By Anthony Akinola*
One legacy of disunity bequeathed in Nigeria by the British colonialists is the unequal educational development of the North and the South. The assumption of the iniquitous Boko Haram ideology, “western education is evil” has its genesis in the once hostile attitude of the northern traditional rulers to that subject. A building with a faulty foundation would always be a dangerous one, the sad story of Nigeria.
The comparative superior position the South of Nigeria holds in Western education was not because the colonialists favored the region over and above the North; on the contrary, the colonialists’ bias was towards the North.
The disparity between the two regions emanated from the fact that the activities of Christian missionaries, de facto pioneers of education in the colony, were restricted to the South and the pagan areas of the North. The hostilities of the Emirs and Islamic clerics of the North to Western education were appreciated by Lord Frederick Lugard (first Governor General) and his successors.
Neither were enrollments into the comparatively few government schools encouraged in the North as they were in the South, not least because of the need to preserve the prestige and authority of the Emirs. The colonialists acquiesced in sustaining the fear the people had for traditional authority in order to ensure the success of the indirect rule system, a rule through the chiefs. The system was a great success in the North, compared with the South but the basis for that success has become the problem of today.
It must, however, be acknowledged that the British did not seek to create a nation that would, in the long run, be more important than theirs. They were, first and foremost, motivated by the economic prosperity of their own people. To this extent, there is a limit to which the British should be blamed for Nigeria’s woes. The blame rests with a leadership that has been unable to redirect the course of history.
Most of Nigeria’s political leaders since independence from Britain in 1960 have come from the North. Were they to have been visionary, they would have appreciated the need to redress the historic imbalance in education between the regions of the Nigerian federation. It is not that they do not know that education is important. In fact, their own children receive education in the best schools and universities Europe and America can offer. That they seem comfortable with the poverty and servitude that surround them is amazing.
The Nigerian political leaders, be they from the South or the North, have been either corrupt or condoned corruption. The story of the nation’s oil wealth has been about their huge overseas bank accounts, big mansions, private jets and conspicuous consumptions.
They and their surrogates invite foreign artistes to perform at the weddings of their sons and daughters, while beggars converge around their premises for crumbs. The economic terrorism of a tiny minority ensures Nigeria remains poor and underdeveloped despite abundant material resources. It would require a new generation of leaders, who are less corrupt, to re-write what has been a disturbing history.
Education and jobs are essential for tolerance in any society. The Boko Haram insurgency Nigeria has been confronted with is a complex mix, a phenomenon that defies a singular explanation. There are elements of religion as well as poverty; the latter helps in the recruitment of desperate individuals by the principal ideologues.
The sophistication of the Boko Haram operations, outsmarting the military in the manner in which they have been doing, suggests the outfit benefits from the collaboration of experienced international terrorist groups.
It is hard to know the extent to which Boko Haram is being supported or encouraged by politicians; President Goodluck Jonathan once said there were members of Boko Haram in his “government”. In a nation of contrasting and conflicting sentiments, it would not be inconceivable that there could also be Boko Haram sympathizers within the military itself.
Suffice to say that leading politicians have been pointing accusing fingers at each other, making all sorts of insinuations. A possible intervention by the international community could unmask the sponsors and masqueraders of the “faceless” Boko Haram. The sect’s abduction of more than 200 school girls from their dormitories may have alerted the civilized world to the evil that is ravaging Nigeria.
*Akinola wrote from Oxford, UK.
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