Aliyu Bala Aliyu
“Some people see things that are, and ask why? But I dream things as they never were, and I ask “Why Not? —- George Bernard Shaw
An interesting article made the rounds in various newspapers and blogs some weeks ago titled ‘’ Derivation and Deprivation: Why The North Is Poor’’. Written by a certain Ross Alabo-George, the article has generated a cacophony of record breaking on-line responses, reactions and rejoinders. A corollary to the ‘‘disquisition’’, as its author christened it, is the number of articles that have come to life with the theme of the north’s usurpation of the Niger Delta’s oil.
Two dominant categories of responses have emerged on account of the principal theme of Ross’s thesis and both betray the sombreness of our fusion or confusion as a nation state. The elections of 2011 brought to the fore in unprecedented measures the ethnic and religious cleavages evident in our existence. The boko haram menace has further compounded our national woes and like old times everything is being viewed through the Muslim/ Christian and / the Hausa, Ibo or Yoruba prism. The torrential reactions / responses from the Lagos –Ibadan axis; and of the south –south, south- east axis see Ross’s piece as a liberating one; a long awaited elixir to damn the north (both its elite and commoners).
To the Kaduna-Abuja press and its fans north of the Niger, the piece simply exposes a man devoid of objectivity, thoroughness and balance; with a premeditated agenda of painting the northern oligarchy as the major if not sole architect of Nigeria’s perdition. The northern oligarchy, in this view, is seen as being deliberately portrayed as villains by Ross as the region benefitting from the oil flowing beneath the soles of the Niger Deltans. This disposition suggests that the few northern barons listed in his article do not of course possess the monopoly of the oil blocs in the Niger Delta and he should have gone the whole nine yards to list the names of south southerners and south easterners who own oil blocs too. In between these two camps are those who were boldly objective and a number of those who towed the path of frivolous technicalities. Of the latter are those who spent time debating whether Mai Deribe, Nasiru Ado Bayero, Atiku Abubakar or Rilwanu Lukman are Hausa, Kanuri, Bachama, or Fulani men; and whether Kano, Borno or Niger is of the north-east, or north-west or north-central.
The strain of comments suggest that for every Mai Deribe, Nasiru Ado Bayero, T.Y Danjuma, and co mentioned, a James Ibori, Dipreye Alamesiagha, Peter Odili or Lucky Igbinedion etc exist who have fleeced the monies of the Niger Deltans in unimaginable proportions. The question for me of course is not about whose loot is most mind-boggling or which region parade’s the bigger or more ruthless thief; or that with 13% derivation and the NDDC, the Niger Delta has not become the Dubai of Africa no, but that if the north cries ‘’we are poor’’, ‘’we are poor’’, who impoverished us? James Ibori, Dipreye Alamesiagha, Peter Odili or Lucky Igbinedion? The northern intelligentsia and its political leadership must deconstruct this hoax of inflicted poverty by others either by the perceived disadvantageous revenue allocation formula or the imagined sabotage of the oil drilling prospects in the upper north basin for we held the reigns of power more than any other region in this country. On the contrary the north is in such pitiable and unacceptable state of poverty because of the actions and inactions of our leaders who have helped themselves, members of their immediate families, friends and cronies generously with the public resources put in their trust. While it is true that at no time did the north go it alone- for where a northerner was the number one man, a different region produced the number two man; the Supreme Military Councils and the Armed Forces Ruling Council of the military governments past, the ministers of both military and democratic governments of the past were representative of all of Nigeria with their varied inputs to the development or underdevelopment of Nigeria; but my focus here is on the north.
While I do not in any way hold brief for Ross, I must say that his disquisition is a powerfully engaging and thought provoking piece which places a giant mirror in front of the north.. Of a surety it would have better if he had gone ahead to name the oil block barons from other regions, but then context within which the article was written should be appreciated.
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi [London]: – On the 27th of January 2012, Sanusi while granting an interview to the Financial Times of London alleged that the revenue allocation formula skewed in favour of the south-south as it were is unfavourable to the north, and by extension engenders poverty which in turn is fuelling Boko Haram and sundry violence in the north.
Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu [Minna]: Taking a cue from the Central Bank Governor, the Chief Talker of Niger state (a tittle I think fits him much more than his current one) and chairman of the northern governors’ forum, Muazu Babangida Aliyu called for the re- evaluation of the revenue allocation formula that gives a ‘’whopping’’ 13% to the south south and creates two Nigerias- A prosperous south and an impoverished north. But aside his loquacity how has he changed the lives of Nigerlites with the ‘’little’’ he gets from Abuja every month?
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi [Kano]: On the 10th of January, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi made a most morally ambiguous, and professionally controversial donation of a hundred million naira (N100,000,000) to victims of Kano state’s boko haram bomb blast. Kano is Sanusi’s home state of which he is a prince and nurses an open ambition of becoming its emir.
Let it be stated that throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria, the political class has been a disappointment having failed to chart a course of foresighted prosperity and to guarantee the people a descent life. The power they wielded and still do never bore and still does not bear the flames of altruism, patriotism and love. It was and still remains power merely for power’s sake. They succeeded and are still enriching themselves beyond comprehension and accountability – at least here on earth- and entrenching corruption along the way a la carte.
Beyond all of this however, we the people of the north must re- examine our socio-economic, socio-political and socio- cultural fundamentals with a view to understanding why we are where we are as the dregs of Nigeria’s socio-economic disaster. We must, in all honesty, equally re-visit the misinterpretation or misapplication of our religious fundamentals – be it Christianity or Islam. Isn’t there something fundamentally wrong with a system that perpetuates and nearly glorifies and encourages endemic poverty?
Away from the political leadership and its statutory obligation to the people lies the question of individual/ private and group intervention in the north and that shall be the thrust of my own disquisition; approaching it from neither of two major paradigms of criticisms mentioned above. Why are the billionaires in the north not the type that give back to society? Why is that the northern billionaires are not getting busy in touching lives? Does it not shame us and challenge them that the Bill and Mellinda Gates foundation is so passionate about combating the malaria and polio blight in our country. I cannot help but ask myself what goes on in the minds of our cash Alhajis and retired Generals. How about the Mac Arthur foundation, Carnegie, Rockefeller,etc and their interventions all around us? Would building a dozen world class primary and secondary schools in Dangote’s ward or local government with the best of teachers and facilities be such a reprehensible act? Ironically it had to take Rochas Okorocha miles away, in Imo state, to build a befitting school in Kano and another one in Jos (which by the way is tuition free in addition to free lunch given to the students). How many Kanawa has Dangote sponsored to Harvard to go and study contemporary entrepreneurship or to Princeton; George Washington?
The same applies to Alhaji Dantata the construction mogul (now of blessed memory). How many people from his local government did he sponsor to go and study civil engineering in Paris, Germany or Italy? How many people did Rilwanu Lukman sponsor to go and study petroleum engineering or renewable / alternative/ clean energy having been in the petroleum industry both on the national and international scenes for aeons? How many young men and women do these people mentor to follow in their footsteps? Who for the love of God inspires and influences their thought processes? How about the Abachas, the IBBs the Abdusalams, the Atiku’s, the TY Danjumas, the David Marks, the Bamanga Tukurs etc.
Is it not only logical and self evident that a mass literacy revolution was and is still the way to go? Is the south west today not reaping the massive literacy investment of Awolowo? What then exactly do our leaders discuss at their AC F meetings? What exactly do the nineteen northern governors discuss when they meet? Political power? To zone or not to zone? The perpetuation of PDP till eternity ? The turbaning of dubious individuals and those of questionable characters with traditional titles (ably rubber-stamped by colluding emirs)? The marriage of Generals’ daughters’ to Ministers’ sons? Well here is the got news – the continued oppression, deprivation and neglect is sadly responsible for the menace of book haram and as it were it shows no signs of abating. The thinking that the elite could amass wealth and unabashedly live in opulence next door to life snatching penury; send only their kids off to London, France and Dubai to come back as the new breed of oppressors to continue from where their parents stopped oppressing our parents and live in privileged exclusivity is being threatened. Now that we all cannot sleep with our eyes closed because we don’t know where the next bombs will go off, the north should as a matter of sincere urgency go back to the drawing board and seek redemption from itself. Time is not on our side.
As the north battles with its grip on political power, it would be great to take a close look at every other aspect of the Nigerian project where it trails behind the south and east. The following are my observations.
