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Northern Nigeria and the Inevitable Transition

by Isiyaku Ahmed
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By Adamu Tilde

Time and tide are two phenomena that can neither be wished away nor dismissed with a wave of a hand. A tide would sweep you away while time won’t wait for you to be ready. It’s on these premises I will proceed to discuss the five phenomena that, for quite a while, I strongly believe, have been strangulating the economic development of the Nigeria’s Muslim North; invariably, until a deliberate, soul-searching, controlled and honest conversation on these phenomena is being organized and debated, the region will continue to lead in posting poor human development indices.

1. Population Explosion and Birth Control

Population, in itself, is not the problem. The problem is when you have an idle, unskilled population fiercely competing for scarce resources. For example, take a father with a monthly income of N100,000 having two children and a wife to cater for. That father, all things being equal, can afford a house rent of, say, N150,000 per annum, moderately feed his family, enrol his children in a modest primary school, and most importantly, can afford to spare some time to attend to the social and psychological needs of his kids. Not that this is entirely okay, but certainly it’s far better than what is mostly obtained in the region.

Now, imagine another father with equal income but having two wives and ten children. There is no way he can provide for his family like the first father, no matter how much he tries because the resources are not enough, and they can never be. The result is that there is a greater likelihood of the children of the first father growing and becoming responsible adults, thus a high chance of making decent income and better life choices, given the strong correlation between acquiring quality education and economic success. In the case of the second father, the same cannot be optimistically inferred.

But a person can argue that it’s the responsibility of the government to provide free and quality education. Doubtless. However, the government’s irresponsibility isn’t a tenable excuse for one to be irresponsible. One will still have to carry one’s cross.

The truth of the matter is that Nigeria’s Muslim North must arrest its unbridled race of producing ‘needless’ number of children; this in addition to stepping up to the challenge of being responsible to the ones already around. Traditional, religious, and political stakeholders must brace up for the challenge of forcing the bitter pill of birth control down the throats of the population. No economic growth can be achieved with an uneducated, unskilled, and idle population.

2. Bank Interest and Economic Growth

Economic growth and development are tied to the acquisition of capital. There are basically two ways to acquire a capital: inheritance and bank loans. Very few members of the population have rich parents whom they can rely upon for seed capital, so that rules out the ‘inheritance factor’ for most of the population. The ready option is to access loans from banks. But banks charge interest, and interest on bank loan, according to the mainstream interpretation of the Muslim North, is haram (prohibited). This is the dilemma the Muslim North has found itself deep in for years, and has failed to provide a third option.

Bank interest is a reality we have to deal with. The consequence of not doing so may translate into a poverty-ravaged society which will, most certainly, birth all the imaginable societal dysfunctions: banditry, terrorism, violence, maternal mortality, child malnutrition, diseases, VVF, etc. Our best bet is to reinterpret the position of interest on bank loans. If no doctrinal reconciliation can be made, alternatively, the likes of Taj Bank and Jaiz Bank should engage in massive expansion and aggressive promotion. At the moment, they are doing very poorly.

3. The Challenge of Socialist Orientation and Excessive Fatalism

The historical connection of the Muslim North to slavery had, subconsciously, produced a huge amount of population that believes free lunch is a birthright on one hand. On another hand, a skewed understanding of Islam produces a population with uncommon romance with excessive fatalism all in the name of belief in predestination (qadr). To be fair to the early Islamic scholars of the region, the fatalistic orientation was not entirely theirs; people have this tendency of always attributing their failures and carelessness to the softest and easiest doctrine they can relate to.

Notwithstanding, the triple effects of the remnants of slavery, socialist orientation, and influence of the [distorted] belief in predestination have, in no small measure, helped in creating people with a chronic sense of entitlement and fatalistic tendencies. A person would get his wife pregnant and be expecting his brother working in Abuja to foot the bills of the naming ceremony and whatnot. Nephews would be insulting and cursing uncles for their failures to give them (free) money. Younger and, sometimes, older siblings would be cursing and slandering a successful brother for not doing enough in giving them money to discharge their personal responsibilities. Students would not read very well or study courses that demand serious effort and longer duration, only to graduate with the wrong belief that “it isn’t about what you study, but it’s ‘albarkan karatu’ (‘the blessing in what you have studied’)”.

This cannot continue. Everyone must carry his own cross. People must learn to take personal responsibilities and appreciate the relationship between cause and effect, effort and reward. Prayer is not a substitute for hard work, and it never will be. [Caveat: this is not to discourage supporting those who genuinely deserve to be supported.]

4. Women Participation in the Economy

There is just no way Nigeria’s Muslim North can make meaningful strides in modernity, economic growth and development when half of its population is caged and denied reasonable participation in the region’s economic activities. The culture that sees women as mere appendages of men, whose raison d’être is to attend to the dictates of men is archaic, nihilistic and incompatible with reality. Not only that we must take the responsibility of educating our womenfolk very seriously, but we must also ensure that, after being educated, they also participate in the economic activities of their choices, and be adequately rewarded for their contributions. We cannot continue with the obsolete, retrogressive culture of locking our womenfolk at homes. One half of the population cannot salvage the whole alone, and that we know from firsthand and second-hand experiences. By the way, why should a woman’s success be a threat to a man?

5. Investment in Education 

After all, said and done, nothing — I repeat, nothing— can be achieved without a deliberate, massive, and continuous investment in education by individuals and governments. At the moment, we are doing very poorly in that regard. Modern economy is built on the tripod of good governance, quality education, and relevant skills. The last two can only be acquired through standard schooling on which, at the moment, we have very little to brandish. Northern Nigeria as a region of over 100 million people has only two business schools, ten medical schools (of which two were recently established), five veterinary schools, one agriculture-based university, three technology-based universities. This is not normal. No region can compete while recording this abysmal performance in knowledge production.

No doubt, the world is a spectrum for endless possibilities. But possibilities remain what they are: possibilities. Without the knowledge and skill sets to harness and maximize the opportunities that abound in the region and beyond, nothing would happen. That’s why the North, and by extension Nigeria, is littered with the presence of Indians, Chinese, Lebanese making a killing from the economy while native Nigerians are neck-deep in poverty, penury, and perpetual anger.

The five phenomena highlighted above are, by no means, exhaustive. The Muslim North of Nigeria has two fight-or-flight options from which cue can be taken. One, the North must begin to hold critical, soul-searching, and honest conversations on the inevitable transition to modernity so that the changes anticipated can be controlled and determined, where cultural peculiarities and religious sensibilities can be taken into account.

Two, the transition and changes will inevitably and assuredly happen, but at a pace the region cannot control, and with consequences better imagined. The Muslim North must choose its battle. And to choose not is also a choice. At the end, the choice and the cross are North’s to make and carry respectively.

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