few days ago someone posted on social media, Facebook to be exact, pictures of hundreds of poor, starving, destitute and impoverished Northerners lined out on the streets begging for food and alms for sustenance. As much as such visual spectacle was not uncommon or unfamiliar in that section of the country, it brings into focus how much their so-called leaders have impoverished a sizeable section of the Northern citizenry over the years, be it under military or civilian rule and how they have succeeded in doing so by using religion as a veritable and effective weapon of subjugation. No wonder Karl Max, aptly described religion as, "the opium of the masses". To make matters worse, their jobless and illiterate youths, encouraged and assisted by their Iman's have also been conditioned to channel their slipstream of rage and frustrations on others- others being the non-Moslems living in their midst.
In politics, it is said, there is nothing if there is no hope or hopeless optimism. No matter how often you are burned, disappointed, disillusioned and your hopes dashed by the politicians you voted for by their miserable failure in fulfilling their campaign promises, many still see their support for a candidate as the ultimate game of chance. You invest your hopes and faith on the candidate or party of your choice and spin the wheel, hoping for the best, which as is often the case in Nigeria turns out to be a monumental letdown. As it relates to the North, in particular, it is a risk-reward situation, sometimes drunk on hopelessness. Their unique experience with politics and their political elite is that each successive administration always seems to be worse than their predecessor. Things just never seem to get any better. An honor, I may venture to say, they share in this regard with their Abia State counterparts. One state in the South East with over 16 years of inept leadership.
There is no denying the fact that most states of the federation and indeed the nation as a whole has at various times suffered the same fate when it comes to the incompetence of their leaders. However, one thing that distinguishes the north from other parts of the country is that while the citizens of some of these other states are quick to voice their resentment, frustrations, and anger, their counterparts in the North seem to be more accepting of their condition. They seem to be willing and able to take their sufferings and deprivations in stride. They have been so pauperized over the years that they seem to have lost their voice if they ever had any for moral outrage. With their considerable lack of an enlightened citizenry, a sizeable section of the Northern Nigerian populace have chosen to embrace political subservience as their constant companion, thereby ignoring the absence of an economic plan or a real social agenda for change by their political elite to their detriment.
Over the years the Northern political elite has succeeded in elevating emotional appeal over rational ones in rhetorical styles. They have used and continue to use fiery language to try and win favor with struggling and scared Northerners. With their cult of personality and language of division they have done a good job of maligning people of other faiths, thereby appealing to the fears of the average Northerner instead of their hope. Consequently what we have amongst the northern citizenry is a mad abandonment of reality of the failings of their leaders. Their perplexity echoes the alarming state of ignorance, self -imposed silence, and denial some often display when issues of poor governance are mentioned. A good example is the lack of response by regular northern Facebook commentators when those pictures earlier mentioned was posted. While other Nigerians from other ethnic groups lamented the suffering adequately depicted by those pictures, there was no single comment by one Northerner. It is the same when the President is criticized for his poor or absent economic policies. But in this regard they usually come out in force to defend him while ignoring the fact that the 10 Northern States appear to be bearing the full impact or brunt of the ongoing economic hardships or recession, hence according to United Nations Report, they collectively have the highest poverty rate in the country.
The question therefore arises. Is the indifference of the Northern populace to their plight and pauperized existence solely as a result of being brain washed into accepting all Moslem religious dogma or is it just their basic nature of subservience and unquestioned loyalty to constituted and religious authority? If we accept the later, then it could be said we have a reference point. This is how Lord Luggard described the Northern Nigerian more 50 years ago, and I quote, "the virtues and defects of this race-type are those of attractive children, whose confidence when it is won is given ungrudgingly as to an older wiser superior without envy". The problem here is that we are not talking about just children but also adults. Basically what Lord Luggard was essentially saying was that the average Northerner respects his superior unquestionably and accepts orders without protest. Is very trusting and does not envy the rich. In return, the rich throws out crumbs to them for their subservience. It is therefore not surprising as it is common to see the poor amongst them sitting outside the gates of some rich Alhaji earnestly waiting for him to come out and give them some alms. Of course, the same Alhaji or Iman can send them off to go and burn down a church and they will do so without question or reason.
