Rise In Poverty Level In Northern Nigeria: The North Has Lost Her Compass
By Comrade Ismail Abdulazeez Mantu
The Northern part of Nigeria, a promising land all thought to anytime soon kick-start the manifestation of the blueprint and architectural roadmap that will birth the true picture of the supposed modern Nigeria visioned at Independence, is fast moving off track. The late Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahamadu Bello and his like minds Political gladiators of northern extraction who all shared the common goal of a glorious Northern Nigeria, are by my guess far disappointed with what is becoming of Northern Nigeria today. With their minds casted on a prosperous and developed Northern Nigeria envisioned for greatness, the Sardauna and his fellow Northern Comrades stood their grounds at the floor of Federal House of Representative in Lagos in 1957, to countered the motion moved by Chief Anthony Enehoro of the Action Group (AG), for self government in that same 1957. The Sardauna and his northern patriots knowing fully well that the North is not at that period prepared enough to embrace the adventure of self government, they purged out their minds by harmoniously replacing the self government move with the phrase “as soon as practicable”. The Sardauna was much aware that the North is not then ready enough to provide the required technical expertise and qualified manpower to take up positions and roles in the civil service, the Nigeria Army and other key political slots in the country. They shielded the North from been vulnerable to backwardness and political enslavement among their peers of regions in the country. Coming out of Federal House of Representative in Lagos, the Sardauna and his crew members were booed, jeered and even stoned. They received all humiliation in return for protecting the North of their dreams. To further their quest for self government, the Action Group (AG) under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo send a delegate to the North to enlighten Northerners on the need for self government. The cake was not worth the candle for the delegates of Western region as they were smuggled out of Kano. The angry crowd that met them was beyond imagination. That was exactly what resulted in what was later to be known as Kano riot of 1957. Such was the huge sacrifices the Sardauna and his contemporaries had made in their quest for a glorious and self dependent northern Nigeria. It is still a shocker to my bone marrow seeing the Northern Nigeria of today leading the race on the statistical logs of various local and international report of poverty level in Nigeria.
A clean trace on the long rope of origin will undoubtedly classify me as a full fledged South Westerner, given that my both parents are natives of Ogbomosho, in today’s Oyo State. I was however, born and brought up in the core part of Northern Nigeria. Funtua, in Katsina state in specific. The whole of my life since birth were spent in the North. I am very well familair with the great people of Northern Nigeria, I am familair with the environment, I am familair with the political and geographical terrain of Northern Nigeria. I am familiar with the cultural values, norms and beliefs system of Northern Nigeria. The Northern attributes in my entire lifestyle are so convincing that one could placed his buttom dollar as a bet that I am a full fledged Northerner. My facial look, mode of dressing and even the tone in speaking English dialectically reflect that of a core Northerner. All of these are more reasons why I could afford to put my pen to test about Northern Nigeria.
The North we have in Nigeria today is far from been the exact replicate of what her founding fathers bargained for. The ambition of building a strong empire which will eventually turn out to be the hegemonic power of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, was what made the Sardauna and his contemporaries lay their lives for the North. The Sardauna on January 15th, 1966, choose to submit his live to the brutal assassination from Chukwuma Nzeogwu Kaduna’s barrel of gun rather than fled like a coward and denounce the North. It cost the Sardauna is live to lay the foundation of what should be a glorious and prosperous Northern Nigeria. What then has stagnated and hampered the progression of Northern Nigeria since the demise of Sardauna and his contemporaries? What could be the possible explanations for the North losing her direction? Where has the North got it all wrong in her quest for development?
To be candid, nothing more than internal contradictions in political, economic and socio-cultural values of the North have best explain the rationale behind the backward nature of the region today. In other words, the backsliding and retrogressive movement of the train of the North is caused by more of internal factors inherent in the political, economic and socio-cultural lives of the inhabitants of Northern Nigeria.
There exist a wide margin of gap between the few Politically and economically privileged class and the mass majority of the politically and economically less privileged class in the population structure of Northern Nigeria. The few wealthy and power influencers are super rich economically and politically so much that they wallow in affluence, while the mass downtrodden are far poorer so much that they languish in abject poverty and penury. The wide unbridgeable gap between the have and the have not in Northern Nigeria is so visible that is fast generating into what my sociology lecturers, Prof Jacob Yecho and Dr Godwin Odok, taught me to be social stratification. A a kind of closed system that prohibited social mobility either upward or downward on the social ladder. The few Northern elites and their lineage or entire households are born into affluence and they die in affluence, then pass the chain of wealth to their coming generations just like fathers before them did. The same is applicable to the poor majority. A pure definition of a caste system.
