SPORTS AND THE BOKO HARAM!
Posted: Jul 31, 2011
No one needs to tell me I am venturing into dangerous territory as the title above may already suggest. Indeed I am veering slightly away from sports and discussing what sport has revealed to me about Boko Haram (which in Hausa means ‘western education, forbidden’).
Sport is no respecter of persons, race, colour, size, status, tribe, creed or religion. It is the ultimate leveller and one of the most potent unifying instruments in the world. It has succeeded in bringing even political enemies to compete against one another in a neutral theatre, and for the period of competition made them put aside their differences. Sport has no language. On the field of play athletes communicate on the basis of convenience and nothing more. No language is superior to the other. This fact is a humbling realisation. It brings a thought to my mind that I must put across, even as I hope that in doing so I shall not be offending any sensibilities. It has to do with education and the youths of some parts of Northern Nigeria.
In the course of my recent work in the Nigeria Academicals Sports Committee, NASCOM, I visited the United Nations office in Abuja where I learnt some very important but frightening statistics. According to the last national Census, 65% (sixty-five percent) of Nigeria’s population is made up of persons less than 25 years of age! What does this tell us? Anyone above the age of 40 in the country today must count themselves lucky to be alive. Nigeria ranks amongst the countries in the world with the shortest life expectancy - about 45 years. We rank with countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and so on, countries devastated by war, pestilence and internecine crisis without end. The difference is that whilst theirs is the product of poverty and war, our’s is a product of poor governance, treasury looting and mismanagement of the abundant resources that could have transformed the country into one of the healthiest, richest and greatest nations on earth. What this means also is that should things continue the way they are, with the government either unable or unwilling to meaningfully engage this mammoth population in a country that is bulging at mid-riff with unemployable, jobless, unskilled, poorly educated and idle youths, the country stands on a precipice threatened by an explosion of anger, frustration, restiveness and social unrest. The most affected areas in the country are some of the States in the North of Nigeria. These States harbour the largest number of out-of-school and illiterate youths. I am therefore not surprised at how this has fuelled the recent crisis of the Boko Haram. Personally, because I grew up in the North of Nigeria I have often wondered why the youths never took advantage of the concessions and incentives provided by successive governments to embrace education and break away from the stranglehold of poverty. For a long time I could not understand it until, perhaps, now.
Let me first of all admit that I may be completely wrong. I am not writing with any empirical authority, just a gut feeling following my personal experiences. In the past 14 years I have been working with student footballers from all over the country including the northern States in question. I have interacted at very close quarters with them and had useful conversations. From the quarter-final stages of the All Nigeria Secondary Schools Football Championship for the NNPC/Shell Cup, I get to meet closely with players from all the geo-political zones of the country and share some time and thoughts. I see now that the English language may have been the greatest impediment to the advancement of education in the north of Nigeria! How? To the average Muslim uninformed person the English language is synonymous with Christianity, after all it is the English man that brought western education and his religion to Nigeria. Western Education has always, therefore, been seen as a tool to indoctrinate and to spread the practice of Christianity.
Hence, to the simple Islamist, western education and its fancy language are Haram (to be avoided and forbidden)! The suspicion and the threat of western education are so real that they have sustained through decades and, little wonder, with rising unemployment and illiteracy amongst the youths, it became very easy for the sinister-minded to exploit the situation, equate education with the English language, recruit an army of the poor, hungry, illiterate and idle youths and create the Boko Haram islamist movement. There is a serious suspicion of western education and its motives. The vast majority of the muslim populace reject it instead of looking beyond the ‘messengers’ and concentrating on the emancipating message that western education essentially brings in the present world system. I see that the average northern Nigerian student football player is not intellectually ‘dumb’. He can’t be. The brilliance I see him display on the field of play must come from a very deep and fertile mind. I, therefore, engage him in discussions in English and I observe his retreat into timidity and silence. I suspect he is afraid or not confident to express himself in English for a certain fear. I speak the Hausa language very fluently and I change the language of our conversation. I immediately observe a miraculous transformation. The shy, timid, withdrawn student football player that hardly says a word except on the field of play, bursts into life. He now easily and confidently engages you in very brilliant intellectual conversation about almost any subject matter. You find out he is very well informed about goings on in the world. You find out that his challenge is the language of expression. He is afraid to publicly express himself because of the limitation of English, a language he has been told comes to contaminate his religion. So, he avoids going to school and missing the opportunity of education which is an essential for his breakaway from poverty, unemployment and illiteracy.
It is my realisation now that the northern youth’s greatest problem is the medium of instruction and learning. When the medium of communication is Hausa and not English the northern student footballer starts to exhibit a startling depth of intelligence that leaves one in total shock and awe. I now absolutely believe that to in order to tackle and eradicate the scourge of unemployed and unengaged youths in northern Nigeria the language of teaching and instruction must be indigenous. It would automatically remove the fear of indoctrination and make it easier for northern children to learn, and for the people to accept the essence of western education. It would take away the suspicion linked with western education as an anti-islamist tool and start to address the important issues of illiteracy, poverty, unemployable and unskilled youths, and even the Boko Haram in some parts of northern Nigeria. I understand there would be challenges providing adequate vocabulary in the local languages for technical terms particularly in the sciences, but how did the Japanese, the Chinese, the South Koreans, the Germans, the French, and so on, do it using their own languages? None of them converted to English to learn. They never had to learn a foreign language first to get an education. Abandoning our indigenous language as a pre-requisite to acquire western education was part of the colonial mental imprisonment that all Nigerians have endured through our development. Learning in a foreign language and to be where we are today in Nigeria is a great feat and achievement. We could have done a lot better getting educated in our indigenous languages just as the Japanese, the Chinese, the Brazilians, the Argentines, are doing!
The plight of the northern Muslim youths in Nigeria must open our eyes to this reality. The Almajiri/Nomadic education project would have succeeded better if the language of instruction had been Hausa or Fulani. It is something to ponder about and consider. I have seen it in the sports programmes I have organised for the past 14 years and believe that it is the way to arrest the scourge of illiteracy, hunger, poverty, restiveness and disease in the worst affected areas of northern Nigeria. It is something to ponder over!
SADIQ ABDULLAHI ARRIVES!
Academic professor and international tennis coach, Sadiq Abdullahi arrives this weekend from his base in Florida, USA, to commence the revival of the tennis programme in Nigeria. Any student athletes interested in being part of the tennis revolution must register now to be a part of the two-weeks summer camp at the International Sports Academy, Wasimi, Ogun State. It is an opportunity to learn tennis, have a great and adventurous, engaging summer holiday and make friends from other parts of the country.
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