opinionBy Jonathan Nda-Isaiah
Last week I was shocked and saddened when I read a news report that only 28 candidates have registered for the common entrance exams for Unity schools in Zamfara. The report further showed three states with the highest registration so far. Among the three states, Lagos has 24,465 candidates, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja 7,699 and Rivers State 4,810 respectively.
On the other hand, three states with extreme low registration are Zamfara with only 28 candidates, Kebbi 50 and Taraba 95 respectively. It is quite appalling that the last three states at the rung of the ladder are Northern states. As a Northerner, this is sad and depressing. According to a UNICEF report, Nigeria has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world. The report further noted that Nigeria has 10.5 million children that are out of school.
UNICEF statistics show that 60 per cent of the Nigerian children who are not attending school are from the Northern part of the country. So, it is not surprising that the two killer groups in the terrorism index in the world, Boko Haram and killer Herdsmen, are peculiar to the North. Both Boko Haram and Herdsmen are in the top five of the most deadliest terrorists groups in the world .
From this stand point, it is not out of place for any perceptible mind to agree with the submissions of the Northern Elders Forum that Northern leaders are not doing enough to remedy the situation and may have, indeed, failed in their duty to the people they claim to lead. Sir Ahmadu Bello and Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa would probably be turning in their graves over the antics and calibre of Northerners parading themselves as leaders in the region.
The so called leaders ought to be asking themselves what to do to move forward as a region, especially in environments where most of the children are out-of- school. And for that matter, how is it possible that the nation would make progress when the leaders of the region are comfortable with the backward state of the the people.
Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world — 814 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the United Nations, the country makes up about two per cent of the world’s population but 10 per cent of total maternal deaths. Founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, who was in the country recently told us to our face that Nigeria is the worst place in the world to be born. The nation’s big shots were all present at the occasion where he passed that damning verdict.
It wouldn’t be unlikely if the North accounts for most of the maternal deaths in the country. Bill Gate’s advice to the federal government at that occasion is instructive. He made it clear that the country would do better with strong investments in health and education, rather than concentrating on physical infrastructure to the detriment of human capital development. Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote agreed with Gates that for Nigeria to truly compete globally, the government must prioritise investments in health and education, as well as create opportunities for the people alongside other critical areas.
While Gates advise may be for the federal government, it is pertinent to remind Northern governors of the need to be alive to their responsibilities. They must have to invest more in education and health so as to wriggle the people of the area out of the economic and social morass they are enmeshed in. It is, indeed, a big shame that the cut-off mark for some Northern states into unity schools are as low as 10, while some Southern states have as high as 150 as cut-off mark. These practice is promoting mediocrity among Northern students. How can they compete favourablely with their peers when the system keeps lowering the bar for them?
In every profession in the country and beyond, we have Northerners excelling. Brilliance is not limited to any tribe or region; it all boils down to the individual. The federal government should scrap cut-off mark for Unity schools. Instead, it should be the same cut-off mark across the country. The inclination to encourage mediocrity must end. The North needs a new set of leaders with new vision, new thinking and new orientation. 2019 must be the starting point. The Northern electorate must see it as a duty to themselves to vote in federal lawmakers and governors with mission and the zeal to transform the dwindling fortunes of the region. The mindset should be that the era of misfits is over.
The North has the potential of being the richest region in the country. For instance, my state, Niger, has the biggest landmass in Nigeria. Niger State is capable of feeding the whole country because, apart from its big landmass, the state is blessed with natural and mineral resources, including Talc, Gold, Ball clays, Silica, Sand, Marble, Copper, Iron, Felsper, Lead, Kaolin, Casserole, Columbite, Mica, Quartzite and a host of others.
Besides, the three Hydro Electric power stations in the country (Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro) are all situated in Niger State. Niger State has the potential of being the California of Nigeria but like every other state in the region, it is still wallowing in mediocrity.
For how long are we going to continue like this? For how long are we going to sit and watch other regions label the North parasites? It is time to wake up and change the narrative.