The north’s lamentation over the years of a south-western dominated press and biased media coverage and /reportage of events concerning the region has not birthed world class media options- the type Al Jazeera unleashed upon the world to the consternation and humbled admiration of CNN, BBC and others in the league. Knowing full well the role of the media in shaping public opinion and setting the news agenda, one of the pillars of politics in the south west and perhaps its greatest political figure alive established the Nation Newspapers, and the duo of TV and radio continental. Another political figure from Ogun state founded the Compass Newspapers; and yet another undying flame from the south east established the Sun Newspapers. From Ovation to Genevieve, True Love, Complete Fashion, Arise, City People, Four- Four –Two, Researchgate, where are we taking the lead? . In which of these sectors do our magazines flourish? Aviation ,Agriculture, Automotive and Parts Construction, Consumer Goods, Business, Banking,Finance, Education, Environmental Issues, Food and Drink, Healthcare, Information Technology, Tourism, Logistics, Real Estate, Security, Telecommunications or Transportation? The north is left out of these niches.
How many TV and radio stations exist in Lagos s alone? As at the last count I had listed a dozen TV stations and 28 radio stations. How many are there in the entire 19 northern states? Where are the north’s media moguls both serving and retired who worked both on the national and international scenes? Are they not inspired and equally challenged by Ben Murray Bruce’s accomplishments with the Silverbird Group
Out of the ’’ blues’’ came Jimoh Ibrahim’s National Mirror like a thunderbolt. In no time National Mirror has carved a niche for itself on newsstands despite their perceived saturation. Every day I stop by to take a glance at the headlines at the vendor’s, the one question I ask myself is where the north’s voice is in the newspaper and magazine industry. Not a single magazine exists that celebrates northern excellence and showcases the few success stories of the region. The only semblance to that came by way of the stint of the novel publication Sardauna Magazine which started out as a student’s Union magazine in ABU. But it should interest you dear reader that Sardauna Magazine’s success had to take Rilwan Hassan, a Yoruba boy (though he calls Zaria home which is beautiful) to birth. Since 1962 when ABU was established nobody thought of the idea till Rilwan came by. Daily Trust, Leadership, People’s Daily and now Blueprint cannot do it alone for the north both as a voice and as a platform. The TV stations here in Lagos consciously avoid them during their headline reviews.
The north no doubt has men of great intellectual alertness and sound disposition of mind and judgement but is it not laid bare for all to see that the ratio of scholarship in the north pales to near insignificance when compared with the south west? How many northerners are actually pursuing second degrees or PhDs? How many of our professors and Drs are lecturing outside northern universities like Ife, Nsukka, Unilag, Ibadan etc? How many of our professors and Drs are lecturing in foreign Universities? I know quite a number of Nigerians who are lecturing in Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, School of African and Oriental studies and a host of others and you can guess dear reader where they are from. How many private Universities are there in the north? Ogun state alone has 10. How many private schools (primary and secondary) are in the north and of those that do exist aren’t they established and run most competently by non- northerners?
From ABU to UDUS to Maiduguri to UNN, UniPort, Unical, Abraka etc you find south westerners and south easterners in search of education and not just that they are excelling in academics in all of these institutions and beyond. But how many of our Modibbos, Faizals, Jatuas, Ishayas, Mainasaras, Asabes, Rakiyas, Altines or Asmaus are in other institutions of higher learning outside the north?
Who else other than Prof Ayodele Awojobi would have challenged the department of engineering in ABU to finish a four year degree course in three and go on to become the first African to be awarded a Doctor of Science (DSc) at the Imperial College London, a degree which Wikipedia says is ‘’only exceptionally and rarely awarded to a scholar under the age of forty’’. He remained ‘’the youngest professor ever in the Faculty of Engineering, University of Lagos, and the first ever to be expressly promoted from associate to full professorship within a week’’
Who else other than Dr Chike Obi would have been the first Nigerian to earn a PhD in mathematics? Who else other than Prof Teslim Elias would have become Governor of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London? Which other woman would bag a PhD at twenty six years of age other than Dr Tope Adeyemi or rival Miss Adejoke Ogunlana as the youngest lecturer in Nigeria at 22yrs of age? Would it ever have happened in ABU? BUK? UDUS? And even if it did happen would it still not be them? Who else other than Peter and Paul Imafidon (the wonder twins) would have made history in far away Britain becoming the youngest ever mortals to pass A level maths at age seven (7)?
