By Femi Aribisala
IN 2005, Goldman Sachs Investment Bank forecast that Nigeria will be the 20th largest economy in the world by 2025 and the 12th largest by 2050; ahead of Italy, Canada and South Korea. Having identified Brazil, Russia, India and China as four emergent powerhouses of the world economy referred to as the BRICS; it included Nigeria among “the Next Eleven” countries, which are Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam.
At the U.S.-Nigeria Trade and Investment Forum organised by the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation of the Americas, NIDOA, in Washington D.C. in 2012, President Barack Obama of the United States acknowledged Nigeria not only as a strategic centre of gravity in Africa; he went further to proclaim the country “the world’s next economic giant.” With the rebasing of the country’s GDP, Nigeria emerged as the biggest economy in Africa, surpassing South Africa.
It is no secret that Nigeria is a country of great potentials, even if those potentials are yet to be appreciably realised. One of the strengths of the country is its large population. Currently estimated at 200 million, Nigeria is the seventh largest country in the world. By 2050, Nigeria’s population is projected by the United Nations to reach 389 million, rivaling that of the United States at 403 million. By the end of the century, the U.N. projects that Nigeria’s population would be between 900 million and 1 billion, nearing that of China which would then be the second most populous country in the world after India.
Nigeria’s economic size is a blessing in disguise. It means the country will have a ready domestic market for its eventual industrial growth. It means it can envisage economies of scale not possible in smaller countries. Even now, Nigeria offers alluring returns for investors. Says Charles Robertson, Global Chief Economist at Renaissance Capital: “We know it’s not risk free, but look around the world and find another economy with 160 million people growing at 7 percent with such potential. It’s a struggle to find them.”
Countries go to war to acquire the kind of real estate that is Nigeria. This makes it all the more ludicrous that there are noises coming out of Southern Nigeria demanding that the country should be divided. The most ethnically jingoistic of these is the insistence that Nigeria would be better off without the North. It would appear that some Southern Nigerians have been intoxicated by oil. Since there is no oil in the North for now, they conclude that the North is no more than an albatross on the neck of the South and castigate it as a region defined by dependency.
This view is nothing short of idiotic. No serious-minded country relinquishes a region as rich and as resourceful as Northern Nigeria. Without the North, Nigeria’s much-vaunted potentials would vanish. Without the North, Nigeria would be nothing more than yet another balkanized and insignificant African country, or group of countries. Take the North out of the Nigerian equation and there can no longer be any black country in the world that can possibly attain the status of a major power in the world. Without the North, Nigeria and Nigerians would be reduced to nonentities.
Nigerians have been blinded by oil. Because of oil, we have become unproductively mono-cultural in our economy. However, oil is hardly the only major resource we have. Although oil revenues have brought us a great deal of financial prosperity, at the same time it stunted the inexorable emergence of agro-based industries in Nigeria. The backbone of such promissory local industries is in Northern Nigeria.
The North is the bread-basket of Nigeria. A significant proportion of the food we eat down South comes from the North. The North occupies 70% of Nigeria’s land mass, giving it comparative advantage vis-à-vis the South in terms of agriculture, raw materials and livestock. A large chunk of the North is arable and supportive of year-round food production. Thanks largely to the North, there is no tropical agricultural crop known to man that cannot be grown in Nigeria. With a transition from subsistence to mechanized agriculture, Northern Nigeria alone can produce enough food to feed the whole of Africa.
Northern Nigeria is bigger than most African countries. Currently, Nigeria wastes a staggering 1.3 trillion Naira on food imports; virtually one-third of the annual budget. But the North can produce all the food we need, thereby liberating valuable resources. Already, it is the North that feeds the South in Nigeria. Virtually all Southern food crops and livestock come from the North. Much of Nigeria’s water resources are also in the North. With the right policy mixes, the North will earn for Nigeria billions of dollars annually from agriculture.
Our Niger-Delta brothers should not get too carried away by their oil. If their oil is a national resource today, so will Northern agriculture and agro-allied industries be national resources tomorrow. Oil is a wasting asset. Short of new discoveries, Nigeria’s oil will expire within the next 50 years. However, Northern agriculture will never expire.
