Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Re: North's vicious circle of Poverty

Re: North's vicious circle of Poverty


Ibrahim A. Waziri

In the 26/07/08 edition of Weekly Trust Newspaper is the cover story with the above title, which discussed the poverty phenomenon in Northern Nigeria in the light of the much attention the issue has garnered in recent times, especially when the Central Bank of Nigeria’s governor, Professor Charles Soludo drew attention to it - though reiterating what he once said a year past - at a lecture organised by the Northern Development Initiative in Kaduna, some weeks ago, asking the federal government to declare the situation in the North, a national crisis.

Many people differ on the different causes and solutions to the problem as it affects the region and the country in general. While some of us are quick to identify with positions as that of Mallam Salihu Lukman, a development Economist interviewed in the same edition of the paper, which squarely blamed it on the leadership of Northern Nigeria, that cannot, among other things, fully account for the 17 Trillion Naira it collected from the federal coffers between 1999 to 2007, in the light of efforts at poverty alleviation. Others, as our brothers across the Niger, will rather blame the religion and culture of Northerners as the main culprit, with the justification that the Northern leaders are not any worse than the Southern leaders and yet the Southerners are better up, so the explanation must be in the values, religion and culture of Northerners, or at a stretched imagination, laziness – as seen in certain statement issued by Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and reported by The Punch of31/07/08.This perception is further strengthened by the content an interview conducted by the Weekly’s reporter, Ja’afar Ja’afar and published in the same edition, under a title that says it all, I was given N50, 000 capital, but I married with it’, and described Mallam Garba, the interviewed, as “a real-life stereotype of a Hausa man.”, who cares not about, “what to eat or what to wear” and is “very indifferent, unambitious and a man with a simplistic outlook to life.”

This piece intends to scrutinise the two positions advanced, in the hope of providing insight into the nature of the processes that led the North to this sorry state economically.

Here it is important to understand the fact that there is a wide gap of difference between, culture, religion, values on one side, and in this context, from world view, which typifies the behaviour of an average Northerner like Mallam Garba. The truth of the matter is religion or culture has little to do with human taste, instinct and desire to survive on a certain standard. It only governs choices on how to achieve a standard. This is why we see a lot of Northerners who are not like Mallam Garba in style, despite them sharing same religion, culture and values with him.

A close examination will reveal that the mechanism of progress that made the Hausa the most vibrant and enterprising nation in the whole of West Africa, at a time of the past, is still here. It is also not laziness as, today; nobody comes from any region to farm for them the food they survive on daily. It is like those seeking for an answer to why the Northern Nigeria is in its state now despite the fact of its elite holding power in the composition of the present Nigerian nation-state for over 40 years, should try some reading in classical power and relational politics and its implication on groups’ socio-economic development. In this, one will see that the North is where it is today only in respect to the popular saying that one cannot eat their cake and still have it as it is with all other natural phenomena.

The seemingly correct explanation is the Northern elite, who are responsible for expanding the paradigm and worldview of average Northernerssituating them at par with their counter parts across the world, got power, in the composition of Nigerian nation, in the late 1950s and in order to keep to it they chose the option of eliminating the middle class among them, because the likely thing to happen is the middle class, if allowed, might grow in economy, influence and strength enough to wrench power from the upper class. This is what happened when Gowon in the early 70s and Shagari in the late 70s, allowed their own to grow strong in the military. They just did away with them in 1975 and 1984 respectively and clung to power making sure they did not make the same mistake their predecessors made. They continued the practice of axing their own economically, intellectually and otherwise.

On the other side, the other regions, with especial example of Awo of the South West, were not faced with anything of political control of Nigeria and as such they continued to strengthen their middle class as the upper class realized the need to empower their own as a comprehensive defence against the onslaught of Northern upper class elite. The middle class served as an armoury to the upper class. They continued the battle for them until the early nineties when IBB annulled the popular June 12 election.

Then came the climaxes, the June 12 was ethnicised and regionalised,the South West had a good number of media outfits and middle class individuals with the right education and economic resources to sustain the fight while in the North of early nineties, very few among the middle class could do well in countering the others in the intellectual fight at the level of resources. At the end of the day, after the demise of Abacha, the Northern elite were confronted with no option than to dash power to the South West in 1999. They have won the fight.

When Obasanjo realized his bearing and started targeting these Northern elites it still remained that they had none to defend them save the few middle class created during Abacha regime under the Buhari PTF. Many young Northerners then have merited contracts and madea couple of millions. They were the ones who established focused media houses, maintained Newspaper columns, and started getting back at Obasanjo and his policies.