The political and economic elites of Northern Nigeria today, unlike the likes of Sardauna, venture into political and economic businesses primarily to further enrich their already rich pockets. Greed and primitive accumulation of wealth through public service has made it extremely difficult for the Northern elites of today to circulate their ill gotten wealth among the mass poverty shrinking majority in the North. To the elites, it a business of no gain to give a dime voluntarily to the less privilege. What they derive pleasure from is having a huge number of poor masses, young and old at their mansion gate singing the elites names in praises. A peanut can only drop from the elites pockets only when they hear the poor men eulogizing their names. They can’t empower the poor for any reason. If they do, who will come to their door step to shout “Ranka ya dade. Dan wani jikan wani” (Long live son of this grandson of that). Who will announce their social status, wealth, power and prestige? They won’t afford to trade their wealth with the sincere mission to get the poor out of the poverty circle. The Northern elites of today do not for any reason permit inter marriage between their sons and daughters and that of an ordinary man, except on rare occasions in which the elites have little or no control over. Some of them can go to the extent of disowning their sons and daughters if they insisted on following the way of loving a man of low class. The most common practice among the Northern elites when it comes to marriage is “Auren Zumunci” (lineage or household marriage), just to avoid circulating their wealth out to the poor man house. Those among the elites who are elected into one Political office or the other hardly come around to rub minds with the same poor masses who voted them to power until another election is behind the corner. The elites understand very well all the poor masses are been trapped down by the evil poverty. The elites while in power will only make policies that will further impoverished the masses, just to keep hold of them within the poverty circle. During electioneering campaign, the elites share part of their looted wealth to the poor. Turn son against his father, turn youths to Political thugs all in the name of reelection bid. After election, once they are announced or swear in they immediately cut off every rope that links them with the masses. Such is the kind of Political elites common with Northern Nigeria of today.
As effort is made to tell the gloomy tale of the share blames and contributions of the Northern Political and economic elites towards backwardness in Northern Nigeria today, the mass majority also have their own share of blames for Northern Nigeria predicament.
Socioculturally, polygamy, especially among the poor majority Northern inhabitants has no doubt contributed more than anything to the drastic rise in poverty level in northern Nigeria. Not just polygamy, but the irresponsible kind of polygamy in which men of low income married two to three or even sometimes up to four wives. They bears children whose numbers are good enough to form two complete soccer teams, with even the reserve. They leave these children to survive at the mercy of nature. There is a strong justification within Islamic doctrine for a man to opt for polygamy as it is also a practice that Prophet Muhammed (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his entire household) embraced throughout his lifetime. The Sunnah of the Prophet on polygamy which many less privileged Northerners emulate is well documented and referenced in his Hadith (sayings and way of life), as well as the Holy Qur’an. Many however, hide under the the teachings of the prophet to justify their own kind of irresponsible polygamous nature. The terms and conditions that Prophet lay down before going polygamous are in most cases totally not adhered to by most Northerners today. The responsibilities that comes with polygamy are been totally neglected. It has turn out to be an avenue where many satisfy their sexual urge and amusements. The prophet did not make polygamy a child of necessity for his followers. Outside Kalimatul Sha’ada (believing that there is no other God except Allah and believing Prophet Muhammed is the messenger of Allah), five daily prayers without seize, Fasting during the month of Ramadan, giving out to the needy (Zakka) and going for Hajj (if you have the means), there is nowhere the prophet made compulsory to his followers that they can keep more than a single wife. The condition that only warrant keeping more than one wife as a Muslim is if you have the means to cater for their needs and that of their the needs of their children. Also if you cannot with a single wife abstain from Zina (adultery and fornification). What is been paratice today as polygamy in most part of northern Nigeria is far away from what the Islamic doctrine lay down. You could see a man whose source of income depends on shoemaking or Motorcycle riding (Okada) but yet keep two to three wives, each wife with at least four to five children. In the wake of growing poverty level and economic hardship in the country, it becomes very difficult for such man to provides his large family cycle with basic necessities of live. It takes the grace of God to feed his family twice a day. Even if he was able to feed the family, the meal provided will be lacking in nutrients. Housing and clothing them becomes very difficult as well. Not to talk of sponsoring their education to give them a more brighter future. The children moral upbringings get stuck as the size of the family increase in volume.
