Paul Bassi’s warped view of the North
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>