Wednesday, 8 April 2020

The Focus (120): Covid-19, digital divide and the rise of online education

If there is one gargantuan development challenge the framers of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) wouldn’t have envisaged, it is the possibility of a global shut down. And that is exactly what has happened because of Covid-19. As the innovative cover of the Economist of 21 March 2020 puts it, the world is literally “closed.”

Like many workers around the world, I am working from home. I wrote this piece from home, because the world has shut down, making the home both the family abode and the workplace. Before the year 2020, working from home was a ‘luxury’ accepted by employers to give flexibility to employees. Today, it is the new normal.

While working from home, one major thing strikes me. Despite the closure of schools, my children are still attending classes, albeit virtually. Their computers and mobile phones have been transformed into classrooms. “Dad, I noticed something very interesting today,” my daughter said. What was that? I asked inquisitively. “Our teacher had a better control of the class online,” she replied, and the conversation permeated into the advantages and disadvantages of online education.

I looked around the countries devastated by the impact of Covid-19. The story was the same in most countries with high or reasonable internet penetration. Back in 2011, Harvard University Professor Clayton M. Christensen and his co-author Henry Eyring, in their book “The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out”, made a clarion call to the ivory towers of learning to change and embrace online education. For them, traditional education was due for disruption. In fact, the introductory chapter of the book was titled “Ripe for Disruption—and Innovation”.

It wouldn’t be out of context to quote them: “a disruptive innovation […] disrupts the bigger-and-better cycle by bringing to market a product or service that is not as good as the best traditional offerings but is more affordable and easier to use. Online learning is an example.”  The two authors went on to warn institutions of higher learning that “if they cannot find innovative, less costly ways of performing their uniquely valuable functions, they are doomed to decline, high global and national rankings notwithstanding. Fortunately, such innovations are within their power.”

Many institutions have heeded the call and are providing classes online. With Covid-19 a major advantage has been unveiled. Online education will move from alternative to the mainstream. Competition will skyrocket. Cheaper means of acquiring education will ensue. But that is only one part of the story. A friend told me that he was glad that one positive thing that has come out from this pandemic was that educational institutions charging parents exorbitant fees would have to rethink. Our children could receive quality education from home.

Covid-19 has exposed a major weakness that development institutions must help tackle, and that is the digital divide in accessing quality education. While children in high- and middle-income economies could study from the comfort of their homes, those from poor countries could remain spectators in a world that should provide equal opportunity for all.
Lack of connectivity and access to the internet is leaving communities in a disadvantaged position even in developed countries. Brad Smith, the President of Microsoft, and Carol Ann Brownie, Microsoft’s senior director of communications and external relations, stated in their 2019 classic, “Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age”, that “rural areas that lack broadband are still living in the twentieth century. ” They found that “the highest unemployment rate in the country is located in the counties with the lowest availability of broadband, highlighting the strong link between broadband availability and economic growth.”

Certainly, there is global attention on returning 260 million children back to school worldwide. The answer is not in building mega physical infrastructure, rather, as Brad and Carol stated, we should concentrate on building what they called “Rural Broadband: The Electricity of the Twenty-First Century.”

Digital divide is the latest form of economic inequality. Development practitioners and policy makers should join hands to make the availability of the internet in developing countries a major development priority.

An earlier version of this piece was published in SDGs Digest


The Focus (119): Kano’s loss, Nigeria’s gain: Three points agenda for Muhammad Sanusi II

The dethronement of His Royal Highness Muhammadu Sanusi II is a huge loss for my home state of Kano, but what appears to be Kano’s loss, might become Nigeria’s gain. I have followed the ugly drama of his unfortunate dethronement from the throne he craved to ascend his entire adult life, yet, like the sudden end of a dream, it was whisked away from him in the most unfortunate of circumstances.

I have decided to engage in the debate about this historical saga for three reasons. First, Kano is my home state, and whatever happens in Kano is of interest to me personally. The second reason is the condition of Northern Nigeria. In the last decade, Northern Nigeria has become the hub of many social ills that should give every right thinking individual sleepless nights. An insurgency that has wrecked the population especially in the northeast of the country. An alarming level of poverty that has become the signpost of every street in the region. Social problems like high rate of divorce, and the mother of all problems in the region, child-begging or what is known as almajiranci, where millions of children run the street under the pretense of searching for Islamic education when in reality it is simply a sign of the failure of parenting.

