Contextualizing Protests In The North: Nigerian Politics And Elections Violence

03 May 2011

By Salisu Suleiman

It is easy to construe the violent protests that broke out in several northern states following the April 16th presidential elections as signs of intolerance or do or die politics. The mathematical miracles reflected in the results make a categorical endorsement of the elections as free and fair difficult, but even before the results of the elections had been declared, protests had broken out in many parts of the region. If any church or Christian was targeted, it is condemnable and completely uncalled for. It is totally indefensible and can only be explained, but not justified as the result of mindless, directionless mob action.

In reality, the targets of the uprising are the so-called leaders in the North – the political, military and business elite as well the traditional institutions that have held the region back and truncated any attempt to educate the people and free them from the yolk of illiteracy and poverty. In the same manner that sit tight rulers in North Africa and the Middle East are being toppled by popular movements in the Arab Spring uprisings, the protests in northern Nigeria can be viewed as rebellion against a backward and anachronistic feudal system. Karshen Zalunci (End of Oppression) might be an apt description.

As far back as 1955, the Western Region introduced free education as a policy. Today, the products of that forward thinking strategy and their offspring dominate education, the civil service, business, financial services, medicine, law and a host of other professions in Nigeria and beyond. Even now, which of the north's 19 states has a free education policy? So the region has millions of uneducated and unskilled young men and women with little opportunities today and worse prospects still, for tomorrow.

It is this disillusionment that is fueling the anger and resentment. It is an extraordinary development that mobs are approaching the palaces of Emirs not with reverence, but with intent to attack and destroy them and their occupants; the masses finally understand that when their leaders say ‘north', it is not the north as a viable, coherent geo-political entity, but one where a few individuals usurp power and resources to the exclusion of the majority who wallow in poverty and illiteracy.

To illustrate the level of decay and neglect, a few examples are vital: today, a single state in the South has more school enrolments than an entire geo-political zone in the north. A primary school in Rafin-Pa in the outskirts of Zaria has 300 pupils who share two classes. A chalk line on the floor serves as demarcation for the different classes. It has two teachers, including the headmaster; there are more private universities in a state in the South than all federal, state and private universities in a northern zone. There is only one state owned university of science and technology in the entire north. A single university in the south graduates more students than several in the north.

Healthcare is not any better. Most states in the south have more doctors than any zone in the north. Recently, a volunteer group organized a medical caravan to assist a small village with basic medical services, only to be confronted with many patients requiring surgery and other more serious medical attention from surrounding settlements. Government healthcare has never reached majority of people, so they die from preventable, treatable diseases that should have been long eradicated. Cholera, dysentery, meningitis, polio and other preventable diseases are prevalent in the region which has stalled the elimination of polio from Africa. The region's elite would rather keep their stolen wealth in Switzerland, Dubai, Hong Kong and South Africa.

Agriculture, the region's great area of comparative advantage and mainstay of its economy remains subsistence and dependent on the vagaries of weather. This is in spite of the many dams and huge tracts of fertile land the region possesses. The Sahara desert is inching downwards every year. Entire settlements have been engulfed. Water sources are drying up rapidly; deforestation is exposing millions of people to the elements and making the region vulnerable to drought, flooding and other environmental catastrophes. Rapid population expansion further puts pressure on existing resources, while armies of unemployed youth troop to towns and cities in search of non-existing opportunities. Northern elite would rather compete about who lives in a more expensive part of London, the French Riviera or Dubai.

Of course, many Northerners have worked and succeeded in many fields, but the region's political elite only use public offices to divert funds for personal use. Corruption is central to the region's poverty and maladministration. The stolen funds are used to buy homes in Europe, America and the Middle-East. It is warped thought process: grab as much money as possible; open foreign bank accounts; buy estates in Europe and America, with a stopover in Dubai. And never forget to visit Mecca every year to feign religiosity.

For those seeking to understand the outbreaks of violence, there is another north. There is a north that has nothing to do with the usurpation of political and economic opportunities to the exclusion of other Nigerians. There is a north that is poor, hungry, illiterate and devoid of hope. There is a north that is as much a victim as the south of the corruption and arrogance of these narrow clique of northerners that is often presented as representing the entire region.

For this north, the various administrations headed by northerners have not resulted in better lives, education or improved opportunities. This north does not send its children to school in the US, UK and other locations while local schools are systematically ruined. This north does not fly to Europe or America every fortnight for medical checkups or shopping sprees in Dubai. This north does not own foreign bank accounts in London, New York, Dubai, South Africa, Jordan, Beijing and Hong Kong; they own no bank accounts at all. This north that does not allocate all the best positions in the country to its children, qualified or not. This north simply wants change.

This is the north that is coming out to fight for its survival. As long as they stick to the objective of forcing out the corrupt and visionless elite, they need our support and understanding, not the usual ‘almajiri' taunts. Perhaps, a better Nigeria might yet emerge.


©  EsinIslam.Com

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