Paul Bassi’s warped view of the North

Daily Trust - - VIEWS -

El­der Paul Bassi’s bit­ter­ness, un­der­stand­able though it may be, should not be the ba­sis for a whole­sale nega­tion of the ac­tiv­i­ties and the achieve­ments of the govern­ment of the de­funct North­ern Nigeria. It sim­ply isn’t true to as­sert that “the Mid­dle Belt got noth­ing, ab­so­lutely noth­ing from the govern­ment of North­ern Nigeria.” The Mid­dle Belt, by what­ever def­i­ni­tion, was part and par­cel of the de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes of the govern­ment of North­ern Nigeria. The facts of his­tory can­not be de­nied.

The most im­por­tant in­dex of progress in the First Repub­lic era was ed­u­ca­tion. At the time the re­gional ar­range­ment took off in the coun­try (1952-1954), there were only two full sec­ondary schools in the en­tire re­gion, Govern­ment Col­leges Zaria and Keffi. But by 1966, there were at least two sec­ondary schools in each of the re­gion’s twelve prov­inces - leav­ing aside Sar­dauna prov­ince. Sec­ondary schools es­tab­lished by mis­sion­ary so­ci­eties re­ceived grants from the re­gional govern­ment in recog­ni­tion of the great work they were do­ing for the people of the re­gion. It is im­por­tant to em­pha­sise that the re­gional govern­ment did not cede its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the mis­sion­ary groups in those ar­eas where the lat­ter were ac­tive, in ei­ther the ed­u­ca­tion or the health sec­tor. Other ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions such as teacher train­ing col­leges and tech­ni­cal schools were evenly sited across the re­gion as any­body old enough would at­test to. No­body has pre­vi­ously made the claim that the Mid­dle Belt was dis­ad­van­taged in the pro­vi­sion of in­fra­struc­ture or in­sti­tu­tions vis-à-vis other ar­eas of the North.

As for the train­ing of man­power, the re­gional govern­ment was proac­tive in pro­vid­ing scholarships to north­ern­ers to study abroad, ac­tively scout­ing for qual­i­fied can­di­dates for that pur­pose. It is a fact that the bulk of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries were from the Mid­dle Belt since it was the more ed­u­ca­tion­ally ad­vanced area of the re­gion. There was no ev­i­dence to sug­gest that that trend was dis­cour­aged by the au­thor­i­ties.

It is most un­fair to char­ac­terise Mid­dle Belt people, politi­cians or civil ser­vants, who at­tained great of­fice in the North­ern Re­gion as “yes men.” They were nei­ther in­com­pe­tent nor lack­ing in in­tegrity to ac­cept to play the yes men role. They iden­ti­fied with the poli­cies of the re­gional govern­ment; those that didn’t joined op­po­si­tion par­ties.

The ap­pel­la­tion given to north­ern­ers as Hausa is not sur­pris­ing, given the fact that the Hausa are the largest eth­nic group in the re­gion. There is a sim­i­lar­ity here with the sit­u­a­tion in the UK where the English pre­dom­i­nate. Here at home south­ern­ers con­sider north­ern­ers as Hausa in much the same way as north­ern­ers con­sid­ered all Eastern­ers as Igbo and all Western­ers as Yoruba, not dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing the smaller eth­nic groups in these for­mer re­gions from the pre­dom­i­nant ones.

In­ter-eth­nic re­la­tions are fraught with fric­tion right across the coun­try, not just in North­ern Nigeria where the largest num­bers of eth­nic na­tion­al­i­ties live. It may well be that what El­der Bassi said is the ac­tual sit­u­a­tion in Borno state, but a look round the coun­try eas­ily shows how yes­ter­day’s mi­nori­ties have be­come to­day’s ma­jori­ties - and op­pres­sors; the in­her­ent re­sult of the deadly com­pe­ti­tion be­tween elites for power.

It only re­mains to ob­serve that the remit of the Mid­dle Belt in El­der Bassi’s view is eth­nic/re­li­gious rather than ge­o­graph­i­cal. Such claim earns pro­po­nents acreage of news­pa­per cov­er­age but dam­ages the chance of their be­com­ing the self-ac­claimed bridge be­tween the North and the South.

Mo­hammed Tukur Us­man, Kaduna<aboumah­mud@ya­hoo. com>

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