Those of us who read Daron Acemoğlu and James Robinson’s Why Nations Fail, have seen, in the best-selling book, some convincing arguments on how countries of the world can seize the momentums of critical junctures of their histories to achieve economic greatness.
Likewise, we have seen, in the same book, how elite’s phobia of Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” can either stunt growth or completely truncate it.
Yet, while Why Nations Fail is a book rooted in political economy – from capitalist perspective – its numerous analogies clearly abound everywhere in terms of the realities of our dear country, Nigeria.
Although, the parallels one seeks to draw in this piece are much nuanced from what the book presents, it suffices to say that nowhere are its numerous examples more vividly expressed than in the northern part of the country. Since the moment the Union Jack gave way to the green-white-green flag to herald the nation’s independence in 1960, the two major geographical divides in the country have tried to rival each other. Paradoxically, however, it is the north that appears to have been muddling along in this competition – in spite of its comparative numerical strength.
In pre-independence times, there had been a glaring struggle to convince the large portion of the society to embrace western education. The north was, and still is, left to do a catching-up job as a result. The disparity between the two regions in terms of the population of private universities simply speaks volumes. Ditto commercial banks.
The north, therefore, might have succeeded in producing more political leaders of the country at the centre compared to the South; and even now boasts of giving to the nation the richest black man in the world. But this cannot mask the fact the region is also top in churning out abject poverty, in addition to the infamy of giving us the deadliest terror group in the world, Boko Haram.
One could, therefore, be forgiven if, by juxtaposing the present north and the south, the picture of Nogales Sonora and Nogales Arizona in the Why Nations Fail naturally sprang to mind.
Apart from millions of male children who are roaming our streets under the guise of seeking Qur’anic education, which they rarely do now, there are also multitude of girls of school age who are either roaming the same streets hawking their life for survival or enslaved in the homes of self-centered elites who employ them for all sorts of domestic drudgery, while their own children are chauffeur-driven to expensive private schools.
Over the years, majority of the northern elite has not proven to be proactive in confronting the numerous challenges bedeviling the region. For instance, while Boko Haram insurgency is a product of doctrinal mutation of a particular Islamic creed, the group made the most of the opportunity pervasive poverty in the north east presented to it to tap its human resources.
If the elite in the north had been thinking strategically, the danger ahead and devised the means of nipping it in the bud before it was out of control. Nevertheless, even the horrible experience of Boko Haram does not seem to have served the rude awakening for the region. The dangers posed by continuing to produce children that are sent to urban areas to beg their way to adulthood need no over-emphasis. With its alarming divorce rate, the north is also a place for many broken homes.
But there’s a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel. And, it’s coming from Kano where the Emir, Muhammadu Sanusi II, is championing efforts to codify family law in accordance with true teachings of the religion and culture of the people.
According to Emir Sanusi II, “Our people are facing serious challenges in their family affairs. We have heard series of complaints where a father forced his daughter to marry someone against her wish. We have heard so many cases where people marry additional wives while they could not feed them well, clothe them well or give them good shelter even though they have the means to do so.
Then, he warned, “In this case, the proposed law provides that a court of law would take something out of the man’s wealth to feed his family, give them shelter and clothes. In the event the man makes any attempt to resist the court’s directives, then the law takes necessary action against him. If you know, your salary cannot take care of more than one wife, you should not get additional wife.”
The Emir apparently built his opinion on the strength of Quran 24:23: “Let those who find not the wherewithal for marriage keep themselves chaste, until Allah gives them means out of His grace…”
Yet even one of the region’s most popular clerics in recent times, Late Sheikh Ja’afar Adam, held similar views. In a video clip that emerged following the raging debate on the proposed law, the late teacher is seen saying that the three conditions that must be fulfilled for a Muslim seeking to bring additional wife are: Fairness, sufficient income and sexual capability.
Indeed, some of those dissenting voice against the proposed law erroneously thought that its primary target was the common man. Nothing could be far from the truth! The explanations of both the Emir and the cleric are very unmistakable. Both the haves and the have-nots are not exempted.
However, no matter how the proposal divides opinion, no one can discount the fact that the vigorous debate it has, so far, generated is timely. Many are now flipping through their Islamic books with a view to understanding the true teaching of the religion, which has been corrupted by misogynic culture of the people.
The north is now at another critical juncture. It therefore behooves the region to make a strategic choice. Emir Sanusi II is spearheading the defining revolution we await. Like Serethe Khama of Botswana who right from the independence put his country on the path of inclusive growth, which resulted in sustained economic gains, all hands should be on deck to see that the trail blazed from the commercial nerve center of the north reverberates across the whole region.
The choice between us is to either stick to the status quo, which has produced 1 million divorcees in Kano alone, or regulate the institution for our common good and a stable society.
In this era of globalization, where the world is moving toward Artificial Intelligence, the North should aim at producing a digital generation that can stand on its feet anywhere in the world. Our Quranic memorizers should be using ICTs applications on their tablets to commit the book to memory.
And no one should be allowed to subject them to the burden of roaming the streets barefooted, bowl in hands in search of morsel to assuage their hunger. The north should make it part of its strategic agenda to churn out more Sarki Abbas, Abba Gumels, and Jilani Aliyus of the future. This is how to harness a burgeoning population and not placing it at the doorstep of Boko Haram for harvest.
Mr Musa wrote in from Abuja