•Says Nigerians dealing with an anti-intellectual Elite
Days after he faced a barrage of subtle criticisms from some highly-placed public officials in the country over his continued indictment of the political class on issues of poverty and disease in the north, Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II has elected to press on with his fierce interventions, saying he will not be cowed into silence.
“These attacks are aimed at diverting attention from the issues raised and all of us who are involved in this struggle must remember a few things. We are dealing with an anti-intellectual environment, and with people whose failure has bred a sense of insecurity which leads to incomprehensible, almost insane, reactions to simple advice”, the emir said.
The emir had recently chided the Zamfara state governor, Abubakar Yari for “blaming” God for the outbreak of Cerebro Spinal Meningitis in the state. He had equally blamed years of misrule by northern leaders for the sickening poverty rate in the region.
Sanusi spoke Friday in Abuja at the inaugural anniversary lecture organized by the Bring Back Our Girls BBOG movement to mark the three years of abduction of over 200 school girls in Chibok, Borno state.
In a video message to the occasion, Sanusi said; “There has been a lot of noise about my recent interventions in the public space, but I am not worried. I am used to it, but I am worried because of the dimension it has taken. It is a distraction”.
Noting that his interventions are not politically-motivated attacks on any group, he urged Nigerians to not succumb to the temptation of joining their opponents in the gutter, charging them to heed to Michelle Obama’s counsel, “when they go low, we go high”.
“The poor people for whom you fight are voiceless by necessity. Those of us who are fortunate to be part of the elite and who choose not to speak for them are voiceless by choice.
“Do not be intimidated. Do not be silenced. Do not betray your conscience or sell your soul. Do not fear any human being. Stand up and take all the bullets that are fired at you but never kneel down. If you have to die, please die standing and not on your knees. Most important, ignore the noise. Do not defend yourself too much against personal attacks because they want your person, not the issues you raise, to be discussed”, the former apex bank boss counselled.
The emir who said he had to avoid a physical presence at the event, added that he did not want to detract from the importance of the event as his detractors would would want to focus on his person rather than the message.
According to him, “those who are opposed to my views and who think I am the problem, have a more bigger problem to confront in the next generation, so it is better to confront the challenges now before these next tigers would come on stage”, he said, referring to her daughter, Shahida who represented him at the event and who he said had at a very young age slapped a boy for physically assaulting her and other school girls.
‘You can attack me, but address the issues too’
In a paper delivered by Shahida, the emir urged leaders, especially in the north to scale up measures at alleviating the plight of the people rather than diverting attention from their failures by launching personal attacks on him.
“These attacks are aimed at diverting attention from the issues raised and all of us who are involved in this struggle must remember a few things. We are dealing with an anti-intellectual environment, and with people whose failure has bred a sense of insecurity which leads to incomprehensible, almost insane, reactions to simple advice”, said the emir who also provided statistics on the sorry state of the northern region.
“Our colleagues and compatriots among the elite do not like statistics. Numbers are disturbing. I recently gave a speech in which I said the North-East and North-West of Nigeria are the poorest parts of the country. This simple statement of fact has generated so much heat the noise is yet to die down. But what really are the facts?
“The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and the UNDP in 2015 published data on the incidence of poverty in Nigeria showing that, on average, 46% of Nigerians are living in poverty. This is based on the UN’s Global Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index which focuses on Education, Health and Living Standards. Although this average is in itself bad, it masks even more serious internal inequalities and incidences of extreme poverty by region and gender. So for example the South-West of Nigeria has less than 20% of its population living in poverty while the North-West has more that 80% of its population living in poverty. In the North-East the figure is 76.8%. Over 90% of the people in Yobe and Zamfara States are living in poverty compared to 8.5% in Lagos and around 11% in Osun and Anambra states.
