By Lasisi Olagunju
IT is gratifying to note that northern Nigeria is not just about mass weddings, mass procreation, mass murder and mass failure. Sometimes you encounter a soothing oasis in the desert. Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, last week commenced what he described as “Nigeria’s largest school enrollment drive.” His target is 1.4 million new intakes in the next one year. Tambuwal chose Riji village, the birthplace of the North’s numero uno political ancestor, Sir Ahmadu Bello, to launch the education offensive. Riji is a village under a bigger village called Rabah. The Sardauna grew up as Ahmadu Rabah before regional and national prominence made him to bear what we know him with.
The North is Nigeria’s problem child. It is a region that is, in the 21st century, still being begged, cajoled, even bribed to go to school. Through its loathsome attitude to learning, it has contributed immensely to national misfortune and it is not tired of doing so. There is no ill (or illness) that is not possible for that region to create for circulation to other parts. It introduced street begging to areas that never smiled at mendicancy. It gave Boko Haram to a Nigeria that thought the Maitatsine of the 1980s was the end of religious madness. The North even imported suicide bombing into our country, something very alien to the African who loves life and prays daily to live long and live well. And it is not that the ancestors of the North did not work hard enough to make it an asset to Nigeria. The Sardauna saw it a long time ago. He warned that education held the key to a future of regional and national usefulness. Very few listened. The Arabs say the counsel of elders is honey but if unheeded it becomes as sour as bile.
In a September 16, 1963 speech at the Government College, Zaria, the Sardauna warned that given his people’s disdain for western education, the future wouldn’t be rosy: “…You have wonderful opportunities. If you fail to take full advantage of your education now, you may live to regret it for the rest of your lives…You have wonderful opportunities. You must take them. If you let them pass, you will never have them again,” he warned.
And it just happened that the standards started falling right from the very start. “Last year,” the Sardauna noted, “fifty percent of the boys who took the West African School Certificate examinations (in that school) failed.” A frustrated Sardauna cried out that teachers were failing to get the maximum effort from their pupils who had grown wild to become “lazy and indolent.” He gave a notice that the government would “weed out” the bad ones “who waste the money of the country… Idleness and indolence go hand-in-hand with indiscipline. I have been told of many cases of indiscipline; of bad and disgraceful behaviour in the towns which are visited by students at will regardless of school rules, and of neglect of religious observances. This country cannot tolerate such cases of indiscipline and indolence…”
That was in 1963. Now, when good elders leave the village, afflictions fill their space. Fifty per cent failed in 1962 and the Sardauna cried. What is the failure rate today? Given the huge presence of the North in our political life, would it be too gross to ask how many of those “idle and indolent boys” of the early 1960s have been inflicted on the entire country as leaders, shaping lives and destinies in their own crippled image? That exactly is why I say that as the South confronts its own misfortune in leadership, it must show interest in how the North runs its life. Never hope to have a sound rest if your neighbours make a delicacy of injurious insects.
So, when I read that a governor from that far-flung enclave has an ambitious programme to enroll 1.4 million children in school, relief was my immediate reaction. A television presenter who read the news asked cynically: “I hope they have teachers.” And he was right. A needs assessment conducted recently in that state showed that 31 per cent of the teachers there were not useful to the system. They lacked requisite qualifications to teach. But that can be fixed. What may be difficult is convincing an obstinate herd of street children to abandon their wheel barrows and stop seeing western education as evil. That is the task Tambuwal has given himself. I wish him luck.
I have very many friends up north who would always be a pride to anyone. But their shine is in the midst of unspeakable socio-political dirt. And the Hausas say water does not get bitter without a cause. I’m worried by the buffet of strangeness daily served by that enclave. I always wonder how my friends feel at the series of oddities from northern Nigeria: Children (even female) ending up as permanent tenants on the street; governments going odd in projects, policies and programmes conception and execution. And I have some examples. On 15 May 2011, northern Nigeria gave us the first mass wedding when Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso’s regime organised a wedding for 100 couples. It was the first in a total of 1,000 of such weddings planned in 10 batches by the Kwankwaso government. A bride price of N10,000 was paid on each of the women “most of whom were moving into their second marriages.” The government also gave each of them N15,000 to start a life. The package also reportedly included free bed, beddings and other room furniture items.
Since then it has become very normal to read about hundreds of couples being wedded and state governments picking up the bills. Governor Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto State did a total of 250 weddings in his years as governor. By January this year, reports said the mass weddings had produced about 40 children with 30 of the marriages collapsing.In February this year, 1,520 couples from 44 local government areas were joined in holy matrimony by the Kano State government. The government paid a dowry of N20,000 for each of the 1,520 brides. On January 23 this year, a group accused an official of the Sokoto State government of sabotaging efforts at conducting a mass wedding for 100 couples in the state. That wedding was to cost the state government N32 million. That state government had on January 24, 2014 spent N30 million on the mass wedding of 125 couples. In 2015, the Zamfara State government spent N40 million on a mass wedding organised by the state’s Association of Widows and Divorcees. About 200 members of the association benefitted from the large heartedness of the government in assisting them to find love.
The oddity of the North goes beyond procured mass love. In August 2016, Katsina State governor, Aminu Bello Masari, bought and distributed 4,500 goats to 240 women selected from across the 34 local government areas of the state. In September 2016, Masari bought and distributed 3,000 coffins to mosques in the state. In November 2017, Masari launched Goat Empowerment Programme for students from 20 secondary schools in the state. Last week, Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, bought and distributed N208 million worth of noodles to 5,200 tea sellers (Maisu Shayi).
Actions like these rile the South. They ask whether those who value mass wedding, mass coffin and mass goat procurement and ignore education don’t need ‘help’. Leaving leprosy and treating ringworm is a mark of acute unwellness. Neighbours, beware!
Amidst all these, it is calming that at least one state up north is looking at something positive for once. Putting more than a million children in school will reconstruct the social ecology of the streets. Children without education will almost certainly end up as almajiri. Almajiri are angry, hungry street children, many times ready tools in the hands of the devil. Moving them to school is a service to everyone, including the IPOB member who thinks the North is free to wreck itself. But, then, the North is unique in its strange ways. I am waiting for the response of the elite there to the decision to enroll these 1.4 million kids in school. I have also not heard anyone from that zone describing government funded mass weddings as oddity. What about goats as empowerment for schoolgirls? And mass purchased coffins for elders and communities? Am I finding these odious because I come from the South which has its own acute sociopolitical afflictions but hardly sees anything positive in the North? Are certain values not supposed to be universal in their validity?
Should a government that is too poor to educate its children move public funds to contract mass marriages? And will mass marriages so procured not produce mass children who won’t go to school and so will multiply the country’s problems? And how would empowerment with goats assist schoolgirls to pass their exams? What about multimillion naira government money on noodles and beverages for tea sellers?
I don’t know what else to say. If you have something to say, please say it to northern Nigeria.