In the 26/07/08 edition of Weekly Trust Newspaper is the cover story with the above title, which discussed the poverty phenomenon in Northern Nigeria in the light of the much attention the issue has garnered in recent times, especially when the Central Bank of Nigeria’s governor, Professor Charles Soludo drew attention to it - though reiterating what he once said a year past - at a lecture organised by the Northern Development Initiative in Kaduna, some weeks ago, asking the federal government to declare the situation in the North, a national crisis.
Many people differ on the different causes and solutions to the problem as it affects the region and the country in general. While some of us are quick to identify with positions as that of Mallam Salihu Lukman, a development Economist interviewed in the same edition of the paper, which squarely blamed it on the leadership of Northern Nigeria, that cannot, among other things, fully account for the 17 Trillion Naira it collected from the federal coffers between 1999 to 2007, in the light of efforts at poverty alleviation. Others, as our brothers across the Niger, will rather blame the religion and culture of Northerners as the main culprit, with the justification that the Northern leaders are not any worse than the Southern leaders and yet the Southerners are better up, so the explanation must be in the values, religion and culture of Northerners, or at a stretched imagination, laziness – as seen in certain statement issued by Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and reported by The Punch of 31/07/08. This perception is further strengthened by the content of an interview conducted by the Weekly’s reporter, Ja’afar Ja’afar and published in the same edition, under a title that says it all, ‘I was given N50, 000 capital, but I married with it’, and described Mallam Garba, the interviewed, as “a real-life stereotype of a Hausa man.”, who cares not about, “what to eat or what to wear” and is “very indifferent, un ambitious and a man with a simplistic outlook to life.”
This piece intends to scrutinise the two positions advanced, in the hope of providing insight into the nature of the processes that led the North to this sorry state economically.
Here it is important to understand the fact that there is a wide gap of difference between, culture, religion, values on one side, and in this context, from world view, which typifies the behaviour of an average Northerner like Mallam Garba. The truth of the matter is religion or culture has little to do with human taste, instinct and desire to survive on a certain standard. It only governs choices on how to achieve a standard. This is why we see a lot of Northerners who are not like Mallam Garba in style, despite them sharing same religion, culture and values with him.
A close examination will reveal that the mechanism of progress that made the Hausa the most vibrant and enterprising nation in the whole of West Africa, at a time of the past, is still here. It is also not laziness as, today; nobody comes from any region to farm for them the food they survive on daily. It is like those seeking for an answer to why the Northern Nigeria is in its state now despite the fact of its elite holding power in the composition of the present Nigerian nation-state for over 40 years, should try some reading in classical power and relational politics and its implication on groups’ socio-economic development. In this, one will see that the North is where it is today only in respect to the popular saying that one cannot eat their cake and still have it as it is with all other natural phenomena.
The seemingly correct explanation is the Northern elite, who are responsible for expanding the paradigm and worldview of average Northerners situating them at par with their counter parts across the world, got power, in the composition of Nigerian nation, in the late 1950s and in order to keep to it they chose the option of eliminating the middle class among them, because the likely thing to happen is the middle class, if allowed, might grow in economy, influence and strength enough to wrench power from the upper class. This is what happened when Gowon in the early 70s and Shagari in the late 70s, allowed their own to grow strong in the military. They just did away with them in 1975 and 1984 respectively and clung to power making sure they did not make the same mistake their predecessors made. They continued the practice of axing their own economically, intellectually and otherwise.
On the other side, the other regions, with the especial example of Awo of the South West, were not faced with anything of political control of Nigeria and as such they continued to strengthen their middle class as the upper class realized the need to empower their own as a comprehensive defence against the onslaught of Northern upper class elite. The middle class served as an armoury to the upper class. They continued the battle for them until the early nineties when IBB annulled the popular June 12 election.
Then came the climaxes, the June 12 was ethnicised and regionalised, the South West had a good number of media outfits and middle class individuals with the right education and economic resources to sustain the fight while in the North of early nineties, very few among the middle class could do well in countering the others in the intellectual fight at the level of resources. At the end of the day, after the demise of Abacha, the Northern elite were confronted with no option than to dash power to the South West in 1999. They have won the fight.
When Obasanjo realized his bearing and started targeting these Northern elites it still remained that they had none to defend them save the few middle class created during Abacha regime under the Buhari PTF. Many young Northerners then have merited contracts and made a couple of millions. They were the ones who established focused media houses, maintained Newspaper columns, and started getting back at Obasanjo and his policies.
