NORTHERN elders and the elite class have been quite vocal in the last couple of years, giving a louder voice to national issues, particularly that which affects their region. However, the sad reality is that they have focused on issues that massage the ego of the elite class and deepen the pockets of a selected few turning a blind eye on the more threatening issues eating up the region.
The dominant lexicon, Revenue allocation, as to who gets a better share from the national purse seems to take a sizable share of their mind thereby ignoring the bigger elephant in the room. If increase in allocation translates to better distribution of wealth across the social strata and an improved living standard of the average northerner, then they stand on holy ground but the evidence proves otherwise.
The lack of regional purpose, poorly articulated vision, an incoherent strategy and a continuous mismanagement of resources is the cradle upon which the parlous situation of today’s north was bred.
The huge textile industries in Kano and Kaduna that employed thousands of young northerners gradually slid into extinction without any of our leaders attempting to thrown in a rescue rope.
There is no doubt that the north is home to the richest man in Africa and a couple of other billionaires, what logical explanation could one then give to the widespread poverty of the larger populace rather than the earlier assertion on the north’s focus on building strong individuals at the expense of stronger communities. It is this widening gap between the rich and poor that has gradually metamorphosed to the insecurity we are experiencing today. How could we not have known that economic repression breeds strife and contempt. The north is today making the headline for all the wrong things.
The challenges in the north and its opportunities are tied to a single yet critical word, Education. It is the level of awareness of a people, their skills and cerebral sophistication that determine the kind of community they build. There is a strong relationship between education and economic prosperity.
When Egypt became the centre for global education, she consequently became an economic world power. This trend extended to Greece, Rome, Britain and today the United States where seven of the top ten universities in the world are resident.
The north accounts for the highest rate of illiteracy in the country, way below the national average and worst ratios for girl child education in the country. The national demographic and health survey puts the illiteracy rate for women at 21% in the north west compare to a national rate of 50%, the 10 states with the highest number of girls out of secondary school are also found in the north. Eight states in northern Nigeria have the country’s worst girl child education and health indices namely, Kebbi, Sokoto, Bauchi, Jigawa, Zamfara, Katsina, Gombe and Yobe. If this trend continues, how will we ever produce an Okonjo Iwela, Oby Ezekwesili, Ibukun Awosika, or Bola Adesola.
Education contributes directly to the growth of national Income by improving the productive capacities of the labor force. A recent study of 19 developing countries including Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia concluded that a country’s long term economic growth increases by 3.7% for every year the adult population’s average level of schooling rises. Education hence is a key strategy for poverty reduction.
Taiwan in the 1960s was exporting mushrooms, by 1990, she had emerged a power house in semiconductor and was exporting electronic goods. Paul Krugman in his explanation of this phenomenal results by the Asian tigers said their rapid growth was a natural and automatic consequence of the rapid increase in input made through education and massive investment in physical capital.
Finland was known for lumber but became a power house of mobile phones in the 1990s, Kenya was only known for its coffee but today a leader in mobile technology. The secrets of this countries lies in their Acquisition, domestication and expansion of local technologies and a vigorous pursuit of entrepreneur ship.
THE WAY OUT
The north must adopt a regional educational policy that emphasis access and quality education. The operation word is Quality, which will necessitate the equipping of colleges of education to produce standard teachers and an improved welfare of the teachers. People should aspire to teach but for them to dream of teaching, the profession must have poise and ensure a decent livelihood. A massive investment in the infrastructure of the schools and its facilities, an overhaul of its curriculum and an effective monitoring machine that ensures compliance from teachers and all stake holders. This can be achieved by allocating the required 26% of the budget of state governments to education as stipulated by the United Nations .
The technical colleges and institutes can be transformed into the bed rock of innovation in Nigeria by opening them up to partnerships with the private sector, international exchange programs, hands on experience with local projects and new funding windows. It is a shame to note that the north also has the least internet penetration in the country and as such are excluded from the global community, trends and the conversations that could shape their tomorrow.
The national council for the welfare of destitute puts the current population of Almajiri at about 7 million, a figure that must be translated to an opportunity other than a bomb on speed dial. These young northerners usually within the ages of 11 and 19 can be engaged in a carefully designed program by northern governors in collaborations will local government official,traditional institutions and religious leaders at the grass roots. They can be empowered with vocational and technical skills along sides a basic education in mathematics. Start up grants which must be carefully monitored should be given to qualified individuals and those without a knack for entrepreneur ship can be absorbed into the agricultural value chain where they can use their skills and earn a decent living. It is time for the northern elite to put their monies where their mouth is, a model of the Tony Elumelu entrepreneur ship project empowering a thousand entrepreneurs with skills and a take off grant of 5000 dollars should be domesticated in the northern region driven by northern elite for northerners.
The subjugation of women and exemption from socio economic issues is one that must be reversed if the region will make any progress. It is counter productive and economic lunacy to exclude close to half of a population from active participation in politics, policies and governance and expect to grow. Northern governors must begin a region wide campaign to get girls into school and ensure they finish. Northern girls should be encouraged into sciences and other professional courses but most importantly must be supported to reach their fullest potential and highest aspiration.
The north must act now or may loose it’s tomorrow.
Ayodele Adio, a social critic, wrote from Lagos.