By Musa Kalim Gambo
Muhammadu Sanusi II, Emir of Kano has never hesitated to critique our Northern Nigeria. At the recent national Islamic Vacation Course organised by the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN) A-ZONE (comprising of the 19 Northern states and Abuja) in December last year, emir Sanusi made this remark to a large audience of over two thousand Muslim Students and several prominent Muslim intellectuals from the North;
“We talk about out of school children, millions of children who are out of school. There is no child who is out of school; if you are not in primary school, if you are not in islamiyya, if you are not in tsangaya, you are in school on the street. You are learning how to steal, you are learning how to take drugs, you are learning how to kill, you are learning how to rape; it is a school! And after twenty years of training all these millions we will have highly qualified criminals, thieves and drug addicts.”
I did not fully grasp or appreciate the semantic significance of Emir Sanusi’s utterances until after almost a month. I have had to chew and regurgitate the words as a rhetorical question; the street is a school? The reality dawning on me is that Sanusi’s choice of words might have been too careful or frugal as the situation in the North today provides worse glaring evidence that our streets are our biggest schools. When the number of children we have on our streets who are not enrolled in any kind of formal or informal educational institution is several times more than the number of those who attend what could be termed ‘school’.
Talking about our out of school children has sadly become a signature theme of Emir Sanusi anywhere and anytime he stands behind a podium in Northern Nigeria today. And this I think is gradually making him unpopular especially because he mostly heavily relies on Malthusian theory of population growth at occasions he is supposed to rely on the Qur’an or Hadith to critique the dominant culture of the North. Emir Sanusi believes that the population of our out of school children is increasing in an alarming geometric progression while our means of catering for their basic needs is increasing through an arithmetic progression, pathetically. He warns; “So long as we use religion to justify growing our needs at an exponential rate we are in trouble.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with Sanusi’s position on this given his background as an economist, not just an ordinary roadside economist, but one who has had the privilege of serving as a Governor to the Central Bank of Africa’s largest economy(?). He has certainly been in touch with the complexities of managing the financial policies of such a large developing country.
But Sanusi is not alone in this criticism of the North, I mean our North; most of our intellectuals today have taken to the habit of criticising the poor man on the street for giving birth to more children than he can take care of. And for that they blame him for all the violence and unrest that we witness every day. They often forget that their friends and colleagues have hijacked most of the resources that would otherwise have been used to create the enabling environment for this poor man’s peasant business to thrive so he could take care of his ‘too many children’.
Friends of these Northern intellectuals would rather send their wards to Europe and America to study in some of the most conducive academic environments on earth while we push ourselves to enter poorly ventilated and heavily overcrowded classrooms in universities here in the North. By the time we graduate, we return home to our poor parents and join our unemployed friends on the streets, before then, the sons of friends to our Northern intellectuals must have returned from Europe and America to take up jobs in ‘highly lucrative’ federal agencies.
At this point, the street becomes our graduate school.
There was a President who felt that we needed more universities to address our Socio-economic challenges, he converted some existing tertiary institutions across the country with some in the North into universities. He also established model schools for our Almajiri boys to reduce them from our streets, but these model Almajiri schools seem to have lost relevance even in our passive discourse on the out of school children today. Recent reports indicate that these schools have been abandoned to rot away.
Not long ago too, a former state Governor in one of the North’s largest Almajiri hubs sent children of the less privileged for graduate studies in some tertiary institutions in Asia on full scholarship to study science and technology courses, after his tenure ended his successor revoked such initiative. Sadly the same successor sends his wards to posh universities both here in Nigeria and abroad. Well, the best school for the son of talaka is the street. Emir Sanusi understands this.
Mere rhetoric like that of Emir Sanusi will not bring any sustainable solution to the socio-economic challenges of abject poverty and rising insecurity that is creeping and taking over the North. Only practical action will.
–Musa Kalim Gambo writes from Jos, Nigeria.