The Origin Of Illiteracy, Drug Abuse And Poverty In Northern Nigeria -By Ifeanyichukwu Mmoh

Filed under: National Issues |

Lately, there have been several open conversations on the prevalent socio-economic backwardness in northern Nigeria. Just last week, elites from the region rose from a convention that decried the high rate of drop-outs and out-of-school children. Interestingly, the menace of insecurity in the region topped the list of factors they blamed for these contemporary realities.

If it was not drug abuse, it was illiteracy and if not it was religious extremism or perhaps polygamy and child labor. Sometimes, it was unemployment, crime and poverty or disease. And I had wanted to do a topic that centered on exposing the origin after I found out that much of what was being said in those workshops essentially failed to identify the root cause of the dearth.

Incidentally, these conversations have been promoted by very senior Nigerian citizens from the northern extraction. However one thing I find unusual about the whole discussion is the fact that the origin of this prevalence is largely ignored while the different factors that contributed to its manifestation are been over-flogged. For there to exist a problem, there must almost always be a cause, a genesis or an origin. So would it be wrong if we first found out the origin of the socio-economic backwardness in northern Nigeria?



In this article, I’d like to also bare my mind on the fact that the prevalence cannot stop if the origin remained shrouded in secrecy. This is because if illiteracy, drug abuse, religious extremism or polygamy and child labor – for instance – are successfully addressed, that success may eventually relapse into something worse when the origin of these manifestations is not tackled.

Now, hear this: The truth is that the ideologies of the former premier of northern Nigeria – Late Sir Ahmadu Bello are the origin. Follow me.


Shortly after Nigeria gained her independence in 1960 – twelve days after to be precise – Sir Ahmadu Bello made the following statement, “The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate from our great-grandfather Othman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We must use the minorities of the North as willing tools, and the South as conquered territories and never allow them to have control of their future”.

In effect, this revered politician meant that “Nigeria, na mu ne”, thus creating a sectional mentality in the minds of the mostly illiterate masses from the region. For a man of his status (who commanded enormous followership from his days even till date), one expected to have seen some level of diplomacy in him considering that whatever opinion he held had a huge impact on the largely illiterate followership which he commanded.

Don’t forget that the north then had no fewer than a dozen fairly educated persons who were in politics and so imagine the influence that the one man with sight had over a massive followership without sight! Sir Ahmadu Bello’s hatred for the idea of sharing political power with the South was one that can be said to emanate from the marrow.

If you watched the videos of their time, you will no doubt conclude that his being referred to as one of Nigeria’s heroes past today is simply an exercise aimed to embellish his true character. This man spent a better part of his life (after Nigeria’s independence) to propagate an ideology of hatred for cosmopolitanism or for any national policy that could strengthen Nigeria’s sense of coexistence.

Hate speech as we know it today, sprang from his ideologies of hate against the South and, was the principal factor that crumbled the First Republic. I was prompted to further improve my understanding of the historical roles played by our so-called founding fathers after reading the radio broadcast of Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu of 1966. His emphasis on northern Nigeria struck me and upon further studies, I discovered the true character of the man we all know today as the Sarduana of Sokoto Emirate; a ‘heroes past’.

In a greedy quest to covert political power for himself and the feudal political machine he presided over – the NPC, Sir Ahmadu Bello introduced and tenaciously held on to the idea he called ‘The northernization policy’. This policy was introduced at a time in Nigeria’s history when the nation greatly needed an ideology that could galvanize the different tribes and strengthen the new found unity.

It was against the backdrop of this policy that the Igbos and the other tribes first came under discrimination. Strangely, this policy is still in force and has been extended to the federal level in fulfillment of the prophecy of ownership of the Nigeria federation.

The faithful’s of that ideology do not yet understand the negative effect it had on the region; that the man who believes that inheriting his fathers wealth was a right and an entitlement; never really excelled in life but the man who believes that inheriting his fathers wealth was only a privilege normally survived.

Now, why will an average Nigerian from the north bother about a brilliant academic performance when he has the quota system to thank? Why will he not set fire on the business concerns of the Ibo man – whose revenues are used to provide social amenities – when there is the monthly subvention from the federation account?


The style of President Muhammadu Buhari’s leadership is a clear enough example of the ideologies of the Late Sir Ahmadu Bello. The sentiments against equity and equal citizenry in appointments and in the siting of federal projects are another example. The Boko Haram devastation in the region gained sympathy from the start because its assault was directed at the Christians.

The population explosion in the region without a corresponding economic plan is all effects of the northernization policy. What’s more? The need to dominate the politics of Nigeria fuelled the idea of compulsory polygamy; whether there was means to carter for the many wives or not. The northerners were told that population was a weapon for negotiation and therefore birth control was taboo.

