For a long time, I have desired to write this article, but I have lacked the courage to do so, especially as it touches on religious issues, particularly one which I am not an adherent of. However, I overcame my inertia when I heard that the Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had attributed the cause of Boko Haram in the North, specifically the North-East and North-West, to improper wealth distribution or income inequality between the North and the South. I later saw someone on Twitter trying to justify that claim by comparing per capita income in Rivers State and Jigawa State, with that of Jigawa way less than that of Rivers, despite having a much smaller population. This inspired me to do a Twitter ranting, which for the benefit for those not on Twitter, I will write down in this article.

In a way, I agree with the fact that income inequality has something to do with the emergence of Boko Haram, especially in creating the conditions for them to thrive. However, it is an incomplete picture. It is more important for us to discover the cause of that inequality. Is it that the governments in the South have been more responsive to their people over time, or less corrupt? This, we all know, is not so. Misgovernance and corruption cuts across Nigeria irrespective of region.

The setting of the stage for the emergence of an extremist religious sect like Boko Haram didn’t commence in recent past, but rather decades ago. Since the demise of true leadership in the North in the person of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier and Sardauna of Sokoto, all we have had are opportunists and power-mongers. These unscrupulous fellows formed the class of elites in the North, and comprise of politicians and a lot of clerics. They realized that the best way to continually hang on to power and wealth was to keep the people suppressed, illiterate and uninformed; and what better way to do it rather than use religion. Let me state here that the two regions mainly under focus is predominantly Muslim, except in states such as Adamawa and Taraba, and large parts of Gombe and Kaduna South. Thus began the twisting and politicizing of Islam for their own aims.

It started with the misinformation that family planning was against the tenets of Islam. The argument went that if God in His infinite wisdom gave the woman the privilege to have children till menopause in her 50s, then who was man to limit the number of children she could have. Also, that there should be no worries about how the children and family will get by as God wouldn’t allow them to go hungry. Hence, the poor butcher ends up marrying 3 wives and siring 22 children, way above what his finances can support. In stark contrast, the elite give birth to just about the number of children that his finances can support, and gives them the best he can.

Also, as children, these poor children are denied polio immunization as a result of another misinformation that polio vaccines are targeted at making the Northern Muslim child infertile in future. While the lower class swallowed this hook, line and sinker, the child of the elite receives vaccination and goes on to live healthy live. His poor counterpart stays with the risk of the crippling disease, and when Lady Luck doesn’t smile on him and he gets polio, he ends up on the streets a beggar.

Beyond that, the political class, through successive governments in the North, has totally abandoned education. This means that the only means of getting quality education was to enrol one’s kids in private schools, which are out of the reach of the poor butcher and members of his class. The alternative becomes to take his male kids to mallams, who then turn them into almajiris. These mallams sometimes take these kids, as young as 6 in some cases, to as far as Maiduguri from Kebbi, in the name of giving them Koranic education. However, most times, these kids spend their entire time roaming the streets, begging for change and scavenging for left-overs to feed themselves. In the process, they are exposed to innumerable hazards and risks, not to mention being deprived of parental love and care at such young ages. The female children are turned to hawkers with all its attendant risks, and eventually married off in their early to mid-teens. This situation practically forecloses the chance of the poor butcher’s child going to school and using that education to escape the throes of poverty.

The children of the elite, however, enjoy the benefits of modern education, parental care and love and still receive Koranic learning, sometimes at home or at the neighbourhood Islammiya (Islamic school). The girls enjoy the benefit of full secondary education and even tertiary schooling before they get married, mostly to the child of other elite.

While all these ills would have been solved with the ratification of the Child Rights Act as passed by the National Assembly for the protection of the Nigerian child, no legislative assembly in the North-East and North-West has done so. Their excuse? Your guess is as good as mine – it is against the tenets of our religion, not minding the fact that the same tenets they claim to be preserving does not apply to their children.

This is the main reason we have been unable to deal with the problem of almajiranci in Nigeria. We are the only Muslim country with this problem as no other country, not even in Africa, not even poor Niger Republic has this problem. In the end, we have an estimated 15 million children roaming our streets under this system that is long overdue for reform. Let me put this in perspective for you: the number of almajirai on our streets equals the entire population of Niger Republic. Mainly, there has been no political will to put an end to this, as those with the authority to do it are the direct beneficiaries of this system.