Yet, the leadership of the region from independence to date has failed to find a solution to this problem, despite the region producing more leaders for the country, and the states most affected by the culture of street begging being run by the indigenes of the place, let alone blame others for our predicament. One person who has consistently  elevated the debate about these social ills in our society and utilized his authority, personal appeal, public engagements, international networks, and seizes every opportunity to draw sympathy to the situation of the child-beggar is His Royal Highness Muhammadu Sanusi II (a.k.a Sanusi Lamido Sanusi).

Not everybody agrees with his approach of defying traditional convention to be an advocate for social reform because of his position as a traditional authority. Others have questioned his attempt at making Ijtihad, a methodology in Islamic law that applies legal reasoning to find solution to contemporary challenges that do not have explicit explanation in the two main sources of legislation in Islam, that is the Qur’an and Sunnah (traditions of prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him), nor is there a consensus of opinion on them (ijma).

But Ijtihad is an issue that that has been thoroughly debated by scholars of Usul Al fiqh (the roots and foundation of investigating the methodologies to drive legal rulings from original sources), and a common position among the scholars of Usul is that a mistake  of Ijtihad in non-fundamental issues of religion should be excused, and are not considered sinful.  Disagreements and diversity of opinion was common throughout Islamic history and it has only enriched the discourse aimed at arriving at public good. Some of us have disagreed with His Royal Highness in the past, but such differences in understanding of issues should never be a justification for the suppression of truth as we have seen with the brutal nature Muhammadu Sanusi II was dethroned from the Amirship of Kano emirate. In my opinion, this is not an attempt at a personality, but a deliberate effort at dethroning public conscience.

The third reason is the need for a public face to continue representing public conscience at least in Northern Nigeria. The region cannot afford the silence of the learned. Enough damage has been done to the North by the shear aloofness of its elites. Here, I do not mean a political icon; we are already seeing the monumental failure of investing the entire effort of the region on personalities. Going by our political model, a politician can only serve in an executive office for maximum of eight years. The problems of Northern Nigeria will take a generation to solve.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest a three points agenda for His Royal Highness, Muhammad Sanusi II for the benefit of Northern Nigeria, and the larger Nigerian society. This simple manifesto could keep him busy for the rest of his life.

The first agenda is to aggressively engage in writing serious compendiums, which is what intellectuals do in every society that prospers.  As the social critic, poet, and religious philosopher Søren Kierkegaard stated, “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Today, the Qur’an and any theological scripture that serves as a manual that enriches public ethics does so because our predecessors saw the need to ensure it is put it in print. A word in written form has an exceptional rhythm in capturing the imagination of generations unborn. Ideas, no matter how powerful would be forgotten if not documented in written form. Neither Adam Smith or Karl Marx would have influenced the 19th-20th century economic systems without putting their ideas in writing.

The second agenda is to establish a foundation that will focus on tackling the very issues that attracted the wrath of the mediocre politicians to remove him from the throne. The priority should be on educating the child-beggar (almajiri). Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of Out-of-School Children, majority of them in northern Nigeria. As one of the advocates appointed to promote the SDGs by the UN Secretary General, you have a major platform to attract resources to help achieve the targets of SDG4.  The second priority for this foundation is to focus on rebuilding the family system particularly in Northern Nigeria where divorce rates, and irresponsible men abandoning their responsibilities created some of the mess in the region. The third priority for the foundation is to work on youth empowerment, particularly equipping them with skills for entrepreneurship, innovation and SMEs. His personal library alone could be converted to public use, and serve as a starting point for the foundation, few people have access to such useful collection of literature.
The third agenda is to refine and strengthen your role as an advocate for social change. This can be done by working with like minds across the aisle, from Northern and Southern Nigeria. The youth are looking for role models, for inspiration, and for a sense of direction. There is scarcity of true role models in Nigeria, this is a vacuum that needs to be filled with immediate effect. I know some people are already blowing the siren of 2023 for you. That is your decision to make. But in or out of politics, the new chapter in your life is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of ordinary Nigerians and beyond.