Until recently, they hardly participated in immunization exercises because they saw birth control as a strategy devised against their ‘project population explosion’. Islamic education was encouraged over and above the western education and is still so today.

But the one destructive effect of this ideology is the fact that when Nigeria was presented to the followers of Sir Ahmadu Bello as an inheritance from Othman dan Fodio, it was not considered then that the idea was going to give rise to a generation of youths who would be indolent, illiterate and religious bigots.

At that time, no one envisaged that a generation of drug-addicts would rise up from the north; it was thought to be a policy that will make the north more important than the south. No one saw it coming, that the ethnic cleansing encouraged by that policy will eventually lead to the closure of big investments in the region.

No one understood the dangers posed by an ideology; that a negative ideology always posed a threat to generations after it gained entrance into the human mind. That it was better to not start an ideology that one could not be able to control later. Now it is clear that no one was bigger than God or the nation He created for Nigerians. Despite all that the region benefits from the lopsidedness of things; they continued to remain poor.

The truth remains that when one allowed the mindset that there was an inheritance locked up somewhere for them to possess their minds, it naturally resulted to indolence with the inheritance and psychological devastation without the inheritance while for those who chose to work for what they earned; it resulted to the attitude of focus and diligence with or without the inheritance. Now show me how it was possible to address drug abuse without addressing the youth’s mental faculties?

That the north was socio-economically backward today showed how in a bid to dominate the country’s politics, the youths – hiding under religion – drove off every local investor that ever wanted to settle in the region. It tells a story of how through politics, cut-off marks for entry into the federal universities in the region was lowered in the name of ‘catchment area’ to such an extent that graduates from these institutions hardly competed favorably with their counterparts from the south.

You see how through nepotism, the region cuts itself off from excellent brains from the south who would’ve gladly – as Nigerians – contributed to the development of the region. The south is developmentally in front of the north today because it is driven by the mindset of ‘cosmopolitanism’. Go to Lagos, Port Harcourt or Onitsha and what stares you in the face is a cosmopolitan culture. Where does this exist in the entire northern region? Even in the aftermath of the June 12th, 1993 debacle, Lagos never threatened the peaceful stay of the other Nigerians resident in the state!

During the July 1966 counter-coup, we saw how Lt. Col Adekunle Fajuyi (of very blessed memory) offered to have his life cut short in exchange for the life of the late Gen. Thompson Aguiyi-Ironsi who was his guest at the time. How many northerners today can protect the lives of the Igbos, the Yorubas, and the Niger Deltans etc who had resided in the region for decades in the event of any uprisings? Any blood thirsty people will always hear the cries of the innocent bloods that they’ve shed (so far) in their ears. Regional development can only require a cosmopolitan culture to come.

This is one of the reasons why the economy of the region collapsed immediately after the manifestation of the infamous Indigenization policy. Even the Lebanese business merchants who controlled the region’s economy then could not survive the effects of that policy but the southern part of Nigeria did survive and, no one has ever asked why this became the case. Unfortunately, the significance of that policy turned out to mean different things to the different regions so while the south saw an opportunity; the north saw a responsibility in which they were not ready to assume.


The way forward is quite simple: destroy the ideology and these manifestations will disappear. Take for instance Boko Haram. Its ideological basis has made it impossible to be stamped out despite the billions of dollars that had so far been pumped into it. Yet with an effective ideology, Boko Haram’s defeat becomes possible. So too will the menace of drug addiction, poverty, illiteracy, religious intolerance and crime be defeated if an effective ideology is introduced to folks in the language they understood.

No one can do this for the north except they did it themselves. What an irony of life? Still, the input of very senior Nigerian citizens like the Emir of Kano HRH Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Emir of Kazaure and Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III of Sokoto are a welcomed development which if done in the interests of national unity, will trigger the emergence of the new Nigeria where the only tribe that existed is LOVE for one another and the only religion that existed is SACRIFICE AND SERVICE to humanity.

Incidentally, the visions and ideologies of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello are largely fulfilled but even so is the very terrible socio-economic backwardness it brought as well and whose solution required the wholesome reversal of the so-called ‘northernization policy’ as the only way to address the dearth. It is commonly believed and rightly so that only an ideology can destroy an ideology. The question is: Is northern Nigeria ready to let go of Sir Ahmadu Bello’s ideologies? Are they ready to approach this problem by dealing with its origin?

Comrade Ifeanyichukwu Mmoh is an advocate for attitudinal change and an author. 08062577718.