By Nats Onoja Agbo
Martin Meredith is famous for some spicy books he wrote on Africa, especially on the shenanigans of its sit-tight and self-righteous rulers. His most celebrated works are The State of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence and Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life. While The State of Africa amplified the often-held, though fantastically over-beaten notions about corruption in Africa, Born in Africa is a narrative of efforts by archaeologists to locate the ancestral home of mankind. From Meredith’s narrative, while archaeologists from other parts of the world were battling, sometimes blackmailing fellow archaeologists, to get credit for fossil discoveries in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Ethiopia, Africans were largely mere spectators. Applying techniques common with detectives, the author traced the various discoveries, from Australopithecus Africanus, Little Lucy, Homo erectus to Homo sapiens, tentatively proving that Africa is the ancestral home of the modern human being.
The question then is: if indeed, humanity is indigenous to Africa, why hasn’t the continent taken advantage of its prime position? Why does Africa lag behind other parts of the world in positive developments, soaring only when superstition, gross ignorance, corruption in all its ramifications, political instability, poor and inept leadership, despotism, underdevelopment, poverty and diseases are mentioned? Why do African leaders go to other continents, cap in hand, to ask for loans and grants to pay salaries and finance development projects? Why do many African countries depend on foreign loans and grants to fight malaria, HIV/AIDS, polio, jaundice, Ebola and Lassa fever? Why do African countries prepare their budgets in anticipation of loans from foreign governments, thus turning some of the affected countries into almanjirai, young men who are often sent out with bowls by their Islamic instructors to beg for food?
While the people live in abject poverty, the continent’s loud-mouthed leaders are amazingly rich, with investments and property in choice capitals of the world. A visit to some Northern States of Nigeria, for instance, would show how callous the leaders have been; in most of the States, poverty appears to be the norm, especially with the talakawa, who survive by being subservient to their slave masters who parade themselves as political leaders. Pictures of young boys roaming the streets in search of food and cash for their religious teachers in the almanjirai culture are embarrassing, but political leaders behave as if it is not an issue. Presently, no political leader in the Northern States is proffering solutions to this disgraceful culture.
Instead of keying into the Almanjirai School Program of the past government, it was thrown away, bath and baby, because it was conceived by a previous government. That school program was the second major effort to find a near-permanent solution to the almanjirai menace. The first attempt was in the mid-1960s when Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, the 18th Sultan of Sokoto, suggested a reward system for Islamic teachers, so that sending the pupils out to source for food would be eradicated.
The Northern States should take positive strides towards making adult and non-formal education, including nomadic education, remarkable features of education in the region. From the little gains recorded with nomadic education in some parts of the country, its liberating effects on Fulani herdsmen cannot be over-emphasized. With education, Fulani herdsmen would be in a better position to appreciate the value of living in settlements/ranches instead of roaming from one State to another in search of grazing land. With education, Fulani herdsmen would imbibe modern cattle-rearing techniques that could enhance the quality and quantity of their cattle. With modern education, Fulani herdsmen would be emboldened to join other Nigerians in building a rancor-free society.
What the North needs is massive investment in the educational sector. Education is the weapon of liberation, which the North needs; education will liberate the people from superstition, ignorance, poverty, religious bigotry and hero-worshipping, which have held the North down for so long. More teachers should be trained, just as there is need to build more classrooms, provide appropriate teaching aids and treat teachers with respect. The situation where pupils study under trees and teachers are owed salaries for six months or more in some States is a subtle way of killing education. Arguments like this make very little sense to political leaders because their children are either in expensive private schools in Nigeria or in other countries where teachers are respected and paid their salaries and allowances as and when due.
As Africans, we have a stake in the world because humanity, and indeed world civilizations have their roots in Africa. Being born in Africa, other Homo sapiens expect us to take the lead in world affairs. But where are we? Africa is at the bottom of the rung in every aspect of human development and is now derogatively regarded as the sick continent of the world. As the most populous black nation, Nigeria must lead this rebirth so that Africa can reassert its position as the birthplace of humanity. We cannot remain spectators in our own dance festival; we too must introduce new dance steps for others to copy.