The ruling elite of the area keeps appealing to the false impression of being “educationally disadvantaged” as a tool of blackmail to extract more from the Nigerian state through the insistence on the quota system of a federal character principle, as the basis for securing more benefits to itself.


Once again the educational backwardness of northern Nigeria has been brought to the fore by a recent report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which states that 69 per cent of the over 10 million out of school children (the highest in the world) between the ages of 6 and 14 are domiciled in the region. The northern States of Bauchi and Katsina are at the bottom rungs of educationally disadvantages States in the country, with 1.1 million and 781,500 out of school children respectively. Out of these numbers, young girls constitute the largest demography at 60 per cent.

Over a century after the Amalgamation of 1914 and several decades after independence, the gap in education between the north and south of Nigeria has geometrically widened; and it is wider today that it was 58 years earlier, at flag independence from colonial rule in 1960. All efforts by successive federal governments to help the north out of this problem have not been successful. Increased funding to ease access to education and deliberate affirmative policies, such as federal character as the basis for a quota system in favour of educationally “disadvantaged” states of northern Nigeria, have not solved this problem.

However, despite the entrenched narrative, northern Nigeria does not qualify to be described as educationally disadvantaged. To be regarded as such, a people who are willing to be educated must be seen as being institutionally and systematically denied access to education on the basis of their ethno-geographic and religious beliefs by the state. However, when a people are unwilling to be educated due to the said ethno-geographic and religious orientation, despite the efforts of the state to take education to their doorsteps, such a people could be best described as educationally backward. To accept the designation of oneself as educationally disadvantaged, despite one’s ethno-geographic and religious orientation, is an inherent form of self-discrimination. The problem of educational backwardness in the Muslim North of Nigeria is a result of the tradition and religious culture, which hold education in contempt. Education is mostly met with deep suspicion in the area, as it is considered a Judeo-Christian heritage.

Bending over backward to fund the establishment of the Tsangaya model school system, which is a hybrid of Madrasa and educational curriculum, with federal money, former President Jonathan demonstrated a rare determination, more than any other Nigerian leader in history, to effectively exit the Muslim north from its unenviable status of educational backwardness.


This disdain for education is clearly demonstrated in the utter abandonment of the Tsangaya model schools, which is the most recent initiative to arrest the menace of out of school children, commonly referred to as Almajiri in the Muslim north.

Worried by the increasing menace of a growing population of out of school children roaming the streets in northern Nigeria, who are in desperate destitution and surviving on alms for survival, the Goodluck Jonathan administration launched an unprecedented programme of mass literacy in northern Nigeria. Bending over backward to fund the establishment of the Tsangaya model school system, which is a hybrid of Madrasa and educational curriculum, with federal money, former President Jonathan demonstrated a rare determination, more than any other Nigerian leader in history, to effectively exit the Muslim north from its unenviable status of educational backwardness.

Starting from Sokoto State, which is the seat of the Caliphate, in April 2012 President Jonathan launched the first of the planned 400 Almajiri schools, which were complete with modern facilities such as class rooms, language laboratories, dormitories, clinics, dining halls, vocational workshops, recitation halls and living quarters for teachers. By the end of his tenure in 2015, the Jonathan administration had built 165 Almajiri schools that were fully operational throughout Nigeria. This was complimented with the establishment of nine federal universities in the nine states of northern Nigeria, which did not have such institutions earlier, and the upgrading of two colleges of education to fully fledged universities of education in Kano and Zaria, in the bid to take access to tertiary education to the doorsteps of the Muslim north. Unfortunately, the Almajiri schools have mostly been abandoned by the state governments of northern Nigeria. And, the Muhammadu Buhari administration has also discontinued the policy targeted at achieving 400 Almajiri schools, while the pupils have mostly deserted the classrooms and returned back to their previous lives of destitution and scavenging around for survival. Similarly, the upgraded federal universities of education in Zaria and Kano have been downgraded back to being colleges of education.

Socio-economic conditions in the Muslim north are substantially responsible for Nigeria’s current designation as the poverty capital of the world. With poverty, disease and insecurity ravaging northern Nigeria, this now begs the question: Of what use is political power without socio-economic development?


Beyond a tradition and religious culture that holds education in contempt in northern Nigeria, the conservative political establishment in the zone appears to be very comfortable with an illiterate population. Deploying ethno-religious sentiments to protect the status quo, this conservative northern political establishment relies on preserving the illiterate population of the north as the bulwark of its power. It depends on the Almajiri as political foot soldiers to execute predetermined political agenda through mob action. Furthermore, it sees its spiritual power as depending heavily on the offering of alms to the Almajiri in exchange for divine favours. Therefore, when Jonathan attempted to uplift the educational status of the Muslim north, it was interpreted by the conservative elements as an attempt to alter the status quo and was met with hostility. The political leadership of the north now wears the dishonourable badge of lording over a region of vast educational backwardness with seeming pride. The ruling elite of the area keeps appealing to the false impression of being “educationally disadvantaged” as a tool of blackmail to extract more from the Nigerian state through the insistence on the quota system of a federal character principle, as the basis for securing more benefits to itself.

The biggest loser in this complex web and power game is the Muslim north. The Almajiri menace, which is beginning to overwhelm northern Nigeria alongside the intractable Boko Haram insurgency, has reduced the north to the most underdeveloped and insecure parts of Nigeria. Socio-economic conditions in the Muslim north are substantially responsible for Nigeria’s current designation as the poverty capital of the world. With poverty, disease and insecurity ravaging northern Nigeria, this now begs the question: Of what use is political power without socio-economic development?

The current heightened clamour for restructuring from other component parts of Nigeria is a clear signal that the rest of Nigeria is no longer willing to share the burden of the consequences of the wrong choices of the Muslim north.

Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through dahirumajeed@gmail.com.