Since the security situation in the Northern part of Nigeria became so alarming following the activities of the Boko Haram Islamic sect, a lot of reasons have been attributed to the emergence of this insecurity.
And many fingers have been pointed at poverty, which is largely seen as the remote and immediate cause of the impasse. But the question remains: Is northern poverty really responsible for the current unsecured situation in Nigeria? CHARLES KUMOLU writes.
ALMAJIRIS are paid as little as N300 to launch attacks. the north lacks infrastructure such as reliable power. Since the end of military rule much of the region has felt excluded from the system of patronage that fuels Nigerian politics.
When he acceded to the presidency in April last year, Jonathan broke the unofficial rotation of Christian and Muslim as head of state, poverty has fed Boko Haram’s ranks.” This was how an article titled How Poverty Fuels Boko Haram Insurgency published in an online news medium, Elombah.com, described the alleged link between poverty and Boko Haram.
The report which was written by Bavier, a member of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, said poverty has fed Boko Haram’s ranks. It is no longer a sect of Islamic fanatics but has the support of disgruntled politicians and their paid thugs.
This statement does not exist in isolation, neither does it raise the bar on most discourse on how poverty, may have helped in breeding the Islamic sect, given that many had in the past, factored in poverty as one of the reasons for the current insecurity in northern Nigeria.
But it has once again brought to the fore the age-long issue of poverty across the 19 northern states and its alleged role in the current insecurity. For a lot of people, any story on the activities of the Islamic sect, would be incomplete without looking at the role economic deprivation allegedly played in its emergence. Although this could be disputed, but those, who hold this view cut across different nationalities, tribes and religion.
Poverty at the core of Boko Haram crisis: For instance, former Lagos State governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had in his 2012 new year message to the nation, declared thus: “Poverty and want sit at the core of the Boko Haram crisis.
We must therefore create a system that will give people hope, not the one that breeds pervading hopelessness that has proven a fertile ground for religious extremists, who have turned our once peaceful and harmonious country into a huge slaughter slab. We must do everything in the New Year to remedy this tragedy.”
To a large extent, this message, underscored the hue and cry in many quarters that the level of socio-economic backwardness in the north, is responsible for the growing insecurity, VanguardFeatures,VF gathered’
And it has given rise to questions such as; is northern poverty a myth or reality; was this poverty created by the north or the Nigerian state; can a poverty free north solve the growing insecurity ravaging the region among others.
Indeed, what is called today’s northern Nigeria, it would be recalled, had its glorious days. This period was the era of the late Premier of Northern region and Saduana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello.
During that era, Kano, the largest city in the North was the commercial nerve centre. The ancient town had Sharada and Bompai as bustling industrial neighbourhoods.
The city also had groundnut pyramid, this ensured that the North contributed 50.5 per cent to the national income. Also, Kaduna was the home of textile in Nigeria, and Kakuri was a thriving industrial layout. But the pyramids have long disappeared, just as Kaduna has ceased from being a textile hub and today the North’s contribution to national income is less than five per cent.
With this kind of situation, it is no surprise that most reports rated the region as the least developed part of Nigeria. Consider this verdict by Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Under Secretary-General, Special Adviser to the Secretary General of the United Nations:
World highest illiterates: “On Health and Education the level of immunization of Children against dangerous childhood diseases, in the South-East is 44.6percent immunization coverage, but the North-West has 3.7percent and the North-East 3.6 percent.”, he said If you take the education of the girl-child as indicator, you see similar pattern of inequality with the South-East having an enrolment rate of 85 percent, South-West having an enrolment rate of 85percent, South-South 75 percent, while the North-East 20percent and North West 25 percent.”
In the face of this grim statistics which described the region as the poorest in the world, many are not surprised that the menace threatening the country has been linked to this poor socio-economic status.
A former National Publicity Secretary of Action Congress of Nigeria and lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria , Dr. Usman Bugaje told VF that poverty level in the north is a contributory factor in the current happenings, noting that this poor economic status of the north is not debatable.
“For me the issue of poverty is a very clear issue and every body knows that. There are other sectors which contributed to this present crisis which I can not tell you,” he noted, adding that, “I don’t think anybody, who has undertaken the study on the poverty rate in the north will tell you that this sector is higher than the other sector, because that would require some certain degree of analysis.
“ There are mixture of factors that are responsible for what we are experiencing today, but when you look at it critically the federal government that is being put at the centre, you will discover that the state government and the political culture is also part of what we are seeing today. There is a lot of corruption going on in these areas and it is among the reasons why we are experiencing what we have today.”
Poverty doubled between 1999 and 2007: Like others, who had fingered the political class as being remotely and immediately responsible for the poveerty ravaging the north, Dr. Bugaje said, “ if you are asking who is responsible? I will say that the political class is responsible.”
World Bank report
Expatiating on this, he added: “In the last twelve years, the poverty level in the country doubled between 1999 and 2007. Previously, the UNDP and World Bank report estimated that 35 million people were living on less than one dollar a day. By 2007, that number has risen to 70 million. And it affected the whole nation over a period of time. That figure has been certified by international organisations.
“ It is the way we practice our politics that encourages corruption. You make a budget every year and it is not implemented. And the money goes into individual pockets. And nobody by goes to jail. Governors also do what they like with the money.
