Time To Fix the North, Or Bury It, By Muhammad Sani Dattijo
This is similar to debates which defined the political landscape towards the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections. Unfortunately, there has been a parallel dearth of ideas on how this power would in practical terms, benefit the region. Indeed, presidential power did shift to the North in 2007, but it remains doubtful if this had any positive impact on the states or people of Northern Nigeria.
It is common knowledge that northern Nigeria has been on a steady decline for almost two decades, with dismal performance in almost all measures of socio-economic development. This much has been widely written about and agreed to by policy makers, public commentators and academics. To further compound matters, the growing violent insurgency within the region is decimating what was left of the northern economy and hindering the ability of governments to deliver vital public services.
Unfortunately, the future does not look any brighter. A number of risks are in the horizon. These include the rising population that will put a further strain on service delivery, declining revenue from the Federal government which may render a number of states bankrupt, environmental challenges leading to water scarcity, decreased farm output and ultimately conflict. Combined with the age old problems, these have the ability to further plunge the region and indeed the nation into chaos.
The consequences of allowing the current situation to deteriorate are dire. Time has come to discard the myopic vision of jumping from one electoral cycle to the next. James Clarke captured it aptly when he said- “Politicians think about the next election, statesmen think about the next generation.” Indeed for the North to survive, it requires statesmen leading the urgent implementation of a well thought and sustained renewal strategy.
A number of people have identified the need for this strategy, frequently citing the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after the 2nd World War. While elements of this plan are indeed relevant, the 19 Northern States need one single integrated framework backed by a robust and realistic financing and implementation mechanism. The required strategy does not refer to a glossy document to be dumped on the shelves of government ministries or another nostalgic conference on the over-flogged theme of how great Sardauna was- we already all know that.
Rather, this renewal strategy could focus on 5 transformative actions.
Firstly is true structural transformation of the northern economy- the kind that hasn’t happened since the beginning of the trans-Sahara trade. To kick-start the economy, we must re-integrate ourselves into the local, regional and global value chains. From agriculture to mining to manufacturing and services, we must consistently ask the question; what can we provide to ourselves, to Nigeria, to Africa and the world? What production methods will engage and empower most of the northern people while delivering efficiently? Then we must identify the regional locomotives that can drive the exploitation of these chains. Our states must complement each other by providing various inputs across the path towards finished products. The markets are there.
Secondly, we must be able to identify and build critical infrastructure including power and roads. It currently costs less to ship a container from the United States to Lagos, than to transport the same container from Lagos to Kano! This is unacceptable. High transport costs erode the competitive edge and trading volume of the region. We should ensure the realisation of the full economic potentials of the recently completed dredging of the river Niger from Warri in Delta State up to Baro in Niger State. This holds significant promise and would benefit from increased political attention and private investment. The opportunities are there.
As a third transformative action, education needs to be reinvigorated from its current sterile state to respond to the demands of today and the future. In transforming the Northern economy, emphasis must be on sectors that create jobs for all levels of skill, providing opportunities for upward social mobility and reducing inequality. Vocational education, investments in science, technology and innovation need to be prioritised and adequately tailored to supply the capacity which the region requires for the future.
Next, the region must embark on what some writers have referred to as a psychological revolution. The attitude of our people is in dire need of change. Destructive use of culture and religion needs to be checked through meaningful partnerships with our traditional, religious leaders and indeed the Hausa movie industry. The apex religious bodies must act as regulatory bodies to stem the spread of divisive messages cloaked in sermons. Similarly, the family as a unit needs to step up and take responsibility for young children. We have seen what one generation of neglected children can do, we should not create another.
Implementing such a strategy requires significant amount of resources. However, Northern Governors have always pointed to the lack of finances to cover even recurrent expenditure. A number also claim that with insecurity, they are unable to do anything else.
While it is particularly important to acknowledge that budgetary constraints do matter, we must strive for innovation in finding solutions to financing gaps. This is the 5th transformative action. The North cannot afford to continue running almajiri governments- awaiting handouts from the center. Alternative funding sources exist and must be tapped into while greater efforts are made on all fronts to ensure greater efficiency of current financing.
Unfortunately, a number of states still refuse to widen their tax base for fear of political repercussions and being held to account, refuse to partner with the private sector and refuse to engage international partners. This has to change.
We must also understand that we cannot halt governance while dealing with issues of security. The two are interwoven and must be tackled simultaneously with the realisation that there is no peace without development and no development without peace. And we will have neither if we continue down this current path.
In implementing this ambitious yet practical strategy, it is imperative to emphasise that we do not need to create new institutions or organize grand conferences. The Vice President and our Governors need to be in the lead. The Northern Nigeria Governors Forum provides a veritable political platform while the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation, existing since 1949, can be retooled to provide the technical level coordination and strategy. Private sector participation is strongly required to fill gaps in finance, drive growth and create jobs.
International Partners will need to boost aid to the region and give it preferential treatment. For all intents, northern Nigeria is no different from the land locked least developing countries of the Sahel. The people, whose attitudes need to change, ultimately hold the power- at least in theory. We need to expand our philanthropic activities, provide mentorship for the increasingly young population and refuse to follow the bad examples we see everyday.
It was the late Mallam Aminu Kano underscored the fact that “…we cannot expect to meet new challenges with old concepts but (we need to) adopt new approaches based on changing world conditions.” His wise counsel is more imperative now to the North, than it was in 1971 when he made that statement
The leaders of the north have a decision to make today. And it is more important than who becomes President. It is a decision to fix the north, or bury it.
@dattijo (email@example.com) is a New York-based Development Economist who writes from www.dattijo.com.
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