North East and the Marginalisation of Nigerians -By Jibrin Ibrahim



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The North East, with its epicentre in Borno is one of the places where both the perception of and reality or marginalisation is the most intense in Nigeria. It will be recalled that way back in June 1954, the Bornu elite had established the Bornu Youth Movement (BYM) because they felt that the two main Northern parties, the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) and the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) had a Hausa/Fulani focus that marginalised them. Professor Billy Dudley (1968) recalls the argument of the BYM which – “declared its independent stand in stating that it believed that the interests of Bornu, Adamawa and Plateau provinces could not be adequately served in the existing political set-up unless these provinces were to become a separate state in the Northern Region.”

In his book Ahmadu Bello (1986), Professor John Paden describes an elaborate policy of incorporation and subordination of the future Bornu elite to the Sokoto aristocratic pole at Katsina College under the aegis of the British colonial rule. This policy was subsequently pursued by the NPC. Katsina College, later renamed, Barewa College was established by the colonial administration as a leadership training school to groom aristocratic emirate children to run the system of Native Authority administration. Graduates of Katsina College were the major political actors in Northern Nigeria. The Borno elite never believed and still do not believe they should play second fiddle to the Caliphate. The Kanem Borno Empire which blossomed for one thousand years is known to be the longest surviving African state. It was a state with the most illustrious history of Islamic learning and culture in the Western Sudan and lived through colonial rule with British support for the Caliphate aristocracy as a period of unjust marginalisation.

Borno is the most important angle from which we can tell the contemporary story of Nigeria. Today, it has become the centre from which an Islamist insurgency in Nigeria’s north-east is spreading to other parts of the country. It is clear to me that these conflicts are fuelled at the national level by deepening poverty, an expanding demography as well as cumulative ethnic, religious, social and economic grievances. These grievances point to a crisis of democratic consolidation in which citizens are not seeing the dividends of the democratic transition that occurred in 1999.

The Nigerian state is undergoing a serious existential crisis. Nigeria has been rapidly urbanising at an incredible rate. The urban centres are focal points for the globalisation of the economy, society and religion, while shanty towns and their lumpen culture are the flash-points. Life is increasingly precarious because of breakdown of social fabric and family bonds, as well as the mounting pressures on livelihoods. In these contexts, religious activities have proliferated, with both Muslim and Christian actors and movements stepping in to provide critical services that the family and the state are unable to provide. Most of the new religious actors operate in the field of popular religion and act autonomously with little or no supervision from the state or from the religious establishments.


Jama’atuAhlis-Sunnahlidda’atiwalJihad (Boko Haram) has become the most prominent example of these new religious movements. It emerged in 2002 under the leadership of Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf, who preached a radical Islamic ideology and demanded an Islamic State based on the Shari’a. Boko Haram recruited its mass followers from a growing youthful population. Many attend Qu’ranic schools as almajiris, in a system that channels vulnerable and deprived teenagers into radical Islamic movements.

Emerging in the context of rapid urbanization, social transformation, economic challenges and poor governance, the Boko Haram insurgency has made governance almost impossible in the North-eastern zone of the country that includes Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states. While Islam is the dominant religion in the North East, the region has sizeable adherents of Christianity. Of the 250 ethnic groups that make up Nigeria, more than 100 are from this part of the country, making it one of the most multicultural parts of the country. It shares international borders with the Republics of Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The colonially defined border separates peoples of the same ethnicity and culture between Nigeria and Cameroon and the Republics of Niger and Chad.

The security and safety challenges that have bedeviled the North-eastern states are a consequence of governance failures. Governance is the exercising of power by a government, business or political party in accordance with established rules. The lack of accountability and massive corruption are the most serious governance problems in Nigeria. The late Mohammed Yusuf gained fame as the leader of Boko Haram partly because of his vigorous critique of Governor Ali Sheriff’s poor governance in Borno State. Muslim identity and thought in Nigeria derives historically from the tradition of Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya Sufi orders. Since the 1970s, however, the dominance of the Sufi orders has been challenged by a new Wahhabi and Salafist movement known as Jama’atuIzalatulBidi’awaIkhamatisSunnah or Izala as it is popularly known. The rise of Izala within Islam and Pentecostalism within Christianity is an expression of a passionate search for resolutions to existential crisis in the context in which the state has failed in providing a framework for governance with growing poverty and misery.

Available evidence shows that the North-East zone records the highest level of poverty in the country. The 2012 National Bureau for Statistics report gives the full story. It places 75% of the population of the zone in the relatively poor bracket. The most important figures however are that 71.5% of the population is in absolutely poor bracket while 51.5% of the people find it difficult to feed daily. In addition, there is a rise in income inequality ranging between 2003 and 2010 with the rich getting richer through the control of government while the people are getting poorer. The zone also has the highest level of unemployment rates such as Yobe 39%, Bauchi 30% and Gombe, 29%.

When we focus on Borno state’s 27 local government areas, virtually all of its inhabitants are poor and lack access to basic necessities of life, thus accounting for 80% prevalence of poverty in the state. Poverty level in Borno state is all-encompassing, apart from people of the area not having access to money, there is a high level of food scarcity in the area, most of the inhabitants in the state do not have access to adequate meals for the simple reason that they cannot afford it, thus increasing the level of malnutrition of persons in the state, mothers and children are of course the most affected. According to the statistics released by the Ministry of Education in 2009, Borno has a population of 389,000 Almajiris on the streets begging for alms. The unemployment rate in Borno state is 29.1%. The most worrisome case in the state is that the rate of non access to shelter (homelessness) has become rampant.

In Yobe State, Hyacinth Ishoku tells us in a recent paper “Yobe state the development challenges” that as of 2011, 2.1 million population out of the total population of 3.4 million persons in the state are living in absolute poverty. And from 2011 to this moment, the poverty level in the state has been on the increase instead of decline. The trend of poverty level in the state moves from 45 % within two years to 78 % in the 17 LGAs in the state, the rapid rise in poverty has been most acute five LGAs which are Bade, Bursari, Damaturu, Nangere and Nguru. The absolute poverty in the state has resulted to malnutrition which the consequence is the death of some many babies.

The same story can be told about the other states in the North East. Poverty and misery are intensifying due to poor governance. Be that as it may, there are similar levels of poverty in the surrounding communities in Cameroon, Chad and Niger and they are not engaged in similar insurgencies as we see in the North east. Here, social science gets less exact, objective conditions of poverty lead to subjective conditions of seeing revolt as the answer only under certain conditions and we do not know what tipping points lead us there. What we know is that when human life is extremely precarious, the explosion can come at any moment. We shall conclude this series next week by trying to understand what marginalization of Nigerians means.



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