Since the establishment of WAEC in 1952 and JAMB in1977, who have been the top 10 students’ years in year out? Northerners? Certainly not! Is the north comfortable that in 2011 only 17, out of the 18,000 secondary school students who sat for the National Examination Council examinations in Gombe State, made five credits? What is the SSCE enrolment ratio that exists between say Yobe and Bauchi state on the one hand and Imo and Ekiti state on the other?
Permit me dear reader to ask: Which primary school did Dangote, Dantata, IBB and co attend? And what is the state of those primary schools today? Has Adamu Ciroma, who has been in government since independence; and so remained until he got tired and made way for his wife to carry on the baton served as a catalyst to remodelling his primary school to be one of the best in his state?
Is it any wonder that the reference bookshops from Zaria, to Kano, Minna, Kaduna, Sokoto Maiduguri etc are not owned by northerner? We aren’t even among the big players in the books and stationeries arena yet year in year out thousands of students go to ABU, FCE Nuhu Bamali Polythecnic, FUT Minna, UDUS etc to get an education.
Private Enterprise and Professionalism
Last year I started to write a number of articles which I later abandoned among which are: ‘’ Entrepreneurship and the Northern abyss‘’, ‘’Tony Elumelu, Jim Ovia and the rest of the north’’ and ‘’Before Dangote’s Exit’’ among others. While a great number of the articles did not develop beyond their proposed titles, the inspiration behind their themes remains the same till this moment. Is it not worth asking today as ever before how many northern business enterprises dot the northern landscape? How many northern concerns provide consultancy services for services ranging from the establishment of new businesses to accelerated performance, growth or evaluation of existing ones?
How many retired policemen and women, personnel of the state security services (SSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) or the Armed Forces have gone the way of private security consulting? Need I say of course their inputs would have contributed significantly in the fight against the book haram’s wave of terror?
Just the other days I watched a documentary on the power sector reforms and as expected not a single consultant from the mass of consultants spoken with were northerners. Not a single energy consultant, analyst or expert of northern extraction. The only northerner I saw throughout the duration of the documentary was as expected in the government cadre! Yet from ABU to BUK, UJ, UDUS et al our universities have departments of electrical engineering. To what use have our northern scholars put their Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Oxford and RGU trainings among others? Where are the gurus and thinkers of the region?
How many northerners have pursued ICT know-how to compelling levels of expertise? Of all the Microsoft certified Web developers, Microsoft this- Microsoft that; Oracle this- Oracle that; and the Java masters among other ICT levels of excellence I read about, northerners aren’t usually on the list. Who are the custodians of ICT expertise in Nigeria: its mastery, deployment and maintenance? Who are the pioneers and trailblazers of enterprise solutions?
The bulk of the legal luminaries and chattered accountants in this country come from a particular section of this country and the north doesn’t belong in the league. Any need to lose sleep over that?
Who are the country managers, the trail blazing figures, of Nokia, Samsung , Standard Chattered Bank ,Citi group, Ericsson, Siemens,Huawei, HP, Baker Hughes, Saipem, Coberon Chronos, Toshiba, Accenture, Google, Ernst and Young , Price Water Coopers (PWC), DFID , World Bank, UNICEF, UNIDO etc? They certainly are not northerners.
Do we constitute the majority of pilots or aeronautic engineers in Nigeria even when NCAT is in the heart of Zaria? Who else but Imoleayo Adebule, 23, would be Nigeria’s youngest pilot? Do we run the most outstanding agencies in the heart of the north providing a one stop shop for human resources solutions from recruitment to training; and outsourcing etc? .
Is it a case of a lack of platforms to showcase our achievements or the deliberate neglect or downplay by the media (dominated by the south west) that has consigned us to the back seat and to so remain or both and even more? Do names like those of FRA Williams, Afe Babalola, Diya Fatimehim, Jide Taiwo & co, Osas & Oseji Challenge the north?
