Opinion: What about the helpless children of the North?

by Chude Jideonwo

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 Nigeria is bad for its citizens, but it is especially bad for these children, who wake up to bombs daily, live under the shadow of guns and murders, and cannot even go to school because it hardly offers the chance for a better life.

Boko Haram confuses me. Yes, it is clearly a religion-inspired terrorist organisation, which has consistently attacked churches, killed Christians, and kidnapped school girls, more than 70 per cent of whom are Christians. It has acted true to its name in attacking schools and other so-called proponents of Western education and civilisation. What confuses more is the long-term strategy: If Boko Haram is annoyed at Western civilisation, why does it attack its own? Why does it destroy the economy and social development of the largely Muslim North? Why does it kidnap Muslim children and kill Muslim men and women? Why does it stunt the growth of its own people? Why doesn’t it instead have an agenda for the kind of prosperity on display in many Muslim countries? Why unleash its evil against its own people in a region already in dire straits? For one, Nigeria’s northern inhabitants are far poorer than those in the South. Nigeria in the past decade has seen its economy propelled by market reforms and inflow of investment, but the same has yet to happen in the North.

In Kaduna and Kano, where commerce in that part of the country has been concentrated, enterprises and businesses continue to dwindle, with the factories suffering massive production deficits this year, less than 30 per cent of capacity according to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. Then, there are random problems like the Lake Chad, a primary source of livelihood for many in Borno (where Boko Haram appears to have its headquarters), which has receded up to 17 per cent in just over 30 years. These compound an unemployment problem already so acute that Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote usually known for calmness warned; “it is going to end up consuming us all.”

Education is another disaster point, it is bad that only 83 students from Yobe State sat the 2013 National Common Entrance examinations out of almost 100,000 across the 36 states of Nigeria. The region has the lowest girl-child enrolments in the country – lower than 25 per cent, according to the Population Council of Nigeria. This is in addition to over 67.4 per cent of the girls married off by the age of 15, as opposed to less than 15 per cent in the south. It will now get even worse as Boko Haram continues to attack schools. Checking any random human development index, it will be seen that the scale of the lack is intimidating. Take maternal mortality for instance. According to the latest data from the United Nation’s Integrated Regional Information Network “women are 10 times more likely to die in childbirth than in the oil-rich, predominantly Christian south.” UNICEF had, as far back as 2000, warned about a “silent malnutrition emergency” in some Northern states, deeply ironic for a region seen historically as the nation’s food basket. It gets worse and worse. And it is to this lethal, fatal mix, that Boko Haram – itself from the North of Nigeria essentially – has added its evil, plunging an already anarchic situation into hopelessness.

So, when you think of Nigeria’s lost girls, don’t think just of the schoolgirls abducted on April 15 in the otherwise sleepy village of Chibok. Or the tens more that have been killed and kidnapped since. A combination of some shameless Northern political leaders including a feckless Federal Government choosing the fight for office over the vision of a better country is not also helping matters. We are in fact losing something bigger and more frightening. We are watching the future being stolen daily right under our noses; the future of the children and young people of the North, growing up to hate a country that refuses to love them. These children might have, as the evidence suggests, local leaders who have actively indulged and supported terrorists for their own selfish ends, plunging their own states and region into this hopelessness, but it is hardly their fault. They didn’t ask for this.

They don’t know Boko Haram, they know neither the ruling party nor the opposition, they were born oblivious of and blameless in the ethnic and religious fault lines that make our country such a tinderbox. Nigeria is bad for its citizens, but it is especially bad for these children, who wake up to bombs daily, live under the shadow of guns and murders, and cannot even go to school because it hardly offers the chance for a better life. The responsibility to fix this emergency lies squarely on the shoulders of the Nigerian government, that has failed them on security, education and every governance index that exists. The kidnapped daughters of Chibok, and the young people of Northern Nigeria caught in this endless, evil war – they deserve a better government. They desperately deserve a better country.

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Chude Jideonwo tweets from @chude

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

 

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