ROTIMI SANKORE is a veteran journalist and development data expert. In this interview he speaks on Nigeria’s development indices, the challenges of terrorism and what needs to be done. INIOBONG IWOK brings the excerpts:
Are you surprised that the North West is the hotbed of kidnapping and violence despite the trouble with Boko Haram over a decade now?
Because the data has been showing us what would happen for a long time now. In fact, for as much as 20 or 25 years now, but certainly within the last thirteen years the trajectory became clearer.
Which data and what trajectory?
Let’s start with the National Bureau of Statistics’ data and we would come to climate change later on. The data thirteen years ago showed that the number of out-of-school children in the North West is higher than that of the North East.
In the North West, over four million out-of-school children, in the North East over three million children are out-of-school. So, as those kids grow into young adulthood, 18, 21, 22, and 23 years old, a significant percentage of them will be drawn to extremism and banditry, they are vulnerable to it.
Can you explain that for those who don’t understand these things, because sometimes we make assumptions about linkages that people can’t understand?
Obviously, not having had access to education is a problem, also poverty, hunger, malnutrition and large ungoverned spaces where there is zero government presence. The UNDP did a report on extremism some years ago, which even showed that some of these young people are not even aware that they are fighting against a state called Nigeria; that’s how much those spaces have been abandoned and ungoverned.
So, essentially anyone that can gather large groups of young men and motivate them for survival reasons can point them in any direction.
Are you saying that data around students or children who are not in school is normally a good pointer that at a certain point if things continue that way, there is already an army waiting to be converted into criminality or extremism?
Yes, and it’s everywhere even in urban areas like Lagos. So, broadly in Nigeria about 70 percent of children that start primary school don’t transition to secondary school, that’s tens of millions of kids in an urban area like Lagos; they are drawn into things like what is called ‘agbero’ (louts). The ‘agbero’ profession, these are people attached essentially to the transport industry.
So, the transport industry in a place like Lagos, extorts more or less what is called ticket money worth tens of millions of naira every day and these young people are attached to it.
They can make a living with zero skill sets and their bosses like multi-millionaires, some people even say billionaires because of the densely populated nature of Lagos this is possible. There is no ungoverned space in Lagos; everywhere needs transport; Lagos is densely populated. So, that’s a pathway for them. If you take that away; say if you doubled, quadrupled or expanded the size of Lagos, take away the transport networks, those are your potential bandits, extremists straight away.
Anyone that can gather large groups of young men and motivate them for survival reasons can point them in any direction
You said 13 years ago the number of out-of-school children was higher than those in the North East; how did we then end up with the statistics of extremism in the North East?
The collapse of Lake Chad tipped the balance in the Northeast. The satellite images showed over about six decades, how Lake Chad collapsed from the size of a small sea now to the size of a small river.
Over that time, millions lost their means of livelihood; around fishing and farming and the governors in the Northeast didn’t pay attention. The first of them, of course, is the current President Buhari, then a young military officer and then became the first military administrator of Borno State as well. After the North East which he governed was split, he became governor of Borno State.
Buhari and his successors were largely not trained for this kind of thing. Young infantry artillery officers are not trained to understand climate change or development issues particularly in the 70s, where it wasn’t such a big global conversation but as it was happening, the satellite images showed, the people living around there would see it.
Experts warned about it that there’s going to be a major impact, but nothing was done; so the problem became intergenerational. Generally, several generations lost their fishing and farming livelihood; the impact was then greater.
Extremism on four sides of Lake Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameron took advantage of it to recruit and mobilise extremely. That was the game changer in the North East, but people were not paying attention to the North West. I should say the North West also has a higher total fertility rate per woman, essentially this is the average number of children a girl or woman will have over her lifetime.
Are you suggesting you can also make a link between birth rates, gender equity and the troubles that we are currently seeing?
Yes, and not just in Nigeria, in Central African and the Republic of Somalia.
Before we go outside, what is the link between high birth rates, gender equity and the troubles that we’re seeing in the North West now?
Well to put it in one sentence, where there is a high birth rate and girls are forced into child marriage at 12, 13 and 14 years and before they are 30 years old, they have an average of seven to eight children. In reality, it could be as much as 11 or 12 each. That alone is bad. If you multiply by polygamy it means that each man specifically has brought into the world between 7, 14, 21 and 28 up to 32 children.
The problem is this; forcing girls into marriage in some states like in the Northwest; it’s between 60 and 83 percent. That is marrying from a very early age in each of the North West states. What this does first of all is obviously it violates the girls. Secondly, it pushes them into lifelong poverty.
Forcing young girls into marriage from the age of 12, 13, 14 up to 60 to 83 percent per state, essentially means that they have no education, no job skills, no income and in the where it is highest it’s 83 percent. Essentially 83 percent of all girls and women are pushed into poverty that then creates the background for every other thing that follows.
The birth of the children themselves is the secondary problem, because when there is no investment in schools or education for those children; the poverty of their mothers especially becomes intergenerational.