There is also allocation for local government, but certain local government areas are not given the allocation. And those, who get it share the money among themselves and their cronies. At the end nothing will work, the education sector will collapse just like the health sector. That is why we have people going to India for medical treatment and at the end we end up having insecurity.”
Northern poverty is relative: Interestingly, this position is a quick reminder of a paper presented on March 17, 2011 in Kaduna by Central Bank of Nigeria,CBN, Governor, Lamido Sanusi.
The event was the Northern Economic Summit and it provided an opportunity for Sanusi to lampoon past and present crop of northern leaders.
Sanusi, in the paper titled “Mobilizing Capital for the Economic Transformation of Northern Nigeria” , said recurring crises in Jos, Maiduguri and some other parts of the region were a result of the high poverty level caused by poor leadership.
“How many people have taken statistics of collapsed industries in the North? It is because of government’s negligence to provide power that led to the closure of these industries,” Sanusi stated.
Similarly, Dimeji Bankole, who represented the leadership of the National Assembly at the event, 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. Despite this, a former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa told VF that poverty in the north is relative, noting that the north is not as poor as being claimed.
Threat to national unity: He was however, quick to add that this poverty has become a threat to national security. “The north will always stand in the way of national unity and security because of way the backwardness in the level of education.
It is because of this backwardness that we are here today. But there is poverty every where and we have powerful people, who engage poor people to fight and cause problem. And this is found in the north and the south,” Musa noted.
In addition, he said, “ for us we should be discussing poverty as a national problem rather than a northern problem. We should give cases where it is a threat to national leadership. The whole Nigeria is underdeveloped. What is development? It is the level of industrial development. Is the south more industrialised than the north? In fact, if you are talking about industrialisation in the South, it is only Lagos that is more industrilised than the north.
“But even at that, the gap was only a ten-year gap in the 60s because it is about medium m scale industries. It is only the criminal activities of leaders in the north that allowed this neglect. This poverty in the north is a threat to national security.”
Hold the political class responsible: Yerima Shettima, President of Arewa Youth Forum, AYF, however punctured the argument that northern poverty is relative, stating that, “ the poverty situation in the north is pathetic.”
Continuing, he said, “the issue of the insecurity in the north does not have anything to do with allocation of national resources. The question we should ask is of what importance has the little we have got been utilised for the benefit of the average northerner.
If we had good leadership, and with our large share of the leadership of the country in the past, the leadership of the north would have done better for their people. They have lost everything. The truth of the matter about this poverty thing is not about what was allocated to the north, it is what have they done with what they had in the past to help the average northerner.”
As far as Yerima is concerned , northern leaders, have no concrete plan about how to create prosperity in the region.
“They don’t have a proper clear agenda that will benefit the average northerner . I totally disagree with Sanusi, who linked the Boko Haram crisis to allocation of national resources. Sanusi should go back to history. I come from the same north with him.
He is from Kano while I am from Kaduna. And often times, my problem with our people is that they fail to realise that their failure, left our people in this abject poverty,” he stated.
Continuing, Yerima asked: “What have they done to stop the Alamajiri system? What is happening is a deliberate attempt to deprive the northern people of what is actually their own. That was what brought us to where we are today. And some of us are saying that you can not deliberately make us poor.
Northern leaders, should come out and admit that they have made a mistake by making their people poor. I do not want to share the same sentiments with anybody, but our leaders created what is happening today. Injustice had been meted out on us by our own people, we are being marginalised by our own people, so it is not a question of poor allocation.
“Our people created the problem affecting the north today. To some extent, this issue of poverty is a northern creation. And those, who did that should go back to the drawing board and admit their mistakes. Whether it was by mistake or not, they should admit that their calculation was wrong.
And what they did is now a threat because we have got to a situation, where you can not drive a car of N1 million on the streets of northern Nigeria, because the people are angry and there is insecurity. The security is not working because people are angry.”
example: Regardless of this, Bugaje pointed out that there could still be a way out, but cautioned that this way forward might take a while to be.
“ My own reasoning about whether the north will go back to the glorious days of Sarduana is that it would take a while to happen, because the kind of political class we have today is entirely corrupt. People are not in positions because they are competent, but because they front for some people. Not because they have feeling for the ordinary people. And the system of accountability has collapsed,” he stated.
Giving account on how the north worked under Ahmadu Bello, Bugaje said, “ At that time, Sardauna himself cannot spend what is not on the budget. And when he spends what is on the budget, there are accountants to make sure that the amount given was commensurate with the rules.
So it was difficult for anybody to steal, because there was check and balance and accountability. In his time, you can not buy a vehicle or build a house that does not reflect your salary. If you do so, it is not only the government machinery that will deal with you, the society also deals with you.
Your relatives would first be the ones to ask you where you got the money from. You will be asked if you want to disgrace your family. People will simply isolate the person. The idea of going back to those days is not some thing we could just wish, we have to fight for it, and it will take quite a while to achieve.”
In addition, he said, “ the first thing is to ensure accountability in the system of governance and restore the political culture. We should make sure that those, who are in the leadership position are there based on merit.
It should not be a product of thuggery and the kinds of things we see today. We should also make sure that the society is conscientised so that when things are wrong, the society should have conscience to stand up against it. The community would be paramount in this campaign so that people are questioned when they flaunt wealth that does not reflect their salaries.”