The socio-economic backwardness of northern Nigeria has been a disturbing concern to many people in recent times. Even before the Boko Haram insurgency, the region, which ironically had produced most of the nation’s leaders, was wallowing in poverty.
Despite the fact that the North has produced more presidents and heads of states since independence, the geo-political zone has lagged precariously behind in terms of human capital, education and infrastructural development.
Mass illiteracy is very rife as well as intellectual and material poverty. Sadly, through the years, each state governor received monthly allocations from the federation account to execute socio-economic programmes.
But after several years, their interventions pale into insignificance due either to cultural factors, lack of foresight or both. Hence, the sobering reality about the sorry state of the region along with its teeming population of indigent people is now starring Nigerians in the face.
This reappeared on the fore recently when the Emir of Kano, Lamido Sansui II, at the Kaduna State Investment Summit, painted a grim picture of the region.
Reeling various Human Development Indices of the United Nations Development Programme released in 2000, the former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) premised his argument on “the number of children out of school, adult literacy, maternal morbidity, infant mortality, and par capital income.”
He noted that the indices indicated that the North-West and North-East are the poorest part of the world. He said if the UNDP report was anything to go by, Borno and Yobe states, if they were a country, are poorer than Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
Regrettably, he said nobody is paying attention to this backwardness because “we look at Nigeria as a country, wherein the South-South is rich in oil, Lagos is industrially buoyant and the South-East commercially viable.
As far back as 2000, UNDP figures showed that Borno and Yobe were the poorest in the world.” For this, he raised the alarm: “If we don’t realise this, then we are in trouble.”
A trip through many parts of the North leaves one aghast in consternation the level of poverty in the area, in the face of hundreds of thousands of hectares of land, human and mineral resources.
Thousands of children of school age roam the streets begging for alms, others with or without some forms of disability are mendicants in order to live. If postulations by sociologists and criminologists are anything to go by, the consequences are better imagined. To these experts, there exists a strong nexus between poverty, hooliganism and criminality.
The consequences of social, economic and educational backwardness of such a teeming population are unimaginable. This is further more foreboding when juxtaposed with the fact that population dominated by energetic youth capable in their desperation of channeling such vigour lurked in their sinews into vices.
Besides, poverty and lack of access to education are twin dangers capable of destroying generations, increasing mortality rate can lead to loss of an entire generation, thereby denying the region and nation of requisite manpower in the future.
Interestingly, government at all levels have made some interventions, but these have become like a flash in the pan because they are either poorly planned or they are grossly inadequate.
Worse still, the development plan must have been terribly hampered by scarce resources. For instance, the past Goodluck Jonathan government’s Almajiri School programme saw the establishment of schools for itinerant children in many parts of the North. Also, many state governments in that section of the country have educational programme where students enjoy free school uniforms, books and feeding.
At the international level, it is on record that the World Bank is committing millions of dollars to the development of states in North-West, while the North-East is also receiving attention with the establishment of the North- East Development Commission.
Regrettably, many state governments in the North have failed to get their priorities right in this regard as some of them either sponsor mass weddings or sponsor indigenes for pilot and aircraft engineering training abroad.
While this had its short or long term benefits, we strongly believe that efforts should be geared towards immediate needs of the people. Believing the fact that problems are not solved by merely throwing millions or billions of Naira at them, we are of the strong opinion that a clearly defined plan must be put in place for the development of the North for the benefit of the entire country, because a backward North means a great danger to the rest of the nation.
An adjunct to this is the imperative of bringing the scores of governors who failed to develop the states in the North and plundered its resources to justice. While we acknowledge that a number of them are currently facing trial, we believe this should spread across party lines not only to underscore the destructive consequences of their action, but also send strong signal to incumbent governors.