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by Faridah Ibrahim, Nigeria Mar 11, 2010
Culture , Education , Health   Opinions



Many negative things are often said about northern Nigeria as it is today. With 11 million illiterate children, this region has the highest number of out-of-school children of any region of a country in the world. And the numbers are growing. Illiteracy is not necessarily the undoing of a society, but staggering illiteracy is. Northern Nigeria’s many educational problems have shallow roots, for until recently, these problems were almost nonexistent.

During the time of the late revered Sir Tafawa Balewa and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, this vast region was a shining example of excellent leader – follower relationship. Today, hundreds of thousands of people here blindly follow the wrong leaders unto the wrong paths so religiously that one begins to suspect mild cases of Stockholm syndrome. True, courageous, and visionary leaders have eluded the north in recent years, and the few so-called leaders around have not demonstrated a genuine desire to help their people progress. Or how else does one begin to explain this illiteracy rate, together with the highest number of cases of the wild polio virus in the world amidst the continuously multiplying population.

The implications of illiteracy are innumerable, for what is a society without education. With a high illiteracy rate comes more diseases and public health problems, less development, more begging, less political and economic power, more violence, and in a region notorious for its not-so-hardworking people, more unemployment. Every educational index in this country is against us: lowest enrolment in all examinations, lowest scores in all examinations, lowest number of trained and skilled artisans, lowest number of schools and educational institutions, lowest number of educated women, lowest employment rate, and the list goes on and on.
In my opinion, all these are happening due to a basic and most fundamental failure of political leadership. This region’s oligarchs have failed to speak or act in the face of all the inherent dangers that illiteracy poses. We continue to be at the losing end of all educational and economic investments and activities, and all our people ever ask for is power which they has never been used positively.

As more children are being born, and more do not attend school, more go into begging and forced labour, more are forced into early marriage, more have unwanted pregnancies, more develop VVF, more have polio, the list is endless. Many of the region’s people who are Muslims continuously use religion as a shield for their activities, whereas Islam states clearly in its creed that “every one of you should seek knowledge as far as possible, and do not marry off your daughters without their consent.”

This staggering illiteracy lives side by side with a divided ruling class that amasses wealth, whether legal or otherwise, and then refuse to pay taxes or make any impact on people’s lives. There are too many powerful and influential people in this region, and divided against each other and also lacking the foresight for meaningful development, they have brought this region to educational and economic doom.

Polio is another issue entirely. Many of the people in northern Nigeria continuously claim that polio is part of a grand plan to sterilise us and reduce our population, which they know is our only strength; whereas other regions of the world have completely eradicated the disease with no effect on their population growth Rate. In fact, in 2005, some prominent traditional rulers from this region carried out an investigation at the place of manufacture of these vaccines and found out that there was no evidence of such a claim, but because there is ineffective communication between leaders and followers, that piece of information has made little or no impact.

A million and one things afflict the north, but the biggest of them all is illiteracy. Although illiteracy persists in other regions of the country, northern Nigeria’s case is the most mismanaged. Northern Nigeria’s people have no education, no today, and most probably, no tomorrow; but depending on the decisions we take now collectively, a better tomorrow may still be within our grasp.

Solving the illiteracy problem is a huge task, and the first and biggest step towards that is for the leaders to acknowledge the problems and speak to their people about the importance of educating every child.

Together with more commitment to progress, investment in the educational sector, and a genuine desire for positive change, we will definitely be on the right track.

So whether we are from the north, south, or any other region we have decided to divide ourselves into as a country, the time to start is now. If we do not ask for the right thing to be done, and if each region is for itself, then this country cannot grow. If a better tomorrow is to be assured for this nation, then Nigerians must unite to solve a Nigerian problem.



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Faridah Ibrahim

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