And of course, the era of Obasanjo was the era of South West participating in national politics. Even though they already have a vibrant middle class, and sound economic structure that benefited from the regime's economic considerations at the centre, it is evident that they also suffered from what the North earlier on suffered from as their elite started a war of control of the region's social and cultural resources. This war recorded many casualties as even people like Bola Ige had to take exit, brutally killed. Also the control politics did not allow their governors to work in unison with progress of the region. In fact they were rated among the worst in performance.
On his part, Obasanjo had to seek for his loyalist outside his own region because trusting and elevating his regional men in the centre may lead to excessive ambition which in turn may result in a palace coup akin to what happened to his predecessors like Gowon and Shagari and their people whom they trusted with the leadership of the military.
This is about the story of Northerners in Nigeria and what came up in their economic development. It is also the reason why there was no time when Northerners talked much about their economy more than the time of Obasanjo’s leadership. Being it they left the leadership position of the country and the upper class were being attacked by Obasanjo mercilessly. Of course, it was also then that the leadership in the North achieved most, in terms of performance for its masses more than the many years it clung to power at the centre.
This is why some of us think the North can have meaningful economic development only if power is made to stay away from its elite for several years while others think, Northerners may have learnt their lessons and will now work assiduously to develop the region.
The whole of this truth is particularly important to stress here given the pronouncements of the governor of Niger State, Alhaji Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, who tried to attribute the present economic predicament of the North, as widely reported by Newspapers around the country, to an obscure international conspiracy.
If indeed there was a conspiracy it was a Northern Political Class Conspiracy which lost itself in the game of control politics over time.
As it is now the solution to the problem is not one of a short term as the generation of youths without the relevant skills necessary for survival in formal economy now as the ones to be produced in the recent future are very much in the league of the 86% - quoted percentage of the poor - among us. So an affirmative action, with the intent of taking care of our distant future, which appeals to laws and legislations, is the only options. The solution, though good, is not totally in the much taunted, revitalisation of the Agricultural Sector in the North, for Anambra State that is among the highest in the country’s economic index is not an agricultural haven or oil reservoir. After all the Agricultural Sector, if revitalised, may end up serving the economic need of others if there is no enough skilled manpower with right national and international market strategies among the Northerners. Here it is particularly important for the government to invest hugely in human capital development as Northerners need to have more of a world class exposure in various disciplines both academic and entrepreneurial, necesary for survival in the capitalist world.
We certainly, also, cannot continue in the pretentions of creating welfare states. No how can a government continue to afford a free education for all as the Bauchi State House of Assembly is recently heard to be saying it would put Qur’anic Schools and its Almajirai in the state’s budget. This is not practicable as even the formal Western Type of schools that are government owned are not maintained adequately. In fact the example of Kano State which tried to do that as reported in the same edition of Weekly Trust is not encouraging.
So instead of us to continue sailing the dream boat, legislations must be made and enforced that will compel parents to bear more the responsibilities of the children they produce – since religiously it is their duty - as they sometimes recklessly and indiscriminately marry without regard to religious injunctions in keeping and maintaining a family. Thus they send the children out to others cities, hawking and scavenging as Almajirai, in the Qur’anic Schools they could always find in their own villages. It is these Almajirai , growing in the streets with a very bad taste of what life is, with wrong upbringing, wrong heroes, wrong worldview and wrong skills of survival in the 21st century world, that form the bulk of the poor people in Northern Nigeria.
Also such legislations must lead to the creation of agencies, as in other Muslim African countries, like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, which will be saddled with the responsibilities of accessing the economic and mental worth of anybody who intends to marry or add another wife as many among us are tilted toward abusing the privilege associated with polygamy by placing satisfaction that comes from their being with many wives above their responsibilities of seeing to the maintenance of the family. They plan to produce as many children as they can without planning to give them the best as the religion requires of them. As such we end up with many children that cannot be catered for adequately by their parents, growing in the streets with a terrible taste of what life is, with no abilities to think and save themselves or even those around them in the context of the challengesdaily living presents.
It is my humble opinion that family is the barometer of all communities, and keeping political correctness aside, we will need to understand governance as meaning making attempts to make subjects of a defined community disciplined and responsible in all of their dealings and this starts with the channels and processes of procreation in the community. Failure to address issues at this level signals the triumph of anarchy as it is seen in the threat we are facing from the monsters of poverty in Northern Nigeria due to, largely, among other things, our neglect of legal provisions in the formation of family units in both religion and our secular living.