He had just realized I was in the class. Lost in his thoughtless speech, he had raved on and on about how the Hausas of Nigeria had squandered the nation’s wealth in their greed. He specifically singled out some indignant belief of his that Hausas were one group of corrupt mischievous kids, sharing every strand of meat which they stole from the cooking pot equally amongst themselves. He was adamant in his belief, and I could tell it from his tone and the white saliva slobbering from the side of his mouth. He was angered, so angered that he had forgotten to wipe it off his mouth. So angered that he had poured his fiery words of hate and bigotry into the minds of the 31 SS1 students he was teaching. So angered that he didn’t care about anything else at that moment, than to let loose and be true, not to his nation, but to himself. But most of all, he had been so angered that he had forgotten that I was there. Yes, with my thick, dust-laden voice that substituted ‘p’ for ‘f’ when I spoke, I sat and watched my supervising Civic Education teacher rant about Nigeria to my students.
Embarrassed, his dark face turned a deep shade of purple, as he realized his blunder. Then he forced a weak smile.
“Ahh, b-but Malami, you are h-here?”
I looked at him with a face as blank as the whiteboard in front of the class, showing neither emotion nor expression. I could see my numbness quench the fire inside of him leaving behind ashes of idiocy as he began to mutter rhetorical questions in a bid to clear his non-existent conscience. He laughed clumsily “Ahh… but Malami. Is it a lie? Hehe.”
Blank, my face remained. He continued with a weaker laugh, “You people are chopping your own naa. Abi Buhari has not yet sent your share?”
The students stared at me wide-eyed, expecting a response. I looked him in the eye and forced a flimsy fleeting smile. That was enough for his conscience. He packed up his untouched textbooks and lesson notes and left the class, hastily, with a weak bounce.
Here was a man, charged with the singular responsibility of sowing healthy seedlings of ideas in the fertile minds of young kids, failing to do that single job. As they grow older, the roots of these songs would dig deep into the thinking grounds of these kids, right through their brains and into their eyes, affecting the lens through which they view Nigeria through. It hurt as I imagined the futures of these kids as captains of industry and leaders in their fields being affixed with the mindset of a ‘destructive’ Hausa population that squandered Nigeria’s wealth and resources. This unintended result, most definitely, is in direct contrast with the establishment of Civic Education in Nigeria as a compulsory subject in secondary schools. It preaches disunity and not unity, more division and less progression. I was not against Civic Education, no. In fact, I found it so amazingly critical that I volunteered to teach it.
So I paused for a second and thought, perhaps, this man was right. Perhaps, I was looking at it the wrong way. Perhaps, the corrupt Northern leaders of Nigeria were truly those who had destroyed it. Perhaps, the array of northern military rulers that had ruled Nigeria since independence had indeed squandered Nigeria’s wealth and shared it to ‘his people’. Perhaps, just perhaps.
But no, that is not possible. Not because I am Hausa, rather it is because the first image that comes to mind when you see the word ‘beggar’ is that of a Hausa girl. It’s because once ‘hunger’ and ‘malnourishment’ cross your mind, a Hausa boy with palms outstretched crosses your mind too. It’s because the largest percentage of uneducated and illiterate children in Nigeria are Hausas. It’s because insecurity and bomb blasts have become as synonymous with Northern Nigeria as tuwo is with kuka.
So I tell my students as I continue to round up the class, “Corruption is not Hausa or Yoruba, Igbo or Gbagyi. Corruption is an INDIVIDUAL choice based on INDIVIDUAL values and no one can ascribe a certain group or people the quality of being corrupt. For as long as you realize that, you understand that we can only be great based on our values as individuals placed before our values as a group.”
Ultimately, it always boils down to that.