11:10 pm  

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

(117): Capturing the imagination of ordinary people: Communicating SDGs at the grass-roots level

In September 2008 the world was hit by a storm, you might even call it an economic hurricane that had not been seen since the great depression of the 1930s.  Lehman Brothers had fallen, financial crisis was now real. As a journalist working in Bush House at the time, one of my responsibilities was to ensure the public understood what the financial crisis was about and how it would make an impact on their lives.

One of my duties was to translate stories about the crisis from English to my native Hausa language. My colleagues working in Swahili, Arabic, Urdu and Somali sections did the same. But how do you make sure that a farmer in Mogadishu, a herdsman in the outskirts of Yaounde or a small-scale trader in   Karachi understands the difference between economic depression and economic recession in his native language without much explanation? How do you translate ‘credit crunch’ or ‘economic turmoil’ to a non-English speaker in the simplest term to avoid any confusion?

This was the debate we were having in the newsroom. Then one of our editors intervened. “When you are writing your story, think of your grandmother who had not been to school. If she can understand the story, then you are communicating,” he said.
The question to ask is, are we communicating the SDGs in a way that our grandmothers who have not been to school can understand? You will agree with me that the target beneficiaries of the SDGs are the ordinary people in different parts of the world. Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs are different because developing countries were part and parcel of formulating them. But are citizens of these countries, in whose names the SDGs are being implemented, fully informed about the 2030 agenda?

In his classic book, “Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty,” Nobel Laurette Muhammad Yunus stated that he considers giving credit to the poor to end hunger in the world as a human right issue. I must add that communicating the global goals to empower the citizens of our member countries is a fundamental human right. Writing in the London Guardian during the debates on the post-MDGs agenda, Judith Randel, then Executive Director of Development Initiative, stated that “based on our experience and available evidence, we believe the post-2015 settlement must harness the power of technology and information to empower citizens with choice and control over the decisions that impact their lives.”

During the negotiations on the SDGs, Ireland’s permanent representative to the United Nations, David Donoghue, stated that to achieve the SDGs, there is need “in some way to capture the imagination of ordinary people around the world.”

The good news is some countries have understood this. Netherlands has developed a communication plan for communicating the SDGs at the grass-roots level particularly by targeting young people. The SDGs have been integrated in school curriculum as part of the strategy for inclusive dialogue and consultation.  Indonesia, an IsDB member country making headway in the implementation of the SDGs, has developed a monitoring dashboard for the SDGs called Satu Data Initiative ( and the website is available in local language. Any user can visit the dashboard and select any of the SDGs to see the report card on the success recorded so far. A Reverse Linkage between Indonesia, IsDB and other member countries on how to develop an SDGs dashboard could be a good starting point.

This article was published in SDGs Digest, Issue 7, March 2019

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

(116): Why Nigerian youth were unable to create Google and Facebook

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships,” said Michael Jordan, in one of the most powerful statements ever made by a sports icon.

The responses I received on my article last week on how Nigerian youth can utilize the current recession to create jobs and stand on their feet inspired the writing of this piece. As individuals, a number of Nigerian youth are smart, intelligent and resilient.

About 11 years ago, I purchased a new mobile phone in the UK via a contract with Vodafone. I wanted to travel to Nigeria before the end of the contract.  I went to Vodafone and asked them to unlock the phone for me, so that when I arrive home, I can use a Nigerian sim. It was few days before my trip.

Vodafone told me then, that it would take about two weeks to unlock the phone. They mentioned the long process, which I was not ready to wait for.  I went to the shop nearby that sells second hand mobile phones to ask for help. They told me that they can unlock the phone, but it would take a few days. “Good bye,” I said. Before I walked out of the shop, the gentleman, a British-Pakistani asked me, “Where are you from?” Nigeria, I responded. “You don’t have problem, there are smart guys over there, they will fix it for you,” he said. I smiled and left.

On my arrival in Kano, Nigeria, I asked one of my brothers for help. He told me that he would take it to some phone repairers at Daula Hotel. He assured me that they will fix it, and so they did immediately.

