A good friend of mine recently posted a video clip to me in which the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was addressing a section of the Nigerian community. Emir Sanusi is a man I have a lot of affection for, even before his days in the United Bank of Africa in 1997. I think I admire him because I see in him the traits of a truly detribalized Nigerian.
There is no doubt that, as things stand in contemporary Nigeria, his position as the Royal Father of Kano state is thrusting the responsibility of seeing to the seeming negligence of northern Nigeria upon his broad shoulders, a situation which appears to distance him somehow from his established disposition as a detribalized Nigerian leader.
In the clip, Sanusi speaks of the poverty level of Nigerians generally and northern Nigeria in particular. According to him, in 2015, Oxfam claimed that 62 individuals owned more than half of humanity, which means that the wealth in the hands of 62 individuals was higher than the total wealth in the hands of the bottom 50% of the world’s population. In other words, one percent of the richest people in the world collectively owned more than the 99% below them.
Nigeria, on its own, was producing billionaires and counting itself among the prosperous nations of the world. A situation actually arose where a famous politician was quoted as saying that a mark of the prosperity of Nigeria was the number of private jets Nigerians had acquired. That, Sanusi explained was the thinking of the elite mindset.
Sanusi told the story of a woman who had come into his palace with so many others seeking for financial assistance. But while she was waiting in a queue to be attended to, her child died. She needed just N3,000 to buy drugs for the child. She didn’t have the money and while she was waiting for assistance, the child died.
For him, an Emir and coming from the Central Bank, he said he then knew, perhaps for the first time, what it meant when people said a huge percentage of Nigerian people were living in poverty, on less than one dollar a day. They didn’t have access to education or to medical facilities. In the northern states, about 75% of young females were forced into marriage because their parents could not afford to maintain them at home. About 62% of Nigerians live within this poverty level bracket. If the condition was viewed vertically, it must also be viewed horizontally, in the context of peace and prosperity. And viewed this way, it would be seen that the poverty rate in Lagos state is 8.5%. In contrast it is 91% in Zamfara state. It is 77% in Kano and 90% in Yobe.
Sanusi queried the role of politicians in all of these, emphasizing that as Africans we needed to know that we were thinking independently by reflecting every transaction we got into and asking such vital questions as: how did this translate into the lives of human beings? How many bankers and politicians had done anything for those children taken out of school? The Emir indicted politicians who kept seeking for public posts but would not engage in debates to tell the nation what they would do about child education, about forced marriage, about domestic violence, about divorced women left to cater for their children.
Emir Sanusi said no one should be surprised to see child beggars on the streets of northern Nigeria when their fathers were married to three wives and beget about 22 children on an income that cannot support such a large family. “And if they are on the streets what is there to surprise anyone if they go on drugs? And if they go on drugs, is it any wonder they end up as radicalized individuals? We need to ask ourselves if our privileges do not impose on us a responsibility”, Sanusi said.
It was a very impressive presentation, no doubt. However, Nigerians cannot be so quick to forget that as soon as crude oil was discovered in commercial quantity in 1958, it instantly became the country’s primary foreign exchange earner. Even as we speak, it is estimated that crude oil accounts for more than 80 % of Nigeria’s revenue and 90 % of its foreign exchange earnings.
Having discovered vast oil wells scattered all over the Delta region of the Deep South and in some parts of the east and the west, government inadvertently jettisoned its original policies which were agriculture-driven and allowed them to die an unnatural death. That was how government abandoned the erstwhile mainstay of the economy.
With the enormous wealth from crude oil at its disposal, government began to intensely indulge in importation. Nigerians became import-oriented. Egged on by consumption patterns which encouraged contempt for local products and a strong desire for foreign goods, agriculture was given such a hard punch that nearly six decades afterwards it is yet to recover from the coma it suffered with the discovery of crude oil.
Nigerians came to depend so much on the wealth they made from crude oil that at a time many thought oil had turned from a blessing into a curse, from boom to doom. It was so because despite the wealth that came from oil exploration, a majority of Nigerians were suffering in abject poverty, unable to afford two square meals a day and unable to afford medical care. The roads in many parts of the rural areas were so bad that cars which plied them ended up with so serious damages that they were sent into the mechanic clinic immediately.