And of course, the era of Obasanjo was the era of South West participating in national politics. Even though they already have a vibrant middle class, and sound economic structure that benefited from the regime's economic considerations at the centre, it is evident that they also suffered from what the North earlier on suffered from as their elite started a war of control of the region's social and cultural resources. This war recorded many casualties as even people like Bola Ige had to take exit, brutally killed. Also the control politics did not allow their governors to work in unison with progress of the region. In fact they were rated among the worst in performance.

On his part, Obasanjo had to seek for his loyalist outside his own region because trusting and elevating his regional men in the centre may lead to excessive ambition which in turn may result in a palace coup akin to what happened to his predecessors like Gowon and Shagari and their people whom they trusted with the leadership of the military.

This is about the story of Northerners in Nigeria and what came up in their economic development. It is also the reason why there was no time when Northerners talked much about their economy more than the time of Obasanjo’s leadership.Being it they left the leadership position of the country and the upper class were being attacked by Obasanjo mercilessly. Of course, it was also then that the leadershipin the North achieved most, more than the many years it clung to power at the centre.

This is why some of us think the North can have meaningful economic development only if power is made to stay away from its elite for several years while others think, Northerners may have learnt their lessons and will now work assiduously to develop the region.

The whole of this truth is particularly important to stress here given the pronouncements of the governor of Niger State, Alhaji Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, who tried to attribute the present economic predicament of the North, as widely reported by Newspapers around the country, to an obscure international conspiracy.

If indeed there was a conspiracy it was a Northern Political Class Conspiracy which lost itself in the game of control politics over time.

As it is now the solution to the problem is not one of a short term as the generation of youths without the relevant skills necessary for survival in formal economy now as the ones to be produced in the recent future are very much in the league of the 86% - quoted percentage of the poor - among us. So an affirmative action, with the intent of taking care of our distant future, which appeals to laws and legislations, is the only options. The solution, though good, is not totally in the much taunted, revitalisation of the Agricultural Sector in the North, for Anambra State that is among the highest in the country’s economic index is not an agricultural haven or oil reservoir. After all the Agricultural Sector, if revitalised, may end up serving the economic need of others if there is no enough skilled manpower with right national and international market strategies among the Northerners. Here it is particularly important for the government to invest hugely in human capital development as Northerners need to have more of a world class exposure in various disciplines both academic and entrepreneurial, necesary for survival in the capitalist world.

We certainly, also, cannot continue in the pretentions of creating welfare states. No how can a government continue to afford a free education for all as the Bauchi State House of Assembly is recently heard to be saying it would put Qur’anic Schools and its Almajirai in the state’s budget. This is not practicable as even the formal Western Type of schools that are government owned are not maintained adequately. In fact the example of Kano State which tried to do that as reported in the same edition of Weekly Trust is not encouraging.

So instead of us to continue sailing the dream boat, legislations must be made and enforced that will compel parents to bear more the responsibilities of the children they produce – since religiously it is their duty - as they sometimes recklessly and indiscriminately marry without regard to religious injunctions in keeping and maintaining a family. Thus they send the children out to others cities, hawking and scavenging as Almajirai, in the Qur’anic Schools they could always find in their own villages. It is these Almajirai , growing in the streets with a very bad taste of what life is, with wrong upbringing, wrong heroes, wrong worldview and wrong skills of survival in the 21st century world, that form the bulk of the poor people in Northern Nigeria.

Also such legislations must lead to the creation of agencies, as in other Muslim African countries, like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, which will be saddled with the responsibilities of accessing the economic and mental worth of anybody who intends to marry or add another wife as many among us are tilted toward abusing the privilege associated with polygamy by placing satisfaction that comes from their being with many wives above their responsibilities of seeing to the maintenance of the family. They plan to produce as many children as they can without planning to give them the best as the religion requires of them.As such we end up with many children that cannot be catered for adequately by their parents, growing in the streets with a terrible taste of what life is, with no abilities to think and save themselves or even those around them in the context of the challenges daily living presents.

It is my humble opinion that family is the barometer of all communities, and keeping political correctness aside,we will need to understand governance as meaning making attempts to make subjects of a defined community disciplined and responsible in all of their dealings and this starts with the channels and processes of procreation in the community. Failure to address issues at this level signals the triumph of anarchy as it is seen in the threat we are facing from the monsters of poverty in Northern Nigeria due to,largely, among other things, our neglect of legal provisions in the formation of family units in both religion and our secular living.

