From Agaju Madugba, Katsina
march 15, 2017, marked Northern Nigeria’s 58 years of ‘self-rule.’ A year before Nigeria gained political independence, the then British colonial government had granted Northern Nigeria self-rule in 1959, which paved the way for the area to become part of an independent Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1960.
Some 57 years on, having produced a total of eight leaders for the country, including military heads of state, there are indications that the North has not made many significant development strides, beyond the efforts of its late Premier, the revered Sir Ahmadu Bello. In this report, Agaju Madugba x-rays current socio-economic and political developments in Northern Nigeria, against the backdrop of a certain level of progress recorded in other parts of the country within the same period.
Sarduana’s Northern Nigeria
Several years after he was killed in Nigeria’s first military putsch in 1966, Sir Ahmadu Bello has remained a household name in the North, as he continues to enjoy popularity, even in death. Successive northern leaders have dropped his name at the slightest opportunity and reeled out a long list of Sarduana’s achievements and how he succeeded in weaving the divergent peoples of the North into what later came to be regarded as the homogenous North.
But the Sarduana’s Northern Nigeria of today may have lost the homogenous tag. Apart from the exigencies of the times, leading to the balkanisation of the area into the current 19 states, the North has since acquired an inglorious reputation for being one of the most backward areas in the world, in terms of general human development. Northern Nigeria has also turned to a safe haven for criminals hiding under the garb of religion.
Aside from the latest Boko Haram phenomenon, various other groups had in the past rendered the North virtually inhabitable, further depleting investment and economic opportunities for the area. From Benue to Plateau to Kaduna, Nasarawa and Taraba states, the activities of ‘unidentified gunmen’ have continued to have devastative impact on the communities. There were also 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 2011, the Miss World riots in Kaduna, ethno-religious and communal violence in Kaduna, Nasarawa and Benue states, youth brigandage in Okene, Kogi State. Indeed, the list is endless.
In the days of the Sarduana, as his admirers would often say, northerners did not take up arms against one another, in spite of the socio-cultural and religious diversity of the people.
In fact, according to the Governor of Sokoto State, 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. Now, it is almost impossible to take goods from Yola to Maiduguri without fatal consequences and 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 parts of Nigeria.”
Indeed, the indices may well be described as alarming. Over the last few 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 area roam the streets of major towns begging for alms.
According to 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 almajiri culture seems to overwhelm whatever efforts the Federal Government and individual states make to get the children off the streets and send them to school.
As part of measures to check the trend, the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan established model schools in different parts of the North, designed to introduce Western education alongside Islamic education for the almajiri. In Katsina State, that model school has since turned to a cattle grazing yard.
The Sarduana had in 1959 put the entire population of the North at 18 million, describing it then as “the biggest single unit after Egypt in the continent of Africa.” Today, the North still remains the most populated section of Nigeria 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 is described as the most important factor that determines economic and technological advancement of a people.
An illiterate population
Statistics 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 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 large population, produces less than 10 per cent of candidates compard to Imo State.
Government had, in 1976, launched the Universal Primary Education (UPE) scheme in Sokoto State and later, in 1999, the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme, also in Sokoto. There is no doubt that government decided to use the North as a launch pad for these educational projects to enable the area exploit the benefits and, perhaps, catch up with the rest of the country. But that has not been the case, as there is 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 be unconnected with the low adult literacy level in the North, compared to other parts of the country. In 2010, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) 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 language. According to the survey, the overall adult literacy rate for the country was 71.6 per cent, with Lagos maintaining the lead with 87.7 per cent. Kano recorded the highest literacy level in the North with 41.9 per cent; Sokoto had 33.1 per cent, while Bauchi had 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 nation’s universities through the Joint Matriculation Examination (JME). Ogun State had 13,339, and Abia had 8,874. However, for the same year, only 747 candidates from Borno State secured admission through the JME; Yobe had 999 candidates, Kebbi had 1,702, and Jigawa had 1,305 candidates.
Similarly, a 2016 report by the Federal Ministry of Education in collaboration with UNICEF, showed that, despite existing bilateral and multilateral educational programmes, millions of girls in Northern Nigeria are without primary-level education and a much larger number drop out without basic literacy and numeracy skills. As the report puts it, “worst affected are the most marginalised girls who stay in rural and excluded communities. This gap in educational provision is not simply due to lack of resources to send the girl-child to school; several other peculiar issues make the sum total, but the culture of silence imposed on girls has made it increasingly difficult for girls and women to make their voices heard in matters that concern them.”
On some other fronts, women in the North take the back stage as their status in decision- making positions is skewed against that of their male counterparts. According to reports, at the Katsina State Universal Basic Education Board, for example, out of the total 110 “senior staff,” including the Chief Executive Officer, only seven of them were women.
Poverty, disease ravaging the North
Figures from the NBS also say the number of the poor in Nigeria is on the rise. In 2004, 55 per cent of the Nigerian people were living in absolute poverty. By 2010, the figure 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/”
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 UN organ, no fewer than one million children born in Nigeria die before their fifth birthday, with most of the deaths occurring in 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 number of the maternal deaths occurring in the North.” And, according to the Nigerian 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. The report notes further that northern women are the least informed about warning signs of pregnancy complications, 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, respectively, are informed, 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 issues of poverty and underdevelopment in the North have continued to attract the attention 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.”
Moreover, President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state of Katsina currently has the inglorious reputation of having the highest number of malnourished children in Nigeria, spread across 15 of the 34 local government areas in the state, according to UNICEF. The UN estimates that 2,300 children under five years and 145 women of child-bearing age die every day in Nigeria. Again, Katsina State has the highest toll, along with 59.7 per cent and 43.6 per cent underweight, a fallout of undernourished children, with malnutrition alone causing more than 50 per cent of the deaths.
In spite of these negative developments that seem to retard the progress of the North since the demise of the Sarduana, successive northern leaders do not appear to take appropriate measures to check the lapses and, perhaps, 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 bequeathed the North.
In fact, according to former head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, who also hails from the North, “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 with the Middle-Belt concept, thus questioning the geographical entity called Northern Nigeria, 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.
Northern leaders have over the years succeeded in mismanaging the legacies that the Sarduana bequeathed to the people of the region. Reports show that Nigeria was a major exporter of groundnuts produced in the North and the proceeds were invested in the establishment of some institutions, which included the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, New Nigeria Development Company, New Nigeria Newspapers and Arewa Textile, among others.
However, apparently still living in the past and with a tendency to always drop the Sarduana’s name along with those of his compatriots at any opportune time, a cross-section of contemporary northern leaders seem to have failed to come to terms with the realities of modern Nigeria or 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’s 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 life devoid of any form of ostentatious extravagance, compared to today’s exhibition of wealth by leaders in the midst of corrosive poverty among the majority of the 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. 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, 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 some of 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.”