“The response to this speech has been a barrage of personal attacks and insults aimed at silencing any voices that dare shine the light on the society to which we are saying Bring Back our Girls. There are those who believe these attacks are aimed at discrediting me personally but even if that is the objective it will not work. I can only be discredited by what I have done and not by insults and lies on the Social-media. And in any event, personal criticism has no impact on the issues.
“These problems are deep-seated and have been there for a long time so changing mind-sets will be a difficult and painful process. Finally we must never succumb to the temptation to join our opponents in the gutter. You may say what you like about me for as long as you like, so long as you address the issues”.
‘More illiterates in North than South’
“Instead of hiding these statistics and being scared of repeating them, what we need to do is bring out even more of these data. These are already published and easily verifiable but not often discussed in the public space. But these data help us understand what poverty means for girls and women.
“According to published research, over 70.8% of women in North-West are unable to read and write compared to 9.7% in the South-East zone; More than 2/3 of 15-19 year old girls in the North are unable read a single sentence compared to less than 10% in the South; In eight northern states, over 80% of the women are unable to read and write
“Only 4% of females complete Secondary schools in Northern Nigeria; 78% of adolescent girls are in marriages in the North West, 68% in the North East and 35% in the North-Central-these numbers clearly mirroring the poorest regions in the country. The statistics in the other zones are 18% in SS, 17% in the SW and 10% in the SE.
“Apart from the huge loss of productivity and incomes caused by the lack of focus in education, especially for girls, adolescent marriages have led to serious social and health outcomes. One Nigerian woman dies in childbirth every 10 minutes. The NE zone has maternal mortality rate of over 1,500 per 100,000. This is more than five times the global average. I can go on and on.
“These statistics are not flattering. And they speak to a truth that is inconvenient to most of us. But the culture of silence must end. We have a problem. In fact we have an existential crisis. And all of us in this country, politicians, intellectuals, Emirs and traditional rulers, religious leaders, businesses, NGOS have to come together to solve this. The real patriots in the North are those who are honest enough to accept this reality and insist on change.
“The consequences of ignoring this crisis are unimaginable. And I wonder if the public generally recognizes this. It is a vicious cycle. Children of educated mothers are 50% more likely to survive beyond the age of 5, and educated mothers are more likely to send their own children to school. Meanwhile every extra year of education for the girl child could increase her earning capacity by 10%. Infants born to a mother under 18 suffer from 60% higher risk of dying in the first year of their life when compared to infants born to a mother aged 19 or older. Girls who become pregnant below the age of 15 in poor countries have double the risk of maternal death and obstetric fistula than older women. In addition, girls under age 15 are 5 times more likely to die from maternity related causes than women under 20.
“The statistics that are provided therefore represent the tragedy in the lives of real human beings. This problem is most severe in the NW and NE but the North-Central zone also fares worse than the three zones in the south”, he added.
‘Why Some Northern Elites are not Comfortable with me’
“We all claim to be horrified by what BH has done. We all call this primitive and barbaric. They forcefully took young girls out of school, forced them into marriages without their consent or love, impregnated them and turned them into mothers at a young age and exposed them to serious health risks, may be inflicted beatings and verbal abuse on them.
“We are all horrified. Really. But let us pause a little. These things that horrify us, do they not happen every day in every village in northern Nigeria and some parts of the South? Do these girls complete their education? Do they all grow up and give their consent to marriage when they are old enough to? Does domestic violence not happen?
“It is often not the fault of the girls or their parents. What do they do if there are no educational and health facilities made available to the poor? So the discourse on gender has to be looked at in the context of the discourse on poverty and governance. And this is why many people are not comfortable. The fact is that poverty in the North and in Nigeria, is not inevitable but a result of decades of failed social policy. It is only by recognizing this and accepting it that we can even hope to make progress. If we do not, then the society to which these girls are brought back will be no better than where they are now.
“I have learnt that after all the insults and blackmail the issues remain and will not disappear until they are addressed. That is your task, put these issues on the table and do not walk away until they are resolved”, he charged.