By Ekweremadu Uchenna
It is close to three years now since a riot last rocked Kaduna City (the administrative and commercial capital of the State of Kaduna), but certain aspects of the old damages still linger today. Indeed, most of the burnt buildings have already been repaired; more markets and roads have been built and most of the families and individuals that ran away to other parts of the country have returned. However, the relationship between the north side and the south side of the City seems somehow similar to that between North Korea and South Korea which even now are still at war with each other, technically. The difference is that Kaduna’s divide is socio-cultural and not political.
These days, many like to think of Kaduna as a city of two halves: The Hausa (Muslim) part and the other part (basically non-Hausa, irrespective of religious beliefs). The geographically inclined likes to cite the River Kaduna Bridge as the boundary beyond which they get uncomfortable and uneasy. Those that have a thing for landscape are quick to point out that the skyline at the south side is dotted with church (bell) towers while that of the north boasts of minarets. For some other category of observers, liberality in costume wanes as one journey from south to north. But one of the things the two sides have in common is fruit shops, which litter their streets and junctions. And incidentally, the fruit park where lorries from different parts of the country empty their wares is at one end of the River Kaduna Bridge. Another thing that binds the two sides together is the business district situated at the north side of the city, which hosts the central market and boasts of the largest shopping malls. But even this connector has come under attack over the years. For long now, many at the south side have been agitating for an equally large marketplace, which they believe, would to a great extent liberate them from the grip of the north side. The construction of one was said to have begun during the administration of the late Governor Ibrahim Yakowa (the first Southern Kaduna indigene to occupy the office) but was sabotaged and eventually stalemated purportedly by interest groups at the other side who are not unaware of the economic threat such a development poses to their own side of town.
But in the beginning it was not so. Prior to the Year 2000 Riot, people of different ethnicities and religions lived side by side in virtually all the settlements in the city. People exchanged gifts and food during both Christmas and Eid. Back then, to some extent, even though it was not encouraged, a boy or a girl was not considered a traitor for going out with someone from the other religion.
There is no gainsaying that living can be complex. And without certain social distractions thrown in now and then, life itself becomes harrowing. After a tough day, the limbs are wont to crave some walks; the lungs yearn for that cool night air. One looks forward to catching up with friends and family, or just hanging out solo. Bar the cinema which is non-existent, and night clubs which are very few and quite expensive, the average person has mainly two options to choose from when there is no Champions’ or Premier League game to watch: tea parlours or beer parlours. Tea parlours are to the north side what beer parlours are to the south side. Indeed there are tea parlours in the south side and beer parlours in the north side but they are very few and mainly lie at inconspicuous corners. Moreover, tea parlours in the south side largely serve the two or three Hausa communities that have so far refused to abandon camp and emigrate across the border, just the same way beer parlours at the north side are mainly patronized by the others many of who still have businesses at the north side even though very few of them actually live there.
Although a growing number of applicants now troop to the General Post Office at the premises of which firms paste job openings, the people have become choosier. They scrutinize the adverts to find out the side of the city the opportunity is situated. Only the exceptionally brave, and those whose hopelessness have left little or no choice, apply for and even accept jobs situated at the other side.
There persists that mutual distrust and stereotype. People are extra-vigilant and uneasy when they venture across the boundary. Most people believe that the others are infidels, cantankerous and inherently bloodthirsty. This distrust has even been extended to the government. South-siders, who feel marginalized by the state government that has always been headed by the north side hardly pause to consider whatever logical reasonableness their might possibly be in the state government’s decisions and projects. They believe the government hardly cares about them; that the government is only interested in the huge revenue she generate from the businesses and manufacturing industries south of the city. They point to the shortage of good roads, pipe-borne water and other basic infrastructure. As far as they are concerned, there must be another motive apart from the one the government publicizes.
Many adolescents are often incredulous when told that, not too long ago, the house opposite or beside theirs used to be a church or a mosque. Very few have people from the other side among their circle of close friends. Of a truth, both sides meet at public places (schools, offices, markets) but the encounter is often too brief to facilitate mutual understanding and trust. And very little seems to be done by parents and community leaders to correct these anomalies. As a consequence, the gulf continues to widen by the day. But the newly elected governor of the state, Mallam Nasir Elrufai, has taken certain steps, which the south-siders are decoding as signals, that the dividing wall might come crumbling down sooner than later for the two worlds to merge again.
About Ekweremadu Uchenna:
Ekweremadu Uchenna is a Kaduna-based writer. His creative works have appeared in COE Review, Saraba Magazine, Sentinel Nigeria Literary, A&U American Aids Magazine, Flashquake, Wilderness House Literary Review, Kalahari Review and elsewhere. He tweets his thoughts on socio-cultural issues via @Uche_Ekweremadu.
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