Dear reader, how many northern owned franchises do you know? Shagalinku? Yahuza? And then… Well I’m scratching my head in case you aren’t. I could bet on both my eyes that if either or both businesses belonged to a Yoruba or Igbo man, Shagalinku would have been serving hot tuwon shinkafa and man shanu in London and America in the least; and Yahuza would have been selling his suya on the streets of LA, Dubai and Malaysia (lest I forget, Toks Odebunmi is already doing so in London and Kehinde Olajide has taken Zobo to the next level in the US). Interestingly, very recently I met a young and sharp boy in Unilag who had put arrangements in place to buy Yahuza’s franchise and spin money for himself in Lagos. No dulling. QED.
In which aspect of sports do we excel? Is it Football? Basketball? Track and field events? Gymnastics? Combat sports? Oh! I forgot Polo- the sport of the princes and royalties of the north. While they play polo with aristocratic gusto shouldn’t we wonder how many names it has put on the world‘s sporting map and how many jobs it has created? How many of our potentials are playing the world’s greatest game in England, Italy, Spain and others either in professional leagues or junior /feeder teams awaiting discovery and making money along the way? Need we ask how many lives the western union transfers of Mikel Obi touches or those of Osaze Odemwingie? Or the impact of Kanu‘s Heart foundation on kids who would have long died unsung? Recall names like Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael OlowoKandi, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, Segun Toriola, Bash Ali, Uche Chukwumerije etc ?Do they sound northern?
Literature, Arts, and Music:
Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe exist in a class of their own In tota fine erga omnes et omnia. (for all purposes, in regards to all and everything). Whether loathed, genuinely or enviously admired, the duo have occupied their places on the throne of Nigeria’s literary scene and the global honours list. With them as pioneers, there can be no other firsts. Other torch bearers include, without diminishing the status of those unmentioned here, Cyprian Ekwensi, Ola Rotimi, Niyi Osundare (whose poem) is going to be read at the London Olympics. Of the latter generation, who else would have won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and Orange Prize for fiction other than Chimamanda Adichie ? Who else would have won the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg poetry prize (2008) and the Arts & Culture Award [CNN African Journalist of the Year Awards (2009)] other than Tolu Ogunlesi? Who else would have won the Young Global Leader (YGL) 2012 other than Simon Kolawole? Nigerian writer and blogger, Teju Cole, has recently won this year’s Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for a ‘distinguished’ first book of fiction in far away London and the list goes on and on. Who wins the NLNG prize for science and literature yearly? When these awards take place, where are the northerners?
Which songs do the DJs and Radio presenters across the north play? Seal, Light house family, Dr Alban, Sade Adu; P- square, Whiz Kid, Davido, Wande Coal, T Y Bello, Mo Cheddah, 9ice, Asa, Brymo? When the likes of Femi Anikulapo Kuti set the target of a Grammy for himself where are the northern artistes and performers?
Do names like Bruce Onobrakpeya; Fred Okon Archibong; Muraina Oyelami; Yusuf GrilloYinka, Bridget Nwanze, Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy; Bisi Fakeye; Yinka Shonibare; (Arts ); Sunmi Smart Cole, George Osodi; Emeka Okereke, Jide Alakija,Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko (Photography); Chinwetel Ejiofor, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje; Sophie Okonedo , Rick Famuyiwa (Hollywood) ring silent bells in the ears of the north?
Even the popular Argungu festival, the endless Durbars, the countless investitures are photographed, exhibited and promoted by non- northerners!
Who handles the advert portfolios of the blue chip companies or better still the “fortune 100” companies in Nigeria ?Whether through mainstream advertising channels or social media platforms? The advertising moguls are certainly not northerners yet MTN, Airtel, Glo, Etisalat, Nokia, Samsung, Indomie, Coca-cola, have their products on gigantic bill boards across the length and breadth of Nigeria yet no northerner thinks it is a worthy niche. The billboards are even now going digital and perhaps in no time to touch screens and the north will most certainly not be there.
Who else would have established the Orange Academy (touted as Nigeria’s first and perhaps only school of practical brand advertising) other Kenny Badmus; and of course how many northerners are students of the academy?
