Tuesday, 15 January 2013
(42): Fighting attitudinal poverty in Northern Nigeria (I)
In the last few days newspapers in Nigeria published figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics on poverty in Nigeria. The data, not surprisingly, indicated that Northern Nigeria is the hub of poverty in the country compared to other regions. This is partly true to some extent. But on the other hand, Northern Nigeria is not poor, but people have poor attitude to poverty. In a section of the country that has almost two third of the population, an arable land for agricultural production, people have no reason to be poor, unfortunately they are, and will continue to be so unless we put our heads together to fight attitudinal poverty.
About ten years ago, then on the National Youth Service Corp, I always remember some incidents that opened my eyes on how the strength of character and progressive attitude can help a person to achieve his goals and by extension fight poverty. While in the NYSC camp, a young boy around 11 years old called Tajuddeen comes to the NYSC camp to help the Corp members in case they need certain errands. Tajuddeen identified our room, and would come every morning and every afternoon to help wash our plates, and each one of us normally gave him 3-5 Naira, few days later in the Orientation Camp, Tajuddeen would come as early as the time for Fajr (dawn prayer) or immediately after the prayer, to ask if there is any help he could render.
One day I called this young boy and asked him how much he made from the service he was offering? He said at least thirty Naira on every occasion he attends to us. I then asked him what he does with the money. “I live with my aunty, and when I took the money to her for the first time, she asked me to come every day and help you, she is the one who wakes me up early in the morning to come here, she is saving the money to help pay my school fees as I will start junior secondary school very soon”. At the age of 12 Tajuddeen understands the value of education, he knows that his family are poor, but he is not ready to live in poverty, he has an objective to pursue, and he is giving his contribution within the confines of his ability.
After the NYSC camp, I was posted to Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority in Abeokuta, to work in the public relations unit of the organisation. Ogun-Osun was close to Federal College of Education Osiele, some of the corp members we worked with were posted to the College, in fact I found some people from Zaria already teaching at the College, and we frequently visit them. One day I needed to take a passport-size photograph, I noticed there was a popular photographer in the premises of the College. When I arrived at the spot where he normally works, the man was not on duty. I asked about him. “Oh, he has registered for a PhD in Power and Machine at the University of Ife, so whenever he has classes or appointment with his supervisor, he doesn’t come”, I was told.
I was more than impressed, later I was told that this man couldn’t find employment after his graduation, he decided to become a photographer, and he used his earnings from that business to acquire a master’s degree, and then registered for a PhD. He doesn’t care about submitting his curriculum vitae to government ministries. His logic was after the PhD he might be qualified to be employed by a University, Polytechnic or a college of Education. Just like Tajuddeen, the attitude of the photographer has helped him to advance his career, and fight poverty.
The story does not end there. I was travelling back to Kano from Lagos; I noticed something peculiar in the middle of the road. Two different groups were engaged in business, the first group were beggars, the second group were some youths waiting for people to come out from the nearby market, the market was muddy, so they wash people's legs after the dust and all the dirty things that affected their legs and clothes. The beggars speak the same language as I do; they have young kids with them learning the same trade instead of going to school. My heart bled with anger. I am certainly not worried by the statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics which basically was more interested in the material quantification of poverty. But I am certainly disturbed by the attitude that causes the material poverty.
To be continued (insha Allah)
2nd Rabi Al Auwal, 1434
14th January, 2013