by Alan Craig
"The British colonial masters took our land and handed it over to Muslim rulers... They gave us [non-Muslim groups] an inferior social and political role in the colonial hierarchical system in northern Nigeria, and that is exactly where we are right now." — Dr. Yusufu Taraki
It is a truth not universally acknowledged in Western politically-correct circles that Christianity has become the most persecuted religion in the world and that most of the oppression comes from the hands of Islam and in Muslim-majority areas.
Nowhere is this more true than in northern Nigeria where, in 2012, 70% of all Christians murdered worldwide were slain. Not only death but discrimination, too, is rife across the country's twelve northern Sharia states in which Christians and other minorities live with second-class dhimmi status, and with inferior rights to jobs, justice and worship.
Much of this inequity is Britain's responsibility, according to the keynote speaker at a recent human rights conference, a program of Gatestone Institute and organized by the Nigerian aid and advocacy charity Stefanos Foundation. 150 delegates from many minority groups met in Jos, a city on the fault-line between the mainly Christian south and the majority Muslim north, where, in September 2001, over a thousand people were reported killed in ethno-religious clashes. These clashes were followed by further major riots and fatalities in 2008 and 2010, and suicide-bomb attacks on Jos churches in February and March 2012.
Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigerian Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram, appears in a video communiqué claiming responsibility for an October 24, 2013 attack that killed 35 people.
The speaker was Dr. Yusufu Taraki, a mild-mannered academic who, given the keynote platform, talked with passion on the issues in which he has specialized. With a PhD in Social Ethics from Boston University, Massachusetts, and currently Professor of Theology and Social Ethics at Jos ECWA Theological Seminary (JETS), he was given a warm reception as he delivered his speech about the place of ethnic minority groups in northern Nigeria.
Nigeria was a British colony until 1960, during which time, he argued, "The British colonial masters took our land and handed it over to Muslim rulers... They gave us [non-Muslim groups] an inferior social and political role in the colonial hierarchical system in northern Nigeria, and that is exactly where we are right now."
When first published in his book The British Colonial Legacy In Northern Nigeria, this thesis earned Professor Turaki a British government ban from entering the UK.
Truth hurts even hardened British authorities, but Professor Turaki was bold enough in his speech to spread around the honors: "The worst kind of slavery in Africa was conducted by Arabs and Muslims," he said touching on another specialist subject. "The majority of African slaves went to the Middle East and Arab countries... not to the Caribbean, the US and Latin America." He advised the audience, for further information, to look into his book, Tainted Legacy: Islam, Colonialism and Slavery in Northern Nigeria.
Later, privately, he pointed out that, once British troops had conquered the northern Muslim forces of the Sokoto Caliphate and Kanem-Bornu Sultanate in 1902-1903 with the laudable objective of terminating their slave trade, the colonial administration and the defeated Fulani Muslim elite found they had much in common. They both had top-down authoritarian views of governance and an ordered elitist view of the world; they saw the many different non-Muslim groups across the north as pagan, uncivilized and inferior. "Read the memoir But Always As Friends by Sir Bryan Sharwood Smith, the last British governor of Northern Nigeria, to understand the British colonial outlook," Dr. Turaki said.
A corresponding Nigerian autobiography, My Life by Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna (traditional leader) of Sokoto and first Premier of the Northern Region after independence, also tellingly shows the Sardauna playing English cricket and Eton Fives. The English and Muslim Nigerian upper classes became close.
Working with the Fulani and Hausa Muslim elite, the colonialists instituted a system of "indirect rule" which was cheap and effective. A limited number of British administrators were placed at the top of the power structure; the educated Muslim elite were next; other Muslim groups were below them; and everyone else was at the bottom. Frequently the British would foist, say, a Fulani Muslim chief on a non-Muslim village or district, thereby disempowering the locals and creating an alienated hostile underclass.
Ironically, during colonial rule many of the pagan tribes converted to Christianity, which caused tension between British colonial authorities and British missionaries on the ground. The indigenous new Christians, actively supported by the missionaries, enjoyed "redemption lift" and began to assert a moral vitality, ethnic identity and spiritual independence that sometimes challenged the cozy Anglo-Islamic status quo.
But Nigerian Independence in 1960 saw the British depart, leaving behind unamended the unjust governing structure and unfettered Muslim hegemony across the north, which Professor Turaki describes as "internal colonialism." This was the seedbed of the crisis we see today.
The interventions in Libya and -- until thwarted by parliament -- Syria have amply demonstrated British Prime Minister David Cameron's liberal interventionism and his desire to reassert British power on the international stage. And, when it comes to issues such as gay rights, he has Commonwealth and former colonial countries specifically in his sights. To the fury of African leaders who want to protect their traditional values and cultures, he insists they must dance to his liberal gay agenda or risk losing overseas aid.
But Mr Cameron might do well to replace colonial arrogance with Christian humility; and he could, and should, acknowledge some British responsibility for the Nigerian crisis.
The Gatestone-Stefanos conference gave unique voice to minorities who, after half a century, continue to be marginalized across the north. Among other projects to rectify residual colonial injustice, the UK's Department for International Development (DfID) and the British High Commission in Nigeria should consider giving strong moral and financial support to this exceptional grassroots initiative.
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