I am yet to see that world class hospital in every sense of that word world class in northern Nigeria. With common cold or slight back aches, our elite can afford to dash to Egypt, Europe and America , yet no single money bag has had the initiative or patriotic zeal to build any kind of world class hospital specialising in at least one area of medicine whether Ophthalmology; Cardiology, Nephrology, Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery. It could even be a hospital specially dedicated to women or children attracting the best doctors from all over the world; and over a period of time they would have trained our indigenous doctors on the job. By so doing, they would not have to fly their kids to France to treat common cold.
Why has the Yar’Adua family not established a pericadiatis centre in Katsina, or of such heart related diseases? Why has IBB not established a cancer research centre in Minna or Asaba? Perchance alternative therapy could hold the key to unlocking the cure to the disease where orthodox medicine has so far not. If our elite and nouveau riche are not establishing such hospitals, why are they then not sponsoring students and giving out research grants to crush the frontiers of knowledge ‘beyond the utmost bound of human thought’?
Motherless Babies Homes/ Hospices/ Special needs schools:
I know not a world class motherless babies home, a horspice or special needs school in the north. How are such children brought up and catered for? Does anybody ask these questions among our elite? Do they care? Do they, while feasting on their assorted cuisines during Christmas, and Eid (sallah) banquets give a damn about the welfare of these categories of people in the north?
Almajirici as a way of life
The likes of Dr Aliyu Tilde, Dr Galadanchi and a number of northern intellectuals have done varying degrees of work on the almajiri phenomenon. The blue prints and commentaries are all out there but I cannot help but be amazed at the sustenance and perpetuation of the system in its medieval state. The failure of successive governments of the north to see the existence of the tsangaya system as needful of integrative reforms with mainstream western education as is obtainable in countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar etc. is completely incomprehensible. How could they not see the impending disaster?
How could such a system exist till this day that disconnects a child from his parents at such a critical stage of his formative years and expect him to come out whole? Like I pointed out to Dr Galadanchi during one of his visiting lectures in ABU, a child who has not been shown parental love and nested in the warmth of a home cannot give it. I am a very strong believer in the psycho-emotional and psycho-social workings of human beings as it affects their personality traits and social interactions.
Of Beggars, the Physical challenged and bequeathing a legacy of poverty:
Is the north the only region that has physically challenged people? Obviously not! But how is that it is northerners that are begging their lives away from Sokoto to Lagos; from Maiduguri to Ikom; from Zamfara to Aba etc? Is it any wonder that the almajiri system offers an elementary apprenticeship in begging for alms? With no formal education or life skills, employability is very limited for this category of people. Coming out of such a system, a pyramidal structure of the northerners outside the region presents the first-tier level base of the north’s blighted exports who end up in places like Lagos, Port- Harcourt, Aba, Onitsha etc as cobblers (shoe shiners) manicurists and pedicurists, water vendors [(mai ruwa), porters (mai kaya / dan dauko)], in the markets and motor parks, garbage collectors (mai shara); or as hawkers of sugarcane, carrots, tiger nuts (aya) and other such things. The second tier levels who earn a more decent income than the first are the categories that end up as gatemen (maigadi), unpertubed by the sweeping wave of the private security industry. Since his occupation is more of a sedantry one, he is more often than not permitted -implicitly or explicitly- to run a makeshift kiosk to sell trifles ranging from tom-tom, cigarettes , sugar , to kolanuts and bitter kolas. Others in this category include suya and kilishi merchants, okada riders, tanker drivers, cattle and sheep barons, tailors and embroiders (I have deliberately avoided the use of the expression “fashion designer” to qualify them which I shall explain later on.)
The third tier levels are the few men and women working in essentially government establishments like Nigerian ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime and Safety Administration (NIMASA), Military formations, Police and other security establishments, Customs, Immigrations, NDLEA, NTA, EFCC, VON, FAAN, CBN, SEC, NSPMC, NNPC, DPR, ECOWAS, and the like. Then those that work in the blue chip companies like Exxon Mobil, Shell, MTN, Ericsson, Chevron, Saipem, Sahara, Halliburton, Dangote, BUA, MRS and the likes. The informal cadre in this tier are the bureau the change Alhajis, and the few auto dealers.
