In 1955, Chief Obafemi Awolowo introduced a Free Education policy as Premier of the Western Region. Already, his region was well ahead of the North in terms of western education. Today, the products of that policy dominate education, the civil service, business, financial services, medicine, law and a host of other professions in Nigeria and beyond. Fifty- five years later, few, if any of the North’s 19 states has a free education policy.
Today, a single state in the South has more school enrolments than an entire geo-political zone in the North. Pupils still study under trees. Teachers are ill-trained and poorly paid. A primary school in Kaduna state (Rafin-Pa) has 300 pupils who share two classes. A chalk line on the floor serves as demarcation for the different classes. It has two teachers, including the headmaster. There are more private universities in a state in the South than all federal, state and private universities in a Northern zone.
In schools, working conditions are so poor that our few highly trained university lecturers are opting to teach (even in secondary schools) abroad. There is only one state owned university of science and technology in the entire North. A single university in the South graduates more students than several in the North. Even the famous Ahmadu Bello University is crippled by internal wrangling and power-play.
Education is symbolic of the psychology of Northern elite. Fifty years ago, the region was battling to catch up with the rest of the country. Today, the gap is wider than ever. All economic indicators point to the North as the poorest region in Nigeria. Unemployment is higher than other parts. Industries, even in Kano have become empty, cob-webbed buildings echoing with the silence of inactivity. Our elite would rather buy factories in Malaysia and other countries.
Agriculture, the region’s great area of comparative advantage and mainstay of its economy remains subsistence and dependent on the vagaries of weather. This is in spite of the many dams and huge tracts of fertile land the region possesses. Healthcare is not any better. Most states in the South have more doctors than any zone in the North.
Recently, a volunteer group called Movement for a Better Future organized a medical caravan to assist a small village with basic medical services, only to be confronted with many patients requiring surgery and other more serious medical attention from surrounding settlements. Government healthcare has never reached majority of people, so they die from preventable, treatable diseases that should have been long eradicated. The few doctors and other medical personnel we train have no hospitals and no equipment to work with. So they transfer their expertise to other countries.
Cholera, dysentery, meningitis, polio and other preventable diseases seem to afflict only the region. We have been accused of single-handedly stalling the elimination of polio from Africa. Bill Gates had to spend $750 million to fight diseases in our backyards. Our elite would rather keep their dollars in Switzerland, Dubai, Hong Kong and South Africa.
The Sahara desert is inching downwards every year. Entire settlements have been engulfed. Water sources are drying up rapidly; deforestation is exposing millions of people to the elements and making the region vulnerable to drought, flooding and other environmental catastrophes. Overuse has reduced the fertility and productivity of many farmlands. Rapid population expansion further puts pressure on existing resources, while our armies of unemployed youth troop to towns and cities in search of non-existing opportunities. Our elite would rather compete about who lives in a more expensive part of London, the French Riviera or Dubai.
Of course, many Northerners have worked and succeeded in many fields, but most of our so-called elite are people who have served in one public position or another and used their positions to divert public funds for personal use. Corruption is central to the region’s poverty and maladministration. The stolen funds are not used to create jobs or stimulate economic activity, but to buy homes in Europe, America and the Middle-East. The elite compete in sending their children to schools abroad (though they end up with children totally disconnected from reality, unable to adjust to conditions in Nigeria and incapable of defining the essence of life).
This mentality is not limited to the Hausa/ Fulani/ Muslim elite. The elite from other ethnic groups and religions in the North have the same psychology – majority or minority –the thought process is the same: grab as much money as possible; open foreign bank accounts; buy a house in London with a stopover in Dubai; send your children to school abroad and enjoy the loot.
Most of those who would have made a difference in society have been assimilated into the elite class. Remember all those idealistic ‘comrades’ and ‘radicals’ in universities across the North? They have become part of the same system they used to condemn. The dream of many young Northerners is to acquire wealth by whatever means to join the rat race. Idealism is dead. Progressive thinking is anathema. There is no vision, and thus, no prospect for a better future.
Now that Northern elite are divided on whether to retain rotational presidency or support President Jonathan, whose interest are they serving? Only their selfish interests because regardless of who is in power, majority of Northerners (regardless of ethnicity or religion) have nothing to show. The psychology of our leaders is to systematically narrow the economic and political space to the exclusion of the majority.
They have no interest in the economic and political development of the North, preferring to fly with their families to major cities of the world with looted money. In the meantime, illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, insecurity and ethno-religious crises continue to tear the North apart. That is the mindset of the so-called Northern elite.