One issue people of southern Nigeria are careful not to comment on is the wide gap between the North and South on virtually all human development indices. The reason is that southerners do not want to be seen as talking down on their compatriots or ridiculing them. There is no way one discusses the issue that it will not be interpreted as ridicule of the North.
However, it is better when raised and analysed by someone from the North. In April 2017, the Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness Muhammadu Sanusi ll, raised the issue at the Kaduna State Economic Summit in Kaduna, the state capital. He said inter alia: “We are living in denial. The North-West and the North-East, demographically, constitute the bulk of Nigeria’s population, but look at human development indices, look at the number of children out of school, look at adult literacy, look at maternal mortality, look at infant mortality, look at girl-child completion rate, look at income per capita, the North-East and the North-West Nigeria are among the poorest parts of the world.
“Nobody saw this because we were looking at Nigeria as a country that averages the oil-rich Niger Delta, the industrial and commercial-rich Lagos, the commercially viable South-East, and you have an average.
“Break Nigeria into its component parts, and these parts of the country are among the poorest, if it were a country. And we do not realise we are in trouble.”
This blunt truth almost led to his dethronement. Recently, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former vice president, and, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, raised the issue at different forums. Some people condemned them for stating such facts.
Over the weekend, the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, raised the issue for the umpteenth time. He stated as follows: “Looking at the statistics, Nigeria appears to be a middle income country. But, if we segregate those statistics across states and zones, you will see that, in terms of human development indicators, Nigeria consists of two countries: there is a backward, less educated and unhealthy northern Nigeria, and a developing, largely educated and healthy southern Nigeria.
“We have to speak the truth to ourselves and ask why is it that northern Nigeria has development indicators similar to Afghanistan, a country still at war?
“We have the largest number of poor people in the world, most of them in northern Nigeria. Nigeria also has the largest number of out-of-school children, virtually all of them in northern Nigeria.”
Of all those who have had the courage to speak on this issue, only Emir Sanusi seems to have pointed at the cause of the problem: religion and culture. Sanusi said: “We have adopted an interpretation of our culture and our religion that is rooted in the 13th century mindset that refuses to recognise that the rest of the Muslim world has moved on. Other Muslim nations have pushed forward girl-child education. They’ve pushed forward science and technology. They have pushed forward the arts. We have this myth in northern Nigeria, where we try to create an Islamic society that never existed.
“We are fighting culture, we are fighting civilisation. We must wage an intellectual war, because Islam is not univocal. There are many voices, there are many interpretations, there are many viewpoints, and we have for too long allowed the ascendancy of the most conservative viewpoints. The consequences of that are that there are certain social problems.”
For this reason, when the young Anthony Enahoro moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953, the South wanted independence, but the North rejected the motion, saying that it was not ready. The North believed that it did not have the necessary manpower to compete in an independent Nigeria. So, Independence was postponed, because the rest of Nigeria had to wait for the North. About seven decades after, the rest of the country is still waiting for the North on virtually all critical fronts.
If the issue was just a northern problem, other parts of Nigeria would not have bothered. But given the quasi-unitary system Nigeria operates, whatever happens in the North affects the peace and progress of Nigeria. As long as the educational gulf between the South and the North is as wide as it is, there is little hope of progress and peace in the country, because it is structured like a chain with all the component parts moving as a unit. The chain has to move at the speed of its slowest part.
The cause of the northern challenge is the non-acceptance of education because it is perceived as “Western education created by Christians,” which is not good enough for a person who wants to practise the true Islam. Contrary to the claims that it is the northern political elite who want the North to remain largely uneducated, it is the religious leaders who do the harm. Even the political elite are afraid to go against the religious leaders because their words are seen as sacrosanct.
While literacy levels are as high as 96 per cent in some southern states but not below 77 per cent in any southern state, literacy rates are as low as seven per cent some northern states, with only Taraba and Adamawa crossing the 50 per cent mark in the North-East and North-West. In the 2016 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, for example, the six North-East states produced 96,220 candidates for that examination, while Imo State alone had 104,383 candidates. The seven states of the North-West had 163,240. The sad reality was that the three states with the highest candidates for that year’s examination – Imo (104,383), Delta (78,854), and Anambra (77,694) – produced more candidates for university admission (260,931) than the entire 13 states of the North-East and North-West which had a total of 259,660 candidates. The same scenario obtains even in the performance rate in other examinations set for primary school pupils and secondary school students.
Similarly, for the North to be able to have enough candidates in the police, armed forces and federal agencies, recruitment is done based on special quota allocated to each state, rather than based on merit. Therefore, many more qualified people have to be bypassed to recruit those with less qualification.
The danger in the North’s attitude to education is that there are about 12 million out-of-school children roaming the streets in the North, begging as a way to survive. These children will grow up with no skill and no chance of getting any meaningful job except menial jobs. They are also available for recruitment by terrorists.
Because of its advantage in educational attainment, the South is therefore much ahead of the North in commerce, industry, science and technology, arts and entertainment, with far less poverty rate than the North. The latter believes that its best bet is to have more population and control political power, and get political appointments and government employment positions and projects. But that does not guarantee long-term wealth and comfort. The assured way to individual and communal development is education.
The huge disparity in the literacy levels in the North and the South makes the former oppose every initiative that will unleash the potential of Nigeria. The reason is the fear from the North that such an initiative will benefit the South that has the required manpower and not benefit them. The only issue where the North and South agree is on gay-related issue. On every other issue, the North and the South assume opposing views like in a tug-of-war, with no movement achieved.
It is for the same reason that the North vehemently opposes restructuring and fiscal federalism. Somehow the wrong narrative has been sold and bought in the region that once the proceeds from the sale of crude oil stop, the North will be hard hit because it does not have crude oil. But the greatest countries of the world depend on their human resources rather than natural resources. And the North has enormous human resources which can be trained and harnessed for development.
The biggest challenge, therefore, facing Nigeria is how to make the North embrace education massively. As long as that is not done, the hope of progress and peace in Nigeria is slim.
Culled From Punch Newspaper