by Smon Kolawole
The time has come, I propose, for the expression — “Sanusi stirs controversy” — to be officially classified as a cliché. It would appear each time Alhaji Muhammad Sanusi II, the emir of Kano, talks, there must be an outbreak of controversy. Whenever he discusses economics or politics, passions are always inflamed, opinion is sharply divided and a free-for-all often ensues. You can accuse Sanusi of many things, but you can never accuse him of not speaking his mind — and brutally. You may say he is being honest, direct and radical. You may also say he is being hypocritical and out to gain attention by shedding crocodile tears. Pick your choice — it’s a free world.
Speaking a couple of weeks ago in Kaduna, Sanusi said what you would hardly hear from northern leaders. The typical northern leader boasts of “our huge population” and how “we will always determine who rules Nigeria”. Many make snide remarks at Niger Delta agitations, some even postulating that the oil down there was geologically formed from up north. We have been told, most recently, that there is no oil-producing state or region in Nigeria, and that because the north constitutes 72% of the country’s landmass, then the offshore oil belongs to the north. That is the impression we usually get when northern leaders speak “on behalf” of the north.
But Sanusi bucked the trend at the Kaduna summit by asking, as it were: Excuse me, what is the “is equal to” of all these postulations? How has that made life better for northerners? Take the issue of healthcare. Recently, there was an outbreak of cholera and meningitis in some northern states, with Zamfara the worst hit. Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, the governor, said outbreak of diseases is clearly a punishment signal from God for the sins of the people. Sanusi immediately took him headlong, declaring that the statement is “horrendous” and “Islamically incorrect”. He then added the clincher: 90% of the problems around the north are self-inflicted and can be solved.
I will illustrate his point. There are 24 state hospitals in Zamfara, but there are only 22 doctors in those hospitals attending to “our huge population” of two million people. You will notice that this has nothing to do with fornication. A governor who cares so much about the wellbeing of the people he was elected to lead would not go and sit down in Abuja while they are being ruined by preventable diseases. I reckon that the first case of meningitis was recorded in Zamfara in November 2016. The state neither handled it nor alerted the federal authorities until February 2017 when it had gone out of hand. To quote Sanusi, this is self-inflicted and can be solved.
In Sokoto, the state government regularly pays health surveillance officers to go round, incognito, and find out if there are threats of disease outbreaks in order to act promptly. Money was collected but the job was not done. Meningitis broke out and killed poor people. Technically, who fornicated in this instance? The looters or the hapless people? Conversely, Kaduna state was able to contain and tackle the meningitis outbreak and thus recorded minimal casualty. It has a fairly responsive system, and kudos must go to the governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai. But don’t they also fornicate in Kaduna? The Kaduna story, unfortunately, is an outlier.
Sanusi broke down the problems, simple enough for a fair-minded leader to understand and take action. I quote him: “We are in denial. The north-west and the north-east, demographically, constitute the bulk of Nigeria’s population, but look at human development indices, look at the number of children out of school, look at adult literacy, look at maternal mortality, look at infant mortality, look at girl-child completion rate, look at income per capita, the north-east and the north-west Nigeria are among the poorest parts of the world.” True. Take away the depressing statistics from the far north and you get a different picture of Nigeria.
The fact is that while there is a general problem of bad governance all over Nigeria, the northern states are evidently the most afflicted. Statistics from the north-west and north-east are pathetic and heartbreaking. Primary healthcare has virtually collapsed and the states are not doing much to address this, leaving the federal government to be fighting the fire of epidemics all the time. It is not as if the federal government has resolved the issues around its own tertiary hospitals. I do not suggest that there are no good governance stories coming from the north, but what we usually see is the dishing out of handouts, not a genuine attempt to make the people productive.
Northern leaders love to say they are fighting for northern interests when the power game is being played in Abuja, yet you have to struggle to point out how much impact they have made on the lives of the ordinary people in the areas that matter the most: access to potable water, education, healthcare, electricity, motorable roads and such like. Educating the girl child is still a big deal. While the elite send their daughters to the best schools in the UK and the US, they contrive to keep the daughters of the lowly and poor people from receiving quality education that will enhance their skills and make them contribute meaningfully to the society.
