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Weep not, Kano, be innovative

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By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

The Kano bombings of Friday, 19 January 2012, could not have come as a surprise.
It is not the first time that Kano and Maiduguri would share the same fate. The early 1980s saw the Maitatsine religious crisis spread from Kano to Maiduguri, Gombe and Yola. This time, it reversed. Coming three decades later with its epicenter in Maiduguri, Boko Haram has spread to Kano.
The two are the most vibrant commercial cities in the far North. And not by coincidence, they are also the leading cities in Qur'anic tradition. Speaking in historical terms, they shared borders and there are large populations of Kanuri in the old Kano State. They are twins, you can say, in many respects.
While the people of Kano and indeed the entire country commiserate with the victims of the attack, and while the injured are still on hospital bed hoping for quick recovery, I feel not enough attention on the future is given in our commentaries. Will last Friday's attack and its ongoing aftershocks be the last to visit Kano or will the second most populous city in the country share the fate of its twin sister?
The motive of Boko Haram and the reaction of government to the attacks suggest to me that Kano is likely to share the destiny of Maiduguri. More attacks should be expected. They are likely to come with no less, but if not more, degree of devastation. This is not a prayer but a prudent, albeit brutal, reading of the situation. It is the most likely scenario that needs to be prepared for or, if possible, avoided all together.
Boko Haram has given its reasons for the attack. It said it was predicated on the failure of the authorities to release innocent members of the sect detained from and after the 2009 crisis. Massive arrests, it said, took place in Wudil. Recently, also, added Boko Haram, many have been quietly arrested in the Kano itself without any trial.
The organization said it put off attacking the city many times before due to the intervention of some ulama it respects. But when neither of the demands was met, it ran out of patience and finally decided to go for what is correctly described as its biggest operation ever.
If previous arrests instigated the attack, as Boko Haram said, it will be difficult to see how the attack in itself would lead to amity with the government. Naturally, more arrests were made after the attack, and more will be made, in addition to a large dose, if not an overdose, of a cocktail of both preemptive and retributive measures. The killing of a Kantin Kwari merchant and his wife and the arrest of his children point at the extent that government would go with its policy of extermination, depicting another striking similarity with Maiduguri.
From experience, Boko Haram will not be cowed by such measures. They only serve to provoke it further. Unless a wiser approach is taken, last Friday's attack was the conjugation that will endlessly replicate the Maiduguri crisis DNA in Kano. I have not lost sight of the significance of the label given to the YouTube video released by its leader, Imam Abubakar Shekau, few hours ago: "Sako Game Da Harin Kano 1." In the caption is an implicit message that there might be Kano 2! The content of the video did not leave a better ground for hope either.
What should Kano resort to? Will it choose to depend on the overwhelmed federal government, in spite of the assurances of the new IGP, or would its leaders be innovative in following a complementary or, if need be, different path to peace?
Unlike Maiduguri, however, Kano has a small window of hope. If it is true that there are ulama in Kano who the sect hold at high esteem and whose reverence was instrumental in wading off earlier plans to attack the city, then the opportunity should be used to ensure that Kano is spared the crippling fate of Maiduguri.
In the pursuit of this goal, I advise that Kano must not solely rely on the federal government, whose extermination policy has only worsened matters nationwide. The Chief of Defence Staff just recently reiterated that government will not negotiate with Boko Haram. This high horse of government stupidity will not spare Kano the spectre of destruction that is staring at it. It will only destroy the city, to the delight of some.
The state government must quickly recruit the support of the Kano Emirate, the ulama of Kano as well as its businessmen to dialogue with the group. This should be done silently without courting publicity. Some non-Kano residents, like the Chief of Defence Staff, may think this is abominable. But think of it objectively. Is negotiation too big a price for peace and what it preserves of lives, property and businesses?
Let us examine the prospects of the government's military option briefly.
The most obvious thing that will happen is that the army will become increasingly drafted to Kano streets as the attacks continue. Their mandate will equally continue to expand, each time pouching from the authority of the state government, as we have seen in Plateau and Maiduguri, with state of emergency declared in all the local governments of the city.
The state will be spending chunks of its allocation to finance the military presence on its streets. It will be a web from which Kano will find difficult to extricate itself, moreso, when the misery of the city will mean a fortune for people who will exploit the situation to their advantage, diverting billions of security expenditure - which is a quarter of our federal budget - into their bank accounts.
The people who will suffer most will be the ordinary citizens whose businesses and livelihood will be impaired. When achaba is banned, for example, as in Maiduguri and Yobe state, a million commercial motorcyclists shuttling the streets of Kano will be jobless and their two million dependents will face serious hardships. And so with other businesses. The misery, in the end, will be unimaginable.
Markets, as it happened in Maiduguri, will also be at the risk of getting destroyed by fake soldiers who will cordon them, disperse their traders and set them ablaze immediately. Businessmen will be sent letters containing bullets demanding millions of naira or face death. Those who would like to cripple the long standing record of Kano's economic success will have a golden opportunity. They will carry their operations and push the blame to Boko Haram.
At home, families will be subjected to abuse. A single explosion will justify the ransacking of the entire neighbourhood by soldiers, killing the innocent, raping the women and shooting the men. Residents of the city will be forced to abandon it. Where will those millions go?
In the end Kano will be a ghost of its present state...if it solely relies on the federal government...if it commits the mistake of its twin sister, Maiduguri.
It must pursue a different path, wherever and whenever possible. It must not be overwhelmed by its tears, which at best preoccupies it with the past incident and prevents it from preparing for the future. But unlike Maiduguri, Kano must be ready to take its destiny in its own hands. Durkusawa wada ba gajiyawa ba ne.
As I was about to conclude this piece, Reuters reported that the President has confessed that the military option is not a solution, that his government is ready to dialogue if Boko Haram "will come out." Kano should not wait for Boko Haram to "come out" before it finds peace. It should take its own initiative. Who knows? Its effort, if it succeeds, may open the way for government to follow.
Finally, I hereby condole to the families of the victims that were killed and pray for fast recovery of all the injured.
Weep not, Kano. Your great people must take heart and take their destiny into their own hands.
As the poet al-Mutanabbi once put it, Innal 'azeema 'alal 'azeemi sabouru: Great people endure great calamity.
Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde is renow.ned columnist based in Jos

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