I met a physically challenged fellow who came to study law in ABU a couple of years ago. Although wheel chair bound, he had the heart and spirit of a long distance runner. I taught another in one of the primary schools in Bida and was impressed and encouraged by his determination and dream. But the question is how many northerners who are physically challenged have not resigned to a life of begging? As I write this, there is in UNILAG a visually impaired man pursuing a Master’s degree in law (LLM). With two degrees in his kitty (a B.A in English and an LLB) he is a sound lawyer that knows his onions and quite an engaging speaker. Another interesting thing about this lawyer is that he has another friend who is his computer programmer who is equally visually impaired; who installs softwares on his computer and update programmes. In 2010, Ayoola Efunkoya, a virtually impaired student graduated as the best student in the Department of Mass Communication, Unilag. Ever head of Dr Ife Akintunde, J.D Matthew Olaiya? How about Cobhams Asuquo (award-winning musician, producer, and songwriter), Cosmas Okoli, a wheel chair bound motivational speaker?. In LASU is a wheel chair bound surgeon. Sheikh Abdullah ibn Abdulazeez ibn baz was blind yet rose to become the first Vice Chancellor of the Islamic University of Medinah and later Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia. So how is it that the entire army of persons with disability (and sadly even able bodied men and women) should, as a career, take begging to such obnoxious and incomprehensible levels even when Islam, the religion of the majority of most of them frowns at it? Where in God’s name are the world class schools in the north to cater for kids with disabilities? Where are the special programmes directed at them?
Contemporary and Futuristic Engagements:
Who else would have championed the cause of climate change and desertification if not Newton Jibunoh. Newton Jibunoh it was who in 1965 at the age of 27 crossed the world’s largest desert (via the Sahara desert) alone. He has had expeditions from London to Lagos and Lagos to London; all by road in a passionate attempt to create awareness on the issue of desertification. His ‘’Desert Warriors’’ reality TV was initiated to stimulate youth participation and bequeath an enduring legacy to fight desertification. He has carried out sensitization and tree planting tours in Kano and other places. These were not established by the region’s cash Alhaji’s and retired Generals or even its professionals even when we are the ones most threatened by the impact of the raging desertification. It was Newton’s idea; solely his. In furtherance of this paradox, the 2010 third edition of the conference on climate change in Lagos had desertification as one of its themes. It did not hold in Yobe, Borno or Sokoto, it held in Lagos and the last time I checked Lagos was not in remote or immediate threat of desertification yet she attracted professionals and experts from all over the world to come and brainstorm on the issue. How many northern Governors were there? Where are the SL Edus of the north, the Nnimmo Basseys, the Desmond Majekodunmis, and the Tunde Akingbades?
In other parts of the country, all sorts of groups are formed to draw government and even international attention to the groups interest, hence it is not unusual to hear of Albino groups coming together to protest against discrimination (and their agitation has recently made JAMB consider giving them extra time during its exams), market women associations, Landlord associations, etc where issues of common interest can be discussed and which in real terms is able to draw significant attention than they would as individuals. These associations are also political rallying blocs. Who says the Iyalaje’s in Lagos don’t have a say in the ACN government?
Despite the age long dominance of northerners in the cattle business, no animal rights’ activist has come out of the region to fight for the rights of animals that are most often than not cruelly transported throughout the length and breadth of this country; and tormented before their eventual slaughter in the most furred and undignifying abattoirs our local governments parade everywhere.
The Diasporan Alliance
All sorts of Nigerians in the diaspora associations exist all over the world; from US to Britain to Germany etc. Some of them have even established NGOs in Londonlike Shola Lana of Nexgen. Northerners are neither the brains behind the formation of such groups nor the forces that propel them. Why bother?
Who are the dealers of electronics, phones, computers, milling machines, generators, and boutiques even in the heart of Kaduna, Sokoto and Kano? Who are the imports and exports barons, spare part dealers, building materials merchants, Pharmacists and drug merchants? Who are those that dominate the printing industry from Kaduna to Zaria thorough Sokoto to Bauchi, Zamfara etc?
Do northerners parade the best of machinists, technicians, radio and TV technicians, auto mechanics, master welders, carpenters and exquisite furniture makers? Is dry-cleaning, fumigation, industrial / large scale cleaning our turf? In the fashion arena, the most innovations, the daring designs, the creative and contemporary designs in the fashion industry are not from the north. How on earth could they be? Our Tailors and dressmakers have remained tailors nothing more. Not a single one of them has taken his / her expertise to the next redefining level and become fashion designers with brand identities both at home and abroad. Not like those of Dakova; Frank Oshodi; Tiffany Amber; Deola Sagoe ; Tsemaye Binitie; Mike Asikolaye, Mudi (Fashion Design) Adebayo Jones, etc and hence my initial avoidance of the usage of the term. Not even our famous Bukar zanna / Kubecaps nor the Muhadu a banki or Marufiya versions can be pinned to a designer north of the Niger.
