Northern governors may do well to heed the wake-up call

Africa’s richest man and President of the Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote was right on cue with his recent warning to the northern governors on the frightening scope of poverty in the region. The challenge, issued at the 4th edition of the Kaduna Economic and Investment summit, is indeed a wake-up call on the dangers which the economic woes of the region pose to its future and the nation. Dangote’s observation that 60 per cent of people in the region live in extreme poverty despite its vast arable land for agriculture should compel action from the northern governors.

In an uncharacteristic intervention which speaks to the urgency of the moment, Dangote had said: “It is instructive to know that the 19 northern states, which account for over 54 per cent of the country’s population and 70 per cent of its landmass, collectively generated only 21 per cent of the total sub-national internally generated revenue in 2017. Northern Nigeria will continue to fall behind if the respective state governments do not move to close this development gap”.

Although there has been a subtle attempt by some of the northern governors to hit back, it is instructive that the Prof. Ango Abdullahi-led Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has commended Dangote for raising the alarm over the unacceptable rising poverty rate in the region. “We fully endorse Dangote’s observations. Of course, you don’t need to go anywhere to search for the existence of abject poverty in this country. My take is that leadership has failed at governance level, particularly at the state and local government levels,” said Abdullahi

All critical stakeholders must take the intervention of Dangote who hardly dabbles into political matters with seriousness. The north requires multi-level backing from the private sector to fund the requisite investments to create jobs and eradicate poverty. But it is also true that the economic woes inflicted on the north are largely a consequence of failure to substantially develop its human capacity to cope with contemporary challenges. It is alarming, for instance, that the north is lagging behind in the area of literacy as the region accounts for the country’s largest number of out-of-school children. In October last year, the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF), said 69 per cent of Nigeria’s out-of-school children, estimated at 10. 5 million are located in the northern part of the country. Also more than half of primary school aged girls in the north-west and the north-east are not in school.

Without education, these children end up constituting a burden to the society as they are easily influenced to unleash religious extremism and crimes on the society. We are already reaping the consequence in the insurgency in the north-east that has crippled social- economic activities in the zone and left it poorer. Thousands of lives have also been lost to the crisis which has resulted in the displacement of many communities and millions of our people, who are now sheltered in Internally Displaced Persons camps that dot many parts of the north.

Beyond the insurgency, the alarming scope of insecurity in the entire northern region will not make room for economic activities to thrive for the good of all people. For years, the sectarian herdsmen-farmers clashes over right to land have impoverished many and led to drastic drop in agricultural outputs. The country is also witnessing a spike in kidnapping in Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara States in the north-west, coupled with banditry that has also claimed many lives in Zamfara.

Given the foregoing, the concerns raised by Dangote are patriotic and timely. We hope that northern governors will heed his call.