By Ochereome Nnanna
THERE has been a furore on the various social networks over an article credited to Mallam Nasir el Rufai, in which he allegedly said Anambra State was “poor”. Many from that state, their friends, relations and well wishers were incensed with the very notion of ascribing poverty to Anambra State.
Some asked the controversial former minister and now columnist with THISDAY Newspapers how many Anambra-born beggars he has come across, compared with the millions of professional mendicants from his cultural area who dot street corners in urban towns all over the country and have always been that way since the dawn of history.
Naturally, my curiosity was stoked and I decided to investigate the casus belli, the reason for another round of ethnic hot exchanges for which Nigeria is famous and the social networks a fertile battleground between the Igbo, Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba. If you want to learn how to argue blindly, stupidly and illiterately, go to the internet and choose any topic on socio-political issues of Nigeria. You will come out with summa cum laude in record time! In all likelihood, most of those taking on el Rufai did not even read the original article to know exactly what he was driving at.
The article in question published in el Rufai’s column on Friday, June 8th 2012, is entitled: Anambra’s Budget Of Misplaced Priorities. As usual, el Rufai obviously spent a lot of time in the library before he went to the press. That is one thing about this man, who spent eight years in power (1999 to 2007) as a top officer of the Federal government. He reads, and he writes.
The same cannot be said for many of his peers who “made good” for themselves while in government and retired into the lazy comforts of their acquisitions.
Mismanagement of public property
Under President Olusegun Obasanjo, he loomed so large that he was briefly considered as one of the ex-president’s successors before ailing Governor Umaru Yar’ Adua was selected. For some curious reasons, el Rufai bolted into exile as soon as Yar’ Adua assumed power.
The Yar’ Adua regime had put the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to work on allegations that el Rufai abused his office and mismanaged public funds and property. But as soon as Yar’ Adua died, the Kaduna State-born el Rufai did not just return from self-exile.
He stormed back to Nigeria, despite the fact that he is still in court over those allegations. He has since become one of the most irreverent and vocal critics of not only the President Goodluck Jonathan administration but also Dr. Goodluck Jonathan himself as a presidential material.
A propagator for Buhari and CPC: El Rufai has also modelled himself as a propagator of “northern interests” and media ambassador of retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). It is in this context that many have questioned his motive for being interested in the budget of Anambra State. In particular, why did he seem determined to project Anambra as “poor”?
According to him: “the incidence of poverty in (Anambra State) is very high. The South East has a food poor incidence of 41.0 per cent of which 60.9 per cent is absolutely poor while 66.5 per cent is relatively poor and 56.8 per cent live under a dollar a day…” Mark you, I have not accused him of fabricating these figures. He lifted them from the data produced by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Anambra is said to be the third poorest state in the South East Zone. The state is also rated third in the zone in both youth and adult literacy.
For el Rufai, Anambra is not viable state. He drew that conclusion by comparing the N16.3billion personnel cost in this year’s budget to the internally generated revenue estimate of N12 billion. According to him, the state would not be able to pay the salaries of its workers without federal allocation.
This to me is a pedestrian way of determining viability. If each state is allowed to mine its resources and deploy its human capital for economic prosperity, Anambra’s oil and gas alone (which have remained untapped) will more than pay its bills handsomely, before you talk about its commercial, industrial and intellectual endowments.
Unless states are allowed to control their resources, only Lagos may remain “viable”, even though viability was never a consideration by the north-controlled armed forces that ruled this nation and split its geopolitical units inequitably to give the north unjust access to the nation’s oil wealth.
“Viability” is a new argument being spruced up to deny the South East its sixth state which the National Assembly in 2006 accepted as a national consensus for constitutional amendment. The figures also painted Anambra as the third in literacy rate in the South East; even though el Rufai admitted that with at least, nine institutions of higher learning (the national record) Anambra is an “educationally advanced state”. What a contradiction!
There are two main observations I wish to make. The first is that el Rufai’s conclusions are generally backed with figures that do not necessarily mirror the facts on ground. Number two is a reflection on his real mission in choosing this topic for his discussion.
NBS data and Igbo reality: For instance, the official figures say the population of Anambra State (as quoted by the writer) is 4.2 million people. Considering that Anambra’s landmass is one of the smallest in the country, it is easy to be misled to understate the real population power of the state. Anambra is a state that harbours 177 communities within its tiny 4,416 square kilometres, with most communities having no farm or forest land. You won’t know when you cross from Oko to Ekwulobia, for instance unless you read the signposts. Just like other Igbo states there are more Anambra people living outside than inside the state.
The population of the indigenes of the state will likely top 12 million if an honest census is undertaken. The population of Igbos and Anambra people in the Diaspora (outside the South East) are often factored as part of the populations of the other five geopolitical zones. Given the fact that the population in the Diaspora are more vibrant and affluent they form part of the population well above the poverty level, especially in the North and South West. The NBS data does not portray the Igbo reality adequately and their use for purposes of analysis will always mislead as el Rufai’s has done.
Anambra poverty laughable and preposterous: The very notion of Anambra being associated with poverty is both preposterous and laughable. Dr Magnus Kpakol, the erstwhile DG of the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) cleared the air on the former ranking of Bayelsa State as the least poor of the 36 states by the NBS which, in its usual lazy manner, relied mainly on the amount the state gets from the federation account relative to its meagre population. Kpakol declared that Anambra had the highest quota of private entrepreneurs in the country and is actually the state with the most affluential citizens per capita in the whole country.
Majority of the Igbo-dominated markets around the country and the West African sub-region have businessmen of Anambra and northern Imo state origins calling the shots. Each time Nigeria changes currency the largest volume of currency notes is harvested from the South West (especially Lagos where Igbo and Anambra dominate the markets) and the South East (especially the Onitsha/Nnewi/Aba axes). Apart from Lagos, Anambra state has the highest number of bank branches in the federation, and they are not there for Father Christmas purposes.
So, what was el Rufai’s motive for painting Anambra in the borrowed robes of poverty? There are those who feel that he saw the NBS figures and decided it offered the opportunity to “retaliate” on former Central Bank Governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo’s assertion that poverty is “a northern phenomenon”, as justified not just by the NBS’s figures alone. He probably used Anambra to “fight back” but unfortunately for him, he failed to make his point stick, as his conclusions flew in the face of real life evidence.
Some even say el Rufai decided to call Anambra dirty names because his party, the CPC, failed woefully not just in Anambra State but also the entire South East, South-South, North Central and most parts of the upper north.
Poverty is everywhere in Nigeria, Anambra and the South East inclusive. But for el Rufai to go on a binge about poverty in Anambra State when his own part of the country is the dirt poorest amounts to pointing to a speck in someone’s eye while ignoring the log of wood in his. The altruism of motive was not convincing. And for me, the charge of “misplaced priorities” fell flat.
But as purely an academic exercise, el Rufai must have found his own effort most mentally engaging.