Are our caterers and event managers in the north the pace setters in the field? Are we the most sought after chefs in Sheraton, Transcorp, Le Meridian, Oriental or Protea hotels? Do we run the most successful hotels in any part of the country?
On a tragic note dear reader you may remember the heart-rending story of Readers would remember the pathetic story of little Pwashikai Nideno, the 5year old miracle baby who’s vagina and rectum were mutilated and left to die in a pool of her blood in Dong Village, Adamawa state… on the . Hospitalised at the Yola Specialist Hospital, all she needed was five million naira for a vaginoplasty operation in Egypt – a procedure to reconstruct her private part and rectum. Pwashikai’s case put Adamawa state government to shame; put the entirety of its political gods to shame; its women folk without exception and by the same stretch of culpability the entire northern region. But the gold medal should go to the first ladies of Adamawa state (all four of them) and the deputy governor’s wife. In this regard, the newspapers reported: ‘’ …the wife of the Adamawa State governor, Binta Nyako, was one of the contributors. She donated the sum of N50, 000 when she visited Pwashikai at the hospital… in company of the association of international female lawyers. The wife of the Adamawa State deputy governor, Bala Ngillari, also made a cash donation of N50, 000 when she went to see the little girl.’’ If Pwashika was the biological daughter of the first and second ladies of Adamawa state would a paltry N50, 000 (which may does not even equate the worth of their jewellery) be the best they would do for her? If they could not go the whole hog to give N5, 000,000 to a dying baby, could they not use their clout and ’’political goodwill’’ to marshal the millionaires’ wives of Adamawa and women of goodwill there to save a life? Was it not a motherly call? Ironically, the largest donation came from an individual in Lagos who insisted on remaining anonymous!!!
Recognitions and Awards:
Since its inception in 2005, the future awards has drawn the world’s attention to a crop of emerging youngsters in Nigeria but then how many northerners make the cut year in year out? How many of our people make the cut at the Thisday awards, Silverbird, The Sun, Media Trust, Leadership etc?
Viewed from this prism, shan’t it be safe to safely conclude that poor may after all be a euphemism to describe the parlous state of our calamity? Is this how Allah destined it? Or to my Christian brethren north of the Niger, is this how Jehovah, Elohim, or Yesu Almasihu decreed it? Between 1931 and 1945, Japan occupied China and humbled them as a result. In 1945, Japan was brought to its knees by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; yet from these ominous recesses these countries rose to become global powers today. Were countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the likes not written off as having the remotest prospects of gargantuan rise as evident today? Despite all of the bleak and gloomy prophecies, they rose to become great nations the world admires and doffs its hat to today. The north and indeed Nigeria can learn a lesson or two there from. I am not a self loathing individual; and my disquisition doesn’t in any way attempt to promote sectionalism nor regionalism, far from it, I only wish to draw the attention of a slumbering people to the ‘’very minute’’ details that actually make the whole worth calling whole after all.
What is it exactly that drives the peoples of the south east, and south west to dare and to achieve? Are they wired differently? So why do we settle for less? Shall we turn to science, eugenics, religion or even superstition for answers? But while we are at it, the fundamental questions still stare us in the face:
-Who made the north poor? James Ibori, Peter Odili, Dipreye Alamesiagha,or Lucky Igbinedion?
-What strategies are being put in place to get the north out of this poverty trap both at the level of governance and at the individual/group intervention levels?
We can choose to remain in the back seat or choose to move ourselves by the bootstraps. We can begin the redemption now or wait till some distant future to earn for ourselves a place of respect- a place where we are not viewed as savages and with this much disdain- a place where we can compete and contribute to the sustenance, peaceful co-existence and prosperity of the one and only country we have and truly love– Nigeria.
Aliyu Bala Aliyu,
Masters Student of Public and International Affairs,
University of Lagos.