A uniquely northern Nigerian Muslim culture, which traditionally holds education in contemptuous suspicion as a Western Judeo-Christian expansionist ploy, has continuously relegated the region to the abyss of socio-economic dysfunction. In combination with a distorted but widely practiced form of Sufism, which holds poverty as virtue and material prosperity as vice, the entrenched Muslim culture of abhorrence for education is responsible for the social menace of poverty-stricken, mostly homeless children, commonly known as AlmaJiri, roaming the streets of northern Nigeria in their millions.
A region that formed part of the greater western Sudanese states, with a history of Islamist revivalist movements for most part of the 19th century, northern Nigeria was made fertile for the rapid sprouting of the early seeds of radicalisation in the second half of the 20th century when Salafism was birthed in the region from modern-day Sudan. While also holding education in utter contempt, the cardinal objective of the reformation of the Islamic faith by ridding Muslim practices of what were considered all forms of innovation and a return to their interpretations of puritan Islamic Prophetic tradition, would see Salafism attempting to wipe out Sufism in all of northern Nigeria.
Imbibing the contemporary aspiration for global Islamist revivalism of the Muslim Caliphacy through political Islamic theology as localised galvanising tools, the separating lines between the state and religion became blurred in Salafi doctrines, setting the stage for a prolonged agitation for the full imposition of the Muslim legal code, Sharia, in Nigeria. The aspiration for the imposition of Sharia law in Nigeria by millions of northern Nigeria Muslims now under the firm influence of Salafism but the failure to achieve same through political Islamic theology was the precursor of the devastating Boko Haram insurgency, whose objective is to forcefully put to practice what has been preached in the mainstream Muslim community for several decades.
The twin menace of Almajirinci and Boko Haram insurgency that has reduced the image of the Muslim North to the most impoverished, ignorant, diseased, socially backward, economically underdeveloped region with notoriety as the third most dangerous place to live in the world is discernably a consequence of a wilful Muslim culture, which is without parallel anywhere in the entire global Muslim world, as these practices are fundamentally not Islamic. While the Almajiri institution has been sustained by the still entrenched traditional Muslim Sufi practices, the Boko Haram insurgency is kept alive by the constant nourishing of the seeds of radicalisation through the preaching of hate, intolerance and separatism by mainstream Muslim religious leaders under the heavy influence of radical Salafi Islamic theology. Whereas, Sufism birthed Almajirinci, Salafism gave rise to Boko Haram insurgency and both are still imbedded in the complexities of northern Nigeria’s traditional Muslim culture, hence, making the problems intractable.
Despite these challenges associated with a wilful but woefully wrong choice of a manifestly retrogressive northern Nigerian Muslim culture, little or nothing seems to have been done to reposition the region onto the path of socio-economic redemption, no thanks to a visionless political leadership backed by the conservative religious establishment. Taking advantage of the widespread ignorance of the mass of the uneducated poor of the North, which is fostered by the conservative religious establishment and the political leadership, the quest for power against their counterparts in the predominantly Christian Southern part of Nigeria over the leadership of the country is primarily responsible for this inertia.
Positioning as defenders of the people’s interest against perceived enemies from the South, the political leadership of northern Nigeria has evolved a triumvirate system of power brokerage, which ensures a cohesive front in the battle with the South for the soul of the Nigerian state in a mutually beneficial arrangement. This triumvirate consists of the educated elements with the ability to engage with their counterparts from the South constituting the political class, the traditional religious establishment, which sanctions the divine right of temporal rulers, and the uneducated poor masses that form the bulwark of northern Nigeria’s political power. In this complex web of power relations, the religious establishment secures the political base of the uneducated poor masses from which the political class derive the legitimacy to lead, through the preaching of poverty as virtue, prosperity as vice, education as western, hence, inconsistent with faith, and strict obedience to constituted authority as they are divinely ordained to govern. Most importantly, the religious establishment has also successfully created a “we versus them” situation, through hate, divisive, intolerant and discriminatory ethno-religious preaching, between the Muslim North and the rest of Nigeria as a useful election protectionist tool against loss of presidential power. With underage voters constituting a significant portion of the largest voting demography in Nigeria domiciled in the North, the over 13 million out-of-school children, commonly known as Almajiri, forms the backbone of the region’s power base, hence the institution must be preserved for the advantage of the political class.
The political leadership, on its part, has devised an intricate patronage system,, which caters for the religious establishment and the masses in proportionate measure, thereby deepening the propensity for dependency rather than self-reliance. The political leadership of northern Nigeria has gone a stretch further to champion cherished religious aspirations, ranging from Sharia to the strident defence of child marriage on the national stage to the pleasure of the religious establishment. To keep the bulk of the masses in perpetual mental and material dependency, the northern political leadership has disingenuously defended their right to remain uneducated, citing the fallacy of pre-existing “Islamic education [Almajirinci]” before the advent of “western education” in contemporary times; a form of education they tend to present as equal, if not superior. By adorning the toga of educational disadvantage, like a badge of honour in the nearly six decades after Independence, northern Nigeria’s political leadership has taken full advantage of this disadvantage to advance their pecuniary interest to the collective detriment of the entire region in a manner that is akin to cultural self-immolation.
The rise in ethno-geographic and religious populism in northern Nigeria in recent times has compounded the problem of the region more. Pressed from fellow Nigerians of different geography, ethnicity and faith in a fit of superiority complex, northern Nigeria turned towards their kind in neighbouring African countries in a clear case of conflict of ethnicity and citizenship, which has rendered the entire northern flank of Nigeria borderless. Taking full advantage of this unfortunate situation, armed mercenary fighters, criminal gangs, cross-border bandits, smugglers and kidnappers for ransom, have poured into northern Nigeria as the region presents a thoroughfare of limitless opportunities for criminal enrichment.
Today, northern Nigeria is falling apart under the effect of sediments of cultural self-immolation, which has reduced the region to a place with highest human misery index, the poorest, most insecure and ignorant region in the world. As northern Nigeria is set aflame by Boko Haram insurgency on its eastern flank, cross-border banditry on its western corner and killer herdsmen in central Nigeria, the purveyors of the visionless political leadership, which is directly responsible for its state of anomie, have fallen victim to their disingenuous power grab scheme over the years.
The failure to transform the grassroots to tall trees has seen the grassroots turning to weeds to wither the tall trees. With dwindling revenue from the centre and accompanying rise in population, the intricate patronage system hitherto put in place by the northern political leadership class is now grossly inadequate and unsustainable, thereby leaving out a large section of the surging population of the masses desperately poor. Without education and requisite skills to survive in modern times, the poor have resorted to feasting on the rich in northern Nigeria and the lamentations have just begun.