So, the kids themselves then suffer hunger malnutrition and as you know because they’re born to children like themselves.
The children who are not educated who don’t have a skill, have no income and so cannot raise them properly. So, in the first instance hunger and malnutrition are always higher in children born to such children and that means that by the age of five your intellectual and cognitive abilities can be damaged permanently. This is real data that has been proven.
If children don’t get the right kind of nutrition after the age of five and are impaired, what does it make them susceptible to?
The impairment essentially makes people susceptible to recruitment to banditry and extremism, because it means that they can’t rationalise their actions and remember they are also in poverty.
So, first the cognitive and intellectual abilities are impaired, not of everybody but if you look at say Katsina and Zamfara States where hunger and malnutrition is highest; it was Zamfara that had the highest about three, four years ago, it’s now Katsina 53 percent, this is the government’s own report, the food and nutrition report 53 percent, when you have it as high as 53 percent 48 to 53 percent in both of those states.
Do you mean half of all children born in those states?
Yes that’s what 48 to 53 percent means. If the hunger and malnutrition is that high, it means their cognitive and intellectual ability is impaired. They’re in poverty; they can’t rationalise things they’re easily lured into, in effect gangs which could be gangs of bandits or extremists.
They are in large ungoverned spaces and they are not even aware of the presence of the states. Their sense of right or wrong is effectively erased by multiple factors; they’re not aware of what is happening, they can’t rationalise what they have been pushed into, they are hungry, they’re in poverty; they have no job skills.
Effectively the bandits or the extremists are reproducing an army that is susceptible to them. On October the 4th and 5th this year, multiple newspapers; Daily Trust in particular led with banner headline on it that the bandits and extremists in Niger state issued a statement instructing the communities to ignore the government directives to send their children to school and that girl children in particular they were very specific are to be forced into marriage no later than the age of 12. They are very deliberate about their social engineering.
Terrorists seem to be more intentional than the government in many ways, clear regarding their plans, with leadership that is fairly educated and understands how to manipulate communities. How correct is that?
The leadership sees the big picture; they understand the kind of society they want to build and they will social engineer it. The state governments especially are not social engineering the kind of society that we expect they will build, there is a vacuum.
They are not investing enough in education, they are not building enough schools, they are not training enough teachers they are not ending child marriage.
Ideally what we should see in the country is that the presidents and the governors of the 36 states supported by the chairs of all the 774 local governments, should essentially sign a proclamation of freedom for girls saying that in upholding the Nigerian constitution that all girls must be free to go to school and that anything that prevents them from going to school such as forced child marriage will not be tolerated.
Why do you think some of the governors are not seeing some of the obvious things we are seeing and doing the right things?
Because some of the governors share the same big philosophical picture with these people we call bandits and extremists, and I’ll give you an example from your home state of Zamfara.
Zamfara State once had a governor; that is Sani Yarima who once got himself a 13 year-old girl as wife. The important thing to note is that it’s not religion, it’s feudalism.
We started this conversation with data that is thirteen years old; can we talk about the recent data for the North West, where we’ve seen violence that is unprecedented?
Let’s look at state by state just to paint a clear picture and we go back first about six years or so. Roughly halfway through the Boko Haram insurgency, the data from the bureau of statistics was showing us that in Yobe State, 83 percent of men have not had access to any formal education primary, secondary or otherwise. It’s always worse for women by the way, but the men are the ones to show how bad it was, in Borno State 63 percent. In other words only 17 percent in Yobe and 27 percent of men in Borno had had access to any formal education of any kind, that’s what it was telling us six seven years ago.
If farming was still a viable thing, then we may not have it like this, because you know you don’t necessarily need the sort of education to farm, that put together with the climate issues we’re facing depressed the Northeast and accelerated it very rapidly. Yes it is true. The Northwest is not much different, not much far behind, just about 10 percent. Sokoto, Katsina Zamfara, Kebbi, Jigawa some parts of Kano and Kaduna are not like 50, 53, 56, 57 percent.
That is really high. If you look at today’s overall picture, which is about 13 million children out of school, which shows us what will happen in the future when they become young adults, that’s 30 million no jobs, no skills and susceptible to be manipulated.
Which is roughly double the number of about 12 years ago, we also have 60 million adults unable to read or write, this is the figures from the Minister of education.
Some of us think it’s a bit higher than that. 60 million adults are unable to read or write, the majority of them women, but majority of the men affected are from the North West and the North East; so you can see where this is going.
The birth rate is still at 7percent and 7.3 per woman. In places like Zamfara many of whom have no education, many of whom have no kind of education of their own at all and can’t educate their children, the birth rate is still 7.3, 7.4 per woman in the North West, especially it’s higher in the North West and in the North East.
States like Katsina and Zamfara, Katsina especially also have the highest polygamy rate in the country; this is where 24, 28, and 32 children are brought into the world by each man. It is not surprising Katsina State has the highest average class size in the country, about a hundred children per class; that’s average.