The worst part of all this is that the elite have successfully brainwashed the people into always accepting whatever that is done in the name of Islam, whether rightly or wrongly. They have put into them the fear of not being able to speak out against this misinformation, for those who are able to discern it as such. This is the main reason that despite the fact majority of Northern Muslims are not in support of Boko Haram, they have been slow to condemn it and also weak in their condemnations.

How do the elite benefit from all these? The end result is not just a fast-growing population in these places, but also that the bulk of that population would be poor, diseased, illiterate and uninformed – the definition of poverty. They then become willing tools in the hands of the elite, either it be from influencing them to vote or support a candidate or policy based on religious sentiments via demagoguery, or using them to rig elections or carry out violence, political or religious.

This isn’t just a conspiracy theory. There abound many stories of the collusion by the elites to create this situation. For example, during the Second Republic tenure of the Kano State Governor, Late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi had a mass literacy programme so successful that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) gave him an award. However, Kano elites were said to be displeased with this program. They were said to have asked him to discontinue it, as they preferred their masses illiterate and uninformed, obviously for easy manipulation. Also, it is said that in the early 1970s, Western education was not encouraged in the Borno Emirate, because as they said, that if everyone was educated, then who will cut grass to feed the horses of the Shehu of Borno?

However, what they did not factor into that calculation was the fact that as these poor kids grew up illiterate and as almajirai, they gradually became frustrated at their poverty and lack of opportunities. This frustration gradually grew into resentment, especially as the children of the elite flaunted wealth before them. They saw themselves being used and dumped by the elite, and then in years to come, by the children of the elite too. They turned more and more into religion, being the opium of the masses, as Karl Marx put it. It then became easy for any firebrand preacher who made the government and the rich the constant target of his rebukes and sermons to amass huge popularity and a large following.

The soil had overtime become much fertilized for religious extremism to be planted and produce fruits. As Barack Obama wrote in his book The Audacity of Hope, religious extremism thrives most in societies where there is economic and politic oppression. What is supposed to be a class war or fight against dictatorship is then redirected to become religious warfare and the anger channelled in this direction. This also shows that military force alone is not enough to quash this terrorist activity. It will only work in the short-term. This is because when Boko Haram is exterminated and these conditions not changed, it would only be a matter of time before another extremist sect starts and rapidly recruits frustrated, disgruntled and brainwashed young men into their ranks.

The solution to this terrorism in the long-term is for the Northern elite class to do a lot of soul-searching and commence the de-politicisation of religion. Clerics must prevail on their adherents to take modern education extremely serious, while governments make sure schools are available to every child. Every house of assembly must ratify the Child Rights Act and make sure it is being followed to the letter. And the biggest of all, we must reform the almajiri system. It is time to dust up the bill introduced by Senator Tafidan Argungu of Kebbi State in 2009, during the last legislative session of the Senate and re-introduce it. Not only that, religious leaders, from imams to sheikhs and emirs must be in the front of championing this reform, else it will die a natural death.

This is the only way that we can guarantee ourselves long0-term security in Nigeria as a whole, and in the North in particular. It is through the power of education that the South and the Middle Belt has been able to pull itself ahead of the North, where dependence on government is way less than up here. That is also the reason that religious extremism is unable to find roots in the South, unlike here. Let us look way beyond guns and tanks and even intelligence to dealing with this situation. They are merely curative.

Prevention, as they say, is the best antidote. Economic and political prosperity and freedom is that prevention.

43 Comments on this post

  1. *Sigh*

    rasheeda / Reply
  2. Good article,completely on point in ur analysis….keep it up.

    keavey osa / Reply
  3. You don’t understand how much I concur with this article especially since I have seen this first hand while growing up. It is a big thing to dare to even begin to hope that the politicians and elites of the north will allow for the freedom and enlightenment of the masses. We are definitely approaching the “enough is enough” day and soon a reformation of the north will take place!

    Mwajimal / Reply
  4. Saw the ‘twitter rant’ and I must say, this, is a must read for all! It might not be as worse in other areas, it sure does exist in all tribes! Good work Man

    Keezy / Reply
  5. The scope of almajiranci and anti-western sentiments go beyond what has been covered here. I think appreciating the temporal scope makes all of this look less like a conspiracy theory. And also to appreciate that Boko Haram is just an extremist manifestation of that age old anti western sentiments.

