I am Ashamed of Being a Northerner!

Wed, 30 Sep 2009 Source: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Any proud indigene of northern Ghana would probably want to know that idiot or lunatic behind the above headline. I may have my own shortfalls but I may not have those credentials to qualify for an idiot. Besides, I’m sure I have all my six senses intact and that passionate reader must note it. Before I continue, let me clarify some issues. I’m not ashamed of being a northerner because northerners are failures or because I’m a ne’er-do-well with a low self esteem.

Despite, the fact that nature’s inequality has had a telling effect on the people of the savanna regions we still have the cause to be proud of ourselves. We lack mineral and forest resources but we abound in human resources, be it hard menial jobs or those that require enormous intellectual wealth to surmount. Education did not get to the savanna regions early enough for us to compete favourably with our southern counterparts. For instance, while the southern part of Ghana had its first secondary school in 1876 (Mfantsipim School), it took northern Ghana 75 solid years to have Tamale Senior High School (established in 1951) as its first second cycle institution, to be followed by NAVASCO ten good years later. This notwithstanding, the few northerners who have had the opportunity to go to school have made giant strides in commerce, politics, journalism (George Sydney Abugri, Anas Aremeyaw Anas etc), academia etc. With this, I cannot say northerners are failures.

I do not also think that I have a low self esteem and that has informed this caption. I have not been an underdog in my class since the primary school. In Kete-Krachi L. A. Primary I was too tiny to be made the school prefect so I was given the assistant school prefect in 1998. Three years later, I became the senior prefect of Henkel Memorial JSS, a position my earlier brother had held before. In 2004 I was the senior prefect of Krachi Senior High School, a position I took from a fellow northerner, Ali Barnabas. When I contested the SRC Presidency of GIJ, my victory was as predictable as the outcome of the Jirapa by-election and it did come. I therefore do not see any reason why I should have a low self esteem and be ashamed of being a northerner for that reason. The northern light has never failed to shine anywhere you find its sons and daughters, but the fact is that indigenes of northern Ghana must be ashamed of the happenings in Bawku and other troubled spots in the north.

It is no longer makes much sense to explain to people that not all northerners are violent. A good number of southerners think the north is just one town. If you say that you are from the north then you are likely to be asked, “Why are you people so violent?” The Cultivation Theory of the media is at work but I do not blame the ill-informed journalists and radio presenters anymore.

Recently when I was about to rent a room, I had to convince my landlady that there is a long distance between Tamale and Bongo. The old woman, a Ga, said she would not rent a room to someone from Tamale. “Those people lack understanding and so we Gas fear them,” she said in the presence of my uncle and one other elderly man. My, luck however was that she was specific about Tamale.

These days when you tune to every radio station, the subject all social commentators seem to have expert knowledge of is the ritual Bawku crisis, which is sometimes punctuated by clashes in Tamale and intermittent bloodbath in Agbogbloshie. These ill-informed social commentators, who know next to nothing about conflict management let alone to talk of conflict resolution, talk as though there has never been a single sensible person from the north. When the phone lines are announced, derogatory words such as “Yaanom”, “Ntafuo” among others are used to lump everybody together as though all northerners were a bunch of idiots.

If someone in a trotro comments on the situation, everybody joins the fray and if you are a northerner, you just have to sit down imploding with anger because your voice will be drowned in the debate if you attempt to explain or defend the “indefensible.” All northerners stand accused.

In a previous article titled “Why ‘Northerners’ Fight”, I argued that “to better appreciate what is going on in northern Ghana, one needs to look at Africa as a whole. Europe is more peaceful than Africa not because Africans are less intelligent or violent by nature. In 2007, when the American Noble Prize scientist, Dr. James Watson, remarked to the effect that the whites are more intelligent than blacks, he attracted a barrage of criticisms and condemnation worldwide. Describing it as baseless, unscientific and extremely offensive comments, the scientific community said those remarks were Dr Watson's personal prejudices. The question one needs to ask therefore is: why these numerous conflicts on the continent when Africans are not less intelligent than Europeans?

“Our wise elders say when a man with healthy teeth is chewing his food awkwardly, one must be sure there is sand in it. The sand in the context of what is happening in northern Ghana includes poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and mass unemployment.”