Ibrahim A. Waziri is a Web Application Software Developer at Iya Abubakar Computer Center, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He can be reached at, iawaziri@yahoo.com, 234- 080- 35167963

Monday, August 25, 2008

potrait of the playwright as a young man

A war, with its attendant human suffering, must, when that evil is unavoidable, be made to fragment more than buildings: it must shatter the foundations of thought and re-create. Only in this way does every individual share in the cataclysm and understand the purpose of sacrifice.

Wole Soyinka (1934 - )
Nigerian novelist, playwright, poet, and lecturer.
The Man Died

Wole Soyinka, born in 1934, Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, and lecturer, whose writings draw on African tradition and mythology while employing Western literary forms. In 1986 Soyinka became the first African writer and the first black writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2007. © 1993-2006 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Combustive Synergy at JosANA

Combustive Synergy at JosANA

It would seem that the workings of JosANA, Nigeria’s finest literary hotpsot, are quite similar to those of an internal combustion engine – possessing the ability burn the fuel of histories-in-the-making efficiently, running on the steam of dependably intelligent criticism and of course, producing lines of prose and poetry - that most regenerative of exhausts. It is a synergy of many parts.

The meeting {Saturday 23rd Aug.} began late, at about 1:30 pm, on account of the seasonal rains which saw most of our members arriving in windbreakers and cardigans. The usual salutes were exchanged and we settled to the business of the day. Our long absent member, Patricia Ikejiofor, broke the grounds with her reading of a poem "Sweet Bitter Pill", a poem written in quatrains on the theme of death. By far the finest quatrain read –

As the clock ticks tick-tock rhythmically
You masterminded your art, masked in cruelly
Pitter patter ticking of the ticker
The unwelcome guest even in the house of the vicar

Richard Ali set the critique in motion by admiring the use of irregularly placed rhymes which gave a fine musicality to the lines – then he went on to point out instances where a different order of words and the deletion of an entire stanza would, in his opinion, yield an even finer poem. Silas Nnamonu, retired educationist, however pointed out that at one point the poem joined the specific to the general and while this was not wrong, stanza 3 presents death as an interactive, on-going action – it was his opinion that this finicky movements did not work too well. He also noted, very importantly, concerning the poets use of the word "vicissitude" in relation to death that "death is an end-all, not a vicissitude." Sir Nnamonu also questioned the ending of the poem which was superfluously declaratory. Our Chairperson, Bose Tsevende, however came to the defense of Patricia’s ending, saying each poet has the right to a sort of complimentary close. Sir Nnamonu however repartee’d that it wasn’t a question of whether the poet was right or wrong to use a declaratory close – the question was, does it work? Allen Omale, our ex-Chairman, who was at the meeting in company of his wife Rahmah and child Iman, complimented Sir Nnamonu’s contributions to JosANA especially concerning the artistic amenability of language viz sense. Allen affirmed that while poetic freedom existed to be claimed, traditions are also there to be followed. He then added his criticism of the poem – in his opinion, there were too many "un-poetic words" bogging down the poem and he suggested improvement which Mrs. Patricia graciously accepted to consider.

Next came David Onotu, who read another poem, "Mr President Sire" – it was a poem typical of his style, long and interesting to the ears. Yet, unlike his previous work, the poem became the centre of a critical whirlpool. First, Allen Omale said that some long poems are enjoyable, like the Canterbury Tales and Osundare’s Waiting Laughters, while others are not and that what distincts poetry from prose is the use of metaphor and simile to pass across the message. These poetic underpinnings were however absent in David Onotu’s poem. Richard Ali threw in his own salvo, saying the poem possessed an "ambiguous coherence" – that in the long winding trial of it, the reader/audience, is forced to re-discover themes to encompass the entire work which would otherwise be mutually exclusive recitals. Mr. Ali did not believe that such audience-relative "meaning" portended good writing. Alpah Emeka, Jos City novelist, came to the criticism of the work by saying he found the words as being sound social commentary with a fine flow, and that there were different approaches to poetry. Richard Ali returned, saying "an outraged social conscience is not what makes poetry out of prose!". If poetry is the medium of writing a didactic, let it be poetry, not prose, however densely sensitive, masking as poetry. Sir Nnamonu for his part wondered about the title and varying comments were made on the floor concerning the import of the title. Sir Nnamonu asked whether it was meant to be satirical and someone said whether satirical or not, the idea of the title did not run through the poem. On David’s saying the title was sort of satirical, Allen Omale took him up – when you satirize, you praise and in your praising, you really mock, he said. Yet, there was not a jot of praise amongst the litany that comprised "Mr. President Sire." Steve Rwang Pam, for his part, had the conviction that if the poem were cut by half of its length and tightened, there would be more "poetic juice" in it. And thus, with egos and tempers ruffled, ended the critique of JosANA’s most controversial poem yet.

