The authorities should invest more in education

Last year, Africa’s richest man and President of the Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote warned northern governors on the frightening scope of poverty in the region. In an uncharacteristic intervention which speaks to the urgency of the moment, Dangote had said: “It is instructive to know that the 19 northern states, which account for over 54 per cent of the country’s population and 70 per cent of its landmass, collectively generated only 21 per cent of the total sub-national internally generated revenue in 2017. Northern Nigeria will continue to fall behind if the respective state governments do not move to close this development gap”.

Commending Dangote for raising the alarm over the unacceptable rising poverty rate in the region, the Prof Ango Abdullahi-led Northern Elders Forum (NEF) said: “We fully endorse Dangote’s observations. Of course, you don’t need to go anywhere to search for the existence of abject poverty in this country, particularly in the northern part of Nigeria. My take is that leadership has failed at governance level, particularly at the state and local government levels,” said Abdullahi. But what has been left unsaid is that there is no better way to fight poverty, especially in the north, than taking the children of school age off the streets.

In a recent lecture at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, a former executive secretary of the Universal Basic Education (UBE), Prof Ahmed Modibbo, accused northern governors of frustrating the integration of the Almajiri school with western education. But both Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State and his Katsina State counterpart, Alhaji Aminu Masari, have located the challenge of out-of-school children to the open borders which allow an influx of them from neighbouring countries of Niger and Chad. “In Kano, we have over two million Almajiri children and we don’t have the facilities to cater for even our children in the formal system,” said Ganduje.

While the issue of ‘foreign children’ is a phenomenon worthy of interrogation, the north requires multi-level backing from the private sector to fund the requisite investments to create jobs and eradicate poverty. It is alarming, for instance, that the north is lagging behind in the area of literacy as the region accounts for the country’s largest number of out-of-school children. In October 2018, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said 69 per cent of Nigeria’s out – of – school children, estimated at 10. 5 million are located in the northern part of the country. Also more than half of primary school aged girls in the north-west and the north-east are not in school.

Neglected by their parents and abandoned by the state, the often scruffy, ill-clad and deprived children always roam the streets in search of livelihood. Yet, without education, these children end up constituting a burden to the society as they are easily influenced to unleash crimes on the society. We are already reaping the consequences in the insurgency in the north-east and banditry in the northwest and with dire implications for socio-economic activities.

It has become imperative to find a lasting solution to this ancient and obnoxious practice that deprives the nation of many of its youthful energy. The suggestion that legislation be made to prevent the movement of school age children is worth a try. But the poverty and social disharmony in many homes contribute largely to the problem. The repeated advocacy by the Emir of Kano that parents should learn to bring forth children they could cater for, in addition to establishing more schools for them to seek Western education, will help. All these would require leadership from the governors.