Nigeria: Legacies And The Failed North by Ayisha Osori


A few years ago, when things were not nearly as bad as they are now – a young man in the context of a conversation whose details have evaporated like the heat from a plate of food, said quite arrogantly that the North had a legacy. What is that legacy I asked? He proceeded to trot out a few things which even then sounded meaningless in the cold light of the realities in which we lived in then which was that the North led the rest of the country, nay, even parts of Africa in the high levels of poverty, illiteracy and religious and ethnic violence. And this was the time when all we had to contend with was a corrupt, inept and uncaring government and the distant menace of the Niger Delta militants.

Today, when we have a lot more at stake, the issue of the legacy of the North in Nigeria seems more pertinent than ever. The dysfunctional and some say failed state of our nation where government has proven to be incapable of and uninterested in providing any of the basic public goods and where Boko Haram has waged war on us – has dredged up questions about the viability and indeed, the essence of Nigeria as an entity.
Barely six weeks into the new year, Nigerians have had over two weeks of protests around the removal of the fuel subsidy and a series of deadly attacks by Boko haram which have left over 200 people dead. One of the results of these events is that the calls for a national sovereign conference and threats of secession have intensified and somehow  - whether by coincidence or by necessity, the northerners are allegedly leading the way in saying that Nigeria must remain one and that our unity is not in question – with ex-President Babangida and Retired Colonel Umar as some of the more well known proponents of this position. The reaction has been swift and harsh – with the unmistakable accusation that the North has been a parasite on the South and its oil and that the North is chiefly responsible for the dysfunctional state of the nation because its sons have been at the helm of affairs for longer. In the light of all these accusations, the North has to take an honest look at itself.
What is the problem? Why is the North the center of so much poverty, illiteracy and self-inflicted violence?
One problem is the dependence on revenue from the center.
If state governors do not have to do anything but sit in their state government houses and collect and spend their allocations every month- then there is no incentive to work hard. This coupled with the culture of fadanci has created a great disincentive to work hard  - so no one from the governors to the illiterate and uneducated care to do anything than collect money from those who have or beg for money from those who have.  Also, if the system of dependency on the center for revenue did not exist, then maybe there would be more stringent requirements for being a Governor – so that States would be looking for the most competent not the most compromised to run affairs.
Instead, one of the chief exports of the North are able bodied, procreating beggars who find it easier and more productive to just beg than to contribute to the productivity of society.
Building on the first problem is that there are no accountability measures to ensure that the State governors spend their money on public goods for the benefit of the citizens. They wield immense powers, hold the funds for the state and the local governments and are accountable to no one for the money which comes into their states each month. So whatever they get is frittered away on themselves and their political and social allies while the majority of the people continue to starve and remain too backward to ask the right questions.
The third problem is that apparently the Governors and the political elite in the North like it this way – they are happy with the situation with the millions of unemployed and unemployable youth with little or no skills and the growing poverty and the lack of hope for a better life. Any discussion to educate the populace or tackle the issue of almajirci for instance is supposedly met with fierce resistance in the name of religion and so the problem continues to grow unchecked.  And as soon as these governors complete their terms in office – they relocate out of the country with their families and no one yet seems to have made the connection – the Governors are not intent on developing their States for the benefit of the citizens.
The fourth problem has to be the hypocrisy of the people who masquerade around the North pretending to be leaders. “When is the North truly north? Is it when the interest of a few but vocal group is met? Is it when the interest of a select religious group is met? Is it when a section of the North is satisfied? Or is it when the interest of the common good of the North is addressed?” These were the words of Senate President David Mark to the audience at the Arewa Consultative Forum’s Peace Conference at the end of 2011.
Speaking to those who consider themselves leaders of the North such as the Sultan of Sokoto, Aminu Tambuwal, Yakubu Gowon, Babangida Aliyu and Atiku Abubakar he asked: “Are we afraid to openly condemn Boko Haram either for political reasons or out of fear of possible attack by the sect? How can we keep quiet when a group begins to propagate the ideology that Western education is Haram.” Since then, the security and economic situation has deteriorated like an over ripe fruit left in the sun and even more circuses have held between the Vice President, Namadi Sambo and the 19 Northern governors and between the Emirs and nothing concrete has come or will come out of all the talk. Not a single of these meetings has come out to say clearly what the number one problem in Nigeria is: bad governance.
Is it really illogical for Boko Haram to question western education when one, they have been denied of it by their representatives and two their representatives who seem steeped in western learning act completely uncivilized in the way they loot the resources of the people and thoroughly shirk their responsibilities?
The people who constantly meet to discuss the problem are the problem so how can the problem be resolved? The Senate President has presided over the time of the National Assembly where the annual budget has crept up from 1Billion Naira to 150 Billion Naira and still Nigerians have little to show for this. The 19 State Governors are part of the 36 governors who traded and battered Nigerians for the removal of the fuel subsidy ostensibly so they can have more money for their states – yet not a single one has executed any sustainable initiatives for increasing their internally generated revenue since they took office last year.
And as for the retired presidents, officials and religious figureheads – they have all played their roles in undermining the North during their tenure and instead of speaking the truth on behalf of the people – they remain hypnotized by power and continue to dance around it without contributing anything meaningful.
The North has no legacy any more. The good deeds of Sir Ahmadu Bello in actively pushing for the education of Northerners died with him and those he taught and promoted have not returned the favour to their brothers and fellow citizens. The citadels of learning such as the university named for him have become hollow shells where both the educators and the students are engaged in a sham. The Northern regions push for productivity during the early years of independence has all ended – instead of thinking of ways to increase revenue and develop their States, the governors of the North build roundabouts and fancy housing estates despite the fact that the most critical things are to educate people and provide the infrastructure and economic conditions to empower them to unleash their entrepreneurial energy so they can create wealth.
So for those in the North who murmur secretly that they too are ‘tired’ – maybe this is their chance. Maybe something good will come of a separation if the North no longer had the luxury of sitting on their hands while collecting revenue from the center each month. The usual retort to this is that agriculture contributes immensely to Nigeria’s GDP but the sad truth is that the average Nigeria does not feel this contribution. All the narrative about Nigeria being one of the fastest growing economies where returns on investment are outperforming other countries bears a strong similarity to the story about the emperor with no clothes. If we cannot feel these things in our economy and daily lives, then quite honestly all this fancy data does not exist. In fact, the truth is there are now more people living below the poverty line in Nigeria then there were 5 years ago – we are regressing and data regurgitated during conferences is just something to make government officials feel good.
The bottom line is that the North is at the bottom of most indices of development and whether or not secession happens  - the North needs to take a cold unemotional look at itself and realize that it cannot go on this way.
I asked a trader from the North recently – “who from the North are you likely to vote for in 2015? Apart from Buhari,” I quickly interjected”.  And he thought for a minute and then said quietly “no one”.


A. Osori

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