    My point will center around the caliphate of Shehu Usman Danfodio, which was in rule in the now Norther-Nigeria before the colonial masters came. Remember this was a civilization (Eastern) where people where scholars studied philosophy, religious sciences and physical sciences which where reminiscent of the Abbasid Empire (Golden Age of Islam).

    First, “Boko” which is the Hausa word for western education has always been a derogatory word from the time of its first use as such. Someone doing boko was someone who had been subdued by the colonial invader.

    Second, the scholarship deteriorated with time. Hence the absence of critical thinking on the almajiris or their teachers. But it is important to understand that overnight, a society with scholars suddenly became a society of illitrates. Why? because they dont speak the language of the colonial masters.

    Yes, Boko Haram is a product of resentment, poor economic conditions and poor education. But whether some leaders are controlling all of this? It seems more like the leaders are just opportunists at best who stir the situation to their advantage. With a resentment so marked in history and so core to religion, is it any wonder that we have such a group? I guess its not literary superiority that has prevented similar occurrence from non-Northern Nigeria.

    bilnigma / Reply
    • PS: in the latest audio released on youtube by BH, the leader makes reference to a colonial academic who figured that the way to break the Northerners was via systematically weakening their religious conviction (… something like that). Sounds much conspiracy theory… but didn’t bother to confirm. It only matters that BH believe it is true.

  6. Well said and written Mark. I just wished the leaders werent so shameless as to ignore this

    Patience Abdon / Reply
  7. Thank you very for the expression of your views which are sincere. Many years ago in Kaduna, I told my colleagues that should there be any crisis in the north in future, it will be disastrous because majority are poor and uneducated. Meanwhile there were no industries then and now that could engage the millions of peopel on the street. From Kaduna to Adamawa, you will find nothing serious to show that the leaders or elites were not united in their bid to keep the people poor to maintain the status quo.

    Eriata Oribhabor / Reply
  8. This is one of the most factual and straight foward document I ever read. Let me touch one aspect of the document which is family planning,in the history of islam you will hardly find out that neither the prophet nor his companions gave birth to more than seven children,but in the name islam we Northers go ahead to bear more than we can carter for.

    Goronduma / Reply
  9. This is really an interesting write up well reserached I believe, but truly almajiris of now have nothing to do with any doctrine in Islam. The only almajiris known are the people who left their homes in Mecca and followed the Prophet to Medina. I agree with all those things you said but I don’t understand from which Islam the almajiris system of nowadays sprung that even our governments are supporting it. I hope our lawmakers will heed your call and besides the children have a similar charter in Islam probably more elaborate than even the one made by UN.

    Salisu Umar Durumin Iya / Reply
  10. A good write up indeed.,the poverty level of the northern people contributed alot in boko haram getting more ready made recruits,but really the main cause of boko haram violence begins when they refused to wear bike helmet,on their way to bury one of there own in graveyard in maiduguri they had a clash with the police and some of there members were killed and many of them were arrested,later on they stormed and burn the police and released their members,followed by police killing of their teacher in cold blood and thousads of their members in 2009 in maiduguri,that angered many of them and especially the children of the boko haram,whom became orphan and out of anger and hatred for the death of there teacher and parents they lost confidence in the govt leadership and resort to taking vengence especially on the police force,e.g.all the attacks in kano are on the police force,why the police only?because of 2009 masscre in maiduguri.As for me i believe only genuine and transparent dialogue build on trusworthines and honest and open communication can bring lasting peace,May God bring peace to our beloved country and may He gives our leaders the wisdom to get the end of these chaos and may the boko haram members too submit to peace,God bless Nigeria,Ameen

    Sagir buhari / Reply
  11. The major problem of the North is the elite. Even the Boko Haram menace is rooted from the elite. When the elite realise that the northern masses are having chance to education, they came up with the issue of boko haram and their were successful in the exercution of plan and is the reason why we find ourself in this mess.

    lasun / Reply
  12. Good write up. in 2004 i saw ds problem coming where almajiris who are supposed to worship d emir ended up stoning his convoy some where in yelwa yauri,kebbi state. d northern elite are sitting on a malignant phenomenon which wil conflagrate d entire north soon.The elite are all running to egypt today for safety.there is no safe haven for them at home. The almajiris are saying enough is enough.Too bad. Our bible teaches fathers to provide and cater for their families and not to exasperate their children.

    dr ken / Reply
  13. I really appreciate with this article. The article writer observation is true, I hope others should understand it as I do.

