No Sir, The North Is Not A Land Of Illiteracy — Maiwada Dammallam


While supporting a bill for a University in Zamfara State, Senator Rochas Okorocha went overboard describing the North as a land of illiteracy going far as saying if nothing is done to halt the trend the worst is yet to be seen as one day the Senate may have Senators from the North who could not communicate in English language.
Okorocha’s lamentations says very little about the facts of the matter hence, leaving enough room for observers to either doubt his sincerity or his grasp of the issue at stake at best. At worse, his “crying more than the bereaved” lamentations may be seen as a mere attempt to kill 2 birds with one stone. Playing a Southern North-saving-warrior yet, without disturbing the dogmatic huddles meticulously placed the North’s path to growth in the context of Nigeria’s strange bedfellows marriage.
Okorocha couldn’t be knowledgeable about the situation if it’s truly his belief that universities and tertiary institutions have anything to do with the functionality of individuals as Senators. Is it not a fact that a secondary school certificate or a primary school certificate with 10 years working experience are all one requires to be a Senator in Nigeria? So, how does University/tertiary education become so critical to the functionality of a Senator or any elected official in Nigeria at that? 
I would have been at one with Okorocha had he argued the added advantage of Senators having university degrees. Even then, I would definitely ask for the performances of the numerous doctorate degree holders that passed through the Senate and left it worse than they met it. That Okorocha chose to restrict his worries to futuristic Senators that may not be able to communicate in English language only add weight to my “theory of mischief.”
Of course, we can easily agree that “western education” is not what it’s suppose to be in the North, it’s insulting for anybody to allude the North is an illiterate region unless, of course, if the definition of literacy is now restricted to the simple ability to speak and write English which seem to be the worry of Okorocha. That the North was forcefully subdued to abandon its culture and traditions in favor of western norms isn’t enough to make it an illiterate region. By the minute Nigeria’s Northern region is being blackmailed using western education as a tool. Unfortunately most of us are fully subscribed to the ugly agenda. Well, the fact is, globally literacy is not limited to English and ability to communicate with it. Just as much, education is a very vast business to be tied to the simply ability to master a particular language. 
Somehow, by our laziness we have allowed ourselves to be programmed into believing that anything coming from the North is in conflict with modernity or at least, in conflict with imposed norms that we are being forced to see as the good, the whole good and nothing but the good. That Southern Nigeria got a head start in the westernization of Nigeria isn’t enough to strip the North of its variant of literacy and education. If the North was allowed to develop along its cultural and religious beliefs as the South was; if the quantum of money poured into developing western education in the last 50 years was poured into developing “Almajiri education”, Okorocha wouldn’t dare insult public sensibility with his “English is life” balderdash. This saying it’s not asking for too much to allow the North rue its fate in dignified silence. 
Perhaps, if the Islamic/Arabic cultural orientation the North subscribed to long before the first ship that brought the white man to Africa berth was not interrupted, we won’t be complaining about the literacy level of the North just as we won’t be the backward region people, including ourselves, are being programmed to see the region for. Let me ask, does it make sense to call the North illiterate when almost every household has at least one person who could read and write the Holy Quran from memory? This should have told Okorocha he need not remind Northerners to search for knowledge as instructed by the Holy Quran in Sura Al-Alaq which he quoted haphazardly. 
My question is, is ability to read and write in Arabic language enough to qualify one as literate? I wonder if Okorocha is “literate” enough to read the UNESCO definition of literacy which defines Literacy as the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Now, which one of these conditions does Arabic (the lingua franca of the North) fails to fulfill to earn Okorochos embarrassing tag of illiteracy?
A little research might have prevented this gaffe from Okorocha because, not only would he learn that people in the North are educated enough (the Arabic variant), they are also smart to customize and domesticate the Arabic language for ease of understanding and wider dissemination of its variant of education — something Nigeria couldn’t do with the English language if not to save its cultures and traditions at least, to respect the tested and proven idea that no nation develops on a borrowed language. Iran does not develop on a borrowed language. It’s the Persian language that unlocked its potentials. Germany, India, China, Turkey, UAE, KSA all developed their people using their languages and if one thinks Nigeria (discount other equally persistent hindrances) could develop using English language as a tool, sure, one deserve to be flogged by each and every student of every history class across Nigeria. 
Where Okorocha’s “educated South” is slavishly submissive to the western concept of education — usually determined by grammatical skills and nothing else — the North was a notch above that. The “Ajami” alphabets (Okorocha can confirm this on any denomination of the Naira note) were invented by the North to exploit fully its educational potentials and, but for the earlier mentioned interruption, only God knows where “Ajami” would have taken the North by now. 
Unfortunately by our submissiveness and carelessness to details, Northern children would be fluent in Arabic (which they begin learning as early as at 3 years) only for all the Arabic/Ajami they learn to be halted and uninstalled for them to start afresh with new western applications. A kid of 6 that could write a whole chapter of the Holy Quran would be reversed to start learning “ABCDEFG” and slowly achieve the level of “This is a boy….This is a table….This is a chair…..blah blah blah” from where the crisis of substitution would set in and get rooted for life. I wish one day we will discover the formula to calculate the impact of the disorientation these kids are being subjected to, in turn, be able calculate the benefits (or lack of) of Nigeria’s  westernization agenda. 
Let me say a bit about my belief in a conspiratorial agenda to slow down or even halt the North’s educational and socio-economic development for the purpose of checking its numerical advantage. Up until recently, most “Imams” manning our mosques are “illiterate” so to speak. Despite their “illiteracy” somehow we have the sense to gather weekly in neighborhood Juma’at mosques to ATTENTIVELY listen to their “written sermons which we usually intend to apply for our successes as citizens and for our spiritual rejuvenation as a religiously inclined people. 
Not only that, we sneak into the homes of these “Imams” in the dead of the night to seek for guidance and solutions to problems ranging from a wider communal and national situation down to the narrow domestic marital problems only for our description of them as “illiterate” to continue the next day. Funnily, these “Imams” are not qualified to represent us even at lowest level of representation — the Councilorship — simply because their variant of literacy and education was not captured on a certificate as somebody mischievously designed it to be. Their mesmerizing ability to read and write all of the 114 chapters of the Holy Quran — the fountain of knowledge — from memory means nothing to somebody. “Shin idan ba’a wasa da yaro, a bashi garinshi mana.”
On the other hand, a morally unsound citizen who managed to wear the tag of a secondary school student for 6 years with nothing to show for the trip but a testimonial of attendance is eminently qualified to contest for elective positions from the lowest to the highest; all that matters is how deep his pockets are and or, who are his sponsors. If anything, this is the best definition hypocrisy! 
I’m not blaming Okorocha for misdiagnosing the problem of the North. Actually, it’s a wake up call for the region to gather its act, retrace its steps and redraw the terms of this marriage to start all over again or seek for a divorce. We cannot afford to remain the dummies we’d been for long. Sheikh Danfodio not only conquered most of modern Nigeria and beyond, he left behind more than 300 books he authored some of which are today being guarded heavily in European museums. He achieved this without drinking from the “western fountain of knowledge” and without learning “ABCDEF….This is a chair…..This is a table.” 
Lastly, It’s entirely up to the North how or when it reread its script and retrace its steps to regain its dignity. One thing is certain though, education and literacy is wider than Okorocha summarized it on the floor of the Senate. I thank him for this disgrace. Who knows, it may be the knock that could return the North back to reality.


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