By Abdullahi Garba
In a matter of days, on May 29, Major-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari will once again take over the leadership of the country, this time around as a democratically elected President. He was Nigeria’s military Head of State between December 31,1983 and August 31,1985.
Buhari, from Katsina state in the north west, is returning to power at a time in the nation’s history when the Boko Haram insurgency appears to defy Federal Government’s efforts at tackling the problem. Buhari had survived the insurgents’ onslaught in Kaduna last year when suicide bombers reported to belong to the Boko Haram group bombed his convoy at Kawo in the Kaduna metropolis. The President-elect has since vowed to handle the insurgency issue after his inauguration.
One North, No Destiny
But, apart from the Boko Haram menace and other forms of insecurity situation in parts of the north, Buhari may also have to contend with a number of several other issues plaguing northern Nigeria. Again, like the Boko Haram question, the alarming disparity in educational development between the south and north, the reported pervasive
poverty and what is said to be general underdevelopment of the north when compared with some other parts of the country, have equally seemingly defied solution, some 55 years after the nation’s political independence. And, it is also 56 years since the then British government granted the defunct Northern Nigeria self-rule on March 15, 1959, a development that paved way for the area to subsequently become part of an independent Nigeria, on October 1,1960.
The late Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was widely believed to have taken bold steps to develop the area has remained as popular in death as he was while alive. But 56 years on, northern Nigeria may not have made any significant progress beyond what Sir Ahmadu Bello did before his killing in the course of the first military putsch in 1966. Some 49 years after his assassination, successive northern leaders have continued to mouth the activities of the late Sarduana while he lived. At the slightest opportunity, they would reel out a long list of the Sarduana’s achievements and how he succeeded in weaving the divergent peoples of the north into what later came to be regarded as a homogenous northern Nigeria.
However, northern Nigeria of today may be everything but homogenous. Apart from the exigencies of the times leading to the balkanisation of the area into the current 19 states, the Sarduana’s north has since acquired an inglorious reputation for reportedly being one of the most backward areas in the world, in terms of general human development. Sarduana’s northern Nigeria has since turned into a safe haven for criminals masquerading under the garb of religion. And, aside the latest Boko Haram phenomenon, various other groups had in the past virtually rendered the north inhabitable, further depleting investment and economic opportunities for the area.
The Maitatsine riots in Kano, the Zangon Kataf crisis in Kaduna, the Tiv/Jukun clashes in Taraba, Birom/Hausa Fulani fights in Plateau, the post-presidential election riots in in 2011, the Miss World riots in Kaduna, ethno-religious and communal violence in Kaduna, Nasarawa and Benue states, the youth brigandage in Okene, Kogi state, the list is endless. And, in recent times, suspected Fulani herdsmen have continued to attack communities in Kaduna, Plateau, Benue and Taraba states, with loss of several lives and destruction of property. In the days of the Sarduana, as his admirers would often say, northerners did not take up arms against one another, in spite of socio-cultural and religious diversities of the people.
Over these several years, the north has reportedly continued to lag behind other sections of the country in educational development as school-age children and adolescents from the north roam the streets of major towns in the area, begging for alms. According to a former Governor of Kaduna state, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, if the north is able to wake up from its slumber, it will take some 50 years for the area to attempt to catch up with the rest of the country in educational development alone. The deep-rooted Almajirai culture seems to overwhelm whatever efforts the Federal Government and individual state governments make to get these children off the streets and send them to school. Reports indicate that the Almajirai transform into foot soldiers for unscrupulous persons, during violent upheavals in parts of the north.
The Sarduana had in 1959 put the entire population of the north at 18 million people describing it then as “the biggest single unit after Egypt in the continent of Africa.” Some 56 years later, the north still remains the most populated section of the country with eight of the 19 northern states alone recording well over 33 million people, according to the 2006 national population figures. But the growth in population has equally produced a large number of illiterate people, in a world where education remains the most singular factor that enhances if not determines economic and technological advancement of a people.
Reports indicate that an average of about 100,000 students from Imo state alone seek admission every year to universities through the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) while a combination of 16 states in the north excluding Benue, Kogi and Kwara, produce only a paltry 73,000 candidates. The figure translates to an average of approximately 4,500 candidates from each of the affected states in the north. Even Kano state with its very high population produces less than 10 per cent of candidates from Imo state.