I can no longer strongly stand by this argument though it makes some sense. We need to fight for development and equal distribution of the national cake. But how on earth can that be done when the politicians are quick to remind us that they spend millions of Ghana Cedis that could have gone into development projects, on conflict management. Or who will invest in a conflict prone region?

My greatest disappointment, however, lies in the attitude of our politicians and influential people from the north. In the heat of the crisis, some are trying to score political points by calling on Cletus Avoka, the Interior Minister, to resign. That doesn’t make sense to me. The best thing the Bawku Central MP and Cletus Avoka should have done is to come together and see how to deal with the situation. They are from different factions and there is nothing more unifying than seeing these two gentlemen arriving in Bawku, perhaps in the same vehicle, moving about hand in hand preaching peace. This is a sign of oneness and would reassure the youth that there is no sense in wasting their lives in conflicts, sometimes for politicians.

Calling on Cletus Avoka to resign means the killings and bloodbaths are justifiable. But I’m not surprised this is happening. There are people, especially the politicians, who are benefiting immensely from the troubles in the north. If the north were developed and had more of its youth and citizens enlightened, some of them would never have stepped foot on the floor of parliament.

I can bet my manhood on that!

On the issue of the neglect of the north, the same people must bear the blame and not the governments. My fellow native of Bongo, Andrew Awuni, was among the closest to former President Kufuor but potable drinking water still remains a luxury in the constituency he wanted to represent in parliament. Mr. Albert Abongo is now the Minister of Water Resources, Works and Housing and Mahama Ayariga now speaks for the President, but I don’t think it is among their priorities.

According a press statement by the Northern Patriots in Research and Advocacy (NORPRA) in October last year, the three northern regions were being discriminated against in the school feeding programme. The statement said it was on record that some regions in the country known to have incidence of poverty of 10% had about 100 of their schools (Ashanti Region) being selected for the programme, whilst the entire three regions in the north with an average poverty level of 70% had only 80 schools selected.

Who is more influential in the floor of Ghana’s parliament than those MPs from northern Ghana? Alban Bagbin, Ambrose Dery, Haruna Idrissu the then Benjamin Kumbuor among other parliamentary gurus were in the house when this was going on. Where does their prowess go when it comes to lobbying for developmental projects?

The University for Development Studies, the only university in the north, is less equipped than many senior high schools down south, but the authorities (who are themselves northerners) are behaving as if they were trustees for property belonging to their implacable enemies.

Recent health reports and editorials on the three regions of the north I have monitored in the Daily Graphic and the Ghanaian Times indicate that the situation is getting out of hand. According to World Health Organisation, the global standard doctor-patient ratio is one doctor to 5000 patients. Ghana falls short of this number and statistics indicate that one doctor is responsible for 13,000 patients. In the Upper East Region, however, the ratio is one doctor to 29,000 patients. The ratio in the Upper West Region is one doctor to 44,000 patients while that of the Northern Region is one doctor to 93,000 patients.

According to recent media reports, there are only six doctors in all the nine districts of the Upper West Region, while there is only one medical doctor at the Wa Regional Hospital instead of the twelve needed to run the hospital. The only doctor at the Lawra District Hospital has left for further studies while the Wa West, Sisala West and Wa East District Hospitals have no medical doctors. Over the last three years, no medical doctor has accepted posting to the Upper East Region while the few health personnel in the region are seeking transfer. There are also reports that medical doctors at the Ridge Hospital (which is not a major hospital) alone outnumber all the medical doctors in the all the three regions of the north. The Tamale Teaching Hospital, which is also patronized by some parts of the Volta and Brong Ahafo Regions does not only lack personnel but the dilapidated facility is now a pale shadow of itself following years of neglect.

Why the doctors do not go is simple. The authorities do not punish them if they fail to accept postings. They choose where they want and at the end of the month, they are paid fat salaries. What stings me like a bee is the fact that the Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Elias Sory, and the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. Benjamin Kumbuor are both northerners from the Upper West Region.

It is northerners who are killing northerners!

Why, therefore, should I not be ashamed to be a northerner?

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [azureachebe2@yahoo.com] The writer is the SRC President of the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Accra.

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

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