With the futures of these innocent children in a bleak and blur of a serious jeopardy, parents further worsen their life by throwing them into the Almajiri system. The Almajiri system whose initial aim was to equiped the child with Islamic knowledge has totally lost it grip, and today now constituted an avenue that harboured societal nuisance. The child early childhood proper upbringing is massively truncated by the Almajiri system. The child from that moment is left on his own to cater for is needs. No cares, no moral tutelage. Most of these innocent children at this point of acquiring knowledge are exposed to different anti social vices. Many among them are sexually abused by opportunist promoter of homosexualism. Only few of these children abandoned by their parents in Almajiri system scale through in making an average better life. I am not in anyway opposed to giving a child an opportunity to acquire Islamic knowledge. After all the wise ones among northern parents are been able to properly raised their children by giving them both western education and the Islamic education simultaneously. They enrolled their children in schools to attend from morning to noon, and when the child return they attend Islamiyya later in the evening. Saturdays and Sundays the children go for morning classes in their various islamiyyas and return home to help their mothers with house chorus. Through this system parents put their eyes on the proper upbringing of their children. They feed and train their children. They monitor their children moral upbringings. Unlike the dump and turn back attitude of some parents who throw their children into the Almajiri system and never check back on the wellbeing and progression of their children. This parents only see their children occasionally during Sallah festival. The Almajiri system has become a premises where parents who want to dodge taking full responsibility of their polygamous products dumped the innocent children and make their own ways. They care less on what the children eat and what they put on as clothes. They don’t care about where the children lay their heads at night. Good parenting which is internally fading away among northern parents is far beyond just giving birth to dozens of children alone.
For quite long I have wonder how so easily has terrorism and criminalities find their roots in northern Nigeria. Until recently I come to realize that the Almajiri system has been the basic foundation of these evil acts. Those abandoned young children becomes vulnerable to partaking in crimilanality because of their poor moral upbringing and lack of proper parenting. Only few among them make a good life. Only few among these Almajiris venture into genuine menial businesses like shoemaking and water vendors. Many among them end up to be tempted into criminality. Who could fault them for such decision when they also desires good life and enjoyment just like the rest of members of the society. They seek solace in terrorism because even their parents abandoned them at a very tender age. They they grow up without any means of livelihood. They turn out to venture into kidnappings, suicide bombers, bandits, political thugs etc.
Begging for alms has today turn a profession the northerners are commonly identify with. Although people of Southern extraction are also into professional begging, but their figure is outrightly minimal compare to that of northerners. I have on countless occasions in Lagos come across a Southerner well dressed in a to match expensive suit that by identify he could be mistaken for a bank manager, only to discover that he is a professional beggar. One of them once approached me at Obalende under bridge and narrated an unverifiable tale of how he had came all the way from Ibadan to see his uncle in Lagos, but unfortunately the so called uncle had travelled to Cotonou for an urgent business. The landing end of his tale was he is stranded and financially down to make a U-turn back to Ibadan. I asked how much he will need as transport fair back to Ibadan? Only to hear Seven thousand naira Sir. My liver immediately vibrated. I managed to squeeze out two thousand naira from my trouser pocket and hand it over to him. To my surprise for the past two months this same man is still in that same location narrating similar tale to almost every passerby. That is the kind of professional begging southerners are mostly into.
To say the business of begging is mainly dominated by Northerners, I own no one apology for that. Those who are very much familiar with Lagos state will bear me witness to this submission. From Iyana-Ipaja down to Oshodi, even Ojodu Berger inclusive, these areas are visibly places where hundreds and thousands of beggers are northerners. I have seen a woman with six children and all of them are professional beggers. The woman when I asked her why begging she told me her husband chased her and the six children out of his house. If you go to this areas you will see for yourself how professional beggars dominate every corner of the streets from start to finish. Some physically challenged while others are completely not physically challenged. I could not hold back my tears when one day a truck loaded with cement crushed off one of the beggers legs. It was an ugly memory I won’t want to narrate. A passenger on a bus drop a fifty naira note by the road side and close to ten beggers ran towards the note, only for the one at the front fall victim of the break failing truck. What a waste!
