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The north and poverty question


Northern NIgeria. PHOTO: ABC News

The Nigerian condition in terms of the depreciating living conditions of the people is common knowledge. Significantly, Nigeria is currently ranked 157th out of 189 countries on the human development index (HDI). Not long ago, Brookings Institution declared the country as the global headquarters of poverty. In spite of these glaring statistics, state actors have shied away from admitting their complicity in the deteriorating condition of the people they govern. Instead, they have often shifted blame to other actors – past leaders or those in the opposition.

The blame was thrown back on them the other day by a key player in the national economy, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, a business mogul and Africa’s richest man. The Fourth Economic and Investment Summit in Kaduna provided the auspicious space for some straight and frank talk. Dangote blamed the poverty in the north on the irresponsibility of state actors in the northern quadrant to harness the region’s potentials. The neglect of the agricultural sector was particularly underscored. By his submission, which aligns with other statistics, about 60 per cent of people in the Northeast and Northwest live in extreme poverty. To augment the statistics, the Global Report on Food Crisis 2019 grouped Nigeria among seven other countries ravaged by hunger and Northern Nigeria is particularly singled out.  The region’s poverty manifests in dire illiteracy, poor healthcare system, an alarming population of street urchins otherwise known as ‘Almajiris’, drug abuse and escalating banditry.

This is indeed appalling. The oil delusion in terms of revenue has been disastrous and may have accounted for the contribution of a paltry 21 per cent to internally generated revenue (IGR) by the north accounting for about 54 per cent of the country’s population and 70 per cent of its landmass. The business mogul also warned that northern Nigeria would continue to lag behind the development ladder unless a conscious step was taken to close the development gap.

It is pertinent to note that the federal authorities have in some way nurtured the oil delusion and the consequent leadership inertia by its waste of hard-earned resources on a fruitless prospecting for oil in the Chad basin and other parts of the north despite proven reports of ‘no oil’ by experts. Such misplaced priority has been part of the problem and constrained commitment to the diversification of the economy.

Beyond lamentation, it is to be noted that Dangote also proffered solutions. One is to create an enabling environment for private investment with its potential to create jobs and alleviate poverty. Employment would for sure undermine the spiraling social vices in society. Furthermore, he advised the north, his birthplace to focus on agriculture where it has huge potential and a comparative advantage to turn around the economy and improve the wellbeing of the people.
However, a synergy between the private and public sectors is required to drive development. This is compellingly so, because in the context of our national economy, the state remains the custodian of national resources.
Interestingly, the United Nations’ report on food crisis has added its suggestion to the list of possible solution with its emphasis for children to be well nourished and educated, women truly empowered and rural infrastructure to be developed to end hunger.

Much earlier, Bill Gates had also advised focus on investment in infrastructure and human development to achieve sustainable goals. These are not to be trivialised and state actors need to take them seriously.

The Dangote sermon should be taken as a nation talking to itself. The message is not for the north only: it is for the entire country. The southern governors are not better than their northern counterparts, in this regard. As in previous republics, the governors are exhibiting rascality in governance; and they live off and run governmental business on the basis of revenue from the federation account and exhibit all the symptoms of a rentier state which runs on petro-dollars: misapplication of public funds, extravagant spending and lack of commitment to development. Efforts at generating resources internally are devoid of creativity and innovations. Truly, they are monetarist and take the form of imposition of taxation and other crude extortion on the poor and hapless citizens while agenda of development has been more of a rhetoric than practice. Northwest development agenda was hinted long ago and in the south, the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) was flagged off with a great deal of hype. But curiously, nothing in terms of concrete activities have been recorded with the DAWN document beyond setting up a bureaucracy that has been full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The net effect of the dearth of initiative and policy vacuum has been the aggravation of social misery and the consequent social vices that are threatening the existential peace of the populace.

In the main, every part of the country has abundant resources to unleash development within. Will and commitment are however required to turn around the fortune of country. A time for prevarication is gone and those who have no solutions for the problems besetting the people have no business in governance. We will not be tired of reminding those in authorities that welfare and security of the people shall be the primary purpose of governance. Above all, leaders of northern extraction should reflect deeply on the words of wisdom from Dangote, a significant Nigerian.

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