•Where tribe, religion mean nothing
Coming into Abakaliki, the capital of Ebonyi State, you are welcomed by flyovers, water fountain and smooth network of roads. The city is bubbling, offering opportunities for business and fun.
Tucked somewhere inside Abakaliki is an enclave called Ogbe Hausa (Hausa Quarters). As the name connotes, it is the abode of people from the northern part of the country.
According to the leader (Sarki) of the Hausa community in Abakaliki, Alhaji Danjuma Mamuda Gambo, the quarters have existed for about 150 years. In fact, his office is on Gambo Street, named after his grandfather.
The reporter was at Ogbe Hausa recently and saw a community where everybody lives in brotherhood, irrespective of religion and tribe. Some of the Hausa people have embraced the lifestyle of the indigenes to the extent that it is difficult to set them apart.
Some of the Hausa people speak Igbo language fluently and have Igbo friends. Gambo said: “We are just like indigenes, all of us were born and brought up here. So, none of us is a stranger. For instance, this street we are on is Gambo Street, named after my grandfather. He was the one that came here and opened the Ogbe Hausa. My father was born and brought up here. I was also born and brought up here and I also have my own children here. That is the summary of the Hausa community in Abakaliki; it’s about 150 years. It’s not an issue of today.”
Gambo said that living with Christians in Ebonyi State was not a problem at all. “The fact is that, in the South East of Nigeria, Ebonyi State is the most peaceful and accommodating state for the Hausa people because the host community here is very good to us. We know how the previous government related with us; we know how we did things in tandem. We know the kind of succour we’ve given each other. So, we don’t have problem here. All these crises in the North and some kind of reprisals in other states, you don’t see it in Ebonyi State. We are living peacefully here with the indigenes. It is true that when something comes up, you will see some minor problems like the issue of Fulani herdsmen and farmers. But there is a difference between the Fulani and Hausa community. It’s only some of us that know the difference; somebody outside cannot know the difference. But we are all Muslims, we pray together, we do things together but they are living inside the bush while we are in the town. There is a difference between the Fulani and the Hausa because the languages are different. What brought us together is that all of us are Muslims,” he explained.
United by marriage
Asked if there are Hausa people in the community who have embraced Christianity, Gambo answered: “No, I don’t think so. Rather some of the indigenes here are Muslims. Some of them from Afikpo, Izzi, Ezzamgbo and Ezza are Muslims. Some of their women are married to Hausa people here. Inside the compound here, there about four or five Ezza women who are married to Hausa men. We have become one because, once you intermarry, you have joined families together. I don’t know any Hausa who is a Christian here. There is a difference from being an Hausa and a northerner. In the North, there are many tribes and some of them are Christians, but someone who doesn’t know will generalise them as Hausa. We have an Hausa woman who is married to somebody from Izzi; we also have another man from Ikwo marrying an Hausa woman but they did not marry them here. They married them in the North and brought them down here. I know about three Abakaliki people married to Hausa women.”
Gambo further threw light on the population of Hausa people in the community. According to him, “formerly, before the war, all the houses in Ogbe Hausa belonged to Hausa people. But after the war, some of them sold their houses. Some are dead and some left for their home town. So, the population of Hausa people here should be about 5,000 or more.
“One unique thing about Hausa people is the way we live. Let me use myself as an example: we are more than 20 in my house because I’m married to three wives and I have more than 10 children. I have sisters and brothers. So, when you see me, you are seeing more than 20 people. That’s how the typical Hausa family is. If you see 10 Hausa men, be sure you are counting almost 100 people under them. That is how we live here. We used to be above 10,000 but because, during farming time, most of them go back to farm and come back. We have different types of residents here: There are those coming to look for what to eat and go back. Those of us who were born and brought up here only visit our people and come back. After farming, many of them come back and occupy the batchers you see around here. We habour some who don’t have houses, and they come from different states.”
“We have our kind of vigilance group, we have our youths. We have youth and women leaders who are working with the Sarki. Whenever there is a stranger, we interrogate him and ask about his mission. If his answer is not convincing, we ask him to go. We don’t want anyone who will bring trouble for us here. There was a time we arrested someone who they said was a Boko Haram. When my boys saw the way he was behaving, they reported him to me and, after interrogating him, I was not satisfied with his answers. So, I had to call the authorities and hand him over to them. They later said he was Boko Haram. This happened more than three years ago. Any new person we see is interrogated. God has helped us; there is no problem at all.
