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Why Is The Problem Of Destitution Particularly Prominent In The North? by Abdulrahman Mohammed Alfa



       When I read about this encouraging debate in the Vanguard newspaper I became very interested instantly to contribute to the
debate. This is because the problem of destitution especially in Northern Nigeria has turned out to be a major social malaise. But why is the problem of destitution particularly prominent in the North?

        So many factors are responsible for entrenching this problem in this part of the Country. The most painful aspect of it is that it is Muslim North that dominates this segment of the society (destitution) anywhere  in the Country. However, we must note that there are many types of destitution which include the one cause by poverty (real or perceived), physically handicapped destitute and self inflicted child destitution of the Almajiri genre.


All the above types of destitution are prominent in the North because we seemed to have accepted them as normal ways of life. But the ones that posed and are still posing greater danger to the life of this Country are the last two, namely: physically handicapped and self inflicted child destitution. But what are the causes of these problems, their threats to societal wellbeing and the relevant solutions to them?

         The number one cause of destitution in the North is lack of political will on the part of governments at all levels. Where as in other parts of the Country one would find governments at various levels honestly encouraging and strenghtening their educational systems from primary to tertiary levels, ours in the North are merely paying lip-service to education. The rich and well placed individuals in the South are rewarded with chieftancy titles and recognition considering the number of students one is able to sponsor or the scholarships so distributed, but we in the North have chosen the complete opposite of that. It is therefore very important for us to know that for as long as we choose to leave a larger part of our population uneducated, so shall we have the persistant problems of destitution among our people. Education or knowledge is power and anybody that is not educated is for sure "powerless".

 Destitution in the North is also caused by what I termed "elitist neglect". The rich and the educated among us as I said earlier on are simply not doing anything or not doing enough to get our children in the schools and off the streets. They seemed to be contented with sending their biological children to the best and most expensive schools in Nigeria and around the world. It looks as if their children are being prepared to live on this planet alone!

         Another major cause of destitution in the North is "parental neglect or absence of responsible parenthood". Most parents, especially of low income status, do not care what becomes of their children. They are usually very proud of having twenty to thirty children but unconcerned about their feeding, upkeep, education, health, accommodation and general wellbeing. A clear preferance for quantity against quality. Some parents, in spite of the Islamic injunction that stipulates every parent would account for the upbringing of his/her children, prefer to add a wife than to send their children to school. They can pretend to be poor when the issue involve is the children's school fees but they can raise money to add a wife. I am not trying to denigrate polygamous family setting here, afterall I came from one. But it must be stated that it is only good for those who have enough resources to support such a family.

           The perception of destitution as an Islamic phenomenon is quite wrong. Northern Nigeria is not the only predominantly muslim society in the world. The obvious question to ask is:"why is destitution, be it handicapped or child destitution, prevelant in the North?" I think one of the answers is that we lack courageous leaders in the likes of Late General Hassan Usman Katsina and Late Sheikh Abubakar M. Gummi to come out forcefully to speak against it today. Islam in its entirety abhours begging. Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad SWT are full of examples of such stance. Self reliance, hard work for a legitimate earning, contentment are all virtues aimed at discouraging begging. I do not know where my muslim brothers and sisters kept the lesson Prophet Muhammad SAW taught an able bodied man who came to mosque begging and the Prophet was said to have given him an axe to go and fetch firewood-to earn a living, instead of him begging.


              Any time I watch or listen to debate on the act of Almajirci and the person of Almajiri, I usually do notice how most commentators evade outright condemnation of the system. May Allah SWT reward the Late Sheikh Abubakar Gummi for promoting the Islamiyya system of education in a most modernised way-with syllabus, classroom, table and chair, graduation etc. He also gave us the best example of parenthood by sending his children to both Islamiyya and western educational institutions. Today, his children are spread all over major professions in this Country. From medicine to pharmacy, accountancy to  engineering etc and all that did not make them less a muslim! Yours sincerely was never an Almajiri, yet I did complete the whole of the Qur'an and even memorised some parts at the age of twelve. My cousins who are today Haafizul Qur'an (memorisers of the whole Holy Qur'an) were never Almajiri as the concept or practice is being understood. What I am saying in essence is that, we can learn the Holy Qur'an easily now without subjecting our selves to this unfortunate level of dehumanisation.

             Societal estimation of the handicapped destitutes in the North is not that that would build confidence and explore
their talents for self reliance and to encourage them to contribute to national development, but that of pity and perpetual dependence. That is not what they need from us.Functional rehabilatation centres where the handicapped can be educated, learn skills, sports etc are what they require and it is the commitment of all concerned.

           The threats posed by destitution to the North in particular and Nigeria in general are enormous. It has not only created educational imbalance between the North and South but has sustained it. Our ambition in the North during the first republic "to catch up" with the rest of the Country educationally is not only dead today, but the gap is ever widening. This is the surest way to uneven development which in turn breeds all sorts of instabilty in the country. It is also denying Nigeria the opportunity to develop its enormous human capital to the fullest without which there will be no sustainable and self reliant development in the Country. The destitutes themselves usually turn out to be liabilities on the society instead of assets.

            We must therefore appeal to governments at all levels, non governmental organisations, faith-based organisations, parents, schools, teachers etc to continue to promote the culture of responsible parenthood and education for all. An educated society is surely on the pedestal of development, peace, growth and progress.

            In conclusion, any time I see children of school age roaming around our streets with a begging bowl in a Country where the number of JAMB applicants going to the University from one State in the South is more than that of the sixteen States in the North put together, the question I usually ask myself is"where is our future"? The simple answer to that question is that we do not have any future, and if by accident we do, it is certainly a bleak one.

 Yours Most Sincerely,

 Abdulrahman Mohammed Alfa
 No 6, Gidan Nupawa
 Mukum Close
 0803 704 1155



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