    Adamu / Reply
  14. We Nigerians are known for our multiple problems rather than sensible ideas on how to tackle the obvious. Sad today how fear cuts through our spirits to decipher to truth and make possible contributions towards building this great nation. This can only be tackled through education and I stand to negate the otherwise. You’ve done well having the cojones to voice this. Education is paramount. Preach it.

    Pedam / Reply
  15. What an appraisal! Good recommendations too.

    Amarin / Reply
  16. Well articulated and presented, with clear pictures of what the north is… Over-dependent on government, as a result of low literacy level, uninformed society leading to high level of ignorance and becoming an easy tool for negative practices. What the northern leaders hid from their populace is education… Simply because of it origin, western. What they refused to tell is the fact that, someone can be educated through the western education and still practice his religion to the fullest, even with better understanding.

    FOG / Reply
  17. I really happy

    Adamu / Reply
  18. Nigeria,in the northern nigeria alone has more wasted children than any other country in the world except brazil. The same northern oligarchy d late scholar dr. Bala usman God rest his soul fought hard through out his last ten or so years on earth. Thumbs up Daddy.

    amy solo / Reply
  19. My praying is let the will of God be done, surely God will arrest this ogle situation.

    steve sawa / Reply
  20. Factual and valid analysis. Readind this just after reading Sanusi L Sanusi’s prognosis in New York that the Boko Haram scourge is the result of the unequal distribution of Nigeria’s wealth leaves me in no doubt the northern Muslim elite have unwittingly created a monster. The Governors of the 12 Sharia States in the NW and NE proved their unseriousness to address the problem by asking Pres Jonathan to fund the Almajiri Educational Project started in Jigawa. First of all, let the northern Muslim leaders kill the almajiri practice because it is not islamic, it is obnoxious and a source of canon fodder for diabolical and terrorist organisations. Giving the existing almajiris western education is good but let almajiranci be stopped, if necessary, by law. A copy of this article should be sent to Sanusi, an aspiring heir to the Kano Emirate stool and a northern Muslim intellectual.

    James PAm / Reply
  21. CBN governor is miss informing the society by such information – has he forgotten what his brothers the boko haram said —>>> They where sponsoring this people (boko haram for more than a decade before their recent insurgence in the country) ….

    What they the Northern elites were doing for boko haram is liken to a family man trying to domesticate tiger or a lion as pet. Imagine what happens when the man stops feeding the lion or tiger; of cause he puts his family at risk of being the wild animal’s next meal.

    This is exactly what is going in the north;Sanusi should shut his fucking trap if he doesn’t know what to say; what was in their mind when they were breeding such soldiers in their secret places? what was in their mind when they pay those lazy bunch of idiots that are stack illiterate to be soldiers?

    According to our constitution, those northern governors paying boko haram for doing nothing should be charged treason; if not, every state governors should go home and start building their own soldiers.

    Favoured Capitals Incorp / Reply
  22. Extremism always emerge in a unsatisfied area in general. Due to you guys in Nigeria the sect is a regional problem. Due to Africa we have to face with more such groups. Due to the global world also, which name they have doesn´t matter. The whole world has to face this outcoming of groups, but they grow at first in countries, where the influence of western guys, governments and colonist were inadequate to the situation of the country. Money instead of education!!
    Nevertheless, you met the point very well!!

    david / Reply
  23. A well written piece is often not the justification of truth. Well written and truth often have no relation, as world history has often shown. A tint will always occur based on the guiding philosophy, religious or worldly.
    While I am not excited about BH nor the almajiris, I am more concerned about the truth of religion and all the literature that upholds the existence of God. In surfing through, where do we draw a line based on what we accept as true, and what the truth really is.
    I may not make much sense but, that’s how inconclusive this all seems.