The repairers at Daula Hotel where able to unlock my phone because they have one major quality, thinking out of the box. For you to innovate, you have to disobey conventions, something Nigerians are good at doing. One of my childhood friends, who is now an IT guru in Abuja, defied conventions in the early 1990s. He created a satellite dish using florescent lamp. The satellite was able to receive signals from CNN. It was the talk of the town, and to date, he remains an IT genius.

If my friend who created the satellite dish, and the phone repairer who unlocked my phone were brought up in the Bay area in San Francisco, the global hub of innovation, perhaps, they might have been the founders of Google or Facebook. However, they were unable to progress and become the equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates because one fundamental ingredient of innovation was missing. It is called innovation ecosystem. To say it differently, what where the chances of Mark Zuckerberg creating Facebook, or Larry Page and Sergey Brin  inventing Google if they were working in Nigeria?

Nigerians are individually intelligent. Many of us have studied with, or knew people who are innovative; some of them have graduated with first class honours in engineering, law or accounting. Some of them who were lost to brain drain are doing exceptionally well in their chosen professions in Europe, North America and Asia. Nevertheless, their stories simply remain stories, because the country was unable to benefit from the fruits of their geniuses. They went into oblivion because there is neither public nor private structure that could bring them together to work as a team and invent the technologies that could be the Nigerian equivalent of Google or Facebook.

I attended an executive education programme last year on innovation and entrepreneurship organized by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. As part of the programme, we visited one of the innovation hubs in Boston, the Cambridge Innovation Centre (CIC). It was a skyscraper established privately by MIT graduates Timothy Rowe and Andrew Olmsted. Inside the building were cubicles and offices, fully furnished. There is kitchen, private sitting areas, meeting rooms and anything required to make a person comfortable at work.

Young entrepreneurs and students after graduation rent a space at the centre.  In some sections of the building, it is just a laptop table, because that is what they can afford. The entrepreneurs spend the first few months or years at the centre, thinking and coming up with business ideas. The beauty of it is, once you need help to fine-tune your ideas and thoughts; you will find somebody next to you to offer a helping hand. You can see the entrepreneurs working in groups in some areas. On regular basis, investors visit the centre and interact with the members.

If they find an idea interesting, they invest in it. The centre has large offices for rent in case the idea reach an implementation stage. The surrounding environment, particularly Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), were part of the larger ecosystem. One of the successful innovations that came from CIC was Android, the operating system you possibly used to download the app that helps you to read this article. The start-up that became Yahoo also started there. On our way out, we saw a group of young entrepreneurs and students coming into the centre from China. A powerful statement on how China supports the youth to make a difference.

Despite the challenges faced by Nigerian youth in testing their ideas in order to join the league of global innovators, I remain optimistic that the future is bright. Notwithstanding the difficulty in the land, I still see glimpses of hope. In the next article, God willing, I will present some ideas on how Nigerian youth can work together as a team to create an innovation ecosystem that could help their cause.



Sunday, 23 October 2016

(115): Recession, Innovation and the Nigerian Youth

The youth of a country are its greatest assets. During my last visit to Nigeria, I saw that asset at work. Many of these youths are working hard to earn a living; others are sitting comfortably waiting for manna to fall free of charge. One example of such hardworking youths was the taxi driver who took me from the airport to the city of Abuja.

You can tell that life is not easy for this young man. Despite the obvious hardship and difficulty he was going through, he remains optimistic. What made his story even more interesting was that there are thousands of youths like him who feel too big to do the kind of business he is engaged in to earn a living.

On our way to the city, I became curious about the story of this driver. I asked him to tell me more about his experience in life. It turned out that he is a graduate from the University of Port Harcourt. After searching for job endlessly, he decided to take his life in his own hands. He asked his uncle who works in the United States for help. The uncle decided to buy a taxi for him.

What impressed me the most is that he has big ambitions. He was using the taxi as a means of making connections, so that one day he could meet the right person who would help him find the right job, or engage him in a business. When he makes a break through, he intends to support his family, establish a successful business- and as you might guess-achieve the dream of many Nigerians, ‘travel abroad.’  I don’t blame him, many of us grew up hoping to travel, study or live abroad.

