At no point in my life did I remember being taught or lectured about tolerance, but it was something I was raised with. It was something I grew up being part of my immediate family and me. It was something I unconsciously learned from my mother. Even though we never met her, all my mother’s children have known about Maman Chindun all our lives.
She was a Berom woman who lived with my parents in the same compound at Barnawa area of Kaduna city and assumed the role of a parent, sister, friend and counsellor to my very young and naïve mother who found herself far away from home. When my mother got married at the age of 15 as was the norm then, she had to travel to Kaduna with my equally young dad where he had enrolled in Kaduna Polytechnic to study civil engineering.
It was Maman Chindun who lived with my parents in the same compound together with many others from different parts of Nigeria who embraced my very young and inexperienced Fulani mum and taught her everything she needed to know about marriage and homecare and even childcare when she eventually gave birth to her first child and about life in general. Because of the affectionate and nostalgic way my mum spoke about her, we certainly never perceived Maman Chindun as someone different but as a kindly, benevolent and almost angelic lady, and that was because of how Mother portrayed her to us and there was never a but.
She had never used sentences like, “She was a good woman but she was a Christian” or “She was a Berom.” We later discovered these facts ourselves, as we got older. Another virtue of my mother where tolerance is concerned was how she accommodated people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds at our house from the security guards, the house-helps to some of my father’s relatives who happened to be Christians.
At one stage, we had about five Christian boys living in our ‘boys quarters’ for a period of almost a year before they all got jobs and moved out, and my mother treated them all like her own children and earned their love and respect for life. I will always remain indebted to my grandfather for how my mum turned out because he was the one who first broke the culture barrier by going against his mother’s wish of marrying his only daughter to her cousin, but instead married her off to the only schoolboy in the village who also happened to be a ‘kado’ or non-Fulani. If not for him, I could have turned out to be ignorant and intolerant due to lack of education and guidance from a parent and even teachers.
A friend of mine recently complained to me about her child returning from Islamiyya and telling her that his malam had warned them not to play with ‘arna’, i.e. heathens. She immediately put on her veil and went over to confront the man and warned that she would withdraw her ward from the school if he dared to continue his misguidance.It was shocking and disgusting to her because it reminded her of an incident that happened once when she was newly pregnant with her son while living in Port Hacourt.
She fainted in the market and when she came around, there were women all around her, fanning her, making sure she and all her stuff, including her car, were safe. She said, “When I came around and looked around me, I saw many faces, all women, and none of them was Hausa or Muslim, just pure compassion and humanity. Yet, one person will dare to call them names! I would not have it!” And that is how it should be. Two years ago, I had to give a sound warning to a security guard who told my kids not to play with some new neighbours who happened to be Christians from the South-east.
Sadly, I have no control over his own kids who will obviously grow up with such prejudices. If we rebuke our children or associates every time we hear them use a derogatory term or word against others, and never ever use such words at all so they would not learn them from us, then we are taking the right steps towards sanitising our society. That is because words like that have no place in a civilised society. Unfortunately, in our society one finds even religious leaders using such words during their radio or television preaching.
Two weeks ago, the general manager of a radio station told me that they have decided to mute such words before they can be broadcast on their station during Ramadan. I applauded her. I wish other stations would emulate hers. It is important to raise our kids with love, compassion and tolerance for others who are different from us so that we may receive the same from them, for hate begets nothing in return but hate, cruelty hardens the heart and intolerance brings nothing but mistrust and chaos.