Insurgency: Jonathan On The Offensive By Niyi Akinnaso
When you listen to President Goodluck Jonathan these days, you wonder where he’s been all these years, the more so when the subjects of his offensive are longstanding issues that he inherited as President four years ago. Why is he now foregrounding these issues and not last year or the year before? Did his speech writers just recently stumble on them? Did he take time to reflect on how best to present these issues to the general public and to the targets of his criticisms?
Three such issues are the slow pace of educational development in the North; who should be responsible for the nation’s security challenges; and the influence of Western, precisely Euro-American, policies on Africa. Speaking on different occasions last week, Jonathan blamed Northern governors for the educational backwardness of their region and for the insecurity of the nation, especially their region.
Similarly, he blamed “powerful nations” for the development challenges in Africa, especially Nigeria, suggesting that these countries are behind the crises that have bedevilled Africa and holding her from “progressing like her developed world counterparts”. He even went on to suggest that weapons, such as AK 47 rifles, used by poor young terrorists in Nigeria, may have been supplied by some “external forces that don’t want Africa to grow”.
Much as some may wish to explain away these accusations as being motivated by the 2015 election fever, they are serious allegations that deserve scrutiny and an impartial analysis.
Let’s begin with the educational backwardness of the North: Here’s a region in which the resistance to Western education dates back to colonial time. In deference to the emirs’ requests, Sir Frederick Lugard as Colonial Governor shielded the North from the missionary expansion of primary and secondary schools. As a result, there were only a handful of government-sponsored secondary schools in the North a decade before independence, while there were already hundreds in the South, mostly established by missionaries.
By the time the South had raised several professionals in teaching, law, medicine, and engineering, the North had virtually none. Southern professionals had to be recruited to the North to supplement British and Pakistani ones, especially in the teaching service. Boko Haram’s resistance to Western education today may have been politically motivated, but it is rooted in the North’s historical resistance to the same, all in the name of Islam.
The economic backwardness of the North, relative to the South, was also not lost on Lugard. Colonial records show that the Southern and Northern Protectorates were amalgamated in 1914 because the Northern Protectorate was not economically viable. It needed resources from the South to survive. It is still so today, despite boastful statements by some Northern elders and the illogical claims of ownership of the oil resources located in the Niger Delta on the flimsy argument that the region that occupies more land territory owns the nation’s coastline resources.
The implicit question raised by Jonathan’s accusation of Northern governors is: Why does the North continue to be educationally and economically backward in spite of the Federal Government’s assistance? To highlight this question, Jonathan cited the establishment by his administration of 10 federal universities in the North, nine of them in the North-East zone, which has been ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency these last four years. The Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, added that 125 Almajiri schools were also established in the same zone. To these must be added the complex of good roads in the North, compared to the South, especially the South-West. From colonial times, the Federal Government has pandered to the North in terms of infrastructure development. It also must be remembered that Northerners have ruled this country for over 30 of its 53 years of independence.
The irony about the Jonathan administration’s educational investment in the North lies in the rejection of Western education by Boko Haram and many a Muslim fanatic in the region. What is not clear today is whether the Boko Haram insurgency is a reaction against Western education or against the Jonathan Presidency. Going by the rhetoric of the Boko Haram leadership, it appears to be both.
True, Northern governors share part of the blame for the insecurity in their region, the buck could not be passed wholly on them. As the Adamawa State Governor, Murtala Nyako, rightly retorted, Jonathan is in charge of the country’s security agencies, including the Armed Forces, the Police, and the State Security Service. He also has huge financial resources at his disposal, including security and Service Wide votes. Ultimately, then, Jonathan squarely should be in charge of national security. It is his constitutional duty. It is not an issue to be politicised by being regionalised. After all, he alone could declare a state of emergency, which he did in three Northern states. His recent offensive against Northern governors on security could only raise the question as to how much consultation and collaboration he has been having with them on security issues in their region.
At the same time, however, Jonathan is right in blaming Northern governors for the educational backwardness of their region. All statistics from national and international bodies point to disproportionately high rates of illiteracy, school drop-out, and non-enrolment in Western-type schools in the North, compared to the South. True, the trend worsened after the Boko Haram insurgency, it nevertheless predated recent terrorist activities.
It is high time Northern leaders talked sense to their sons and daughters that the global trend in education does not favour fanatical bondage to Koranic education. If their own children are sent to elite schools at home and abroad, why not invest in the education of the other children in their region?
Jonathan’s offensive on “powerful nations” is another matter entirely. It is true that Africa has been a puppet of the West since slavery. Colonisation made the imperialist domination of the continent even more direct through the adoption of European languages and their systems of government and education. Even years after independence, African economies have remained subservient to those of “powerful nations” through loans by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international lending bodies; the devaluation of local currencies; and the flight of human and economic capital abroad through brain drain and the patronage of foreign schools, universities, hospitals, and shopping malls by the African elite.
The question is whether continuing to pass the buck on Africa’s woes on “powerful nations” is the right approach to solving Africa’s problems. Take the education and health care sectors, for example. Why did Nigerian leaders allow the universities and public hospitals to rot to the point that many professionals began to seek greener pastures abroad, while the elite now train their children abroad and also rush abroad for health care at high costs?
Besides, Jonathan should not be speaking from both sides of the mouth at the same time. In the same speech in which he blamed Africa’s woes on “powerful nations”, he rightly identified various internal problems with”job creation”; “economy based on primary commodities”; “lack of energy”; “corruption in government and in the private sector”; “infrastructural issues”; “unstable governments”; and “security issues”. To these we must add poor governance, due partly to poor leadership and partly to disrespect for democratic institutions and the rule of law. These really are the problems to solve by African leaders and the citizenry rather than pick a fight with “powerful nations”.
But this is not the first time that Jonathan has passed the buck. Asked by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour recently why he has not stopped rampant oil theft and pipeline vandalism, he responded by blaming foreign buyers of stolen crude oil. What about the thieves and pipeline vandals? What has he done to stop them?
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