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The lingering issue of underdevelopment of Northern Nigeria when compared with other sections of the country was among the topics which took the centre stage at a retreat of the Northern Senators’ Forum (NSF) which ended in Katsina last Wednesday.
“It is with an eye on the future that I call our attention once again, to the estimated 12 to 15 million children who are not currently in the education system, the highest number of out-of-school kids in the world,” the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, had noted at the opening ceremony of the programme which attracted a cross section of the northern elite, including the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar.
Saraki’s fears may be justifiable given the global attention the issue has attracted over the years but without concrete efforts at reversing the trend. As the Senate President pointed out, the implications on a society with majority illiterate population remain unquantifiable beside the “weakness in human assets development and threat to national security.”
For a section of the country that continuously prides itself as having produced five Heads of Government since the nation’s independence in 1960, as well as being the “senior partner in the Nigeria project,” according to Senator Abdullahi Adamu, the north may well be described as a one-stop shop for all manner of negative tendencies with a certain level of impact on other parts of the country.
But indications are that the north might have indeed inflicted the injury on itself, like Pandora, in the Greek mythology of the Pandora Box. According to the myth, when the gods created Pandora, the first woman on earth, they handed her a box, with a clear instruction never to open it for any reasons whatsoever. However, overwhelmed by her curiosity, Pandora eventually opened the box and all manner of things, including, misery, diseases, and poverty, came flying out and spread to the entire world. And, in a desperate bid to re-seal the box, Pandora shut-off some goodies, including “hope” which, according to the legend, the gods had also embedded deep down the box.
Apart from the inglorious tag of the “most educationally disadvantaged” area, the Boko Haram insurgency has since 2009 turned parts of the north-east to killing fields, along with the equally murderous activities of cattle rustlers prevalent in the north-west. Herdsmen-farmers’ clashes, kidnappings and other forms of banditry, sexual defilement of infants and adolescents and drugs abuse have since also become routine and sometimes labelled normal in parts of the North.
Reports indicate high maternal mortality and morbidity rates in various parts of the north even as malnutrition, stunt and waste continue to flourish, decimating a section of the population of children in Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Jigawa and Katsina, the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari where Save the Children International and UNICEF say the diseases have become endemic in 15 of the state’s 34 local government areas.
Reports also show that a number of parents and communities in the north do not allow administration of vaccines against the crippling polio virus on their children and wards; pregnant women from the north are also victims as they are said to record the lowest intake of the recommended micronutrients. On the average, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, only about 6.5 per cent of pregnant women in the North-West receive the Vitamin A postpartum dose while the figure for their counterparts in the South-East is 51.7 per cent.
Also, according to a report by the World Bank Database of Gender Statistics, 92.1 per cent of pregnant women in Osun State attend pre-natal clinic. In Lagos, it is 86.4 per cent and 85.0 per cent and 76.3 per cent in Imo and Ebonyi States respectively. Comparatively, according to the report, only 05.2 per cent of pregnant women in Zamfara State attend ante-natal clinic. For Sokoto, it is 16.7 per cent while Jigawa is 11 per cent and Katsina, 21.8 per cent.
“Poverty sits rather pretty in the north,” Adamu, a former two-term governor of Nasarawa State and Chairman of the NSF told his colleagues and guests at the retreat, last week, adding that, “it is within our power as legislators and political leaders to make every federal budget have the right impact on efforts to lift the north out of the morass of poverty, educational backwardness and infrastructural deficit.”
But Prof. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed of the Ahmadu Bello University argues on the contrary that the, “abysmally low living condition in the north,” is not necessarily due to the absence of resources. According to him, “the 19 state governors were ushered into power (in 1999) at a time when the revenues accruing to the state governments from the Federation Account was on the increase. In their first year in office, these state governors collected a huge sum of N83.5 billion from VAT and the Federation Account. Between June 2001 and May 2002, these same state governors collected from the same sources a staggering sum of N134.8 billion, rising to all time high of N185.4 billion between June 2002 and April 2003. In all, between June 1999 and April 2003, a period of four years, our 19 state governors collected a colossal sum of N516 billion, enough to transform the economies of many African countries.”
Whatever the arguments, the issue of reported low pace of educational development in the north may well be the hub, around which all other indices of underdevelopment in the area revolve. As Saraki noted, “we simply cannot abandon millions of Nigerian children to the trap of ignorance and poverty. It behoves on us, therefore, to come up with policies that will lead to a significant decrease in the out-of-school population, and improve on the numbers as we go along. However we look at it, access to education is a serious challenge in the north. We need to change the game, to empower our people to compete on equal terms with the rest of the country, and the world.”
As Prof. Josiah Shindi of Benue State University, puts it, efforts at throwing light on the “darkness of helplessness in which the north gropes,” may never yield the desired results until the north takes a collective decision to align itself with the realities of the modern world.
According to Shindi, “the north must be courageous enough to admit that the question of the value system needs to be readdressed. The fact is that we must not continue to enslave our children and ourselves simply because we want to keep up with cultural behaviours and attitudes that have over time, proved to be counterproductive.”
In fact, as part of measures to preserve “our cultural heritage” in parts of the north, it is considered an act of irresponsibility to speak the English language or display certain behaviours considered to be “Western,” in a society where the language of instruction across all levels of the education system is English. In fact, in what may well be a classical display of farce and, in spite of its reported deployment of sophisticated communication gadgets and military hardware in the course of its campaigns, the expression, ‘Boko Haram’ has been translated to insinuate that acquisition of ‘Western education (knowledge) is forbidden. ”
For Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State, the multiplier effects of the attitude of a cross section of northerners towards education ought to be a source of concern, explaining that, “this is the root cause of the decay in our society. That is why we have an army of the unemployed and some of them are not even employable, roaming the streets, especially in northern Nigeria. The world will not wait for us and the other parts of Nigeria will not wait for us. For the public schools in Katsina when we came into office in 2015, the percentage pass in the West African School Certificate Examination was 2.3 per cent including English Language and Mathematics.”
Apart from this development, the north too, may have hurt itself on various other fronts especially since the demise of the revered Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto, who is said to have been the greatest force ever, towards the unification of the diverse peoples of northern Nigeria and their overall development.
But the concept of “One North, One Destiny” as propounded by the Sarduana may have since exited the area too, more so with the progressive balkanization of the defunct Northern Region to the current 19-state structure. This is even as religion and other social and cultural biases have tended to further divide the north, contrary to the visions of Sir Ahmadu Bello.
As Rev. Joseph Hayab, a former Special Adviser on Religious Affairs to the Governor of Kaduna State, puts it, “the question of division based on ethnic and religious differences in the north has not only hindered progress but it has generated unnecessary suspicion and distrust among the people. Why do you treat me as second-class citizen or a non-northerner just because my name is Joseph while an Abdullahi from Ibadan, Lagos, or somewhere else receives favours that I am denied? How can this continue while you strive for a united North? I challenge the leadership in the North to realise that unless something is done and very quickly for that matter, there shall be little or no meaningful progress.”
In a communiqué at the end of the retreat, the Senators described as alarming, the statistics of the out-of-school children and inadequate number of educational institutions in the north, saying that, “that is why the region is both educationally and economically backward, in addition to poor budgetary funding and bad governance.”
The lawmakers further noted that “while commending the efforts of our security forces in tackling insurgency, there is worry over the resurgence of violent attacks in the north-east with almost daily reports of suicide bombings and other forms of attacks leading to loss of lives. The states in the region shall as a matter of urgency start planning for a post-oil era by improving their Internally Generated Revenue and revamping the comatose industries in the region, to provide employment opportunities for their people.”

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