Having ‘connections’ or ‘long leg’ are words/phrases you commonly hear among our youths. Our society has sacrificed merit so much that people believe that their effort will never bring success. For one to make it, he has to know somebody, who knows someone somewhere, before he could be fixed in the right place. Largely, people have a point, but they are not completely right. As I told many of the youths I spoke with, favour has a limit. If you work hard, pray and remain consistent, one day your chance will come.

With Nigeria officially in recession, I believe Nigerian youths have a great opportunity. The opportunity to create businesses that could provide income for them and provide jobs for others. Some of the best inventions and businesses in the world were created during recession.
In today’s essay, I would like to look at innovation as a mechanism for Nigerian youth to get themselves out of the economic recession that is biting hard.

In doings so, I would like to share the story of one of the most interesting innovations of this century. The story of the hotel chain, Airbnb.

I chose the story of Airbnb because it is a simple innovation that turned into a multibillion-dollar industry, estimated to be worth $25 billion.

Airbed and breakfast, the full name of the company was an idea conceived by students in San Francisco who were struggling to pay rent and earn a decent living. Like the taxi driver who drove me from the airport, they decided to take their lives in their own hands. However, what is even more impressive was they didn’t think about ‘connections’ and ‘long leg’. They look at the opportunities in the city, and decided to create a business out of these.

In 2007, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky came up with an idea of converting their apartment into a source of income. They were aware that a design conference would take place in the city of San Francisco, and hotel accommodation will be a big problem. So they decided to purchase three air mattresses; they created a new website called, and advertised to conference participants seeking for budget accommodation. They used their cooking skills to prepare breakfast for their guests. The idea became successful, and they invited another schoolmate, Nathan Blecharczyk to join them.

A simple idea by unemployed university graduates has become a multibillion-dollar industry operating in every part of the world. So what is the lesson for Nigerian youths, especially university graduates?

Well, I will simply say your university degree is simply a tool, and a license to be different, to think differently and create an opportunity that can make a difference. 

I am not naïve about the context and the challenges that youths face in this period of economic recession in Nigeria. However, with technology at your disposal, particularly the explosion of the digital mobile and telephony industry, this recession might be your chance to create a job for yourself and others. 

Just like the Airbnb college graduates, look around you, think of an idea, be humble and pursue it with dedication and keep striving to make things better. Innovation does not have to be disruptive. 

You do not need to create Google or Facebook to be considered innovative. Just look around your neighborhood, identify a need and think for a business solution; and who knows, you might be the next innovator-in-chief in your community.




Tuesday, 11 October 2016

(114): Al-Andalus: The Mosque-Cathedral and the conscience of history (IV)

As we set our foot in to the Mosque-Cathedral, on the right-hand side of the entrance was an old washbowl, or what is popularly called sink. It was engrained in the wall. Probably it was used for ablution when it was still a mosque. As we stood inside the magnificent structure of Mezquita, Christina looked us, and started narrating the history of the mosque.

Christina has a mastery of the story of Mezquita; she explains it with the erudition of a scholar, the enthusiasm of a historian and the emotional vibrancy of a nationalist. She was courteous in her explanation, but firm in her attachment to the mosque turned cathedral. Christiana told us about the role of Caliph Abderrahman III in building the Ummayad mosque, the expansion the mosque has undergone at various times, and how Islam as a civilisation contributed to the development of arts and architecture in Andalusia.

As she was explaining, there was a deep silence among the tourists listening to her. It was emotional, but the feeling of entitlement to this important structure among both Muslims and Christians cannot be missed.

As the tourists go round the Mezquita, both Muslims and Christians, the feeling of entitlement by members of both faiths was apparent. “It is difficult, wasn’t it?” said Christina at a point, as she explains the struggle that took place between the Muslim leaders of Andalusia and the Christian leaders who reconquered Cordoba and turned the Mezquita into a Cathedral.
One of the amazing things about Mezquita is the interior design. The mosque was built more than 1000 years ago, yet the architectural design of the mosque resembles the interior design of Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Madina (peace be upon him). It is almost a copycat. It simply tells you the level of advancement Muslims have achieved early in architecture.

