The Northern Leaders, it Riches and the Oil, a Case Study of Taraba State By Abdulrahman Usman leme
Nigeria is a very rich and blessed country, blessed with both human and natural resources yet Nigeria is ranked among the poorest nations in the world. The irony here is not just the fact that Nigeria is immensely blessed with abundant resources but the fact that it’s the home of the World’s richest black man with a net worth of 25, billion US Dollars.
Meanwhile an average Nigerian is said to be living on US$ 1 per day; a little above N130 pending on the exchange rate, one may also argue that the situation is worse than this. It is believed that seven out of every ten Nigerians live in abject poverty; hardly able to feed, clothe or shelter themselves. The worse affected region according to many reports is Northern part of the country, again the birth place of the world richest black man. It is also the region that has the highest number of people who ruled the country since independence, prior to the discovery of oil the north was the livewire of Nigeria a vibrant economic hub.
Forty-five years ago, Nigeria was socio-economically better than she is today, largely because agriculture formed the platform of her economy. Prior to the oil boom era in the 1970’s, agriculture was the main pillar of Nigerian economy, contributing about 70% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By 1980, agriculture’s contribution to GDP declined to as low as 25%, giving way to the oil sector. Kano city in Northern Nigeria became famous for its groundnuts pyramids during and even after the colonial rule. Sacks of groundnuts (arranged in a pyramid shape) were transported by train from Kano to the sea port in Lagos, ready for exportation as raw materials to the industrial world. The groundnut business continued to boom until the discovery of oil in Nigeria and its subsequent exportation in early 70s. The northern cities of Kano and Katsina, recorded history dating back to about 1000 AD. In the centuries that followed, these cities and the Bornu Empire near Lake Chad prospered as important terminals of North-South trade between North African Berbers and forest people who exchanged slaves, ivory, and kola nuts for salt, glass beads, coral, cloth, weapons, brass rods, and cowrie shells used as currency.
Groundnut and cotton industries in the province of Kano provided the main source of revenue for Northern Nigeria. Tin mining in the Province of Plateau, Steel mining in the Province of Benue and other metal industries in the Province of Sokoto build up the diverse mining industry of the Country.
Cement industries in Sokoto and Bauchi and leather processing industries in Kano constitute the main manufacturing sector. But with the discovery of oil, agriculture which was the major occupation of the northern people became relegated. The country no longer relies on agriculture for its revenue. With this development, many people abandoned their age long occupation. Those that wanted to continue were given little or no attention. Regrettably agricultural sector now contributes only 37% to the GDP compared to 70% in the 60s.
Given the fact that the north is blessed with enormous natural resources one will wonder why the North’s situation keeps deteriorating this will no doubt bring us to the question of leadership, while the northern leaders were opportune to rule the country for about four decades it is clear enough that the generation of leaders that came after the Ahmadu Bellos had no Northern-Nigeria at heart let alone the country itself but to come and amass wealth, hence the abandonment of the abundant resources available for proper utilisation. It is therefore unfortunate that the north is cursed with these set of accidental, selfish and visionless ‘rulers’ whose love for the oil have cost the North its pride.
Let me attempt to highlight some of these natural endowments using my state (Taraba) as an example. Created out of the defunct gongola state in august 1991 is bounded by Adamawa state in the north to the west by Plateau and Benue States and to the east by the Cameroon. The location of Taraba in that axis placed it at a pivotal location that connects the north-eastern part with the southern part and also connects the country to the east with Cameroun Republic.
One of the most important assets of the state is the abundant arable land suitable for cultivation of a variety of both food and cash crops. In fact, it is estimated that more than forty percent (40%) of the total area of the state is arable, yet not more than forty percent (40%) of this is presently cultivated. Crops cultivated in the state include some oil palm, coffee, tea, coconut, citrus fruit, cotton, groundnut, beans, rice, maize (corn; Guinea corn, millet), sweet potatoes, yam, bam bar. and other forest products.
Agriculture is, so far, the greatest employer of labour with over eight percent (8%) of the labour believed to be engaged in farming. This is made possible by the availability of richly fertile farmlands and favourable climatic conditions.
There are several other smaller forest reserves all over the state. These forest reserves cover an estimated land area of about 1,442 sq km. The Baissa Timber Company is the largest timber industry in Taraba State. Fishery and fish smoking activities are the major occupations engaging a substantial number of people especially in Ibi, Karim, Lamido, Lau and Ardo Kola Local Government Areas.
