For many families in Northern Nigeria, a disturbing outbreak of violent crimes has become the stark reality of life. From Adamawa to Benue, Yobe to Taraba, Plateau to Sokoto and Zamfara to Kaduna, the North, once a haven of peaceful coexistence, has transformed rapidly to a region of bloodletting. In the first 10 weeks of 2018, there were 591 violent deaths in the North-East; 270 similar casualties were recorded in the North-Central and 193 in the North-West, a national newspaper said. Of greater disquiet is Nigeria’s weak security system, which, as currently constituted, is incapable of securing the citizens. It is certain that prospects of bridging the gap between the North and the South will be extremely difficult if the region is not rescued from itself.
The seed of the current anarchy was planted long ago but its ultimate manifestation became obvious in 2009 when Boko Haram gained traction in the North-East. It challenged an unprepared state to a contest of supremacy. Although the Islamists have not completely attained their dream of creating a caliphate, at their brutal worst, they have slaughtered at least 100,000 persons in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, according to estimates given by Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State. Over two million are languishing in Internally Displaced Persons camps. Last weekend, the insurgents, who kidnapped 276 Chibok schoolgirls in Borno in 2014 and 106 Dapchi schoolgirls in Yobe this year, attacked a military base. The tally of casualties is still being compiled.
Boko Haram is just one leg of the monster. Another is cross-border banditry. From Kaduna State, it has berthed in Zamfara. A senator, Sa’idu Dansadau, said the bandits, who sometimes hibernate in neighbouring countries, had massacred 2,992 persons between June 2016 and June 2018; sacked 682 villages and towns; burnt or destroyed 2,706 farms; stolen 2,244 motorcycles; 13,838 cows and 11,088 sheep and goats. With the state appearing confused, the banditry has spread to once-peaceful Sokoto, where 32 people were given mass burial two weeks ago by the state government.
Benue, Plateau and Taraba states are reeling under attacks by Fulani herdsmen. In June, herdsmen wreaked havoc on Riyom, Barkin-Ladi and Jos South local government areas, sending over 200 persons to the great beyond. Between September and October 2017, 75 people were killed, 489 houses torched and 13,726 displaced in Irigwe, Bassa LGA, says Plateau State-based NGO, Stephanos Foundation. Herdsmen slaughtered 73 people in Guma and Logo LGAs in Benue on New Year’s Day. In April, herdsmen murdered 19 people – including two priests – upon their invasion of the St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Mblaom, Gwer LGA. In March, 20 persons were killed in the Mambilla Plateau, the same day that President Muhammadu Buhari visited Taraba to commiserate with the people after an earlier massacre. The uncontrollable cattle herders have massacred over 50 persons in the border communities in Taraba and Adamawa states in the past one month.
Since 2016, the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway has become a zone of kidnapping. In July 2017, bandits kidnapped 20 persons in broad daylight on the road. The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, had deployed a special police team there, but the result has not been encouraging. The bandits have been slaughtering police officers and soldiers in places like Birnin-Gwari with uncanny regularity.
The numbers are horrendous, yet the Nigerian state appears clueless. Ironically, the North was once a place of peace, brotherliness and low crime rates, a common awareness among its 200 plus ethnic nationalities. Ahmadu Bello, the founding father of the defunct Northern Region, despite the domineering influence of his Fulani-Hausa nationality, sought, through the “One North, One Destiny” slogan, to foster a common identity and development. Things, however, went awry when succeeding leaders of the region began from the 1970s to play a game of exclusion, using ethnicity and religion.
The result is the growing sectarian savagery. The famed “melting pots” of northern Nigeria, among them Jos, Kaduna, Zaria. Kafanchan and Yola/Jimeta, began to explode in horrendous massacres. Political intolerance, religion, very poor governance and bad leadership have left the North with the world’s most dismal indices. In its ranking of the country’s 10 poorest states, using poverty levels and internally generated revenue based on data by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2017, nine Northern states including Sokoto, Katsina, Adamawa, Gombe and Jigawa led with only one state from the South, Ebonyi, coming in seventh place. While poverty rates in the 17 Southern states average less than 50 per cent, national average reaches over 70 per cent when added to the figures from the North. A recent finding that Nigeria has the world’s largest number of persons living in “extreme poverty” also locates most of these 81 million wretchedly poor in the North.
Back in 2011, the then United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Ibrahim Gambari, and the then Finance Minister, Shamsuddeen Usman, quoted World Bank figures identifying Northern Nigeria as the region with the world’s highest number of children out of school. Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, in April 2017, admitted that three million child beggars – almajirai – roamed the state. Some six million in total stalk the North today, says the Mallam Aminu Kano International Foundation on Human Development. While Gambari cited figures of 44 per cent coverage of immunisation of children against diseases in the South-East, compared to 3.7 per cent and 3.6 per cent respectively in the North-West and North-East; Usman said northern Nigeria was “behind all of humanity” in child education.
The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, once lamented that girl-child illiteracy in the North-East was about 91 per cent, worse than the UN figures cited by Gambari of only 20 per cent enrolment by girls in the North-East and 25 per cent in the North-West compared to 85 per cent in the South-West and South-East and 75 per cent in South-South region.
The North has become so violent because poor leadership is manipulating religion and ethnic chauvinism to advance and sustain elite interests. In a country where poor governance and inept, corrupt leadership is near universal, the consequences in the North have, however, been more devastating. Shettima, Governor of Borno and chair of the Northern Governors Forum, said the North had become a laughing stock, a centre of insecurity, terrorism and poverty and had become a drag to the rest of the country. Concurring, Balarabe Musa, former governor of old Kaduna State, told a newspaper that if the educational disparity between North and South continued, “… there’s no way we can have national unity, there’s no way we can have even development, there’s no way we can avoid the North being the problem of Nigeria…”
They are right. No one has put it better than a former US President, Barack Obama. In a recent speech to mark Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, he said, “The fact that countries which rely on rabid nationalism and xenophobia and doctrines of tribal, racial or religious superiority as their main organising principle, the thing that holds people together – eventually those countries find themselves consumed by civil war or external war. Check the history books.”
The only way to curb the slaughter in the North is for the region’s elite to embrace a more liberal political culture that drives “the world’s most prosperous and successful societies,” according to Obama. Ordinarily, religion, if handled rationally and responsibly, should not be an impediment to progress and development, as can be seen in some few Muslim countries like the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Malaysia, that have been able to walk the delicate tight-rope between good governance and religion. Qatar, a country of 2.5 million people, with the world’s highest GDP of $129,700, has grown into a model of development in infrastructure through its multicultural policy. Thanks to a comprehensive and effective education system, the country had an enviable adult literacy level of 97.8 per cent in 2015, according to Gulf Times reports. It established Education City, which hosts campuses of several international colleges and universities. The Global Competitiveness Report of 2015-2016 by the World Economic Forum ranked Qatar second for the parameter of quality of higher education and training.
And just recently, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has propelled the Egyptian economy to appreciable rate of growth. The International Monetary Fund has put Egypt’s economic growth forecast for this year at 5.2 per cent, as against Nigeria’s 2.2 per cent. The World Bank report on Egypt’s Economic Outlook, said “extreme poverty in Egypt is practically eradicated.”
Illiteracy and fundamentalism will only drive away potential investors and leave the North and, by extension, the rest of Nigeria perpetually impoverished. It is the responsibility of today’s Northern leaders to lead their people to prosperity and end the cycle of deprivation and violence.