Poverty in the North: Which way forward? By Saka Raji Audu
Some time last year, the former Central Bank Governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo made some remarks about the state of the North, in which he reiterated the high poverty level in the region, suggesting what he described as "operation of micro finance institution" as remedy to reduce the poverty level to the barest minimum. The then CBN governor also adduced that the issue of skill acquisition was vital to the issue of lifting people out of poverty level.
Generally speaking, Nigeria has once been rated as the 13th poorest nations of the world, not minding its richness in oil. Thus, the much talked about the high poverty in the North was in comparison with its Southern counterparts of the country. In order to put the issue of poverty in the North in its proper perspective, it is discernible to passionately go down the memory lane to unravel the initial factors responsible for the situation in the North. This is being done with a view to put the record straight and with the hope that our northern elite will do something towards alleviating the pathetic situation.
We all know that the bedrock of development in any society is education. Education is light, power and gate way to progress. This aspect of human endeavour is so important that whoever plays with it may not find it easy in life. Sadly, the North had lagged behind in western education. This was due to the mentality the "civilizing mission" attached to utilization of such facilities. The mission looked on to school as a springboard for spreading the Christian life. This mentality was not acceptable to the Muslims of the North. The missionaries were therefore denied every opportunity of spreading their activities there. The North then had to fall back on the already existing Qur'anic schools for a long time to come.
By 1957, the western region introduced Universal and Compulsory free primary education and devoted almost fifty (50) per cent of the region's budget to education generally. At the attainment of the country independence in October 1960, there was already a criminal gap between the North and the South in the matter of western education. The Northern region had only a handful University graduates and probably no more than two thousand (2000) holders of school certificate. The South, which received western education earlier than the North and which also, sponsored more students abroad than north had these two categories of educated elements in their hundreds and thousands respectively.
Ten years later in 1967, there were about two and half million children in the primary schools of Eastern and Western regions, compared with a half million out of the greater population of the former North. Besides these, 119,000 students were in Southern secondary schools, against 14,000 in the Northern secondary schools. Teachers in the South numbered 24,000 while teachers in the North numbered only 3000. In 1910, the first Director of Education for the North, Hanns Vischer was appointed, even though the education department for the protectorate of Southern Nigeria was established in 1903. The notorious educational gap between the North and the South could only be appreciated when it is remembered that while as early as 1859 when the Church Missionary Society opened a Grammar School in Lagos , the equivalent of such a school to be opened in the North was the opening of a government school in Kano in 1912. Despite these setbacks, the Northern region contributed tremendously towards the eventual achievement of independence of 1960 and has been a region in a careful hurry to catch up with the other regions. It is against this background that the high poverty level in the north should be seen.
It may interest any one to know that for the north to measure up with the criminal education gap, all the northern state government must live up to the expectation of ensuring that children in the north have sound education at all levels. They should also ensure that there exist sufficient, qualified, experienced and well remunerated teachers and provide instructional materials as well. These are what we require for any sound education, which will subsequently lead to development and reduction of poverty, especially in the northern part of the country. The micro-finance institution or skills acquisition is however necessary but with adequate focus on western education by the leaders of the North. If this is done, the issue of high rate of poverty in the North will be reduced.
Our northern leaders must begin to resuscitate and provide their youths that took to bad behaviour, with working tools for their advancement and well being. This will bring about the empowerment of the youth. However, one does not expect every youth in the north to be well behaved because of the individual differences and societal problems. The northern state government should also endeavour to improve on the lots of Almajirai by providing enabling environment for them to see the four walls of both western and Islamic education. The northern governments should truly do something for the progress of Almajirai to avoid being neglected and becoming nuisance to the society. Schools should be refurbished for Almajirai to improve their Arabic and secular education instead of large chunk of them being allowed to be daily roaming our streets and the society. The lots of Almajirai teachers should also be improved upon. This should be the best way to prevent the Almajirai from being a nuisance and vagabonds.
Still, the high level of poverty in the North could only be reduced if we put emphasis on knowledge of both western and Islamic education. Poverty reduction is not in money distribution and even if the Northern leaders come together to create roads leading to every home, make everybody millionaires, without education, poverty will continue to ravage the Northern region. Apart from government, the Northern parents have serious role to play in alleviating poverty in the North. Children abandonment at their tender age must be stopped to reduce the number of beggars in our region. Education of every child in the North must be taken seriously, without any form of impunity. Example will suffice here. I know a man that was very rich. He has five children. But he did not care to send any of his children to western school perhaps, because he was rich. He eventually died. The children took over the wealth, misused it and today, they have no single kobo left for them and they are now moving from hands to mouth. Who should be blamed in this case: the government, parent or the children?
It is in this retrospect that we should understand that the high level of poverty in the North is a collective guilt and no one should be singled out for persecution. We should therefore learn on how to advise our leaders towards alleviating poverty in the North by not resorting to casting aspersion, deliberate fabrication and manipulating things against individuals or group of individuals on issue of general responsibility. It is now left for our leaders and other stake holders in the North to make things work by giving much emphasis on education of our children so that tomorrow shall be better for them.
Saka Raji Audu writes from Kano .