“We don’t encourage laziness or idleness here. We have tailors, we have cow dealers. We have people selling goats; some of our youths are riding okada. Some are selling carrots and water melon. Many of us are in our markets here. I’m an engineer, a mechanic. I was trained by an Igbo, Chief Okpaleke. I have my own workshop. There are other ones like me. Some are drivers. Some are barbers, some cut fingernails. We do many things like the indigenes. When you go to some places, you can hardly distinguish between Igbo and Hausa because they work together. You don’t stay idle here; we don’t encourage idleness. You must hussle.”
But life is not without challenges at Ogbe Hausa. Take this from Gambo: “The little challenge that we are having here are people from the government. Once we see government people here, they have come to charge you for this or that. All the transformation going on in the state, we are yet to see it. The roads here remain the way they were from the time of Elechi or Sam Egwu. This makes us feel as if we are strangers here because we go to other places and we see what is happening. When the market was being demolished, we heard the rumour that government wanted to demolish Ogbe Hausa because structures were being marked. That made some people to take their families home. But some people like us will remain until something happens, then we will know what to do. The rumour of demolition is still flying about. We will wait and see. It’s a challenge because we have been here for over 150 years. Some of us don’t have anything in the North because this is the only home we know. The houses we are living in here are the legacies of our grandfathers. I’ll say we are afraid, but let’s wait and see. I have gone round to see the markings. We have another Hausa quarters at Afikpo Road. Alhaji Bala Musa is the leader there, working under me, he was the first person to settle there. Our parents acquired the land in the 1970s, though some parcels have been given to the Igbo and they developed the place in their usual nature. We plead with government to let us be. We obey instructions from the state. We were asked to lock the mosque because of COVID-19 and it’s been locked for six months now. Demolishing Ogbe Hausa will not give good account of the government here and elsewhere. They called me two times from the North, asking if it was true that the government is sending Hausa people away and I said no. The government should let us be as we are; we are their subjects. Any new governor is recognised as our master. We can’t quarrel with any government in power. Whoever is in government is our father, he is everything to us. Whatever he says is law. Many Igbo people are living in Ogbe Hausa and they mingle with our people, no discrimination. We’ve had peaceful co-existence for decades. In my office, sometimes I settle disputes for Igbo people. They feel more comfortable coming to me to settle their rifts. We are the same here.”
Asked if he gets salary or allowance from government, Gambo volunteered: “From the time of Walter Feghabor, the Sarki was paid salary or allowance. It was the same thing during Simeon Oduoye’s administration. When Sam Egwu came, after the death of my elder brother, who was the Sarki, I was being paid. In fact, Egwu made me a liaison officer in his government. When Martin Elechi came, he placed me under Ekeaba Development Centre, where I was being paid with other chiefs. But since this government came into power, my payment stopped till date. In fact, the government is not working with me as Sarki. Formerly, they used to invite me to security meetings but no circular has been extended to me by government and nothing is coming to me as Sarki. I’m just on my own doing my own business. But one good thing is that we are living in peace. God knows why it is like that; God makes leaders. As a Muslim, our Quran teaches that you accept whatever comes your way.”
Indeed, at Ogbe Hausa, you see Igbo and Hausa youths mingling and doing things together.
A suya seller in Ogbe Hausa, Ibrahim Wamakko, told the reporter that his best friend was Emeka, an Igbo tricycle operator.
He said: “Sometimes, I go to their house. When Emeka’s father died in Anambra State, I went for the burial with my people and we helped them kill the cow bought by their family.”
Indeed, your visit to Ogbe Hausa would not be complete if you did not eat suya there. Ogbe Hausa suya is special.
However, Mr. Emmanuel Uzor, Special Assistant to the Government on Food/Vegetable Market Development, Poultry and Estate Development, debunked the rumour of any plan to demolish Ogbe Hausa.
In a telephone interview, Uzor said: “We are not demolishing Ogbe Hausa, it’s not part of our coverage. What we did was that we removed the illegal attachments they put there and it was in agreement with their leadership. We asked them to tell their people to clean up the place because it was becoming dirty and we want Abakaliki to be beautiful. It was the Hausa people that removed the attachments on their own. We are also removing illegal attachments in other places within the state capital, not only Ogbe Hausa.”
