Social inequality in the North- The Nation

By The Citizen

Mass illiteracy in the region is a drag on national development. Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, threw a bombshell on April 11 when he addressed the Isaac Moghalu Foundation Leadership Lecture and Symposium in Abuja. Dwelling on Women in Leadership: the Education Pipeline, the CBN governor lamented the status of girls and women in the North, a region that has relentlessly come under fire in recent times, as insurgents have made the zone unattractive for foreign and domestic investors.

The statistics he reeled out were frightening. He disclosed that more than 90 per cent of women and girls in the North West are unable to complete their secondary school education. He pointed out that, contrasted with figures from the South West where less than 10 per cent of girls stay out of schools, the inequality underlying such indices could be responsible for the restlessness, poverty and consequent insecurity in the North.

The 51-year-old CBN governor said: 'We are only treating the symptoms, not the ailment. We are spending so much on security, compared to education and healthcare services. We cannot succeed in security without fixing the original problems.'

Questions have been asked about the performance of governments of the northern states in the past 52 years. Culturally, girls and women have been suppressed over the years, thus widening the inequality gap, not only between men and women in the region, but also dragging down the rate of development in the country. A survey by the British Council last year indicated that 80 per cent of women aged between 20 and 29 in eight states of the North were unable to read and write, the corresponding figure for the South was 54 per cent. The British Council's Gender in Nigeria report further indicated that 94 per cent of women in Jigawa State and 42 per cent of the men in the state were illiterates.

The document also brought up the shameful fact that two-thirds of girls between 15 and 19 years in the North are unable to read an English sentence, while, in the South, the figure is 10 per cent. Consequently, given the population of women and girls in the North and the poor literacy level in the region, Nigeria has been unable to advance towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal on education, especially of the female folk. Nigeria ranks 111th of 134 countries on the Gender Equality Index.

The rate of poverty, too, is growing very fast. While the national poverty rate in 1980 was put at 28 per cent, it has now almost doubled.

The goal of education for all by 2015 is now a mirage as the token steps being taken by the federal and Northern states are not yielding results. At a point, the Babangida administration came up with the nomadic education plan to attract children of the Fulani herdsmen to the classrooms. It did not succeed. Currently, the Jonathan government is setting up almajiri model schools. This may go the same way as those hungrier for education could find their way to the schools and take over, thereby defeating the aims for which they were established.

As Mallam Sanusi pointed out last year in a speech directed at entrepreneurs in the North, the region has remained poor, partly because of cultural practices that limit the education and productive engagement of women. This must be tackled by all in the public and private sectors. The disaster in the North should not be of concern to the region alone, but the whole country. As the country is thinking of ways to confront the security challenges, attention must be paid to the large army of illiterates and unemployed in the North. Education would reduce the pool from which arsonists and terrorists draw, and motivate the young to dispel rumours and false information.

In tackling the menace, early marriage and child bearing must be confronted headlong through mass education and campaign. The British Council survey indicated that more than 50 per cent of women in the North get married before they attain the age of 16 and are expected to give birth within the first year of marriage. This is a major reason for the high percentage of illiteracy and ignorance in the region. So, governments at all levels should come up with incentives to encourage the girl child to embrace education. As a first step, all governments, especially in the North, should abolish the payment of levies and fees by girls and young women.

The National Gender Policy, informed by the Beijing Plan of Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, formulated in 2006, is yet to be faithfully implemented. The policy should now be given fillip and closely monitored by the media and civil society groups.