“As an auditor, I used to work all over the North. You could see the vast land, but they don’t have basic infrastructure and didn’t have jobs. That was about 30 years ago and it was like a time bomb. When I was Chairman of Eko Hotels, I personally organised lectures to bring the plight of northern people to the government, but government turned deaf ears”
– J. K. Randle, in a featured interview in ThisDay, Sunday Newspaper, March 24, 2019.
There was a report carried by most Nigerian newspapers that billionaire Aliko Dangote, while speaking at the 2019 Kaduna Economic Summit, had decried the rankling rate of poverty in the North of Nigeria. In that report, Dangote said the land mass and agricultural potential of the North are more than enough not to downgrade the region and consign it to poverty. This got me thinking, and therefore respond not only to issues raised by him but speak to the unresponsive Northern elite who have chosen an immature path that not only has spawned a shameful level of poverty in the North but is dragging the South equally down and in the mud with it.
I recall in 2017 that the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, said the North was using antediluvian methods to run its socio-political economy and that had the North-East or the North-West been single countries, they would have been the poorest on earth. Of course, trust the Northern elite, they were outraged and vilified a voice of reason and truth. As usual, the North that is keener, since the Sir Ahmadu Bello days, to keep its illiterate poor in sufficient numbers for electoral and census purposes. They shouted the Emir down.
And only a few weeks back, President Muhammadu Buhari, who ought to know, shed what, to me, was more of crocodile tears, was quoted as saying that whenever he was passing by on roads and saw almajiris with begging bowls, his heart bled. Adding a rider, which is even sadder, from a President from the North, that for them (the almajiri), education seemed a luxury. It was then I knew that the North is an unfortunate case that we all as Nigerians must collectively address.
In the course of getting this article started, an extremely helpful treatise from Premium Times on May 9, 2019, written by Majeed Dahiru and titled, “Lamentations After Self-Immolation in Northern Nigeria”, was published. It not only eased the scope of my analysis, but also gave confirmation to my thesis, and advanced me in the notion that leadership is not Nigeria’s core problem. It clearly is not any more for me. For until the North’s structural template, which is in three layers of societal strata (which according to Majeed Dahiru is made up of the educated elements who sit atop the structure, the traditional religious elements and the uneducated poor masses) are dismantled, we are all in Nigeria heading nowhere. It is this impossible structure that is only for the political and power interests of the top class and which can never create progress that is creating the stone feet of the North and a drag on Nigeria. The North relies permanently on a Fulani first doctrine, a patently false census figures (in terms of population in the North figures) and a bottom strata “talakawa” who are kept down deliberately. This is to ensure that the political, ruling and religious Northern elite keep the false narrative with their populace about the South being the “cheats” and as those ‘depriving Northerners’ of their fair share in an incongruous unitary federation. The Northern elite keep using the indoctrinated illiterates, unskilled almajiri and miscreants to thumb-print for votes and turn those undiscerning millions, whom we are told, into those who “love Buhari” and who consider him a “rock star” and an infallible “god”. So long as this is the scenario, we will keep having wrong choices of persons, not only of those who emanate from the North, to lead the country, but also impossible to unravel those impossible issues that make Nigeria to be going in the wrong direction.
It is this false read of the reasons for the poverty, banditry and kidnapping in the North that caused President Buhari to create his bogus Social Intervention Programmes involving “Trader Moni”, “Conditional Cash Transfers”, ‘National Home-Grown School Feeding”, “N-Power” and Government Empowerment Programmes” which are merely Ponzi schemes meant to address an “Almajiri Economy”. Mr President sees the entire national landscape as an almajiri country! Meanwhile, N472bn has gone into the Social Intervention Schemes in the four years and half of Buhari’s Presidency with dubious results as we now know.
Truth must be told. The archaic feudal system in the North is at the root of the Nigerian tragedy. It is an unfair and unjust system that consigns the millions of almajiri (12 million, I read, in all of the North, three million of which are in Kano) to a permanent life of illiteracy, begging and serfdom. How would such unskilled million persons transit to a modern economy? Like Majeed asserts, in no other Muslim country is there such an entrenched injustice and perpetual serfdom. Saudi Arabia, where our top Northern elite go for Hajj and lesser Umrah, is as modern a Muslim country as can be, even if they have their oddities and peculiarities. Dubai, a Muslim wonder city, a favourite stop of the Nigerian upper class and most vacationing and trader Nigerians, is a 21st Century city with all the trappings of entering the 22nd Century with all of Artificial Intelligence applications and robotics. So, for anyone to keep precluding the rest of us from intruding in a “Religious North Only” experiment under the veneer that Christian Southerners are infidels and even Southern Muslims, “lesser Muslims” and as persons who are most unqualified to invest, sojourn or speak to the painful circumstances of years of wrongheaded religious fervour and hermetic treatment of their talakawa is wrong. Nigerians must no longer condone this kind of thinking. For it is that neglect to restructure itself and Nigeria and to modernise that is dragging Nigeria down. It could have been addressed over the years, if only the “power distance” between the third tier layer in the Northern society were addressed differently and built for not just a future Northern society, but a future prosperous Nigeria. Sadly, if we may regard the “Hofstede Power Distance Index” as it pertains to Nigeria, in the words of Remi Adekoya (Business Day, May 9, 2019), the less powerful members of a society, always the majority, expect and accept unequal distribution of power”. This, according to Adekoya, “signals a strong propensity in Nigeria society (read Northern society) to accept a hierarchical order with significant power inequalities that (have) no justification”.
This attitude is further reinforced by the Northern political elite who ask the clergy to preach to the serfs in their places of worship that their serfdom is a virtue, prosperity as a vice, education as western, and I guess, as God ordained. This, of course means in converse, God has approved from Heaven, the overflowing blessings the Northern elite enjoy. This then would explain the shoe shining boxes and polishes that Governor Umar Ganduje used in “blessing” his Kano talakawa. And with the Muslim faithful in poverty and entitled to a minimum of four wives and with uncontrolled fertility, there would be enough “human supply” in 2023. Little wonder the Northern elite are speaking about holding on to “power” beyond 2030. Of course, why not? The thumb-printers are in their millions. The “future” is assured and power guaranteed.
But I dare say, the dam is long broken. Debo Sobowale in the Vanguard wrote of the “revolt of the “slaves” in what he termed the “Revolt of the Almajiris”. What with the wide scale banditry and kidnapping, the genie is out of the bottle. When a kidnapper can make N10m in an escapade, why take a bowl to beg and collect only N10 in a day? Northern Nigeria in its ignorance of not thinking strategically about the future has made itself a laughing stock. The crisis is what is now beyond what an occupying Federal Government with its panoply of Fulani and Muslim generals, can contain with guns, muscles or admonitions. The horse has long bolted from the stable.
It will now take Nigeria as a whole to bring the crisis to a halt. The first natural response to the North, which has kept a deaf ear to the twin demands of restructuring and state police must now urgently have a re-think, otherwise, we are on our way to an inevitable disintegration as no reasonable nation can condone this unending anomie, anarchy and no clear path to progress or a brighter future. If the North wants some help in its current helplessness and “exporting” destabilisation and insecurity to the south, I would encourage them to assemble their intellectuals (which it has an abundance, but have suppressed under the guise of feudalism.)