There is also a large population of Hausa and Muslims in Afikpo, a city on a hill. Many of the indigenes are Muslims, particularly those from Enohia village, where the school of Arabic and Islamic Studies is situated. The facility covers a vast expanse of land and offers secondary education in Arabic and Islamic studies as well as other secular subjects.
It was gathered that, in the early1960s, a large portion of Enohia Itim had become an Islamic enclave, which was a new development in Igboland. Some refered Enohia as Muslim Igbo village because it had the highest number of Muslim coverts in the South East.
An Islamic scholar, Dr. Haruna Aja, said: “Islam came to Afikpo Muslim community in in 1958 through the late Sheik Ibrahim Nwagwui. It is a known history that when Islam came, it took over the whole of Afikpo and later domesticated in Enohia, where he came from. From there, he (Nwagwui) made efforts along with his associates and they established the Islamic Centre as early as 1962 or thereabouts.”
In an interaction with Alhaji Isa Friday Okonkwo, the director of the school, he disclosed that: “By 1982, the Muslim World League in Saudi Arabia adopted the programme that the man initiated and gave it the shape it has today. So, Muslim children from virtually all parts of the country come here for their secondary education, which includes conventional education and Islamic education. We keep them in the boarding facility and train them for six years for secondary education.”
On the relationship of the school with the host community, Okonkwo said: “We have a very robust relationship, a relationship that has lasted for several years. It might interest you to know that I was a student in this school. So, the relationship is very rich. The community has come to realise the importance of this school just as the school has realised the importance of the community and there is a mutual understanding between them to the extent that they have come to an agreement that the school cannot exist without the community. They understand that the colouration and attraction they have today has bearing on the school. The school is part and parcel of the community, not the religion. For instance, there are five clans in Enohia and they have made us the sixth clan. We are regarded as the sixth clan here in contributions and other things. That describes the richness of the relation.
“We have a lot of humanitarian and community services, from inception of the school. There was a time we were giving free medical services to the community. The school used to have a robust clinic and the clinic was giving free services to the people. Although the school is no longer as it used to be, we are fortunate that most of our graduates are medical practitioners. So, every year, some of these graduates put resources together, come down here and organise medical outreach for the community. That is giving back to the community that accommodated us because it was the peace and acceptance that we got from the community that gave us the impetus to achieve what we achieved as a school. So, every year, we religiously exercise that and the owners of the school, all the way from Saudi Arabia, had on many occasions recognised the community. Presently, there is a project going on that the community is having with the Saudi Arabia organisation. Not long ago, we had a 22,000-litre tank raised to about 40 feet high and it serves the school and the community. We gave outlets of the water to different parts of the community and water is a very serious issue in the community. You can imagine how appreciative the natives are, having such facility extended to them. So, we live like brothers here.
“We have indigenes of this village as students, we have them as teachers and we have them as workers at different levels. We have most of our workforce from this community. One of the family members of the founder of this place is also actively with us here. So, we have different types of participants in the school. We have those who are Muslims, we also have those who are not Muslims. But they play very vital roles in the activities of the school and the centre. The transformer in the community was vandalised sometime ago to the extent that it could not be put to use and they felt that the only place they could secure whatever was left of the transformer was the Islamic centre and they brought it here. And it has remained safe. The monarch of this locality has all his cars parked in the premises of the school. So, he comes here anytime he wants to go out, giving us opportunity to always commune together. The community secures their valuables here. The relationship is quite strong. We have security because we have the number. We have hundreds of students in the community in the day and night. Some who are boarders spend all the day here. We spend only two terms in a year and each term is not less than five months. That means that, about 10 months of the year, we have this population. So, we are always busy. People outside imagine what the inside is like, so it gives the place some form of security. Our activities are clear and straightforward and that helps to protect us and give us absolute security. Again, we are surrounded by the community and the people living around us are also like security for us. So, all this makes the place very secure.
“There is no compulsion in our religion. We are not forcing people to become Muslims. We have a handful of non-Muslims who are also students here. We have students from the south east and elsewhere.”