Beyond the absurdity of the various claims by the Northern political elite about caring about the welfare of their citizens, they have actually been more concerned and preoccupied with their hold on power and in the process not only enriching themselves but ensuring that their wealth circulates amongst their fellow elites. Just take a look at where their children go to school and who they marry. Their kids don't attend the same poorly ill-equipped schools and sub-standard education they provide their citizens. No, they study abroad. Their children don't marry any of these poor Northerners. They marry off their children amongst their social elite circle. Buhari's daughters are a case in point. Their Governors like some in the South talk a big game and do nothing after getting into office then turn around 4 years later to seek their votes. Like political prostitutes which most Nigerian politicians are, their loyalty is to the party that has the best chance of getting them elected or re-elected either by honest or crooked means. As earlier mentioned, their self- interest guides their decisions and actions. Any relation to public interest (whatever that means) is at best incidental. To think of Nigerian government officials either at the federal, State or Local level behaving in accordance with some platonic ideal of the public good is merely wishful thinking. The fact is that they only react to pressures and incentives.
Over the years most Northern Governors have failed to offer their people a compelling vision and blueprint for improving their lives and raising their standard of living. They have failed in investing in any form of domestic manufacturing, infrastructure investment, skill acquisition and apprenticeship. There is an absolute absence of local skilled labor amongst the semi-illiterate Northern populace as it exists in the southern states. Jobs requiring computer technicians, carpenters, roofers, Car mechanics and electronic repairmen etc are in the most part performed by the so-called others. In the education and medical professions, there is a heavy reliance on Asians, mostly Indians and Lebanese expatriate extraction. After 56 years of independence, the North is still struggling to catch up with the rest of the country educationally. Which begs the question, what have their leaders done all these years with the billions they have received in raising the educational and skills level of their citizens. Their students still require a low cut off point to get into Unity schools. We have national Assembly men who can hardly put two correct sentences together yet expected to understand and comprehend the contents of a bill.
Most Nigerians have come to associate or attribute the emergence of Boko Haram as strictly a religious uprising or phenomenon with the goal of establishing a Sharia state. Some of which may be true. But, the undeniable truth is that it is much more than that. In my opinion and I may be wrong , Boko Haram is in part, a revolution against the Northern elite who have kept the poor amongst them in a perpetual and unchanging state of destitution. It was a sudden and unexpected revolt against the Northern oligarchs who for years have used religion and suspicion of other ethnic groups to bring about a systematic derangement of the populace into believing that others, especially the southerners have been responsible for their problems. As much as I condemn the approach of Boko Haram and the atrocities they have committed in the past few years, it has a least been a wake- up call that something has to change. Short of a revolt which I am not advocating for, citizens of the North must use the most effective weapon available to them to bring about the real change they surely need, which is their voting power. They must vote out their pre-historic leaders who have been around for too long, challenge their northern oligarchs and aristocrats and of utmost importance question some of the precepts of their religion. My final advice to the Northern Nigerian citizenry which of course is not monolithic will be to endeavor to place less emphasis on the control of power at the center and direct their attention to electing state and local government leaders who will pay more attention to their needs and their standard of living.
If there is anything to learn from the history of Nigeria's electoral politics, it is that occupying the Presidency does not guarantee a higher standard of living for those from the same ethnic group as the President. The North is a good case in point after dominating the Presidency under both military and civilian administrations. No wonder Junaid Mohammed, a former die hard supporter of Buhari was reported recently of criticizing the President for having done nothing for the North. To which I say, Buhari has appointed a lot of Northerners to federal positions. But then has those positions in any way improved the lives of the average Northerner? The question is no, which should give the North some food for thought. In conclusion, I must add that poor leadership and non- performance by Nigeria's political leaders in meeting the needs of their citizens is not exclusive to the North. At varying degrees, the same can be said of political leaders in the South except that we in the south are more outspoken and unlike the North are both willing to criticize our leaders and even sell them for a penny if the chance presents itself. People from the North must unchain themselves from the captivity of silence and speak up for themselves, for as the saying goes, "a nation of sheep is ruled by Wolves'. Most Northern politicians are Wolves and they are not even in sheep turbans. They bare their teeth for all to see. The late Harriet Tubman, the indefatigable champion of the American underground slave railroad once said, "I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if they only knew they were slaves". The irony of the present depressing situation of the Northern Nigerian poor is that millions of them do not know or appreciate the fact that their leaders have scammed them over the years for their own self-interest.
Nnanna Ijomah is a New York based Political Science Lecturer.