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Poor, oh, poor North

Following the recent declaration by Dangote that the North is poor, MUHAMMADU SABIU writes on the outcome of the summit recently held in Kaduna to brainstorm on the way out of poverty for the region

ALIKO Dangote, one of the richest man in the world was not happy with Northern Nigeria when he delivered an address during the 4th Kaduna Economic and Investment Summit held in the state on April 3-4, 2019. Dangote who came to the venue together with Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-rufai; the state deputy governor, Yusuf Balance Bantex; the deputy governor-elect, Hadiza Balarabe, and other top government officials from Kaduna, ended up as the star attraction after he bluntly berated the 19 northern governors for not doing enough to salvage the region from poverty despite  its potential. He described the region as ‘poor’ in comparison to the other regions.

From his speech, his pains could be heard loud and clear when he painted a bleak future of the region, saying, no region with such agricultural potentials should ever be poor. He wondered what could wrong with the North

Poor North

Armed with a statistical data, he told the gathering that the region was the poorest in the country. He specifically stated that 60 per cent of those living in the North-West and the North-East lived in extreme poverty.

“In the North-West and North East, more than 60 per cent of the population live in extreme poverty. It is instructive to know that the 19 northern states, which account for over 54 per cent of the country’s population, and 70 per cent of its landmass, collectively generated only 21 per cent of the total national Internally Generated Revenue in 2017.

According to him, “Northern Nigeria will continue to fall behind if respective state governments do not move to close the gap. That is why we are always saying that the biggest challenge we have, and pray for, is to have 10 governors like Mallam Nasir El Rufai.”

The once prosperous North

The monolithic North was once the center of commerce and industry. The Kano groundnut pyramid was a huge economic success that gave the region the much needed fortunes to grow, and eventually became the pride of the North. Apart from the pyramid, the cotton industry too grew to a higher level that led to the establishment of dozens of gineries, as well as textiles industries across the region, especially in Zaria, Funtua, Gusau and Kaduna.

At a stage, according to Comrade Isa Aremu, textile companies used to provide over 500,000 jobs in Kaduna and its environs, ranking it as the second highest provider of labour after government.

Even though there were conflicting reports to what was the genesis of the present state of region, many attributed the Northern Nigeria woes to the era of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).

According to them, SAP, introduced by the former military ruler, General Ibrahim Babangida, plunged the region into its present economic crisis. it is believed that SAP led to the collapse of many industries in the region.

They further argued that the economic policy was responsible for the collapse of the textile industry in Kaduna, Kano and other states, leading to the growing rate of unemployment. This period also witnessed the decline in agriculture as most people abandoned farming and moved to the cities in search of white collar jobs. It was  the same period that some individuals were given licences to explore oil or set up petroleum stations.

“Gradually, the quality of service in government declined too as more people preferred to establish their own enterprises. Thus, the emergence of overnight millionaires.

“At this point, we began to see a continued rapid decline in critical sectors like education, health and agriculture with individuals becoming proud owners of private schools, and private hospitals as well as big houses. 

“With the growing population, the gaps between the haves and haves not began to increase leading to the emergence of so many social vices. Even though the region has produced more presidents since the attainment of independence in 1960, ironically, the region has nothing to show than poverty,” Dangote stated.

Another reason proffered was that the region began to witness its gradual decline during the era of the late President Shehu Shagari. That was the period when corruption and kickbacks started to rear its ugly head in government circles. The Ajaokuta Steel Company, now in Kogi State, was a typical example. Though established by Shagari’s government, corruption did not allow the Shagari government to complete the huge project.

Terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, rustling and religious tolerance has crippled the region

All these reasons, many believe, plunged the region into economic crisis. However, the Boko Haram insurgency, which started in 2009, crippled economic activities more in the region, particularly in the North-Eastern state of Borno State. Many people, particularly southerners who were living in the Borno State before the outbreak of the war,  left. Both local and foreign investors too left the region.

Agriculture, which used to be the main occupation of the people of the North-East, also suffered, while farmers have abandoned their farms because of the war, and those who are still battling for survival are confronted with hunger and poverty.

“In the North-West, kidnapping, banditry and rustling have crippled economic activities. The most affected state is Zamfara State. Every day, people have been killed or kidnapped. In Kaduna too, kidnappers are having a field day in Abuja/Kaduna highway.

“Despite of the near collapse of the economy, and the hopelessness in the region, the Kaduna State government took it upon itself to bring in investors. For four years, the state government has been organising summits to attract investments. During the opening ceremony, Governor Nasir el-Rufai disclosed that since the state started the summit, about $500m investments had been injected in the state.”

Though he noted that the investments were a far cry from what he expected, he was optimistic that in the next couple of years many local and foreign investors would come to invest in the state.

el Rufai told prospective investors that with a growing population and human resources as well as the mineral resources, Kaduna is the next haven for investors.

Some of the foreign investors that have taken advantage of the opportunities in the state were; Olam poultry, Mahidra tractors and Vicampore potatoes. He disclosed Peuogot and Dangote would soon be setting motor assembly plants in the state.

Advice to 19 Northern governors

Dangote advised other governors to emulate the Kaduna State governor, saying if the region would have 10 governors like  el-Rufai, the North would be prosperous.

According to him, the present state of the North is unacceptable as the region has a vast land. “With the right policies in the next ten years, the region will earn more in agriculture than what it is earning now.”

He advised the governors to take advantage of their comparative advantage;  provide information and data on areas of comparative advantage; review their legal framework and have friendly public servants. In addition, he advised the Kaduna State governor to set up an economic team and to focus his attention in agriculture.

He told the governors to invest in agriculture.  Citing example with Dangote farms, he said it is targeting producing 1m tonnes of rice, 500,000 tonnes of sugar, as well as 500,000 tonnes of fertilizer in the next couple of months.

As the old and new governors settle down to steer the ship of state, many in attendance could not but wonder if they would  take advantage of this clarion call.

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