The North is not poor (3) By Aliyu Bala Aliyu

Sports:In which aspect of sports do we excel? Is it football, basketball, track and field events, gymnastics, combat sports? Oh! I forgot Polo – the sport of the princes and royalties of the north. While they play polo with aristocratic gusto, shouldn’t we wonder how many names it has put on the world‘s sporting map and how many jobs it has created? How many of our potentials are playing the world’s greatest game in England, Italy, Spain and others either in professional leagues or junior /feeder teams awaiting discovery and making money along the way? Need we ask how many lives the western union transfers of Mikel Obi touches or those of Osaze Odemwingie? Or the impact of   Kanu‘s Heart foundation on kids who would have long died unsung? Recall names  like Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael OlowoKandi, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, Segun Toriola, Bash Ali, Uche Chukwumerije etc ? Do they sound northern?


Literature, Arts, and Music: Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe exist in a class of their own  In tota fine erga omnes et omnia. (for all purposes, in regards to all and everything). Whether loathed, genuinely or enviously admired, the duo have occupied their places on the throne of Nigeria’s literary scene and the global honours list. With them as pioneers, there can be no other firsts. Other torch bearers include, without diminishing the status of those unmentioned here, Cyprian Ekwensi, Ola Rotimi, Niyi Osundare (whose poem) is going to be read at the London Olympics. Of the latter generation, who else would have won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and Orange Prize for fiction other than Chimamanda Adichie ? Who else would have won the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg poetry prize (2008) and the Arts & Culture Award [CNN African Journalist of the Year Awards (2009)] other than Tolu Ogunlesi? Who else would have won the Young Global Leader (YGL) 2012 other than Simon Kolawole? Nigerian writer and blogger, Teju Cole, has recently won this year’s Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for a ‘distinguished’ first book of fiction in far away London and the list goes on and on. Who wins the NLNG prize for science and literature yearly? When these awards take place, where are the northerners?


Which songs do the DJs and Radio presenters across the north play? Seal, Lighthouse family, Dr Alban, Sade Adu; P- square, Whiz Kid, Davido, Wande Coal, T Y Bello, Mo Cheddah, 9ice, Asa, Brymo? When the likes of Femi Anikulapo Kuti set the target of a Grammy for himself where are the northern artistes and performers?


Do names like Bruce Onobrakpeya; Fred Okon Archibong; Muraina Oyelami; Yusuf GrilloYinka, Bridget Nwanze, Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy; Bisi Fakeye; Yinka Shonibare; (Arts ); Sunmi Smart Cole, George Osodi; Emeka Okereke, Jide Alakija, Yetunde Ayeni-Babaeko (Photography); Chinwetel Ejiofor, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje; Sophie Okonedo , Rick Famuyiwa (Hollywood) ring silent bells in the ears of the north?  Even the popular

Argungu festival, the endless Durbars, the countless investitures are photographed,exhibited and promoted by non- northerners!


Advertising: Who handles the advert portfolios of  the blue chip companies  or better still the “Fortune 100” companies in Nigeria ?Whether through mainstream advertising channels or social media platforms? The advertising moguls are certainly not northerners yet MTN,

Airtel, Glo, Etisalat, Nokia, Samsung, Indomie, Coca-cola, have their products on gigantic bill boards across the length and breadth of Nigeria yet no northerner thinks it is a worthy niche. The billboards are even now going digital and perhaps in no time to touch screens and the north will most certainly not be there.


Who else would have established the Orange Academy (touted as Nigeria’s first and perhaps only school of practical brand advertising) other Kenny Badmus; and of course how many northerners are students of the academy?


Health Care:I am yet to see that world class hospital in every sense of that word world class in northern Nigeria. With common cold or slight back aches, our elite can afford to dash to Egypt, Europe and America , yet no single moneybags has had the initiative or patriotic zeal to build  any kind of world class hospital specialising in at least one area of medicine

whether Ophthalmology; Cardiology, Nephrology, Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery. It could even be a hospital specially dedicated to women or children attracting the best doctors from all over the world; and over a period of time they would have trained our indigenous doctors on the job. By so doing, they would not have to fly their kids to France to treat common cold.


Why has the Yar’Adua family not established a pericadiatis centre in Katsina, or of such heart related diseases? Why has IBB not established a cancer research centre in Minna or Asaba? Perchance alternative therapy could hold the key to unlocking the cure to the disease

where orthodox medicine has so far not. If our elite and nouveau riche are not

establishing such hospitals, why are they then not sponsoring students and

giving out research grants to crush the frontiers of knowledge ‘beyond the

utmost bound of human thought’?


Motherless Babies Homes/ Hospices/ Special needs schools:I know not a world class motherless babies home, a hospice or special needs school in the north.  How are such children brought up and catered for? Does anybody ask these questions among our elite?

