Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Against The Evil State: My Response to Rabo Abdulkarim

Richard Ali {c}


Last week, during the ANA National Convention held at Gusau, Zamfara State, I had the opportunity of interacting with the Kano State Censorship Board’s DG, Alhaji Rabo Abdulkarim. We met at a forum within the convention where he set out to justify his widely publicised agenda to censor all authors in Kano. Five persons spoke before I did, including the poet-intellectual Odia Ofeimun and the academic, al-Bishak from the Nassarawa State University. I believe that forum has given me the necessary knowledge, hence the conviction, to publicly stand by my views expressed then and now in this article.

The entire thrust of Rabo’s justification of censorship in Kano is religious precedent – that somehow, in the works of Kano writers, immorality has been promoted and that this is contrary to Islam which is the dominant religion in the State, hence the need for his censorship. The actual, surely negligible, percentage of such anti-moral, religion-insensitive work does not interest me. The issue is that Rabo and the Kano State Government evidently see themselves in the office of the ulama, priests and imams to whom are entrusted the preservation of religious precept and its moral component. Among other things, Director General Rabo Abdulkarim sought to point out that “even in religion”, censorship existed with aspects of religious text being suppressed on the instructions of God Himself. So he, Rabo, was merely the latest in a long line of “censors” who trace their lineage to God Himself! THIS IS VERY VERY DANGEROUS - the sociologic mindset underlying it is the same kernel that sprouts the Evil State. The second half of the 19th Century saw such a kernel, that errant strain of social philosophy called Fascism, and its kinfolk; Socialism and Communism. The tragic of the 20th Century, including two world wars, is its rightful bloom. Now, in 21st Century Nigeria, such a sinister preamble faces us.

When the State arrogates to itself the moral suasion of Religion, seeking to enforce this arrogation by instruments of legal suasion such as the Kano State Censorship Law, the State has simply affirmed Mussolini’s text - the keystone of the Fascist doctrine is its conception of the State, of its essence, its functions, and its aims. For Fascism the State is absolute, individuals and groups relative.This would no doubt be well and good if such a State were foundationally a fascist State. The Kano State government and its minions, however, were all elected under the 1999 Nigerian Constitution which declares that the country can only be governed “democratically”, meaning by the Rule of Law in government/power relations and respecting Fundamental Human Rights in practice. The State’s arrogation of Religion is clearly the first step in the creation of the Evil State in which “individual and groups” will be relative – contrary to rudimentary democracy. In a democracy, thus in Nigeria, “individuals and groups” must be FREE – freedom of thought, action, even the freedom to life contra-defines Fascism, they are the gene characteristic of Democracy.

In our long, trying history, the Nigerian artist and writer, from Uthman dan Fodio right down to Ken Saro-Wiwa have embodied that irreducible freedom, paying the price, social regeneration or death, over the centuries – this is the TRUTH. In attacking the writers of Kano and Nigeria, the State, in Kano through its minions and in Abuja through its acquiescence have launched an attack AGAINST FREEDOM – that also, is TRUTH.

Now that we know definitively the State’s underlying agenda, how have we as artists and writers responded; - to the threat that the same Democracy we and ours have spent blood to enthrone is now being imperilled; that the representative institutions which we have created to protect our freedom are morphing now into appurtenances of the Evil State? How have we responded?

Before I go on, I would like to say in any society, the quantum of stupidity is often the kinetic force that determines the dice face of its people’s destiny.

The Nigerian intelligentsia, when they have not been smirking partisans of the fictitious and alternately chauvinist “North-South” divide have responded to this attack in the manner the northern academic, al-Bishak, did at Gusau. After a circuitous proem, he finally decided to say that if there is a “law” setting up the Kano State Censors Board, Rabo would “never stop” what he is doing. What he said really was that, in the extant case, Rabo should continue threatening freedom while writers should continue complaining of it. What he said involves the admittance of Rabo and the Evil State into the social equation of Nigeria and I assure you there is nothing “intellectual” about a “head-in-the-sand intellect”, the prefix outrages its twin! Al-Bishak’s comments are merely those typifying the response of a considerable percentage of our thinkers and writers here in the North, and it is not any more his fault for exemplifying that mindset than it is mine for attacking it.

What I say is – bar the gates and secure the fastness, do not let Grendel in! Do not, my dear writers and Intellectuals, pretend you do not know what Rabo is about; do not pretend not to know that in this incursion at Kano, the very future of Nigeria, our Nigeria, is at stake. Do not pretend that Rabo can possibly be allowed to “do what he is doing” when what he is doing is scorching the fields where our grains grow, burning the granaries! Do not pretend you do not know that an illegal law MUST not be obeyed, must be fought in the courts and if the courts become corrupt, they still MUST not be obeyed. Do not pretend to not know this and much more!

But, if you choose to so pretend, take off the garb of Intellectual, don that of Quisling and in doing so lose all my respect and friendship - even if that means I stand alone amidst my true few friends.

That is that about the Evil State and my response to Rabo Abdulkarim and his bent masters, the Kano State Government and the Nigerian State. I have also spoken to the Intellectuals who helm Nigerian literature. I wish now to speak to my true friends, the writers of Kano and Nigeria; to the future of Nigeria I say, listen to me please.

The mistake we make too often is to circumscribe ourselves to the walls of the Nigerian middleclass to which by birth or education most of us belong, forgetting we have a duty to through our work interact with Society as a whole. This must stop. We must begin to see ourselves as a part of an organic whole. If the State has turned evil and if the Intelligentsia have turned quislings, we must return to our selves, to the People to whom we belong. If we have remained away from them, we must now rediscover our bonds with them because attacking our freedom and dominating us is just the first step towards the complete subjugation of the People. In attacking our freedom to write, they undermine our right to our thoughts. And when these are successfully stymied, from then onwards, the Evil State will at birth give each child a life’s parcel of ignorance.

Now, especially as we are under attack, we must break down these exclusive glass walls and fraternise our ideas with the lower-classes, lifting them up to where we are, thus increasing our number and guaranteeing that the They who wish to automate the Evil State will know in advance that we are superior in number and resolve. We must shatter the walls and start speaking to the talakawa of Northern Nigeria in their own language. It is for our own good and in our best interest that we realise this, for when Ignorance becomes public policy, we, stamped into the lower-classes, will become nameless faces in a neo-commune. And it will be much harder for us who have gained so much. That is all I have to say to you.

I will end this article by imploring that we must stand against this Evil State in the making and not seek to compromise with it as the our leaders seem self destructively bent on doing, pretending to forget that one negotiates only with equal. And to my courageous comrades in Kano who will go by the names, “Abdul”, “Sa’adatu”, “Yusuf”, “Ibrahim” and “Talatu”, I say – WE WILL WRITE, WE WILL KEEP WRITING AND WE WILL TRIUMHP!

Ali, former Editor, Sardauna Magazine, poet, holds an LL.B {Civil Law} from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.