THE states of the North-East and North-West geopolitical zones are among the poorest in the Federation, with the lowest profiles in education and human development indices. The 2018 National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, indicates that eight out of the top ten poorest states are from there: Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Adamawa, Jigawa, Gombe and Bauchi States.
The reason for this unenviable situation is not far-fetched. The political, traditional and community leaders in these Muslim-majority states continue to apply cultural practices that prevailed in the medieval era, thus keeping the common people in the dark and unable to join the rest of the country and humanity in making progress.
It is in these areas that the Almajiri culture, whereby young boys of poor parentage are sent in their tender ages to live with and learn Islamic education under Koranic teachers, or Mallams. They are sent out to beg for a living. When they “graduate”, they have no skills to earn a living and resort to menial labour, including being used by extremists such as terrorists to do their bidding. It was also in these areas that the full Sharia rule was suddenly declared in 2000, starting from Zamfara State under ex-Governor Ahmad Sani.
In 2007, the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, declared Jigawa State the poorest in the country. Efforts made by subsequent regimes in the state to exit the bottom of the heap are being set back by a sustained resort back to old practices that only breed poverty and dependency.
The announcement by the Jigawa State Government that it spent N93 million to finance the wedding of 270 orphaned girls leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. The government claimed it spent N336,000 to buy furniture for each of the teenage brides drawn from the 27 local government areas of the state.
Why do leaders from still consider the early marrying off of girls more important than giving them sound education or skill empowerment to ensure they earn comfortably for the rest of their lives? This amount spent per child bride to marry them off can be better deployed to empower and prepare them to be better wives and mothers when they are through with their education. Rushing them into marriage is just another way of unnecessarily increasing the population of poor and destitute people and worsening an already difficult-to-manage situation of poverty.
We call on leaders to emulate the progressive attitudes of their peers from other areas, such as Western Nigeria and parts of the Middle East, where Islam is practised and yet the poor, especially women, are fully empowered to live well and contribute their quotas to the development of their societies.
Poverty in the North and elsewhere comes from the poor mindset of leaders, and this must be corrected.