Leaders in northern Nigeria search for a blueprint to end the endemic poverty ravaging the region
The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, recently confirmed what every Nigerian had all along known to be the reality that the North has the highest rate of poverty in Nigeria. Ironically, in the 1970s, up to the 1980s, Kano, the largest city in the North, was its industrial and commercial hub, and Sharada and Bompai were bustling industrial neighbourhoods. There used to be the groundnut pyramids in Kano in the 1960s when agriculture was a priority of government and the North contributed 50.5 per cent to the national income. Then too, Kaduna was the home of textile in Nigeria, and Kakuri was a thriving industrial layout.
But the pyramids have long disappeared, and today the North’s contribution to national income is less than five per cent. Kano is no longer the city of industry. The machines have long ground to a halt in the factories, and the once bubbling industrial layouts have become abandoned yards as most of the factories have closed down. Only a few still manage to produce at levels far below their installed capacities. Kaduna too is no longer the hub of textile. Markets in Kano, Kaduna and other major cities of the North are now flooded with textiles and goods imported from China and Dubai.
So what went wrong? Why has poverty become second nature to the teeming population of the North? Why are the factories no longer working, and how can the people get back to work? How can the North become relevant again in the national income index? These and many more questions were answered at a special economic summit organised between March 16 and 17, in Kaduna, with the theme: An Agenda for Economic and Social Transformation of the North.
The summit was a gathering of northern technocrats, professionals, politicians and members of the academia. Lead papers were presented by Lamido Sanusi, governor of CBN, Mansur Ahmed, director-general of Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, ICRC, Nuhu Wya, minister of state for power and Shamsudeen Usman, minister of National Planning as well as Mike Kwanashie, a professor of Economics at the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria.
Dimeji Bankole, who represented the leadership of the National Assembly, set the tone for the economic dialogue when he situated the problem of the North on its political leaders. In his opening remarks, he lambasted governors who waste state resources travelling abroad in search of investors. He said the governors of the North must create the enabling environment for business to thrive. “Aliko Dangote is a northerner and he’s the richest man in Africa today because he invested where the conditions are favourable. If you create the enabling environment, investors would bring their money,” he declared.
Sanusi in his paper: Mobilising Capital for the Economic Transformation of Northern Nigeria, marshalled similar arguments. He disclosed that in the national poverty index, the North is in the lead with 64.8 per cent as against 42.8 per cent in the South, and higher than the national average of 54.7 per cent. According to him, leaders of the zone failed to build on the economic legacies of pre-independence leaders, resulting in pervasive poverty, poor infrastructure base and over dependence on statutory allocations.
Sanusi said the North must leverage on the area where it has comparative advantage for the economic upliftment of the people. He believes that agriculture has the highest potential for economic growth, and consequently, poverty reduction, in developing countries. “In Nigeria, the North undoubtedly enjoys comparative advantage in agriculture and power production. These sectors represent the potential growth drivers for the economic development of northern Nigeria,” said Sanusi.
But apart from fixing the agriculture value chain, Sanusi said governments in the North must also pay attention to transportation and education, which he said was necessary to support the envisaged agricultural revolution. Other speakers supported Sanusi’s theory and called for the promotion of independent power projects across the North. The political leaders of the zone were advised to take advantage of the rivers passing through the region to establish hydropower projects.
One of the resolutions of the summit was a suggestion to the 19 northern state governors to establish solar energy centres so as to preserve and utilise the enormous solar potential of the region. The thinking is that if energy is available, the industries could be revived and people put back to work. Most of the companies that have folded up in Kano and Kaduna industrial areas were as a result of poor power supply, which shot up the cost of production.
Suggesting ways for rapid industrial development of the zone, Mustapha Bello, executive secretary of the Nigerian Investment Promotions Commission, said a private sector-driven ‘Investment in the North’ programme must be established with a target of mobilising one million shareholders from the North, who are able and willing to invest N1 million each over the next ten years. He illustrated in his paper that a million shareholders from the North investing N1 million each would raise an investment fund of N1 trillion in the next ten years.
But the panel of experts saddled with the task of producing a blueprint for the economic and social transformation of the North identified mass illiteracy as a primary cause of poverty, and education as first step to tackling the problem. Kwanashie, who leads the team, told the magazine that states must declare an emergency in the education sector. He said: “Our greatest strength is human resources, but we have failed to transform our human resources and make them useful and effective. We have about 9.5 million Almajiris roaming the streets of the North. We have to grow our human resources if we want to develop. No society that subjects its human resources to the Almajiri syndrome can develop. So that is the starting point for us.”
Kwanashie said governments have to tackle the problem of Almajiri (miscreants) and get the youths back to the classrooms. He said the school curriculum must be structured to equip students with skills that would make them productive. He also blames parents and a culture that encourages unrestrained child bearing. “Why should someone have ten children, and none of them is in school? We have to address the roots of the problem. How can any man and woman get together and say they’re going to have 50 children, and they can’t train anyone of them? So let’s go back to the family and educate them properly,” he said.
Patrick Yakowa, governor of Kaduna State and host of the summit, urged his 18 other colleagues to immediately get to work on how to transform the economic landscape of their states. He said the Northern Governors Forum had also organised similar summits to address the problem of poverty in the North, stressing that the time for talk has gone, and that leaders must start “working the talk.”
As a test case, Yakowa suggested a four-year public-private partnership in agriculture, solid minerals and industrial development. He expressed optimism that the poverty index would change for the North with a sustained partnership in the above areas, for at least four years, in all the states.
Bamanga Tukur, a member of the G20, a group of northern political leaders who organised the summit, explained why the summit became necessary: “We are going to have a general election in April and new leaders would come on board. We want to set an economic agenda for the leaders that are coming so that the North can realise its full potential.”
Iya Abubakar, professor and former vice chancellor of ABU and one of the delegates to the summit, expressed hope that a blueprint would emerge from the summit to guide state governments in the zone. “One of the reasons why we’re backward and poor is because little or no attention was being paid to agriculture, which is the main income earner for the zone. Let us hope that with this summit, things would change,” he said.
Jerry Gana, chairman of the G20, said the key objectives of the summit included: to develop a blueprint for restoring the North to the path of rapid and sustainable socio-economic development; to generate strategic policy options and the general direction for transforming the economy of northern Nigeria; to produce an integrated socio-economic charter that can be implemented by northern state governments and to agree on top priority development concerns of communities living in northern Nigeria.
Gana expressed the hope, as the CBN governor did, that northern leaders would stop praising past heroes and think of how they too can become heroes for the coming generation.