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Almajiris and northern governors: Absence of leadership and vision!

With COVID 19 and the deliberate scattering of Almajiris, the situation is becoming more petrifying! From Kano to Lagos, Maiduguri to Port Harcourt and in every other city, town and village in Nigeria, the story is the same!  The army of very young and uneducated youths from Northern Nigeria roaming and doing all kinds of menial and odd jobs is alarming. These very disturbing scenes were also very evident during the elections. Millions of unemployed youths thronged campaign rallies especially that of PMB who has a kind of cult followership particularly in the North West and North East regions.


Even though that shouts of “Sai Baba” can be very soothing and reassuring, it is time to show genuine interest and concern for the welfare and future of these youths. Whereas Northern leaders might be perceiving them as assets for election, they are fast becoming serious threats and risk to the survival of the North and Nigeria in general.


The situation is dire and sad. It is a story of failure! Failure of governance and leadership of the North amidst abundant human and natural resources of our dear nation. From my interactions with them, the lamentations and cries for help are similar. They crave for direction, opportunities and freedoms through the provision of an effective and functional education system! As such direction, opportunities and freedoms are presently not provided or inadequate, a sub-culture of frustration and violence is rapidly emerging which will do no one any good.


Of all the causative factors, a key one is our present approach to human capital/skills development which can be described as a process of “accomplishment of natural growth” with little or no strategic plan, vision and guidance. It is similar to Jamaica’s then education system to which Professor William M. MacMillian described as “narrow and insecure” in his 1938 work ‘Warning from the West Indies”.  He warned that the education system in Jamaica was a major contributory factor to worsening inequality, poverty, unemployment, crime and social divisions. He beckoned on the government to act urgently to avoid social crisis and violence. Remarkably as he warned, widespread violence and social unrest ravaged the Caribbean with many killed and injured a year after his book was published.


While William M. MacMillian has not published the Nigerian version of his book, it is clear that his warnings are all over Nigeria especially in the North where almost all the states particularly ones in North West and North East are in crisis and perceived as too unsafe to visit. Whereas we thought that Boko Haram is being contained to Borno state, recent and ongoing killings and destruction of farms and properties in Sokoto, Zamfara, Kastina, Kaduna, Adamawa, Taraba, Benue all suggest that Boko Haram might have expanded and mutated into varied criminal groups and activities.


To avoid escalation of the crisis, I deeply beckon and implore PMB and the Northern Governors to act now!  What is needed especially in the North is an education system that can be described and developed from the concept of concerted cultivation and development. This approach will give direction and focus, imbue confidence and trust, create a sense of ownership and belonging to our children and youths. Failure to do this is an inevitable invitation and preparation for the exponential escalation of social crisis higher than Boko Haram.


Your Excellencies, directly or indirectly allowing menial and odd jobs to be the most prominent brand of Northern youths is poignant and a disservice to anything good and noble. With your position and cult following Mr President, I deeply pray and implore you to quickly galvanise the Northen governors to adopt pro-poor policies particularly ones that will address the lamentable human capital state of Northern Nigeria.

To avoid escalation of the crisis, I deeply beckon and implore PMB and the Northern Governors to act now!  What is needed especially in the North is an education system that can be described and developed from the concept of concerted cultivation and development


As the youths overwhelmingly voted for you, this is the time to reciprocate with policies and intervention for their human capital development. Your excellencies, Nigeria particularly the Northern states are very backward in every aspect of human capital development and this requires very urgent attention through effective and committed good governance. Of the 71, 294 candidates that participated in the 2018 National Common Entrance Examinations for admission into the 104 Federal Government Colleges, Zamfara had 28, Kebbi 50, Taraba 90 and Lagos 24,000 candidates respectively. In the recently  released report on the level of poverty and inequality in Nigeria by Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the North is leading as the epicentre of poverty with about 14 states in the North recording over 50 percent poverty rates.


In Sokoto, Taraba and Jigawa, it is most disappointingly about 90 percent. It is the same very poor result for the North in all the variables used in measuring Human Development Index (HDI).

With millions of Northern youths roaming all major cities in Nigeria, it is clear that a critical and fulcrum factor absent in the governance agenda of Northern States is Effective Human Capital/Skills Development (Education). While I appreciate that it might be included in the social services, more and priority attention is demanded given the lamentable level of human capital development of Northern states. It is the fulcrum upon which any kind of development can be meaningful and sustainable but which is sadly approached with levity by Northern leaders.


 For people to be employed, they have to be properly educated and skilled which will enhance the appreciation and better utilisation of the social services to be provided by the government. It will also support the development of the rural areas. Security will be improved with good governance and justice better understood and protected. In the absence of a properly educated and skilled Northern youths, all the development agendas and projects might be a waste, ineffective and unsustainable.


Creating a high level of human capital and skill development in Northern Nigeria does not start and end with building new classrooms in different states or promotion of teachers. Either is part of it but a very little or insignificant part of what is needed. It will require a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the kind of North we want in 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 years. This will help  in understanding the kind of skills required in the short, medium and long term. To achieve the above will require excellent thinking and foresight that expectedly should come from a strategic think-tank and cabinet.


Given the enormity of problems and consequences of no action, I profoundly implore Mr President to declare a state of emergency in the education sector of Northern Nigeria and persuade the governors to allocate at least 30 percent of their state budgets to the Education sector even though UNESCO recommends 26 percent for Nigeria. This will be a better way of utilizing the youths than using them mainly as assets to win elections!


Dr. Ngwu is an Economist/Associate Professor of Strategy, Corporate Governance and Risk Management, Lagos Business School and a Member, Expert Network, World Economic Forum.

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