The Federal Government had in 1976 launched the Universal Primary Education (UPE) scheme in Sokoto and later the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme, also in Sokoto, in 1999.
Perhaps, there is no doubt that government decided to use the north as launch pad for these educational projects to enable the area exploit the benefits and catch up with the rest of the country. But, that has not been the case as there is evident progressive decline in the educational fortunes of the north in particular even as all other indices of development are equally skewed against the area.
According to Prof. Mary Lar of the University of Jos, “when it comes to education, the giant north is still in comfortable slumber relative to the other regions of the country.” She goes further to point out that between 60 and 80 per cent of school-age children who should be in school are not in school.
This development may not therefore be unconnected with the low adult literacy level in the north when compared to other parts of the country. In 2010, the Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS) conducted a survey to determine the adult literacy level in Nigeria. The overall literacy rate was calculated based on the ability to read and write in any language, English or any other languages. According to the survey, the overall adult literacy rate for the country was 71.6 per cent with Lagos maintaining the lead among the states with 87.7 per cent. Kano recorded the highest literacy level in the north with 41.9 per cent, Sokoto has 33.1 per cent and Bauchi, 39.5 per cent.
And, according to the Federal Ministry of Education, out of 6,468 secondary schools with a total enrolment of 4,448,869 students nationwide, only 2,419 (37 per cent) of the schools with an enrolment of 1, 4117,645 are from the north.
Equally frightening are admission figures showing the number of students admitted into universities in the country, from JAMB. In 2012, according to JAMB, a total of about 13,974 candidates from Anambra state gained admission to study various courses in the universities through the Joint Matriculation Examination (JME). Ogun state had 13,339, Abia state had 8,874. But for the same year, only 747 candidates from Borno state secured admission through the JME while Yobe state had 999 candidates, Kebbi state had 1,702 and Jigawa state had 1,305 candidates.
Poverty, Disease Ravaging the North
According to the FBS, the number of the poor is on the rise generally in Nigeria with about rising with about 55 per cent of the Nigerian people were living in absolute poverty as at 2005. By 2010, this had risen to 61 per cent, and, “the situation is particularly bad in northern states where over three-quarters of the population live in absolute poverty,” the report says.
The UNICEF believes that infant and maternal mortality rates in the north are “alarmingly” the highest in the country. According to a recent report by the United Nation’s organ, no fewer than one million children born in Nigeria die before their fifth birthday, with most of the deaths occurring in the northern states. The report notes further that, “the number of women who die due to pregnancy and related causes is also alarming, with a disproportionate of the maternal deaths occurring in the north. And, according to the Nigeria Democratic Health Survey of the National Population Commission, 88.6 per cent of pregnant women in the North-West still give birth at home with all the attendant risks. The same report gives the figure for the North-East as 82.2 per cent and the North-Central, 54.6 per cent while the South-East is 13.2 per cent and South-West, 20.8 per cent. Similarly, the report notes further that northern women are the least informed about warning signs of pregnancy complications when compared with their counterparts from the southern part of the country. For the North-Central, North-East and North-West, 47.3, 44.3 and 48.1 per cent of the women are informed respectively, contrary to the 66.0, 60.0 and 75.6 per cent of pregnant women from the South-East, South-South and South-West respectively.
The reported northern issues of poverty and underdevelopment have continued to attract the attention of people even from outside the north. According to a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Charles Soludo, “it will require a, state of emergency to address the crippling poverty and debilitating under-development in the north.” And, for the Niger state Governor who is also Chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, “we must resolve to confront poverty which has bedevilled our people, with full determination to eradicating the phenomenon in the northern states. We must do everything possible to rise above the phenomenon. We must free our people from the shackles of under-development. Peace and security in the northern states will be inconclusive if we do not have actionable proposals with specific time lines and expected outcomes for youth employment, poverty reduction and social security for the citizens.”
And, for the Speaker of the House of Representatives who is also the Sokoto state Governor-elect, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, “these are not the best of times for the north, especially when we recall that hundreds of years ago, the people of what is today known as northern Nigeria were already trading with the large kingdoms of the western Sudan (Ghana, Mali, and Songhai) and with countries of the Mediterranean across the Sahara. In apparent reference to the prevailing Boko Haram insurgency in parts of the north, Tambuwal added that, “now it is almost impossible to take goods from Yola to Maiduguri without fatal consequencies. It is common in some quarters to discuss how the north appears to be dragging the nation down, and to reel out indices that show how the north is poorer, less educated and less enterprising than the other part of Nigeria.”