One of the areas of attraction in the mosque is the mihrab. The mihrab is a niche area in the mosque showing the Qibla (direction to the Kaaba in Makkah, where all Muslims face during prayer). The Mihrab in the Mosque-Cathedral suggests so many things about Islamic civilisation in Muslim Spain. It shows how advanced the Muslim world has been in the area of arts. It shows the level of thinking and advancement in knowledge at the time. The calligraphy that decorated the interior part of the Mihrab, with verses of the Qur’an adorning the entire wall tells you about a society that has knowledge, arts and culture embedded in its DNA.

In relation to the advancement on knowledge and culture, which the Cordoba mosque symbolizes, please permit me to quote at length the contribution of the historian, Tim Wallace-Murphy in his classic work, What Islam Did For US: Understanding Islam’s Contribution to Western Civilisation.
 “Cordova eventually became the dominant centre of Islamic culture during the ninth century. The phases of construction of its extraordinary mosque, which became the second largest mosque in all of Islam, reflect the cultural changes that took place between 785 and 980.” He said.

Wallace-Murphy went to state that, “in Cordova, Caliph al-Hakkam created a library of 400,000 books which were indexed in 44 catalogues, and he added his own commentaries to many of these volumes. Thus, Cordova became one of the greatest libraries in Europe, second only to the greatest in the world located in Baghdad at the heart of the Islamic empire. This almost insatiable passion for learning, stimulated the production of between 70,000  and 80, 000 bound volumes each year, which not only reflected local demand but also demonstrated the country’s capacity for a phenomenal high-volume, top quality production, many centuries before the invention of printing. Sciences, such as geography, agriculture and irrigation, astronomy, medicine and mathematics were actively encouraged, as was the serious study of philosophy based principally on classical Greek thought.”
Tim Wallace-Murphy added that “much of the classical knowledge of ancient Greece that we now treasure and take for granted would have withered away had it not been preserved and enhanced by Islamic scholars.” He concluded that “the well-attended and richly endowed colleges of Andalusia were later to provide a model and template for those founded in Oxford and Cambridge in England.” (pp.108-109).

Inside the Mihrab, as Christina told us during the tour, is the seclusion room, preserved for the Caliph. The Caliph, who leads the prayer, uses the room to engage in total devotion to Allah. As we walked from the Mihrab area, we moved to the next part of the mosque. It was another exclusive area covered in glass. Inside were white triangular stones with Arabic inscriptions on them. What is this, we asked. “This section is about the people who built the mosque,” said Christina. Each builder during the time will write his name so that the amount work he has done can be identified, and receive payment accordingly. Interestingly the names have been preserved, and so the heroes of who built this structure, which is now a UNESCO heritage site, can still be remembered.

The Mosque-Cathedral has undergone a lot of expansion and changes due the shifting of ownership between Muslims and Chritians. Although the mosque operates as a Cathedral, the main church was built at the centre of the old mosque. The surrounding walls were used to bury various Christian clergies.

But what is interesting also is the Islamic design that was used in the calligraphy of the sections of the Cathedral. Christina told us that even after the Christian reconquest, Islamic arts and calligraphy was the fashion in those centuries. So even the Chritian leaders used Muslim designers for interior decorations.

If I were asked to describe the atmosphere to someone unaware of the historical altercations that took place at the Mosque-Cathedral, I would simply say Mezquita is the place where you see two contending forces of psychological and physical ownership living together.
Yet, in contemporary times, the two contending forces result in the appreciation of history rather than a symbol of confrontation.  If history has a conscience, it would definitely face one of its stiffest test in the Mosque-Cathedral.  Here, I am not referring to conscience at face value, or from a more literal interpretation. I am referring to conscience as a subjective philosophical term that denotes ‘moral knowledge’. A knowledge that is tied to the values, belief system and ethical orientation of the individual.

As we concluded the tour, we realized that we did not pay attention to an important item in our itinerary. We had fed our brains with enough historical diet. It is time to pay attention to our stomach. In the two occasions that I visited the Mosque-Cathedral, we walked down the alleys to nearby restaurants.  We ordered Paella rice. It is the Spanish equivalent of dafaduka in Hausa language, or what is popularly known as Jollof rice in West Africa. The difference though is that Paella rice is a mish-mash of everything. If you love seafood, please don’t miss it. It is cooked with seafood especially shrimps, lemon and some vegetables. Some restaurants also use chicken. It tastes better when it is freshly made, and eaten after an exhaustive tour like the one we just had.