Sanusi further addressed the cultural mindset that has left the north partially fossilised. He said: “We need to understand the roots of the problem of northern Nigeria. Burning books, it happened in Kano, what is the crime of those books? They were writing about love, and love apparently is supposed to be a bad word. In a society where you don’t love your women and you don’t love your children, you allow them to beg, you beat up your women, why should anyone talk about love? We have adopted an interpretation of our culture and our religion that is rooted in the 13th-century mindset, that refuses to recognise that the rest of the Muslim world has moved on.” Spot on!
To strengthen his point, the Sarkin Kano gave the example of Malaysia and their cultural practices. “Today in Malaysia,” he said, “you wake up and divorce your wife, that is fine. But you give her 50% of all the wealth you acquired since you married her. It is a Muslim country. In Nigeria, you wake up after 20 years of marriage, you say to your wife, ‘I divorce you’ and that’s it. Other Muslim nations have pushed forward girl-child education. They’ve pushed forward science and technology. They have pushed forward the arts. We have this myth in northern Nigeria, where we try to create an Islamic society that never existed.” Again, I find enormous common sense in this.
There are many other issues that the emir has been speaking about in recent times which I think northern leaders would do well to ruminate over before jumping on the defensive. Introspection may just be the key that will unlock the massive potential of the north. What I am seeing, however, is an attempt to discredit Sanusi rather than address the issues. Suddenly, documents of Kano palace finances are being leaked to curtail his “excesses” — as if the budgets for education, healthcare, roads and rural electrification are controlled from the palace. There are already reports that he could be deposed, as if that is what will address the self-destruction going on in the north.
In my opinion, what Sanusi has done is to hold up the proverbial mirror to the face of northern leaders. If they don’t like what they see, they can react any way they like. They can grab the mirror and smash it on the ground and remove the turban from Sanusi’s head. If that will address the gross underdevelopment of the region, they should do it quickly. But I can assure them it won’t change anything. However, they can choose to take a hard look at themselves in that mirror and begin to do things in a new way. Indeed, it is in the interest of every Nigerian that the far north makes progress in every sphere of life. Nigeria will, by far, be the better for it. Home truth.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS
When a “high tension” wire fell on a Unilag undergraduate in September 2015, I wrote an article asking: is this God’s will? I also said if Nigeria was a country that learns lessons, such a tragedy would never occur again. But, of course, we never learn anything here. On Thursday evening in Calabar, Cross river state, 30 football fans were electrocuted while watching a match. Cause? A “high tension” wire fell on them at the viewing centre. Is that going to be the last? No, I’m afraid. There are many “high tension” cables hanging dangerously on people’s heads all over the country, and we are just waiting for the next “God’s will” to kill them. We learn nothing. Never.
Mr Babachir Lawal, secretary to the government of the federation, was suspended during the week by President Buhari over allegations of impropriety in certain contracts. Ambassador Ayo Oke, the DG of the National Intelligence Agency, was also suspended pending investigation into the huge cash find at a private residence in Ikoyi, Lagos state. I don’t know what to think: if these men are not found guilty eventually, it will be a big PR problem for Buhari to recall them. They won’t even be able to function in office, morally, again. Yet Buhari cannot ignore public opinion on these grievous allegations. But except they are found culpable, Buhari will be in a tight corner. Snag.
Did you enjoy the recent banter between Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna state and Speaker Yakubu Dogara? In case you missed it, el-Rufai took up the challenge of Dogara and published his security budget, and then challenged the speaker to publish details of what federal legislators earn. Dogara released his pay slips and said el-Rufai did not release details of security votes but just the security budget. El-Rufai fired back, saying he does not have security votes. That was all about it. You didn’t miss much, really. I cannot make head or tail out of all the figures that were published. But it provided the needed entertainment in these tough times. Distraction.
My chairman, Mr Nduka Obaigbena, once told me that when God says someone’s time is up, you would see a litany of errors. He referred to the cases of Michael Jackson and Stella Obasanjo who died because of basic medical mistakes. This is what came to mind on the death of Kika, the 18-year-old daughter of Magnus Onyibe, former information commissioner in Delta state. She complained of lower abdominal pains for months, and her doctor in UK did not consider a scan nor suspect appendicitis. By the time she came to Nigeria, the appendix had ruptured. The hospital rushed her into surgery. Another error. Life support was also allegedly poor and she died. Depressing.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija