Institutionalising feudalism

The northern political elite are the curse of the North and by extension curse of the country. Millions of northern youths in the name of religion and culture are condemned into life of misery and abject poverty. In recent years, rather than take advantage of the 2004 Universal Basic Education Act which made provision for a compulsory nine years of education covering six years of primary school and first three years in secondary school, many of their governors would rather sponsor youth corps members and underage girls to Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage.

For them, the armies of poor homeless youths are good only for winning election. Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State recently celebrated them as the force behind the invincibility of north during election. A former governor of Borno State where less than 30% of youths go to school not too long ago located his strength at winning election in the inability of many of his youths to read newspapers and make sense out of negative things written about him.

Until the current COVID-19 pandemic which does not discriminate between feudal lords and serfs, northern leaders kept justifying the existence of Almajiris which by a 2014 UNICEF report account for 9.5 million of Nigeria’s estimated 13.2 million out-of-school children spread across the streets of major cities of the north on the basis of culture and religion which paradoxically did not stop them from sending their own children to the best schools in the world.

With the scourge of COVID-19 which makes no distinction between feudal lords and serfs, northern political leaders under aegis of Northern Governors Forum according to Simon Lalong, its chairman, last week agreed to take a cue from Kano, Kaduna and Nasarawa states that have started returning Almajiri children to their families and states of origin, while those who do not have parents are taken care of by the government, “to prevent the Almajiris from risk of coronavirus”.

But Nigerians are not deceived. The major inducements for governors who have for long lived in denial are the social challenges associated with continued ‘perpetuation of poverty, illiteracy, insecurity and social disorder in all the northern states.

It was not as if these challenges are new. They have always been necessary fall-outs of feudalism and social stratification that have for centuries defined socio- political culture of the north and its people. What was new before the banning of the Almajiri system in all the 19 states of the north last week was that unlike their selfless forbears, the level of greed among the newly educated political elite in the north did not allow them to understand that the wellbeing of the poor is the well-being of the rich.

A journey through memory shows that there were Almajiris schools modeled after madrasas in other parts of the Muslim world during the pre-colonial period. Such schools were located among the people to enable the poor children stay under their parents’ guidance for moral instruction while they combined their Islamic studies with learning a trade such as farming, fishing, masonry. The first set of colonial staff in Northern Nigeria, it was claimed were products of almajiri schools while those who went into farming were widely believed to be responsible for the famous Kano groundnut pyramids. Tsangaya, the equivalent of the almajiris schools in Kanem-Borno Empire was funded largely by the state.

All that changed with the emergence of newly educated political elite that falsely swear by the names of the masses just to secure power without corresponding responsibility. While the new southern inheritors of power in the run up to independence realized it was in their enlightened self-interest to create an egalitarian society which eventually allowed children of poor farmers to become doctors, lawyers and business men, the children of almajiri groundnut farmers in the north ended up begetting almajiris.

Awo and his group wanted to export the good things they wanted for themselves and their people to the rest of the country. But following the resistance from the core north which resulted in 1953 Kano riot and the death of over 40 Igbos, they shifted their attention to the minority which was then 45%of the population of the north.

To prevent social inequality and forestall social dislocations which today find expression in armed robbery, kidnapping for ransom, herdsmen-farmers conflict, religious fundamentalism, they advocated a federal arrangement which would not only allow all Nigerians attain their potential but also guarantees rights of minority and checkmates the tyranny of the majority.

In this regard, Awo as far back as 1945 advocated for a Nigerian federation based on ethnic nationalities and modelled after the Swiss constitution. He had also in his contribution to the Arthur Richards constitution, called for a ‘true federal constitution where each group no matter how small is entitled to the same treatment as any other group however large’. During the 1951 constitutional debate when the north wanted a confederal state and Zik and NCNC wanted a unitary state, Awo and Enahoro called “for a Nigerian federation made up of the ten dominant ethnic groups with smaller groups giving an option to choose where to belong through a referendum.”

And when out of mischief and political expediency, Zik and Ahmadu Bello were creating Midwest in 1962, they ignored Awo and Enahoro’s amendment that ‘nine additional states be created’ with Tafawa Balewa declaring ‘I would like to make absolutely clear my stand, the stand of the federal government and the NPC in this matter; we are always opposed to the creation of new states…but if a particular tribe is foolish enough…We shall always see to it that they are broken up into bits’.

It was Awo’s attempt to provide alternative to Ahmadu Bello and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s vision of society more than anything else that led to his house detention and eventual imprisonment in 1962.

The military and military baked ‘new breed’ politicians that carried on the battle for the enthronement of a feudal system on the country after ending violent uprising among the minority groups in the north started the battle by first ‘federalising’ virtually everything from private media concerns, mineral deposits and regional socio-economic and political institutions and even almajiris.

Under the current unitary system we fraudulently called federal, thousands of almajiris are periodically ferried to Lagos by northern governors trying to solve self-inflicted social problems. In Lagos, they find their equivalent in thousands of Igbo youths who cannot read and write but make a living struggling daily against all odds on the streets. In the west, almajiris take the form of thousands of youths popularly called ‘area boys’ who dropped out of school due to federal government policies of reverse discrimination through JAMB, quota system of admission into federal government secondary schools, and into universities set up with their parents’ taxes which government declared ‘federal’ by fiat.

There cannot be any other name for a system that allows the federal centre confiscate resources of federating states including oil wells and share same out to parasitic elites and indolent states and local government created without objective criteria than feudalism. It was only under a feudal system that powerful emir like Lamido Sanusi, former Emir of Kano would have encouraged Fulani herdsmen in Benue to disobey the laws of their host states. It is only a feudal system that will question the right of Lagos State to deport thousands of unemployable youths ferried to Lagos in trailers and thousands, in response to social dislocations and in breach of Lagos State laws.

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