Next, Bose Tsevende, seizing her Chair prerogative, read an absolutely stunning poem titled "The Voice of the Night" –

I heard the voice of the night
It is not silent anymore
The night talked to me
About imminent breaks,
Nations breaking into war
Homes breaking into fragments
Hearts breaking, cannot be mended.

Aunty B’s poem was read to rave criticism. It was a sensitive analysis of the night, a paean to the unseen and eternally knowing, to the hidden, the vile, the enchantedly profane. Allen Omale – I enjoyed it. Silas Nnamonu – I feared it, I feared the message. Allen also said – Aunty B keeps "bringing in the poetic into her poems" and that the subtle way in which she weaves that poetic into her craft is what sets her out as a poet to be reckoned with. He then compared Mrs Tsevende’s poem to David Onotu’s reading, further buttressing his earlier opinions. Sir Nnamonu wondered about the underlying pessimism he sensed in the poem, a sense of something about to collapse, an appeal – it would seem that the poet has appropriated the definite voice of Sibyl. Sir Nnamonu wondered what might be done to avert the doom foretold? Alpha Emeka complimented Aunty B on her exposition of appropriate and unusual themes. Abubakar Adam, who won the 2007 BBC African Performance Playwrighting Competition, said that apart from the beauty of her language, it was also accessible to everyone. We all look forward to Mrs. Tsevende’s upcoming second collection of poems from which "The Voice of the Night" is taken.
In a meeting already rich in the unusual, a poem entitled "The Chiefdom is Suffering from a Shortage of Guinea Corn" was read by Timi Kpakiama, one of our newer members from the Niger Delta. In a correct showing of the avant-gardism that JosANA has been noted for, the poem is based on translation of traditional Ijaw folklore. It naturally brought the house to the boilers. Allen Omale, while restating his unfamiliarity with Ijaw poetry, however wondered about the length of the title, he’d never seen anything quite like it before. Eric Biame wondered if it came from the translation process? Another debate, as to whether the poem was "original" or not, began. David Onotu was Timi’s supporter viz the unusual length of the title. The poem itself was however an interesting one, with the use of oblique personifications referring perhaps to the Delta vis-à-vis Nigeria.

Aborigines dwelling by Lokoja and the Chad
Were nature’s barometers taming and tending
The garden of God; they were Adams ‘heritors
Before we came, bearing dispersion with us
Richard Ali read a badly received poem, "The Kwararafa Sun." Meant to be an epic of Nigerian identity, Mr. Ali just did not pull it off. Allen said it was meant to be an epic but it had been disappointingly overwhelmed by prose and he suggested a re-write. Bose Tsevende however compared the poem to the work of Okello Oculli. David Onotu said it was unusual for Ali to write long poems and maybe being out of his elemental precise poetry, he had blundered? Alpha Emeka said he was sure the poem read was a "first draft". Graciously bowing to the critical fire of the house, Richard Ali pleaded the wayward talent with which he wrestles and promised to rework the poem so that it would read more like what was envisaged in his mind.

Following this, Alpha Emeka and Abubakar Adam took turns to read excerpts from their published and upcoming novels – "Carnival" and "Sons of Silence" respectively. Abubakar’s first novel, "The Quest for Nina" is due out in the United States in a couple of months with a Nigerian edition expected by April 2009. Abubakar’s excerpt started with "Mother started to die when father and his friend started to whisper in the corners . . . . " and in the two thousand words that followed that phrase, Mr. Adam was able to paint a surreal graph of family dysfunction, captured in insightful, evocatively eloquent prose. Compared to his debut, which this writer has read, Abubakar’s best work is still yet to come and it would not be in his acclaimed dramaturgy, but in the realm of prose. Bose Tsevende remarked that it was a sweet story and she loved his technique of giving, in short sentences, deep insights into characters – something reminiscent of Dickens.

The meeting came to an end with the reading of three poems by our Vice President, Matthew Mzega, one of them titled, in a meeting already rich with highly descriptive titles – "The Smallest Pepper"! It was well received. Matthew, an economist by training, is fast carving a niche for himself, his poetry maturing in strides – as is his sponge-like acceptance of criticism that has no doubt fueled his genius. .Finally, Jos City crooner and JosANA PRO, Steve Rwang-Pam brought the house down with powerful renditions of country music – something beautiful and old that had the words "flowers of gold don’t grow in gardens of stone" in it as well as a fantastic Billy Ray Cyrus piece called "My Achey Breakey Heart."
Talk of synergy and combustion!

Richard Ali is Secretary General of JosANA. Inquiries may be made via rugbali@gmail.com or 08062392145