Those able young men of northern extraction who still travel far away from home to deal in menial businesses such as nail cutting, tailoring, garden eggs sellers, wheelbarrow pushers, motorcycle (Okada) riders etc are also in serious agony and pains. One certain time in Lagos, I was sent on an errand to deposit some money into my elder brother’s account. Having walked a few miles from my residence towards the banks area, I decided to take the pedestrian bridge to cross over to the other side of the road where Zenith bank is situated. I had a scream from behind me. When I turned back to know what went wrong, I saw two hefty Yoruba men beating up a young man. Ordinarily I won’t have even care to move closer, but the fact that I had the scream of “Dan Allah Ku taimakeni Zasu kashe ni” (Please help me in the name of God they want to kill me), notify me that the young man been smashed like a volleyball is a Hausa man. The adrenaline in me was fast much that I cannot tell when I dragged one of the men smashing the young man away. I managed to pushed the other man too way to help the young Hausa man back on his feet. The young Hausa man was breathing fast and looked almost exhausted in is breath. My intervention calm the situatio. Instantly i inquire from the young Hausa man in his native Hausa Language. While he was narrating his own sde of the story, i overhad the two Yoruba men murmuring to themselves. One of them asked “Ogbeni shey Olopa niye nii abi Mopol” (Young man are you a Policeman or a Mopol). I pretend not understand Yoruba and keep my ears open while the Hausa Man narrated his story. The two Yoruba men hired him to clear a bushy land for them. They agreed to pay him #2, 500 upon completing the assignment. Having carried out the task, they gave him #1, 500 and claimed that the remaining balance has been deducted as tax for his stay in Lagos. When he protested he was beaten. Is it a crime to be a Northerner? I got angry and make a fake phone call. The two Yoruba men noticing my fluent command of English Language while on fake phone call, they were terrified. This must be a Naval officer, they concluded. One of them screamed “Tiwa tii bawa” (We are in serious trouble). Before I could blink my eyes the two Yoruba men were already on their knees begging for mercy. I threatened them with spending two months in guard room. They eventually gathered people around to plead with me. I insisted they are going to pay the young Hausa man #5, 000 or else I call my boys to deal with them. After series of begging they eventually paid the Hausa man the #5, 000 I stipulated. Within a minute the Hausa man had turn is horrible tears to a smile. He told me is name is Tanimu Yahuza. He is a native of Radda, a village few kilometers away from Dutsin-ma Local Government, in Katsina state, where I did my University Degree. Is the North this poor that Northerners had to suffer this humiliations?
As much as there is an iota of human sympathy in you, there is noway you can hold back your tears if you eventually see where these beggers and menial labourers from the North rest their heads to pass the night, especially in Lagos. Some in an open place by the road sides where vehicles of all sought pass in high speed. Some under bridges. Some inside market when stores owners have closed for the day. Some in an unkept and dirty environment where they become vulnerable to all kinds of infectious diseases. Those among them that passes nightsin an open places easily fall victims of ritualists or hit and run on speed vehicles that pass by. Why is the North in this mess today?
The explosive time bomb in Northern population meeting up with scarsity of resources available to carter for the needs of this blooming population is fast rigging the alarm bell. The Northern Nigeria has produced more than any other region in the country highest figure of President and heads of state, both in civilian and military regimes combined. From all indications, the huge population figure of the North has only be politically advantegeou and economically disadvantageous. Even the political adavantage of northern Nigeria population has only been beneficial to the Northern political elites who gluttonously exploit the figure to ride their ways to power. The north must device a means through which her population figure turn into a strong economic advantage to properly get the region out of the poverty circle. I recently had the news of oil discovery in North Eastern part of the country, a news that has made many northerners to jubilate all across social media. Some even going to the extent of demanding for the North to breakaway from the Nigeria Federation. Yes oil has been discovered in commercial quantity. But can oil discovery in anyway provide an everlasting panacea to the crass predicament of poverty bedeviling the northern Nigeria today? I so much doubt if crude oil can solve the puzzle of northern Nigeria predicament. Outside the fact that the price of crude oil is drastically diminishing in value across the global oil market as a result of growing investment in solar and renewable energy, the northern political elites are another set of parasite ready to use their sharp straws to suck up every single sweetness that comes with oil money. What the North need at this moment is strategies to turn her huge population figure from been politically advantegeou to been economically advantageous. The Republic of China for instance has no single natural endowment beneath her earth surface, yet China which is the most populous nation across the globe is today one of the fast growing and most developed economy in the world. The Chinese government has turn the nation population to it greatest asset. They have invested hugely on making China population more economic productive. Turning the population from quantity to quality. Northern Nigeria must embrace this strategy to find her way out of the poverty circle. It takes only a critical mind to see potentialities in human resources as opposed to material resources.
The North might have lost her compass. The North might have gone off track. The north might have had a serious crack on the crystal wall of her development. The setback is not the end of road for her development. The North can still rise to her feet. The north can still overtake the rest of the regions in Nigeria. The north can still serve as a template for the development of other region. But the north cannot retrace her step if she keep depending on miraculous turn around from her political elites. Northerners must take full charge of their own revolutionary turn over.
Comrade Ismail Abdulazeez Mantu
Political Activist, Writer and Human Right Activist