Power Struggle and Violence in Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday

Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday follows the story of Dantala as he grows through the rigorous and tortuous process of growing in Northern Nigeria. In the environment where he grows, politics and power struggle is a big problem. Characters are immersed in a situation where they are subjected to all levels of violence and control by the people in power. Dantala, the narrator, matures from a boy in an Islamic school to a thug to a Muslim scholar, and it goes all the way back. The politicians and rulers of these people do not care much about them, and the disaster that occurs in the text revolves around their struggle for power.

In the text, it is not only political power struggle that is obtained, there is also religious power struggle and the background of cultural power struggle. The politicians and religious leaders are in a constant battle to overtake and overpower the other. While the politicians use all the tools available to them, money, religion as well as people, the religious leaders use the Quran and the people. In the middle of all the struggle are the people. Unlike what Karl Marx and other proponents of Marxism propose about the common men being in a revolution to destroy the leaders, in Born on a Tuesday, they are willing tools in the hands of the rulers and they destroy themselves in the process.

Due to the structure of their religion, someone like Dantala is given away at a very young age to go learn the ways of Islam from a Mallam. He leaves home early, torn away from his parents, he comes back to realize that his brothers and him do not share the same belief entirely, except that they are all Muslims. Religion becomes a tool and a facilitator of power struggle. This narrator presents the situation as this,

Wasn’t Imam Ali the only blood relative of the Prophet among the caliphs?’ The way Maccido is speaking with his eye wide open and Hussein smiling like someone who has just dug up a bag of money, I know I cannot win this argument. It is not that I do not have things to say—about Imam Ali or the fact that they pray only three times a day, combining zuhr and asr in the day time and maghrib and isha at night. (370)

The first time Dantala comes to know his brothers and see them after a long time apart, they argue about their faith and the teaching of the Quran. The matter is that even as Muslims, they have slight different beliefs, and they do not totally trust themselves. Thus, the representatives of both religion tend to argue too much between themselves, and push for the recognition of whose understanding of Islam was better.

Thus, even in the same belief and religion, a family is torn apart by opposing views of that religion. Religion like other aspects of the country becomes tools for divisive actions against the people, used by the elites in struggling for power among themselves and subjugating the people to maladministration. An elite and a cleric like Malam Abdul-Nur becomes the tool used by the agents struggling for power to cause havoc in the country. The cleric uses religion and creates the destabilization the power struggle agents want.

Even as Malam Abdul-Nur is part of the movement of which Dantala belongs to, he is plotting on how to destroy the movement, found his own violent movement, sponsored by the elites of the elites that the narrator is not aware of. At the surface level, it would seem that Malam Abdul-Nur is in contest with Sheikh only in the struggle for control of the Muslim faithful in Sokoto but the struggle is beyond that. The narrator writes about one of Malam Abdul-Nur schemes this way,

MalamAbdul-Nur is in total control of the crowd. He starts to cry when he talks of our brothers who were shot by Shiites. ‘What have we ever done but be merciful to them? We do not even follow the command of Allah to be severe against them. How do they repay our mercy? By killing our brothers.By shooting our Sheikh on the very day we launch our movement. (319)

What the cleric does is that he capitalizes on the hatred people have for Shiites to blame his own scheming and shooting on the Shiites. Since the religion is divisive with the separate beliefs and idea about Islam, in conjunction with how well hated the Shiites movement was. At the basic level, it would seem the cleric is in a struggle and tussle with Sheikh alone, but the matter is greater than that.

Sheikh, for instance, understands the implications of pitching the Shiites against the Sunni as Malam Abdul-Nur is trying to do. To the Malam, as like the elites and politicians, the factor to gaining the upper hand is dividing the people, pitching them against one another to breed uttermost division and violence. Sheikh recounts what happened in Iraq in such similar situation,

You know what happened in Iraq? The enemies of Islam and of the people, after the Americans turned the country upside down, what did they do? They went to Sunni mosques and bombed Sunni mosques. They went to Shiite mosques and bombed Shiite mosques. And then people started attacking each other. Very easily they started civil war …  I told Abdul-Nur no one must talk about this. (328)

Sheikh understands the nature of the disorganization and possible violence that would follow the attempt of pitching the Shiites against Sunni, a situation  that even Abdul-Nur understands. Malam Abdul-Nur understands the likely outcome perfectly, and this is the reason he utilizes the situation by facilitating the misunderstanding between the sects. However, things don’t go as he had planned in the quick way he had expected. The Shiites and the Sheikh reconcile without any problem as presented by the narrator, “the big Shiite malam comes with three men.Everyone shakes hands and does introductions. Sheikh refers to me as Malam Ahmad,” (353).