The Rivers Benue, Donga, Taraba and Mayo Ranewo provide sufficient opportunities for fishery activities in the state, other important basic activities in the state include poultry and nomadic cattle rearing. With over one million heads of cattle, Taraba State has sufficient raw materials for the dairy industry. Meanwhile, not much is known yet about the mineral resources of Taraba State. However, the geological structure of the area suggests great potentialities. Preliminary surveys have shown the existence of large deposits of marble at Lanadu (Zing LGA), graphite at MayoButali (Jalingo LGA), gelano and barytes in Ibi and Lau LGAs, salt deposits at Akwana (Wukari LGA), lead/zinc at Arufu (in Wukari LGA) and iron stone at Jalingo
In 2011 a team of Russian scientists from the Institute of Aerospace Instrumentation have discovered deposits of silver and traces of gold and oil in central and northern parts of Taraba, the team said of what they found “silver is the largest in deposit in the northern part and traces of gold and oil, which are at a middle level in central and northern parts of the state.
The lead scientist, Robert Mukhanmedyenov, Had explained that deposits of lead and zinc were also found in the northern zone. He said that precious stones were also discovered along the Benue trough in southern part of the state he further hinted that they have found silver deposits that cover 1.7 km in a 1,000 square kilometres. There have been illegal mining of these precious stones in some parts of Sardauna LGA on the plateau around Mayo Ndaga axis and recently Nguroje town.
Learning about all these Nature’s gifts in Taraba will make one wonder why the state is rated among the poorest states. To move away from these treasures yet untapped and talk about tourism which can also be exploited and be a great source of revenue, take Mambilla plateau for instance a tourist haven underutilised by both the federal and state governments. The plateau with an elevation of 2442 metres above sea levelis the highest mountain in West Africa, daytime temperature hardly exceeds 25 degrees centigrade making it the coldest in Nigeria. Many researchers have written that The Mambila plateau has more enriching features than the Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona in the United States. Another neglected or underutilised tourist centre in the state is Gashaka-Gumti, Nigeria’s largest National Park, covering nearly 7000 sq km. This area is important not only as a major watershed but also as a haven for a rich and exotic assemblage of wildlife, given its strategic location at the interface between the moist Cameroonian highland and the dry sub-Saharan Guinea savannah.
The Northern Gumti sector is flat and home to large savannah animals such as Elephant, Hyena, Wilddog, Lion, Roan, Antelope and the Giant Eland.
The Southern Gashaka sector is a mosaic of woodland, lowland & gallery forest, grassland and montane forest – and includes Nigeria’s highest peaks at Chappal Waddi – the so-called Mountain of Death.
Let me not forget to mention the large tea estate on the plateau that used to be a source of revenue for the defunct Gongola state (now Adamawa & Taraba) unfortunately, the company that is jointly managed by the two states Established in 1988 on about 50,000 hectares, the company has only been able to cover about 1,800 hectres only.
The Wonyo fishing festival similar to that of argungu in IBBI LG in southern taraba is also another major source of revenue that is receiving little attention from both the state and FG governments.
The list is endless I will keep on writing till forever without covering the scope of these resource.
Now the question is what is the way forward Do we have any hope of exploring these resources? Are these generations of leaders willing to ignore the sweetness of the oil and develop these treasures? The answers to these questions are obviously negative. Worse still is the fact that Taraba state has been without a substantial Governor since October 2012, close to two years. More so the recent happenings at the ongoing national conference clearly indicates that we will have to wait for a Tsunami-like wind of change that will sweep away our greedy northern rulers for us to realise our potentials, they have been at the for-front of the so-called derivation formula debate they want to keep tapping from the oil money and seem to have no time to develop the enormous resources of the North.
Again are we the younger generation of the North any better? I doubt, majority of the so-called literate youths are just another group of opportunists waiting for their turn to bite the ‘national cake’. The illiterates are nothing but pawns in the hands of the elites a potential recruits for all kinds of criminal groups.
While I write this feeling hopeless, there is also another part of me that is positive, the North and of course Nigeria will shine again with the likes of kwankwaso waking up at the 11th hour and the emergence of the former CBN Governor as Emir of the strategic Kano, certainly there is hope for a better North, we may see the revival of companies like Arewa Textile, Ajakuta Steel and lots more. How soon I can’t say but I believe one day we will see a North that doesn’t take pride in having billionaires like the Dantatas, the Dangotes, and the Danjumas with almost 90% of the masses wallowing in abject poverty, teenagers hawking and begging on the streets while their Southern counterparts are in school. But a vibrant self-sufficient North, an industrialised region with visionary leaders who care for the wellbeing of their people.
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