North and Nigeria’s development by Punch Editorial

SOME prominent Northerners are once more trying to jolt the elite out of their lethargy as poverty, deprivation and insecurity spike in the region. The first salvo came from Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, whose lamentation over widespread penury was quickly followed by others, including one from the Northern Elders Forum, and the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II. Leaders should heed these calls for responsible action now.

This is imperative as the region is acknowledged to be a drag on Nigeria’s development and through terrorism, banditry and collapse of effective border controls, a source of instability to the West African sub-region, according to the International Crisis Group that cites the infiltration of Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon by Boko Haram jihadists and bandits. 

Dangote, voicing his frustration at the abject condition of the 19 northern states at the fourth edition of the Kaduna Economic and Investment Summit, lamented that “60 per cent” of northerners lived in abject poverty in a region with vast arable land for agriculture, that he said “in the next 10 years, can generate more revenue and prosperity than oil” with the right commitment. He deplored the region’s abysmal contribution of only 21 per cent of the total sub-national internally generated revenue in 2017, despite its claim to having 54 per cent of the population and 70 per cent of its landmass. On his part, Sanusi said that whereas 20 per cent of every 100 poor Nigerians lived in the South, the North accounted for almost 80 per cent of the poverty-stricken people. A former governor of the old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, also blamed the state governors, who he said “engaged in massive stealing and waste of public resources.” Redressing the problems, however, must go beyond the rhetoric.

Today, northern Nigeria is a mess. Without question, the entire Nigerian state is messy, wracked by poverty – 80 per cent says the African Development Bank. Rampant insecurity, featuring kidnapping-for-ransom, armed robbery, gangland violence and communal clashes, as well as by joblessness, crumbling infrastructure, economic decay and broken social services, are common features. All the six geo-political zones, to varying degrees, are saddled with visionless, inept, wasteful and selfish leadership. More dire, however, are the results of this poor leadership in the northern states. The southern states are less wretched only because of the people’s long-cherished values of self-reliance, liberalism and pursuit of Western education.

But the aversion to education, especially in the North-East and North-West, predilection for early girl marriage, resistance to modernity and exclusionary religious and cultural attitudes conflate with a pervasive sense of entitlement by its elite to stifle self-reliance and progressive ideas. The results: the National Bureau of Statistics in 2013 identified the three Northern zones as the country’s poorest; Sokoto had 81.2 per cent poverty rate, Katsina, Adamawa and Gombe 74.2 per cent, Jigawa and Plateau 74.1 percent,  Bauchi 73 per cent and Kebbi 72 per cent. Only Niger in the North-Central zone, with 33.2 per cent, had a lower poverty rate. A  World Bank report in 2016 said the North-West and the North-East did not even respond to poverty reduction measures between 2004 and 2013. The region holds several dubious world titles: host to the highest out-of-school children (80 per cent of Nigeria’s total of 13.2 million); the highest girl-child illiteracy rate and the world’s poorest.

Musa once described the region as “the troubled child of Nigeria,” for its negative impact on development and human development indices. “It has never allowed Nigeria to have peace, unity and progress,” he thundered. Sanusi, deploring “ultra-conservative attitudes and activities” that hamper development, declared, “We (northern leaders) are fighting culture and we are fighting civilisation,” urging the elite to stop a system that keeps the region permanently backward. NEF also lamented the “irresponsibility of governance, especially in the North,” calling for action against poverty, underdevelopment and insecurity.

The ball is firmly in the court of the region’s leadership: they should emulate the values of selfless service displayed by the late Ahmadu Bello, the former premier of the defunct Northern Region, who devoted energy, resources and purpose to developing the region. As Shamsuddeen Usman, a former Finance Minister said at a forum a decade ago, the leaders must drive development. Isa Yuguda, then governor of Bauchi State, said “communiqué without action is no longer acceptable,” emphasising that investment would not return to the region until the culture of sectarian riots, wanton destruction of property and hatred of others are brought to an end.  His message that “emirs, traditional rulers and (state) governors must ensure the return of peace for investors to come” should guide the governors.

Apart from the decade-old Boko Haram terrorist insurgency that has disrupted economic activities in the North-East, killed over 100,000 persons and displaced over 2.5 million others, Zamfara, Kaduna, Plateau, Katsina, Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa have become killing fields, featuring bandits/cattle rustlers, sectarian/communal clashes and highway robbery. Bandits and robbers raze entire towns, attack police and military posts and kill with impunity. More people are dying in Nigeria than in some countries at war, according to Human Rights Watch reports. Some 6,562 died in the first 11 months of 2018. Tagged the world’s fourth most deadly terrorist group, Fulani herdsmen/militants are on an orgy of killing, pillage, rape and occupation of others’ land, aided by partisanship, inertia and collusion by elements within the federal and state governments and the security agencies.

Rejecting the calls for ranching and an end to primitive pastoralist practices, the northern elite extend their divisive culture of entitlement to herdsmen’s dubious claims to grazing routes and reserves on private land. The region thus threatens the whole country with heavily armed Fulani militants, and both Nigeria and our immediate neighbours, by terrorism that flows from the longstanding dabbling of the state in religion and serial failure to punish violence and religious extremists.

The northern elite should emphasise productivity and stop their culture of entitlement, as well as attitudes like those displayed by Governor Abdulaziz Yari, who bizarrely attributed an outbreak of cerebrospinal meningitis in Zamfara State to “sin,” and Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina, who recently dismissed calls for self-reliance. In all of this, education is key. Sanusi got it right when he advised that the state governments should provide free education for girls. The region’s advantage in agriculture should also be vigorously exploited; all the states should reform their institutions, invest creatively in security to compete for local and foreign investment in agriculture, food and leather processing, as well as in mining in which they also have overwhelming advantage.

Nigeria, mainly the North, has Africa’s largest livestock population, with 19.5 million cattle, 72.5 million goats, 41.3 million sheep, 28,000 camels, 145 million chickens, 1.2 million turkeys and 947,499 donkeys, but has not met national protein demand, admits Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.  Great potential for poverty reduction and job creation lies in this line of business: livestock foods contribute 27 per cent to the consumer food basket in South Africa and are the backbone of its socio-economy; livestock farming adds 30 per cent to Brazil’s agribusiness.

Attracting investment for ranching, leather and footwear business and beef and milk exports, as well as other food and cash crops production for sale, processing and export, should be priorities. Instead of the rabid fixation on finding oil in the North by President Muhammadu Buhari and the northern elite, agriculture, mining, reviving industries and eradicating illiteracy should be the overriding objectives of northern governors.

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