In spite of these negative developments which seem to retard the progress of the north since the demise of the revered Sarduana, successive northern leaders do not seem to take appropiate measures to check some of the perceived lapses and chart a new course for the overall well-being of the people. They continue to flaunt the Sarduana’s name without commensurate efforts at building on the legacies he was said to have bequeathed the north. In fact, according to a former Head of State who is also Chairman of the ACF Board of Patrons, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, “what is happening today is not the Nigeria and the north we inherited and for us, it cannot be the north we desire to bequeath to our children. We have over the years through our action or inaction, directly or indirectly allowed the gradual descent to the present disagreeable and unacceptable behaviours in our communities and the entire north.”
From Plateau state to the southern part of Kaduna state where the issue of who is an indigene and settler continues to claim scores of lives in ethnic and religious conflicts, to Benue state where majority of the people would rather align themselves to the Middle-Belt concept thus questioning the geographical entity called northern Nigeria and to the seven states in the north-west zone where the “core north” phenomenon has consistently pitched the Hausa and Fulani against the other tribal groupings from the area, the north appears to have bitten more than it can chew.
Successive northern leaders have over the years succeeded in mismanaging out of existence, legacies that the revered Sarduana bequeathed to the people of the north. According to Muazu Babangida Aliyu, in the 60s, Nigeria was a major exporter of groundnut which was produced mainly in northern Nigeria, “with the proceeds invested in the establishment of some institutions which today are the legacies of our heroes past. Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, New Nigeria Development Company [NNDC], New Nigeria Newspapers and Arewa Textile are few of the examples.” However, apparently still living in the past and with an irritating tendency to always drop the Sarduana’s name, along with those of his compatriots at any opportune time, a cross section of current northern leaders have seemingly failed to come to terms with the realities of modern Nigeria or indeed the peculiar trend of events that tend to drive the modern world which if adopted may even present better opportunities for the people than those of the Sarduana era. From all indications, the Sarduana legacy appears to endure but the crop of today’s leaders from the north fail to emulate Sir Ahmadu Bello who, from reports, lived a Spartan lifestyle devoid of any forms of ostentetious extravagance as compared to today’s exhibition of affluence by the leaders, in the midst of corrosive poverty among the majority of the northern population.
In his capacity as Premier, an obviously elated Sir Ahmadu Bello had on March 15, 1959, told the visiting Queen of England and the Duke of Edinburgh that, “in agriculture, we are one of the two leading exporters of groundnut in the world and our cotton supplies a substantial part of Lancashire’s needs. In mining, we are the foremost producer of columbite and an immigrant source of the world’s tin. In industrial development, we are in our infancy but the success of the great textile mill here in Kaduna, the latest in West Africa, is a potent showing what we can achieve when the cheap hydro-electric power which we plan to provide becomes available in our main commercial centres….I have said a good deal about commerce because future prosperity of this region, like that of the United Kingdom, depends on our ability to maintain and if possible, enlarge our share of world trade.”
Unfortunately, the Sarduana died before he could realise some of the programmes he had for his people. But he succeeded in setting up the textile mills, along with strings of other business empires for the north which his successors have since mismanaged out of existence.
The popular groundnut pyramids of Kano have since disappeared while religious intolerance thrives and the north has virtually become a killing field and as one writer observes, “the foundation of one North, one people, has crumbled. The picture is real and the message is clear, the North has fallen. The power of the North has gone awry and Arewa has lost its aura.”
Indeed, it has been a long period of regrets and finger-biting. As the Deputy Senate Leader, Abdul Ningi, observed in March, during the 56th anniversary celebration of self-government for northern Nigeria, “something is terribly wrong with the north and there are many questions than answers. We are not telling ourselves the truth, the north is after money. We cannot keep sweeping things under the carpet and pretend that everything is well.”The north has produced the largest number of heads of state and presidents since 1960 , beginning with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, late Gen. Murtala Mohammed, President Shehu Shagari, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, late Gen. Sani Abacha, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and Buhari who is returning for the second time.
Is the Buhari presidency likely to change the fortunes of the north so that the area will no longer be described as a laughing stock, according to Babangida Aliyu? The burden of the north is, therefore, an irony their leaders have a responsibility to turn around. Buhari is one of them and time will tell.