Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Northern Nigeria in the Grip of Bigotry and Ignorance

THERE is yet no news of any arrests of members of the group that attacked health workers in different parts of Kano many days ago. The most we've heard is that the Police have ordered additional security for health personnel working for the eradication of polio in the affected areas.

Nigerians will remember nine female health workers were shot and killed in broad daylight by men travelling in tricycles in two community health centres in Filin Kashu and Hotoro Haye areas of Kano.

These were innocent people doing nothing but their job in a part of Nigeria that has managed to keep this country on the unenviable list of three countries still ravaged by polio in the entire universe. The two others are Pakistan and Afghanistan, both in the firm grip of backwards forces of religion.

In a region of the country where women's rights are already severely restricted, pumping gunshots into them tells everyone how valueless life, especially female's, has become among so-called Faithful, champions of a strange code of religion that thrives on cowardly violence.

The intention of the attackers is to strike fear into people, especially women and other minority segments of society, who happen to hold a different view of life from them.

There is nothing reassuring in the Police promise of additional security for these vulnerable health workers whose everyday on the job is like a death sentence.

The attack was not the first of its kind and the Police couldn't claim to be ignorant of this except they want to compound an apparent case of failure on their part.

But then when the Police fail in the manner we've become used to, we do know a major part of the problem lies with society that has turned our security establishments into victims of the Nigerian state, impoverished organisations where nothing good is expected to come from as we saw to our shame with the Ikeja Police College scandal.

What then but to expect the President to intervene in a highly centralised system in which every state looks up to the benevolent Father Christmas in Abuja to meet their needs? Expectedly, President Jonathan has expressed his outrage at the killings in Kano.

But is that where it should all end? Or should the President be the one to account for killings in Kano, in Maiduguri and other parts of an increasingly restive polity as if there are no elected public officials in these places?

In the two areas where the attacks on these hapless women took place, there are local government chair persons. Above this, Kano has a governor like all other states. What have these tiers of authority done to address the issues of frequent attacks on health workers and other attacks like this?

The people of Kano, whether at the local government or state levels, bear responsibility for what goes on in their surroundings. It is only after they've tried and failed that the President ought to come into the picture.

But too often responsibilities that belong elsewhere are shifted to the centre. At every point public officers get distracted by matters that are none of their business. A thief escapes from prison and somebody calls on the President to respond.

A football coach wants his contract reviewed and the President is called upon to intervene. How can a president who has to help in choosing the national football coach have time to address weightier issues of state?

There is no doubt that the Nigerian political system needs to be structured appropriately to enable proper devolution of power and responsibility but people also must assume responsibility for what goes on in their immediate environment.

There is no sense in expecting people far from a place to address problems that have both cultural and religious roots in it. The issue of attacks on health workers in different parts of the North is a matter first for people from the region before it concerns Abuja or other parts of the country.

State governments and opinion leaders in the North should be seen to be acting in the interest of the region in matters that directly affect them, not pretending that it's all a matter of neglect from the government at the centre. The major problem in the North today is the twin evil of ignorance caused by mass illiteracy in socially beneficial education.

The other is religious bigotry championed by extremist proponents of retrograde doctrines. Both problems feed on and nourish each other creating a vicious cycle of poverty.

But rather than address these issues they caused in part by their failures despite decades in the corridors of power, Northern leaders avoid talks about them angling rather for power with similar mongers of power from other parts of the country in a forlorn game of national politics.

There are beggars of different categories in Nigeria but the most immiserated single group parading the worst deformities obviously caused by 'poverty' diseases like ring worm, polio and river blindness are Northerners. This is also the region with the lowest population of children or young people in school- not madrasas for almajiris, let's be clear.

This is the blunt truth and unless there is an end to ignorance and bigotry of the type that allows the mindless killing of women in the North, Nigeria will never move ahead, either as a country or a nation. Health initiatives to end polio and other diseases are for the benefit of Northerners. Those Taliban copycat groups claiming these initiatives are meant to harm the Northern population justify their claims on religion and hatred of so-called Western education.

This same logic propels the campaign of mass murders initiated by the other faceless groups that some Northern leaders claim has destroyed the economy of the region in the last three years.

The question is what have the political and, especially, religious leaders in the North done or been doing beyond kicking the can down the road while not pushing the blame to others- what have they been doing to counter the claims of these fringe extremists that have been campaigning in the name of religion?

When 15 years old Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school girl campaigning for girl education was shot in the head last October, it took the joint fatwa of 50 religious leaders to disprove the Taliban's falsehood that they were acting in the interest of Islam by shutting down schools to girls.

What are religious, opinion and political leaders doing in the North? Where does the charity of these leaders begin? For soon, they would, like their counterparts from the South and elsewhere, put on flowing babanriga and be raising fathom storms in Abuja for personal gains masked as fights for the people.

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