We call him Mallam. I don't know his real name. He is a gateman in my place. He occupies a tiny room beside the gate, with a kiosk outside the house. Every day, when the sun hides behind the sky and the moon let's out its beautiful light to illumine the world in a seductive manner, some brothers of his come to share his tiny room with him, with little ventilation. In his little world, he is happy.
In many parts of Lagos and indeed in almost every corner of Nigeria, you find young Northerners fetching and selling water in Jerry cans, mending shoes, selling suya, repairing wrist watches etc. They are already stereotyped with some particular menial jobs.
People refer to their lifestyle as being easily contented. I disagree. It is not contentment. It is complacency occasioned by pure and undiluted ignorance. There is something patently and incurably wrong with a culture or a religion that tells a kid born into poverty that God willed that he will be poor throughout his life, that he will never amount to much, that there is no need trying to rise above his status, that his rich neighbour has been blessed with riches by God so that he can perpetually beg him for food and other necessities of life.
In other to perpetuate this mental fraud, this lowliness of their mental skies, the elites deny them education, the very tool they need to free their mind from the shackles of mental epilepsy. A couple gives birth to a baby. They get told that the polio vaccine is a western ploy to check procreation in Africa. And so, they deny the little child of the vaccine. He gets struck by polio and loses a leg or both legs. He believes it is God's will that he becomes a beggar, making himself an object of pity. So he gets a wheel chair, finds a motor park and he is in business of begging.
Those who manage to obtain some form of education go to Quranic schools. Others are used as canon fodders during crisis, treated as expendables, as collateral damage, told to blow up themselves in anticipation of seventy virgins and a river of honey in paradise instead of savouring the crisp taste of a chilled Hero beer here.
Where I come from, regardless of the circumstances of your birth, your dreams are valid. There is no ceiling to the conclave of Ogbuefis. It is never a closed group. Even if you are a kid, you can dine with the elders if you wash your hands. That was the concept of Okonkwo in that timeless piece called Things fall apart.
A child from Zamfara only needs to score 2 in the exam before he gains admission to the unity schools while his counterpart from Anambra needs to score 139 in the same exam before he can get admission into the same school. Beyond the equality crisis, the damage is being done to the Zamfara child. He lacks confidence in himself, cannot compete favourably outside his comfort zone. And so he wants the levers of power. He wants to control what happens in Abuja so that his counterparts who are better prepared don't overtake him. He pushes for the policy of arrested development in the guise of even development, sacrificing competition on the altar of uniformity. That explains the Northern quest for power.
The problem of the North is not poverty. It is ignorance. With vast expanse of arable land, fantastic climate for agriculture, a litany of mineral resources and a huge population, the North has no business depending on the Niger Delta oil.
The North doesn't need to study the Quran less. It only needs to embrace western education more, to remove the cobwebs of the mind of her people.
Will Northern elites ever democratize education? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.