Many rural areas had no clean drinking water and many ordinary citizens still had to go to streams and rivers miles from their homes to fetch water for domestic use. In the big cities, the Water Boards which ensured that clean and well treated water was available to city dwellers suddenly disappeared. People were encouraged to drill boreholes in their private houses in the city. Most times, the water from these boreholes was not adequately treated. The result was that most elderly Nigerian citizens began to get blind as soon as they clocked 60.
Electricity supply which was mainly in the big cities was epileptic, sporadic. Government would supply electricity for two hours and for the next three or four days, the community would be left to manage themselves with the use of private generators. Generally speaking, Nigerians were denied the basic infrastructural needs which citizens of other oil rich countries often took for granted. And there was nothing anybody could do because, as Professor Chinua Achebe rightly pointed out in his last book he titled ‘There was a Country’:
“Once a people have been dispossessed and subjected to dictatorships for such a long time as in Nigeria’s case, the oppressive process also effectively strips away from the minds of the people the knowledge that they have rights.”
The very few Nigerian families which had access to the vast oil deposits in the country continued to amass wealth and as a matter of policy they became more determined than ever to widen, rather than bridge, the gap between the very rich and the very poor families. This they did by systematically trying to eliminate the middle class and by creating a two-class social system of the very rich and the very poor.
In one instance, I confronted a very highly respected Islamic scholar, Dr Farrar Idid, over the issue. What he told me still hasn’t sunk, years after the interview I had with him. He tried to assure me that a two-class system was the most peaceful political arrangement because if the down-trodden hoi poloi of the country had food in their stomach and not much money in their pockets to be able to purchase arms and ammunition, they would not be in a position to insurrect against the ruling families and so there would be peace in the land.
That could have been true years ago. But things have changed. The general attitude of members of the rich families which bordered on arrogance, flagrant display of massive wealth in the face of abject poverty and a proclivity towards impunity drove many citizens to the wall, which culminated in the Arab Awakening at the start of the decade.
Nigeria was not left out of that global trend. The power shift from the old ruling families to the newly rich and educated political class, especially in the north of the country began to play a significant role in determining which way the economic pendulum of the nation would swing.
Some Nigerian families enjoyed the nation’s much touted oil wealth while it lasted. But as always, nature has a way of proving its superiority in all circumstances.
But just in case Nigerians don’t know where their problems are coming from, it might well be necessary to remind them that among all the 15 Heads of State who have ruled Nigeria since its independence in 1960, two came from the West, and three came from the East while eight came from the North.
From the West, General Olusegun Obasanjo was Head of State for 3 years and 258 days from 16 January 1976 to 1st October 1979 when he voluntarily relinquished office and again for 8 years from 29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007. Chief Ernest Shonekan was Head of State for only 83 days from 26 August to 17 November 1993.
From the East, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was ceremonial Head of State for 2 years and 107 days from 1st October 1963 to 16 January 1966. Azikiwe was deposed in a military coup. General Aguiyi Ironsi became Head of State for 177 days, from 16 January 1966 to 12 July 1966. He was assassinated in a military counter-coup. Dr Goodluck Jonathan was Head of State for 5 years and 25 days from 5 May 2010 to 29 May 2015. He conceded defeat to the incumbent President at the 2015 elections.
From the North, General Yakubu Gowon was Head of State for 8 years and 362 days from 1st August 1966 to 29 July 1975. Gowon was ousted in a military coup. General Murtala Muhammed was Head of State for 199 days, from 29 July to 13 February 1976. Muhammed was assassinated in a military coup. Alhaji Shehu Shagari was Head of State for 4 years and 91 days from 1st October 1979 to 31stDecember 1983. He was ousted in a military coup. General Muhammadu Buhari who is the current President was the Head of State for one year and 239 days from 31st December 1983 to 27 August 1985. He too was ousted in another military coup. General Ibrahim Babangida was Head of State for 7 years and 364 days from 27 August 1985 to 26 August 1993. Babangida was also ousted in a military coup. General Sani Abacha was Head of State for 4 years and 203 days from 17 November 1993 to 8 June 1998. Abacha died in office. General Abdulsalami Abubakar was Head of State for 355 days from 8 June 1998 to 29 May 1999. He voluntarily relinquished office. Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar ‘Adua was Head of State for 2 years and 341 days from 29 May 2007 to 5 May 2010. Yar ‘Adua died in office.
