By Ahmadu Shehu, PhD.
The current situation in northern Nigeria is very discouraging, even depressing. But it is not hopeless. Daunting as the current challenges seem, they are far from insurmountable. Before sounding over-optimistic, let me admit that things can head south and that the danger ahead is by no means to be underestimated. The problems bedevilling this country have been dissected, analysed, revised and reviewed regularly. They are well-known to the extent that a curious baby could make a list of them; insecurity, poverty, joblessness, poor education, healthcare, lack of power, water, and all other social amenities. That is how obvious our problems are.
Unfortunately, although various solutions to the above problems have been proposed over time, few improvements are being recorded. On the contrary, things have become worse by the day. What this means is that either the proposed solutions are wrong, inadequate or that these solutions are not well-implemented. Regardless, we shall acknowledge that these problems have been with us throughout our recent history; they have been acerbating all through the decades of our independence, and that they are not going away on their own. Though, it is not as if nothing is being done to ameliorate this sorry situation; it is just not enough.
For instance, as people of faith and conscience, we have been encouraged to pray hard, submit to the true spiritual powers that create and sustain the universe. Luckily, Nigeria is reportedly the most religious country globally, and our attitude to religiosity attests to this claim. As a nation of faith, we have benefitted from our dedication to prayers and spirituality in many ways. However, the deteriorating state of our affairs shows that something is definitely wrong with this approach. We can see that as hard and as much as we pray, these problems are not going away – they have refused to disappear after the night vigils. The home truth is that they will not disappear because they are man-made and, therefore, require human solutions. Consequently, we have to undo them by matching our spirituality with the necessary practical actions.
As concerned and enlightened citizens, we have cried out as loudly as possible, written treatises, provided all the analyses in this world. Still, that is undoubtedly not going to do much in salvaging this precarious situation. This decay is beyond words. As individuals, each of us has a responsibility to this country. Therefore, some pundits claim that we shall quickly solve these problems if we do our parts as individuals. Well, yes and no. Resorting to self-help is itself a measure of failure in a cooperative society. We can only do so much as individuals, but not enough to correct the ills of this society. That is why human society is politically structured since time immemorial. We have never heard of a country, an entity – not even a family system – without a workable structure. As Femi Falana says, “there is indeed no republic of non-governmental organisations”.
As citizens and subjects of a political structure, we have always pushed all the blame to the region’s political leadership. Indeed, the responsibility of a people is absolutely on the political leaders who have all the instruments of power, administrative and constitutional resources, privileges and responsibilities. But, this too is very much debatable. One undeniable truth is that while political leaders are responsible for the development of a society, the quality of followership has a significant stake in the success of public policy and programs. Is leadership not the product of followership? Or is it the other way round? This is the case with chicken and egg. Your guess is as good as mine.
As a government, various laws, policies and programs have been formulated, enacted, assented, proposed, implemented, or use any vocabulary that suits your purpose. The bottom line is that we are sinking deeper, moving in reverse order, and things are getting worse. Governments at all levels adopt often conflicting policies and programs on various challenges facing the region. For instance, on insecurity, the Zamfara state government embraces negotiations and amnesty for criminals, while Katsina state adopts the often faulty stick and carrot approach. On the contrary, the Kaduna state government insists on non-negotiation with criminals, without any alternatives for the victims. The governments apply the same conflicting methods to other critical issues such as education, employment, poverty eradication, healthcare, etc. If results are to judge actions, we can loudly, albeit sadly, say that successive governments at all levels have failed in basically everything.
The evidence of the failure of these approaches lies in the fact that there is no sector – one aspect of life – that is better than it was years ago. But at the same time, this evidence is the same reason we should do more because our problems are bigger and more today than yesterday. It means, therefore, that the people of this region must continue brainstorming and inventing new, dynamic solutions in tandem with the current challenges facing it. Northern Nigeria is full of potentials and opportunities to get out of this mess and attain its developmental goals.
The best way to do this, in my opinion, is by focusing on the human capital of the region. The problems mainly result from neglecting the wealth of human resources, both in quality and quantity, by undermining critical social development issues, especially education and skills acquisition. Yes, this region might be rich in natural resources, such as gold, ore, iron, and other geological elements. Still, the truth of the matter is that no society has ever mined itself to greatness. In recent years, the federal government has been fond of oil exploration in the north to counter the southern narrative of “oil-producing states”. But, the essential truth is that the so-called oil-producing states are as underdeveloped as any other state of the federation, except that they alone have the environmental degradation of that magnitude. This tells us that our society cannot drill itself to development.
Likewise, we may argue that agriculture has sustained us for millennia, but the population explosion, waning natural resources, desert encroachment and other global factors mean that the current scale of subsistence farming does not feed us, let alone sustaining our economy. Thus, we cannot farm ourselves out of these troubles.
I believe we can think and invent ourselves out of these problems. The surest way to development is education – education that develops the minds of the citizens to think, organise and prosper. Fundamentally, this is what only education (in its real sense) can do. Many countries and societies have done this in recent decades. Nations are not born or produced by the roads, farms, bridges, mines, oil fields or industrial estates. They are born by the minds of citizens. The growth of societies is not measured and cannot be attained or sustained by the physical attributes, items and objects on the ground but by the enlightened minds of their citizens. Thus, learning from both our history and the history of nations worldwide, the north can and will be developed, but only through quality education and nothing else. If we can get this right, we will be able to think ourselves out of these problems.
Dr Ahmadu Shehu is an Assistant Professor at the American University of Nigeria, Yola. He writes from Yola, the capital of Adamawa state.
 My definition of education and the model that I believe can do this is explained in my article entitled Towards a Community-Based Model of Basic Education in Nigeria published in Chido Onuma’s Remaking Nigeria: Sixty years, sixty voices.