    Emeka Okonkwo / Reply
  24. […] poverty; other factors came into play that made it easy for this situation to arise. In this January blog post of mine, I linked one of the main factors that has brought about terrorism in Nigeria is the politicization […]

  25. Your analysis are very correct…but if your statistics about the almajiri are correct then nigeria is in trouble. It becomes a problem to whole nigeria.

    Alli / Reply
  26. You are very right,i servd n d north precisely yobe.all wut u said is very right.their leaders is major problem of boko haram.nt allowng the poor 2 av access 2 education,y their own children ar going 2 d best sch in order 2 tak over after them.

    Tosin / Reply
  27. you have done a very good research and analysis,it is indeed a job welldone.

    zainab / Reply
  28. Inspired and Impressed… There is truth in this article.. My perspective towards the ‘Northern Elites’ is now a mixture of anger and disappointment… Surely, Redemption is near. Salaam.

    Habiba Sambo / Reply
  29. […] Islam for Northerners is not just a faith; it has come to define every facet of life. Unfortunately,Islam in the North has become politicized, and used as a tool by politicians and their religious conspirators to gain and control power. One […]

    markamaza / Reply
  30. This reminds me of a noble saying in Islam that the truth must be accepted even from an enemy. This writer is indeed a friend of the north, the truth, justice and common sense.

    Abdullahi M. / Reply
  31. A generally lucid article. One error though – almajiri also exists in senegal

    deji kolawole / Reply
  32. Well i want to thank u for this insight. How can one support this mission.

    Terry Y. / Reply
  33. I love this article cos while most posts are sentimental and stereotyped,,it speaks of certain hard truth that the north can either face squarely or perish,,i am so sharing this

    Hyelni mshelia / Reply
  34. The almajiri system was initially a prestigious schorlarly endeavour, until Lugard came and connived with the wicked traditional ruling class, to like this writer averred, corrupted the system. This was done through the introduction the introduction of indirect rule to get at the poor masses. The traditional ruling elite grossly deviated from the real teachings and heritage of the legendary Sheikh Usman bn Fodio, who encouraged the seeking of knowledge – whatever knowledge that can help one live as a decent, successful person in this world and in the next. These people have placed worldly and material things far above their subjects, such that they mortgaged their future. I’m of the school of thought which believes that the BH menace is not a result of poverty or unequal distribution of wealth. It is, instead, a case of an adulterated ideology which drew inspiration from wicked and deadly indoctrination – its alien and have its roots to a global agenda.

    Musa Azare / Reply
  35. […] poverty; other factors came into play that made it easy for this situation to arise. In this January blog post of mine, I linked one of the main factors that has brought about terrorism in Nigeria is the politicization […]

  36. How long can the south withstand the past and current governments efforts to (Northernise) us education has been absent from the south in much the same way as it has been in the north since 1983. Schools here are private and it is only the large desire for education amongst the southern population due to the large starting base of educated people bequeathed to us through colonialism and the stationing of the federal government in Lagos which created a critical mass stopping the private schooling system from total collapse. Our government have in place by omission or commission a plan to make us all Almajiris . Take a look at the hawkers on the streets or the runners in the market place , once they reach the age of tertiary education our children are on their own as the cost of further education is prohibitive , added to this the current state of primary and secondary education is either prohibitively exorbitant or valueless if provided by the government ,leaving you with a class divide in keeping with the Tsarist Russia or the Emir of Borno.

    ps @musa azare :- While Uthman Dan Fodio may have had religious convictions this were quickly swept aside as his military partners decided to use his popularity for political reasons and tried to usurp the power of the animist kingdoms by violence. Lord Lugard came to their rescue offering the protection promised in the charters signed between the various kingdoms and the british crown. After his defeat his inheritors concentrated their effort on creating the Sokoto caliphate under the disguise of Islam .
    No man has the right to dictate another mans religion .
    The crown in Lagos was converted to Islam at around the same time that Uthman Dan Fodio was establishing the Sokoto Caliphate but their- live and let live -version has ensured progress .
    The desertification of Sokoto by the followers of Uthman Dan Fodio who chopped up the trees of the Sokoto forest to make shelter and fires resulting in the collapse of the water table has been the lasting legacy of the disastrous campaign not the Islamisation which was already on going because of the beauty progressiveness and simplicity of Islam compared to the animist religions .

    akintunde disu / Reply

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