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Re: Backwardness or progress, what does the North want?

Readers’ reactions

Expectedly my write up on the above subject matter elicited a lot of responses. It cannot be otherwise because of the topicality and sensitivity of the issue.

Commendably, most reactions were civil even if passionately expressed. And my take away is that indeed Nigerians especially northerners to whom the article was directed are passionate about the current situation in the entire north and would want all the stakeholders to get together in a meaningful, constructive manner to address the identified issues crying for attention. The view is that the north must live up to its billing as the fulcrum of Nigeria’s well-being in all areas of endeavour. And in this regard, we must be guided by the words of the great, venerable Sheikh Usmanu dan Fodiyyo who admonished strongly that Justice should be the guiding principle in running society. In his time he was inspired to lead the crusade for reform and transformation of much of the north on account of prevalence of unjust practices by the rulers of the various northern communities then. Looking at the situation in the north today, Sheikh Usmanu’s reality check should as of necessity be heeded, otherwise the north risks losing its essence in Nigeria.

I have decided to yield the column today to the readers who weighed in with their comments. Two out of the numerous responses capture the essence of the subject matter.

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The commentariat in Nigeria have been greatly enriched by the coming on board of Iliyasu Gadu. He wields iconoclastic cudgel and searchingly scours the nook and cranny of society striking down with existential fury the ramparts of its malaise. His, ‘’backwardness or progress, what does the north wants?’’ is a product of this essayistic tradition.

The northern condition is simply the self-entrapment of what used to be the old northern Nigeria and its successor nineteen states in a spiral represented by massive production and reproduction of poverty, backwardness and general underdevelopment.

Let us look at three critical issues whose contemporary urgency can hardly be gainsaid.

Firstly, education. The north must prioritise the provision of qualitative and quantitative education to its teeming population. Education is the major passport for social mobility and access to the future. The derogation of western education and its ignorant conflation with anti-Islamism is a recipe for disaster. It is shameful that university applicants from just three states in the south are more than the applicants from the entire north put together. Unless the north takes radical measures to address its educational backwardness, it would continue to be breeding grounds for insurgents and a host of other anti-societal elements.

Secondly religion. The hold of religion must be loosened if the region is to make tremendous progress. It bears pointing out that Islam is not anti-modernity and modernity is not anti-Islam. Malaysia, Turkey, Indonesia and Egypt are examples of Muslim dominated countries who have embraced and adapted modernity. Here in Nigeria we also have the example of the Yorubas. Religion should be an instrument for peace building, unity and social cohesion.

Also cultural minorities in the north should be encouraged in order to promote the diversity of the north.

Three, economy. The north needs to wake up from its economic slumber by engaging in critical economic and entrepreneurial thought that would convert its potentials into economic benefits. What comparative advantage is the north taking of its superabundance of primary products and dairy? Unless this is done and urgently too, the north would continue to remain the bastion of poverty in Nigeria.

The one fundamental factor that is needed to drive all this is leadership and here two categories are important: political and traditional. The political leadership must rise up to the demands of the occasion by formulating policies that would inaugurate sound development in the north and prepare northerners for the life of the future. The traditional leaders should create the right mental and cultural climate amongst northerners that would dismantle the barriers hindering the effective mobilisation and participation of northerners in the development process

Attah Pine, Makurdi, Benue State       

Please, I disagree with the assertion the “the north had never really initiated and followed through any development initiative either for itself or for the nation”. It is completely off the mark and does great injustice to the efforts of past leaders. Note the following;

In 1952 when regional governments were being introduced, the northern region had just two secondary schools. From that date to 1966 at the end of the first republic, the regional government had established two secondary schools in each of the twelve provinces and of course the Ahmadu Bello University. Ditto Teacher Training Colleges. Awolowo introduced free primary education in the western region, something to crow about, but it was already free in the north superintended by the Native Authorities.

The northern regional government established textile factories in Kaduna to leverage on the regions considerable cotton production. Kaduna thus became Nigeria’s Manchester.  There was the Sugar factory at Bacita, the paper mill in Jebba and a sack manufacturing company in southern Kaduna. It has to be pointed out that other regions followed the same strategy of import substitution for the country.

In the field of agriculture, research on improved seeds were conducted by the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) with results passed on to farmers. Studies on irrigation undertaken by foreign experts provided blueprints for the Lake Chad, Sokoto-Rima river basin and Hadejia river basin irrigation schemes. These blueprints were eventually taken over by the Federal Government when states were created.

In truth, subsequent leaders in the north did not exactly follow in the footsteps of the first leaders. The rot in the country is widespread even as its manifestation is greater in the north. Leadership has been deteriorating with those who see political office as an end in itself. We are in dire straits today because of that. 

M.T Usman wrote from aboumahmud@yahoo.com

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