This is why it’s important to look at the global picture; countries like Turkey or Tunisia share the same religion and as far back as the 1920s those countries had started mass education campaigns and even legislation against forced child marriage and polygamy from about 1926. Tunisia by 1963 had started that campaign.
In Libya which collapsed for several different reasons the age of marriage for girls is 21. Saudi Arabia a year and half ago increased the age of marriage for girls to 18 years, because a lot of those countries understand, in the case of Saudi Arabia, that you can’t use oil money indefinitely to subsidise that amount of poverty amongst girls.
And you know in the guardianship policy, you can’t go out, you can’t be seen in public, with a man that is not your father, brother, husband or your son. You can’t effectively go in public transport, which is why they changed the law to say women can drive, essentially they can go to work and earn a living and contribute to the GDP because they see that the value of oil is dropping.
This is something we should note in Nigeria, as well, because by 2025 half of the highly developed countries would have stopped producing cars that run on petrol or diesel by 2030 all of them would have stopped. This means oil sales are going to drop.
Saudi Arabia is thinking, that they can’t subsidise this amount of poverty anymore, realised that they need women to work and because the thing about gender equality is that, it’s not just a rights issue; it also means that the per capita income and overall real tangible benefits to the community go beyond giving women rights.
On current trajectory if nothing changes based on your understanding of how data works what are you predicting for the Northwest and the Northeast?
Maybe in about 10 years from now most of the states would have failed; if the interventions are not made now in about 10 years the demographics will overwhelm the states more or less.
Haven’t these states failed now?
Katsina and Zamfara States have failed already; they have been propped up by federal military might. If you pull the army out of Katsina Zamfara Yobe and Borno the bandit and extremist will overrun those states in a month or two.
At least four states have failed in Nigeria and that’s the thing to note. Let me say something quickly about local government; when states fail they fail because communities have failed.
States fail community by community, local government by local government, if a cluster of communities and local governments fail, then the state fails and then those bandits and extremists then project into the next state and then mobilise similar demographics and then the contagion just goes like that.
Roughly in 10 to 12 years from now if the current trajectories go on, probably about 20 million children out -of -school the number of adults that can’t read or write will probably be like 90 million something like that. The poverty in the country the latest UNDP report says; about 93 million people are severely affected by multi-dimensional poverty that’s more or less half the country.
If you pull the army out of Katsina Zamfara Yobe and Borno the bandit and extremist will overrun those states in a month or two
When developmentalists say multidimensional poverty, what do they normally mean?
It means education poverty, food poverty, energy poverty. Shortages across some of the most basic things and they tend to come together and work.
Another driver of banditry and extremism is related to health. Maternal mortality is highest amongst teenage girls; pregnancy related death is the biggest cause of death and they also leave orphans behind.
When they leave orphans behind the men just replace the girls like commodities. Senator Ndume pointed out that there are about 60, 000 orphans in the IDP camps. I don’t know if he was pointing at what I am pointing at; because you know he’s also the senate chair for the committee on the army, but he’s also from there.
He should have known immediately that even if just roughly half of those orphan boys are potentially a few divisions, equivalent of a few divisions to be recruited by bandits. Orphans are like a blank slate; because they have no values, no love, no care.
Those kinds of kids, if extremists get their hands on them, capture 100 farmers and say to show that you belong to the fold, we want all these farmers beheaded, it’s most likely going to happen without any resistance. All this happened in Sierra Leone, in Liberia and other places.
Often these things are not Nigeria specific; we saw the warlords recruiting children in Sierra Leone and Liberia and using them to behead amputates and so forth like that. These are like fairly basic sociological constructs that you can apply to most societies if the demographics are similar.
When Governor Nasir el-Rufai said the North West especially is on the verge of being like Afghanistan, he’s not wrong; he understands what we are talking about.
What he’s not saying is that the current set of governors and in particular their predecessors, failed to shift the North away from feudalism, which is another name for inequality. That’s why I say; it’s not so much religion; it’s ethnicity, it is class matters.
You can see the fear that a lot of the governors have of reformist feudalists like Sanusi Lamido, former governor of CBN, who understands clearly that the trajectory is going to doom the North, but because his rhetoric indicts them they are afraid of him and want him off the scene very quickly.
What they don’t realise is that; unless they change, and more or less take on board what people like him are saying they will create the demographic forces that will remove them from office and it’s not going to be very nice.
Look at Afghanistan; up till about two decades ago, Afghanistan had similar birth rates to North West Nigeria; UNESCO has pointed out that in the decade up to 2001 there were almost zero girls in school with the same birth rate as North West Nigeria today.
In effect, the Taliban reproduced an army by violating the reproductive and sexual health of girls and keeping them out of school, the same is happening in the North West and to a lesser extent to the North East. That’s why I say; if you know the data globally you understand the trajectory. A lot of people think many things are unique to Nigeria, it’s not.