Malam Abdul-Nur is the agent of destabilization of Sokoto and other parts of the country. Formerly a Christian, he is converted, and he begins to plot on how to have his own violent movement and oppose Sheikh who had taken him in. The bedrock of the matter is that none of the religious parties concerned knows who sponsors Malam Abdul-Nur. He schemes and makes his plan, but no one knows who is behind him and what his full plan is. However, the cleric is at the centre of a power struggle and thirst for control.

At the point where the mosques of the Shiites is torched alongside the buildings in it, even Alhaji Usman suspects it is the fault of Malam as he incites Sheikh’s followers to carry out violence. Alhaji Usman detects the Malam as well as other Muslim faithful. He responds to Sheikh’s question about the cause of the violence by stating, “‘who else? That one that you won’t let go. He will be your ruin, wallahi, Sheikh,’” (331).

Finally, it is exposed at some points what Malam Abdul-Nur had been planning and what he had been working on. He is not too knowledgeable about Islam like Sheikh, yet he does not hesitate in scheming his way to have his movement and oppose the movement of Sheikh. All along, he has been planning on how to establish his own violent movement, only waiting for the right time to strike. The major fact of the matter is that he is not alone; as he is making his plans, there are the elites of the elites who provide funding and guide to him. The narrator writes of Malam Abdul-Nur’s final tragic actions as,

It has been four months since Malam Abdul-Nur returned from Saudi Arabia with a new movement in opposition to Sheikh. It feels like four years with how popular he is, especially among motorcyclists, tea sellers and butchers. No one knows how he got all the money he used to set up his foundation. All we know is suddenly there are black-and-white banners, flags and stickers everywhere that read either‘Mujahideen’ or ‘Sunna Sak.’ (461)

While with Sheikh, the cleric had been planning on establishing his own movement, virtually in opposition to Sheikh. The struggle between the two clerics is on the surface level as it had been written; the involvement of the politicians and the elites is on a greater level. Malam begins his plan by inciting the Sunni against the Shiites, and when that does not pull through, he plots to start his new movement when Sheikh sends his to Saudi Arabia.

Sheikh’s mindset on sending him to Saudi Arabia to make his situation calm does not entirely work out. It is quite ironical that Malam becomes more violent and establishes his own movement. Riding on the popular sentiments of the people, the cleric’s movement leans towards violence, condemns western education and democracy, which he brands enemies of Islam. To the chagrin of the other Muslim scholars, it becomes popular and even pulls away most followers of Sheikh.

Malam Abdul-Nur’s movement can be said to be for politics and power struggle alone, because he does not know much about Islam, and he had no pure heart like Sheikh to establish a movement. Jibril, his brother from Ilorin, narrates how evil his heart is and how he treats his wife as this, “‘he forces things into her … into her … anus! Candles. Bottles. He flogs her with the tyre whip when they are doing it. Some days she faints’” (377). Thus, he has no interest of the people at heart, or really cares about their righteousness.

Sheikh underestimates Malam Abdul-Nur’s capacity in wrecking chaos and violence in the city, state and the entire country. This underestimation is his own downfall and leads to his murder in the text. The Malam, armed with funds, false ideology and other means of controlling the people, utilizes them to destabilize more than  half of the country. The Malam along with his sponsors get what they want in their conquest to destabilize the country in anticipation of the oncoming elections. Sheikh regrets his lack of foresight over Malam Abdul-Nur’s case as,

If there is any one mistake I made, it is Abdul-Nur. Now I can’t even look Alhaji Usman in the eye because he will say he told me. Everyone told me but I thought I had him under control. A Yoruba man is a Yoruba man. That is how they are. Hypocrites. Sheikh is angrier than I have ever seen him. (521)

Malam Abdul-Nur’s leads to struggle for the religious and political control of Sokoto. The powers behind the Malam do not want the movement to be killed, and the powers behind peaceful Sheikh do not want violence. At a point, Alhaji Usman and the other politicians behind Sheikh becomes complicit in the matter, and all hell is let loose. Politicians would always be there for their interests and this is shown in the actions of Alhaji Usman and other politicians in the midst of the violence.

The results of Abdul-Nur’s extremism and callousness is the death of Sheikh, the destabilization of Sokoto, and the countless young men killed. The politicians ride to power on the heels of this violence, all of them protecting their own varied interests. In this text, there is the basic religious power struggle with accompanying political struggle.

Work Cited

John, Elnathan. Born on a Tuesday. Cassava Republic, 2017.

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