This means that for the 59 years Nigeria has had independence, the easterners have ruled for about 8 years, the westerners for about 12 years and the northerners for about 39 years. But rather than concentrate on issues that would bind the various ethnic groups in the country more closely together, instead of bridging the gap between the extremely rich families and the extremely poor ones across the country, these leaders kept accumulating so much money for their families. They kept telling their people that western education was poison and no good to them, yet their own children went to American and European universities to learn. Such disparity was not helping matters. The masses of the people began to wonder if those who claimed to have wrestled independence from the British actually did so for the love of their country or for the benefit of their own families and friends. Now, they have become the tribal heroes. Northern Nigerians should open their eyes. Tribal leaders are the real enemies of One Nigeria.
And that remains the general impression on which hinges one of the most important changes that Nigerians are still looking up to in the Buhari dispensation. Nigerians will continue to need that reassurance that the Buhari government is there to serve the interest of those who voted it into public office. From the look of things in the northeast, for instance, it is obvious that poverty alleviation measures are needed to restore their sense of belonging which they must have lost a long time ago. In that case, the Buhari Administration should realize that education is the key to poverty alleviation.
When young Nigerian Muslims are educated, they will be able to think for themselves. They will cease to be vulnerable to cheap and dangerous religious indoctrinations. They will be able to stand against anyone trampling on their fundamental human rights. They will be able to get the government to create jobs for school leavers in need of jobs. They will even be able to create jobs for themselves, should the need arise.
Therefore, it is important for them to acquire the right skills. Yes. Muslim education can teach Nigerian Muslims how to live the good life. It will teach them how to be good wives and authoritative husbands. But only science and technology will teach them how to make money in this Information Age. That knowledge is what northern Nigerian children need in this computer age.
To be computer literate is to acquire western education. Therefore, the APC government should please explain to northern leaders that this was why Dr Jonathan built so many Almajiri schools in the north, to take young Nigerian children off the streets and give them a more meaningful life that is teleguided by education. It is no use to them that the rich families are getting richer by the day while the poorer families merely exist. That is why Nigerians voted for change. And as much as possible, they want to see these changes take place during this administration’s life time. But whether President Buhari can afford to do better than Jonathan, given his lopsided appointments into sensitive public offices, is a matter of speculation.
Commenting on Sanusi’s clip which has gone viral already, one Nigerian had this to say: “Very nice presentation. As Trump would say, it is all talk, no action. Sanusi is the Emir of Kano and he describes the illiteracy of the northerners. He forgets that the richest man in Africa is a northerner. So also are the poorest Nigerians. Yet the northerners are busy making laws to protect herdsmen, not education. Sanusi talks about inviting Chinese to set up a factory for leather shoes, ignoring Aba, Nnewi and other well-meaning cities in Nigeria. The same northerners are leading us and hoping to deliver us to the Promised Land. God help Nigeria!”
Commenting on the video clip, another Nigerian said of the Emir: “Look at the cloak he was clad in, looking like an Arabian sheikh in a state where 70% of the population lives in abject poverty. People queue every day to ask for crumbs from his palace. How many schools has he built or empowered in Kano state? How many of his people has he taught to fish instead of giving them fish? Talking to bankers will not solve the problem. He should mobilize his fellow emirs to start a reorientation of their people towards a more productive lifestyle.”
If you ask me: I think the problem is the system. A system that produces rogue leaders cannot be good enough. The problem, Emir Sanusi, is the system.
- Asinugo is the author of ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ (Vol. 1 & 2) and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (imostateblm.com)
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