There is something else besides. There can be no doubt that there is oil in the North. It is only a matter of time before it is discovered. The geography and topography of the North and the discovery of oil in surrounding areas is a testament to this eventuality. Since there is oil in Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic, the chances are pretty good that Northern states like Bauchi, Borno, Sokoto and Niger will one day become oil-producing states.
Moreover, the North is rich in mineral resources; far richer than the South. There is gold in Zamfara; uranium in Taraba; tin-ore in Plateau; columbite in Nassarawa; iron ore in Kogi; gypsum in Gombe and limestone in Sokoto among others. Hydroelectricity for the country is provided from Kainji Dam and Shiroro Gorge. There are game reserves in the North including Argungu, which make it a potential money-spinner for tourism, a possible Kenya in the making if we can get rid of the scourge of Boko Haram and marauding herdsmen.
Southern Nigerians should stop underestimating Northern industry. Northerners created the ground-nut pyramids, cotton farms and tanneries of old. With visionary national and regional leadership, these will surely make a comeback. So also will the textile factories of Gusau, Kaduna and Kano. All the Southern bigotry about the North being predominantly Muslim is just nonsense. When you see what economic wonders Muslims are doing in places like Dubai, Oman, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, you will realise that Nigeria has a lot to learn from Muslims.
It should not be forgotten that by far the most enterprising Nigerian today is a Northerner from Kano. According to the Forbes Billionaires list, Aliko Dangote is now the 23rd richest man in the world with a net worth of $25 billion dollars. This is an amazing feat for an African and a Nigerian. Dangote is now richer than Alisher Usmanov; the richest man in Russia. He is also richer than Mukesh Ambani; India’s richest man. Dangote is all the more remarkable because he achieved this feat primarily through a route far less travelled by Nigerians: the hard, difficult grind of manufacturing.
The Northern problem is the Nigerian problem. It is the problem of bad leadership. Northern politicians and military leaders have been the bane of the North and of Nigeria. They have grown fat at the expense of the poor. They have deliberately kept the poor uneducated, preferring to feed them from the crumbs falling from their table. But as Boko Haram bites deeper, this too shall pass. A new generation of Northern leadership is emerging. An example of this is Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano who, by all accounts, redeemed his first-term as Governor with his second-term.
All things considered, the boast of a Nigeria divorced from the North is balderdash. Nigeria cannot do without the North. We cannot divide Nigeria into 350 ethnic nation-states. Let Southerners stop fooling themselves. Any attempt to abridge Nigeria because some Southern areas want to go it alone will be disastrous. Ethnic homogeneity is no panacea against internal conflict. Somalia is ethnically homogeneous. Nevertheless, it is a failed state. Southern Sudan obtained independence from Sudan. Nevertheless, it is already embroiled in inter-ethnic conflict.
There can be no romantic Oduduwa Republic, unless we foolishly ignore the long history of Yoruba wars. Try to turn back the clock, and the Egba, the Ekiti, the Ijebu, the Ijesha and the Ilorin will start locking horns yet again. Even recently, there were daggers drawn between the Ife and Modakeke in Osun. There can be no return to Biafra, unless we pretend that the differences between the Aguleri and the Umuleri in Anambra or that between the Ezza and the Ezillo in Ebonyi are fiction. The Igbo have never been united. Historically, they were organized into separate and autonomous republics. Biafra itself had problems with its ethnic minorities.
There can be no Republics of the Niger Delta. Are we then to divide the Efik from the Ibibio, the Ijaw from the Itsekiri; the Kalabari from the Ogoja; and the Ogoni from the Urhobos? What then would happen after the oil runs dry?
There can only be the Federal Republic of Nigeria. No matter what anyone says, Nigeria is a country and a country it should remain. You don’t live together for 50 to 100 years and not become a country. It does not matter if some of us are Muslims and some are Christians: we are all Nigerians. It does not matter if some of us speak Hausa and some speak Yoruba: we are all Nigerians. Our diversity is our strength. That is the beauty of Nigeria. It cannot be re-engineered.
Nigeria is a blessed country, carefully-crafted by divine ordinance. This is not time to start hankering after some midget states when the herculean Europeans are busy crafting a super-state. This is no time to think small. It is time for Nigerians to start thinking big and bigger.