Wednesday, 5 October 2016

(113): Al-Andalus: The Mosaque-Cathedral and the conscience of history (III)

Just like the Hammam Al-Andalus, some of the historical edifices in Madrid still bear the hallmark of Andalus. This includes the famous cathedral in the city of Madrid, called Almudena Cathedral, a name that clearly resembles the names of one of the holiest cities of Islam, Madina Al Munawwara.

Historical accounts suggested that Almudena was originally a mosque but later converted into a Church after King Alfonso reconquered Madrid.  Another historical site of interest in Madrid is Palacio Real (the Royal Palace) of the King of Spain, although it is more of a museum now. The King no longer lives there; it is utilized for ceremonies and visit by tourists.

Now that we have visited some of the remarkable historical sites in Madrid, my attention has returned to Cordoba, that magnificent city that represents the intellectual hub of Andalusia. I visited Cordoba twice during our study period between 2014 and 2015. The first was with my friend and colleague, Muhammad Ahmad Bello. After experiencing the aura of Cordoba’s historical significance, we agreed that we should bring our family with us, so that they will equally witness this interesting adventure. We decided that after our graduation ceremony, we should embark on another visit to Cordoba.

The visit to Cordoba was made more interesting by the surprise appearance of my friend, and brother, Suleiman Baba Suleiman. Before departing to Madrid, I called to tell him that I would be away for my graduation ceremony. Suleiman told me that he would also be on holiday in the United Kingdom around the same period.  I shared many stories with him on my previous visit to Cordoba.

Few hours after defending our final project at the IE business School, Muhammad Bello and I went back to the hotel to have some rest and prepare for the graduation ceremony scheduled for the following day. Guess who is there on our arrival at the hotel lobby? It was Suleiman and his wife checking in at the hotel. That was awesome. It was a pleasant surprise.

On Saturday 19 December 2015, about five different families embarked on the journey to Cordoba, primarily to visit the most historic site in the city, the Mosque-Cathedral. There is something unique about the Mosque-Cathedral; perhaps, it is only in Cordoba where the mosque means a church, and vice versa. If you meet any resident of Cordoba, ask him about Mezquita (mosque), he would refer you to the Umayyad mosque, though it is operating as a Church and tourist site at the moment.

During our first visit to Cordoba in 2014, we walked from the train station to Mezquita. We asked a lady for a description of the Mosque-Cathedral. “You mean the mosque?” and she went on to tell us what Mezquita means to the people of Cordoba. “Everyone here calls it the mosque,” she added.

The Mezquita is a huge building situated in the old city of Cordoba. It is adorned by the minaret, which historically was used by the Muezzin who makes the call to prayer. Inside the premises, surrounded by a huge wall, which partially resembles ancient city walls that you find in Hausa city-states like Kano and Bauchi. Some beautiful orange trees were planted in different parts of the inner wall. There are several entrances to the Mosque from different alleys surrounding the mosque.

There are several shops and restaurants around the building, some of them managed by North African Arabs. The premises was full of tourists from different countries. A number of the visitors travel in groups with a tour guide providing explanation in different languages.

On arrival at the Mosque-Cathedral, we purchased tickets and headed to the door. At the entrance, there were security officials who would give you brief guidelines about the dos and don’ts of the tour.
“Are you a Muslim?” one of the guards enquired. “You are welcome to make the tour, but please no prayers are aloud.”  He advised.

We then asked if there is tour-guide, who will take us through the mosque and explain the historical monument in English. The security guard looked at the officer next to him, and spoke in Spanish. He walked away briefly, and then returned with a lady named Christina, most likely in her late 40s or early 50s.

“I am a private-tour guide, so you have to pay.” She said with a smile. “How much” we asked. “It is 50 Euros” she answered. Without hesitation, we asked her to go ahead, and within seconds, we set our foot into Mezquita.

To be continued…