- The North must do something fast about its developmental challenges
IT was an uneasy truth everyone knew. But coming from an illustrious son, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, African richest man and among the most diversified investors in the Nigerian local economy, it came with added vim: Nigeria’s northern region must do something – and fast – about its developmental challenges.
The underdevelopment stats, coming from Dangote’s mouth, is simply bone-chilling: ”In the North Western and North Eastern parts of Nigeria, more than 60 per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty,” he told a session of the 4th Kaduna Investment Summit (Kadivest 4.0). “It is instructive to know that the 19 northern states, which account for over 54 per cent of Nigeria’s population and 70 per cent of its landmass, collectively generated only 21 per cent of the total subnational IGR in the year 2017″.
In resource lingo, a 54 per cent population generating only 21 per cent of revenue is a deficit. When population outstrips resources, the result is mass poverty. That is the grim picture of today’s northern Nigeria. But so was England’s dire projection, when Thomas Malthus spoke of resources growing in arithmetical proportion, while population grew in geometrical proportion. Yet, the England of Malthus beat the resource Armageddon, thanks to the Industrial Revolution.
Dangote’s North could beat this rap too, with better investment in education; and with the attraction of investments, as Dangote himself suggested, to create jobs and stem poverty.
Yet, on the education front, the North faces a twin-challenge: a traditional feudal system and a modern system of elite education. Now, there is nothing irremediable about a feudal culture. Most – if not all of Europe – was feudal, with the so-called divine rights of kings to do whatever they wished with their subjects. Yet, Europe has been able to navigate modernity and development, even with England still retaining some fealty to its traditional feudal system, in a ceremonial monarchy. We don’t see why the North could not travel a similar path, to give its people a better deal.
But it would take a strong will and some serious elite consensus. Northern governors, aside from opportunities the central government provides, should make mass education a regional priority. That way, the 19 northern state governments would educate as many of their citizens as are ready and willing, and therefore continue the long and doughty process of re-shaping minds; and sharpening the intellect, such that the people are better equipped to bend the environment to their needs. That would be navigating innovative thinking. It would still take years. But that would appear the surest path against the scourge of poverty and hopelessness, now ravaging the vast area.
Still, such investments won’t come cheap. So, the North must somewhat find ways of expanding its resource and revenue base, to fund this ambitious programme, aside from the ancillary investments that could come from the private sector, subject to an improved investment environment. That is why the northern leaders should champion, perhaps more than any other part of the country, economic restructuring.
The current Zamfara State security crisis has come with a redeeming revelation: Zamfara would appear rich in gold, which controlled mining could hand its government bumper cash to fund basic educational investments. It’s gold in Zamfara. But it’s other solid minerals in other northern states, which just lie fallow in the soil’s underbelly, while the poor masses virtually starve. With economic restructuring, which makes these solid mineral deposits the business of the state (and not some distracted centre), they would be well placed to take direct charge of the wellbeing of their citizens, rather than waiting for dole from the centre, as it is the present practice.
This is the path the North should take, to fend off any future catastrophe, as already signalised by the dire security situations in some of those states. Still, it’s not a northern problem per se. It’s rather a Nigerian problem. Which is why everyone, North or South, East or West, should consider it a pressing developmental challenge. We should take care of the situation before it takes care of all of us.