It was not his turn to pick a passenger, but I deliberately chose him to ferry me home due to his neatness. When other Okada riders protested that he should wait for his turn and allow others ahead of him to take me home, I decided to wait for him.
While waiting, a quick survey of the Okada Park revealed that over 60 per cent of the riders are young boys from the North, many of them looking unkempt. Three are Yoruba men who should be enjoying the latter part of their life at home rather than riding Okada to make a living.
Obviously, they are too old for the kind of job they are doing but have been pushed to the wall by hunger and the need to survive.
The Okada Park I am talking about is in the heart of Lagos. When it was my friend’s turn, I quickly jumped on his machine and we were soon on our way. The less than 10 minutes ride created an opportunity to chat with my new ‘friend’. His name is Mohammed and he recently relocated to Lagos from Zamfara State. Aged 22, Mohammed had only primary education alongside tutelage in Quranic education before migrating down south. Even at that, communication was done in Pidgin English. According to him, limited opportunities in the North and the activities of bandits have turned a once prospering region into a theatre of war. ‘It was either I became a bandit and took to the bush or leave and come down south to start a new life.’ Mohammed said.
Indeed, many of the young boys engaging in Okada business in Lagos and Ogun states are our brothers forced to leave home early in life to escape want and deprivation that has become the lot of most Northerners in their own country. And they can be found all over the country.
The over 10 years Boko Haram war in the North East, banditry and kidnapping in the North West which has now become a national embarrassment, are consequences of years of neglect of most northern kids. As early as age four, they are thrown into the streets to eke out a living on their own in the name of acquiring Islamic education. They are toughened by a system that shows little or no love for them and it is not a surprise that many of the boys take to crime while the girls are exposed to sex very early in life.
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The boys and girls that the society have not catered for are now holding the country hostage, yet our leaders are treating the symptoms rather than addressing the main issues that is breeding Boko Haram and banditry across the northern states. The reality, however, is that it would continue to get worse before it will ever get better. And that is if we do the right thing. Acquiring 100s of Tucano jets and budgeting hundreds of billions of Naira for the military won’t solve the mess we have found ourselves.
I was elated recently when the National Security Adviser, Major General Mohammed Monguno (Rtd), noted the security implication of the Almajiri system is providing easy recruits for Boko Haram and said emphatically that it should be scrapped or completely overhauled. The Arewa Consultative Forum quickly issued a press statement to support the idea.
But the federal government a few days later through Presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, issued another press statement to the effect that the federal government is not considering scrapping the system but review it.
Your guess is as good as mine as to what could have caused the 360-degree turnaround for a government that has over 10 million of its children outside the school system.
Few weeks ago, some helpless northerners organized a protest march in Abuja to call the attention of the federal government to the carnage going on in most parts of the north. Tagged ‘The North is Bleeding’, the organizers called on the federal government to address the twin issue of insecurity and high cost of living as many farmers have abandoned their farms for fear of bandit attacks. But the protest was quickly suppressed by our security agencies. Opinion leaders and most religious leaders in the north are also not speaking out at all or their voices are not loud enough in calling the attention of the world to the carnage going on in the region.
Though the reason for their playing the Ostrich is quite known, it is in their own interest and survival of the region that they must all speak with one voice to find a lasting solution to the pogrom going on under their noses.
With more than 10,000 lives lost and several billion wasted in fighting Boko Haram and tackling insurgency in the North, the earlier stakeholders, including emirs rise up, the better for the whole country. As it has been reported on several occasions, even the traditional rulers are no longer safe as many have been kidnapped while Boko Haram and bandits now collect protection fees from emirs and their subjects.
There is no single day without sad news of the killing of Nigerians in the north by bandits who have taken up arms against their fatherland.
Farming has been abandoned by many farmers in the north as their safety is not guaranteed. If they have to farm or harvest their produce, they have been told to make a formal request to the military who will provide security for them, according to Mallam Shehu.
In some local council areas of Niger, Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto state, bandits operate freely and locals pay them to secure protection.
In essence, the message most of these youths turned terrorists are passing to the elite and the government at large is that they can no longer be tied down by religion and culture – two instruments that have been used by the elites to tie the masses down for decades. That era came to an end several years back when the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo introduced the Global System of Mobile Communication, (GSM). Through it, the erstwhile largely illiterate population have been exposed to what is going on in other parts of the world and they take cues.
Aside from the ongoing military onslaught against Boko Haram and bandits who have now been appropriately designated as terrorists, Northern leaders must provide compulsory and free education to all northern youths going forward. The Almajiri system must be completely scrapped. Whosoever is interested in acquiring Islamic education can still do so alongside basic western education. Once the much-needed attention is given to Primary and Secondary education, there won’t be need for any state or region to claim to be educationally disadvantaged. It makes no sense for pupils from the south to require over 70 percent marks in qualifying examination to unity schools while their counterparts from the north need less than 10 per cent.
The problem of the girl-child in the north should be addressed by raising the age of consent to marry to 18. This would allow the girl-child to mature properly before going into marriage and at least, be armed with a minimum secondary education. If this is done, the problem of VVF that is still very rampant would be completely eradicated while the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan won’t have to start looking for money or using his constituency project fund to organize mass weddings for his people in Yobe State.
Parents should be educated on the need to give birth to the number of children they have the capacity to carter for instead of the ongoing ‘born throway’ culture in the region.
Again, most of our leaders of northern origin should fully take up the challenge of creating job opportunities for their fellow brothers and sisters. Kano, Kaduna and Jos used to be centres of commerce and we need to return to that era if we are really sincere about tackling insecurity that is almost consuming Nigeria as a nation due to youth restiveness stemming from poverty and unemployment.
We should ask, what is the benefit of the North producing majority of our past leaders if their lads are without jobs and productive means of livelihood? It is when the poor have food in their tummy for the night that the rich would be able to sleep and snore. If the poor are hungry and angry, there won’t be any sleep for the rich until we do the needful in Northern Nigeria.
Southern governors should also be proactive in finding a lasting solution to the menace of underage ‘Okada’ riders in the southwest. Many lives have been cut short due to reckless accidents by okada operators who are not trained nor licensed to use motorcycles for public transportation.
My new friend, Mohammed, would love to return to the north to marry and engage in farming but on the condition that the region is free of banditry and terrorism. Who will ensure that his dreams and that of many others like him became a reality?
See you next week