affected the whole of West Africa yet again. The body literature then produced as a result in the land enjoyed wide circulation and served as catalyst for reforms in other parts of West Africa. Hausa people and their language because of their historical antecedents have established settlements in different parts of the world where they had contact with before; which is the reason why Hausa people are not only found in Nigeria but in other West African states. Paul E. Lovejoy has documented that in his famous book “The Caravan of Kola…”. To educate self on this, one can just close his eyes and pick any literature talking about Trans Sahara trade or Hausa, like the edited work of Anne Haour and Benedetta Rossi, Being and Becoming Hausa. Anybody traversing west African markets and institutions of higher learning will also appreciate how language of international trade Hausa is.
Facebook isn’t the only international platform that included Hausa on its list of programmes. BBC, VOA, RFI, Radio Iran, Radio China International, Radio DuthWelle, Google, Keyboard, Android and many other such world giants have of recent or decades ago Hausa segment in their operations. I was reading a report saying that Hausa is included amongst the languages that Friday sermon at Makka, Saudi Arabia, will be translated to. Hausa to many doesn’t only represent language but business opportunity among other things, and if some of these people complaining have businesses they run, they should look at Hausa (people and land) as a business opportunity not just as language. This made my teacher Prof Dahiru Yahaya to opine that “…Hausa is culturally ever expanding”.
Though the Hausas have not protested why Mark visited Lagos instead of Kano or Kaduna or Katsina or Sokoto (and eat Danwake) since it’s their language that Facebook recognised and is making huge money from, but at the time we spend great amount of time and energy discussing Facebook’s choice of Hausa, the news coming from Brazil has it that the president, Bilma Rousseff, was impeached on budget manipulation charges. Trust Nigerians, instead this be our topic of discussion; making us to begin thinking of how we will get our own version of budget manipulators not only removed from office but punished, we are at each other’s throat over an issue that if we have basic knowledge of West African history or just current affairs would not have been an issue in the first place.
Instead also to look at Mark’s visit as an opportunity to begin to correct some misconceptions about, and misrepresentations of, Nigeria thus promote the country as the best place for doing business and tourism destination in Africa; citing examples of Mark’s free walk on Lagos’ streets, his eating of Nigerian delicacies and comments on Hausa and what potential Nigeria holds for IT business, we drifted back to what we are known best at— shouting match over useless issues that only divide us further and add no value to our GDP. And our media except of course the ever vibrant (often for the wrong reason) SOCIAL MEDIA maintain a loud silence over it. They should have taken control of the narrative. One wonders where we even find the energy to debate fiercely in this time of recession.
Welcome to Nigeria where the citizens never, at least so far, find a common voice over corruption and associated matters. If it were about parading our budget padding Maradonas, some of us would have filled streets, demanding that their son or daughter be “LIVE ALONE”.
Twitter Handle : @BabaBala5