Wole Soyinka did me a great favour recently. To put it in the language
of today's online communities, he did a little trolling. He provoked the
thoughtful sections of the Northern political and media establishment -
and establishment spokespersons they are though they may not be aware of
it nor pleased by it - to speak their minds. Some of these turned out
calmly rational as seen in Mahmud Jega's or predictable as seen in
Mohammed Haruna's or very suitably unfounded as exemplified by Sam
Nda-Isaiah's. Some others offered very ugly words like those written
with a quill pen by Adamu Adamu or the dismissive put-down as was the
one tweeted by Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim.
In an essay published in Newsweek and a series of interviews granted the
media, Soyinka essentially charged that Boko Haram is plainly an
instrument in the hands of those Northerners no longer in power looking
for a way to reclaim it. He did not found any real supports for his
claim which is what made Nda-Isaiah's equally unsupported response a
like-for-like match. But he sprinkled a lot of the usual saw dust that
gets into the eyes of Muslim Northern Nigerians like Ibrahim; a certain
contempt for their religion, and an equally dismissive attitude to what
he makes of their culture. No reader of Soyinka's recent comments could
fail to get the impression that these are really people whom he does not
like at all. His words very deliberately underscore the common
perception of Northerners as unproductive.
Each time that matter has been raised Mohammed Haruna has written a
column. It is always the same old same old: the North, through its
agricultural produce, contributes more to the country's GDP. He is
right. But he will soon be wrong. In Lagos throughout the 70s, all the
rice consumed in our household came from Baro and all the groundnut oil
from Bida, both places in Haruna's Nupe Kingdom in Niger State. Today
our oil comes from Singapore and our rice from Thailand. Tomorrow our
rice will most likely come from Ikorodu in Lagos State because right now
as Governor Babangida Aliyu, the gasbag of Niger State, heckles for a
larger slice of the Federal dole, Governor Tunde Fashola in Lagos, bless
the man, is hard at work toward self sufficiency in rice production.
It is said that those who are always talking have no time to listen.
Just the other day, Governor Aliyu declared that he knows the sponsors
of Boko Haram. In other words, he claims to know those who have
sponsored widespread murder and terror. How can we take him seriously,
or not consider him complicit, when he has irresponsibly failed to say
who they are? I invite Governor Aliyu to shut up. If he does so, he
should be able to listen and think. He has complained that what his
State gets is largely spent on salaries. Tough luck. How about a plan
for paying salaries from revenues and taxes derived from a once again
vibrant Bida economy? How about self sufficiency in groundnut oil
production? Does he ever go to Bida where - as I saw last year -
abandoned oil mills are all over the place? No. Governor Aliyu is always
on the Minna-Abuja road, a route defiled by no less than fifty fat
billboards which speak to his megalomania as opposed to the so-called
Chief Servant they crudely announce. Where is Chief Aliyu's plan for oil
and rice exports out of Baro, a port on the now partially dredged River
Niger once productively linked to the hinterland by a busy railway line?
It happened just two months ago so no one has forgotten but additional
money from the partial removal of the fuel subsidy has now come to Niger
State. Why won't Governor Aliyu release a transparent plan to show the
poor people in Agaie, Zungeru and Awuru and the elite in Minna whom he
says he serves exactly how it will be utilised, what new jobs it will
create, what better teachers it will employ? The same applies to the
other governors. Why haven't they come up with their subsidy
reinvestment programmes similar to what the Federal Government has now
clearly made a commitment?
When I saw in Finance Minister Okonjo-Iweala's SURE programme a
commitment to spending 60 per cent of the funds earmarked for
investments in Information Technology "in the relatively disadvantaged"
North, I contacted two Northerners in the field and urged them to study
the document with a view to seeing what they could do to get our people
to make the most of that opportunity. The depressing response of one of
them who is employed by a leading international firm is highly
instructive. This is what he had to say:
"I'm disenchanted. Why so? I am expected to sell technology to
Northern States (among others) yet they are the most uninterested
customers. Yes young tech businesses are there. Without the primary
patronage of their own governments, how can they show their mettle
and make others turn to them? I wonder if you saw what the Urban
Shelter guy said about how Fashola helped to approve and exceed
their request for land in Lagos, without having to meet them;
because he wanted to support a Northern owned/based company wanting
to do business in Lagos.
"Sadly it seems to me that Northern Tech would be best served
growing their business outside Arewa."
Remember the latter half of that last sentence. In a recent discussion
with a highly successful Northern businessman engaged in industry and
agriculture in a couple of States in the east and west ends of Southern
Nigeria I got to understand exactly why he is located there:
indifference, disinterest and obstacles every time he has approached a
government in the North despite his good brand. Haruna will soon be
Is it any surprise that poverty is the wages of that Northern attitude?
Is it any surprise that other Nigerians like Soyinka have become very
impatient with the North and its self-inflicted woes, the depth and
ugliness of which has now resulted in an endless chain of massacres and
daily disruptions to people's lives?
Adamu Adamu mocks Soyinka's Yoruba pronunciation of a Kanuri word. He
has forgotten that it is the sighted that lead the blind, and hasn't
noticed how the Yoruba are taking control of his own Hausa such that a
Hausa word suya, which means deep frying can go into Yoruba, assume a
different meaning and make an entry back into Hausa with the corrupted
meaning adopted. He hasn't fired up Google Maps and seen the Yoruba
imprint in it, in the way that Hausa street names have been spelt. He
has forgotten the globacom ads and the biannual greeting Barka de
Sallah. Has he compared the Yoruba wikipedia with the Hausa, Kanuri or
Nupe versions? Unlikely, because he hasn't realised that as Muslim
Northerners have neglected Western education, those who have embraced it
the most are the ones defining the age in which we live.
Shouldn't anyone looking at recent State-by-State breakdowns of School
Cert and JAMB results wonder whether it really makes any sense for the
child who has consistently come bottom of Class 1 to be promoted to
Class 2A rather than be made to repeat it or put in Class 2B or Z where
he can move at the pace of his equals? Isn't that what the argument for
a restructuring or a dissolution of Nigeria into more manageable parts
about? The awful truth is that Muslim Northern Nigeria has held
Nigeria's progress back or put another way Nigeria has inhibited the
progress of Muslim Northern Nigeria.
Yes. Re-read it. I said it. Go and think about it. Compel Governor Aliyu
to think too, and act.
by Shehu Dikko