Do they care? Do they, while feasting on their assorted cuisines during Christmas, and Eid (sallah) banquets give a damn about the welfare of these categories of people in the north?


Almajiri as a way of life :The likes of Dr. Aliyu Tilde, Dr Galadanchi and a number of northern intellectuals have done varying degrees of work on the almajiri phenomenon. The blue prints and commentaries are all out there but I cannot help but be amazed at the sustenance and perpetuation of the system in its medieval state. The failure of successive governments of the north to see the existence of the tsangaya system as needful of integrative reforms with mainstream western education as is obtainable in countries like Saudi Arabia,

Kuwait, Qatar etc. is completely incomprehensible. How could they not see the impending disaster?


How could such a system exist till this day that disconnects a child from his parents at such a critical stage of his formative years and expect him to come out whole? Like I pointed out to Dr Galadanchi during one of his visiting lectures in ABU, a child who has not been shown

parental love and nested in the warmth of a home cannot give it. I am a very strong believer in the psycho-emotional and psycho-social workings of human beings as it affects their personality traits and social interactions.


Of Beggars, the Physically challenged and bequeathing a legacy of poverty: Is the north the only region that has physically challenged people? Obviously not! But how is that it is northerners that are begging their lives away from Sokoto to Lagos; from Maiduguri to Ikom; from Zamfara to Aba etc? Is it any wonder that the almajiri system offers   an elementary apprenticeship in begging for alms? With no formal education or life skills, employability is very limited for this category of people.  Coming out of such a system, a pyramidal structure of the northerners outside the region presents the first-tier level base of the north’s blighted exports who end up in places like Lagos, Port- Harcourt, Aba, Onitsha etc as cobblers (shoe shiners) manicurists and pedicurists, water vendors [(mai ruwa), porters (mai kaya / dan dauko)], in the markets and motor parks, garbage collectors (mai shara); or as hawkers of sugarcane, carrots, tiger nuts (aya) and other such things.


The second tier levels who earn a more decent income than the first are the categories that end up as gatemen (maigadi),unperturbed by the sweeping wave of the private security industry.  Since his occupation is more of a sedentary one, he is more often than not permitted– implicitly or explicitly- to run a makeshift kiosk to sell trifles ranging from tom-tom, cigarettes , sugar , to kolanuts and bitter kolas. Others in this category include suya and kilishi merchants, okada riders, tanker drivers, cattle and sheep barons, tailors and embroiders (I have deliberately avoided the use of the expression “fashion designer” to qualify them which I shall explain later on.)


The third tier levels are the few men and women working in essentially government establishments like Nigerian ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime and Safety Administration (NIMASA), Military formations, Police and other security establishments, Customs, Immigrations, NDLEA, NTA, EFCC, VON, FAAN, CBN, SEC, NSPMC, NNPC, DPR, ECOWAS, and the like. Then those that work in the blue chip companies like Exxon Mobil, Shell, MTN, Ericsson, Chevron, Saipem, Sahara, Halliburton, Dangote, BUA, MRS and the likes. The informal cadre in this tier captures the bureau the change Alhajis, and the few auto dealers.


I met a physically challenged fellow who came to study law in ABU a couple of years ago. Although wheel chair-bound, he had the heart and spirit of a long distance runner. I taught another in one of the primary schools in Bida and was impressed and encouraged by his determination and dream. But the question is how many northerners who are physically

challenged have not resigned to a life of begging?  As I write this, there is in UNILAG a visually impaired man pursuing a Master’s degree in law (LLM). With two degrees in his kitty (a B.A in English and an LLB) he is a sound lawyer that knows his onions and quite an engaging speaker. Another interesting thing about this lawyer is that he has another friend who is his computer programmer who is equally visually impaired; who installs softwares on his computer and updates programmes.


In 2010, Ayoola Efunkoya, a virtually impaired student graduated as the best student in the Department of Mass Communication, Unilag. Ever heard of Dr Ife Akintunde, J.D Matthew Olaiya? How about Cobhams Asuquo (award-winning musician, producer, and songwriter), Cosmas Okoli, a wheel chair bound motivational speaker? In LASU is a wheel chair bound surgeon. Sheikh Abdullah ibn Abdulazeez ibn baz was blind yet rose to become the first

Vice Chancellor of the Islamic University of Medinah and later Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia. So how is it that the entire army of persons with disability (and sadly even able bodied men and women) should, as a career, take begging to such obnoxious and incomprehensible levels even when Islam, the religion of the majority of most of them frowns at it?  Where in God’s name are the world class schools in the north to cater for kids with disabilities? Where are the special programmes directed at them?


• Aliyu is a Masters student of Public and International Affairs,

University of Lagos.

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