Northern Nigeria’s Prosperity: Imperative of Social, Economic Transformation

Northern Nigeria’s Prosperity: Imperative of Social, Economic Transformation

Kingsley Moghalu

Nigeria as a whole faces many fundamental challenges, and different parts of the country also face different problems largely peculiar to those regions. So our discussion today should by no means be interpreted as suggesting that other parts of Nigeria are necessarily in great shape, but you have asked me to address Northern Nigeria specifically. It’s a great honour that you have done me considering that, despite my not hailing from this part of our country, and despite all the talent available in Northern Nigerian society, you have asked me of all people to address the challenges confronting Northern Nigeria and suggest possible solutions. As a committed Nigerian I have always believed that we all, citizens of our country, are intrinsically interdependent. What happens in the North, therefore, doesn’t stay in the North but affects us all. We are all stakeholders in Northern Nigeria’s progress. I speak, therefore, as a concerned citizen of the Nigerian commonwealth, and in a spirit of brotherhood.

To that end, I have framed the title of this lecture very carefully, and that title has two parts. The first is: “Northern Nigeria’s Prosperity in the 21st Century”. This means that my focus is on how the northern regions of our country can create and grow wealth, achieving human development as a core foundation. By human development, of course, we mean life expectancy, education and knowledge, and per capita income. You will also note a reference to the 21st century. This refers to modernity, the implications of globalization in the march of human progress as opposed to insularity, the quantum leaps in science and technology in this century, and the imperative that Northern Nigeria – and indeed all of Nigeria – must not be left behind.

The second part of the title is: “The Imperative of Social and Economic Transformation” Here I am saying that given the reality on the ground today, if Northern Nigeria is to achieve prosperity, a fundamental shift in how Nigerian citizens in the North perceive, create and respond to the world around us (the worldview) is not an option. It is an imperative. Taken together then, I am saying that Northern Nigeria must now frame a strategic choice. That choice must be that of prosperity for our people of Northern extraction as opposed to poverty – and that, to achieve prosperity, certain aspects of northern society and economic organization must necessarily change.

In doing so, I hope we all can agree on the following premises for our discussion today:

  1. Northern Nigeria matters, but not just because of the reasons many Northern Nigerians think it matters. The region matters beyond arguments about land mass and controversial population statistics, but mainly because it is a foundational partner in the establishment of Nigeria as one country through the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914;
  2. There is a big problem in the north today, and that problem also affects the overall pace of economic, social and political progress of Nigeria as a whole;
  3. We need to agree on what exactly that problem is, because we can’t overcome an obstacle if we don’t understand clearly what that obstacle is, or if we know what it is but pretend not to know, or if we mischaracterize the problem and thus confuse ourselves and the whole picture;
  4. We want to solve the problem or overcome the obstacle and make progress;
  5. We can reach agreement on the solution; and
  6. We take resolute action based on all the foregoing.


Underdevelopment and Poverty

Northern Nigeria is afflicted by the central challenge of underdevelopment, not just poverty. Yes, poverty is a core aspect of this problem, but the word “underdevelopment” is more accurate because it includes other dimensions such as political and social organization and outlook, and how these factors create and sustain poverty in the region.

Nigeria as a whole is now infamously the poverty capital of the world, with 92 million of its 200 million people living in extreme poverty and overtaking India (which has a population of 1.3 billion) in this dubious distinction. Northern Nigeria, however, is the poverty capital of Nigeria, which makes the region the poverty capital of the world’s poverty capital. Comparative regional poverty rates in Nigeria are: North-West: 80.9%, North-East: 76.8%, North-Central: 45.7%, giving a northern poverty average of 67.8%. Compare this with the southern regions: South-West: 19.3%, South-South: 25.2%, South-East: 27.4%, with a southern average of 24%. Northern Nigeria is nearly three times poorer than Southern Nigeria.

The State of Education:

Northern Nigeria lags far behind Southern Nigeria in western educational development. The seeds of this imbalance were sown during the colonial period. There is a view that the emirs who up to the establishment of the northern regional house of assembly were in the vanguard of the northern political leadership, lacked any real interest in the development of western education, presumably out of fear that a new educated class might challenge their political and religious authority. In the effort to ensure a catch-up between the north and the south in educated manpower, the post-independence northern political elite  (including the successive military regimes that were dominated by military officers from the north) markedly lowered the standards for access to tertiary education for candidates from northern states. This politically motivated approach to education policy – which is quite different from a well thought-out and justifiable affirmative action program that was possible—renders many young people from Northern Nigeria uncompetitive in the wider world of work, and has robbed the region of the skilled human capital so essential for its development.

There is a dearth of qualified teachers at all levels of education in Nigeria as a whole, but the problem is most acute in Northern Nigeria. With the exception of first and second generation universities such as Ahmadu Bello University and the University of Maiduguri, a  majority of teaching staff at tertiary institutions in the region do not possess doctorate degrees. In addition, Northern Nigeria is swamped by millions of out-of-school children roaming the streets, products of the almajiri system of religious education. The system must be fundamentally reformed and integrated into the modern educational system.

Currently, the literacy level in the north is 34% compared to 67% in the south. States in the North-East and the North-West have female primary school attendance rates of 47.7% and 47.3% respectively, with the implication that more than half of the girls of primary school age are out of school. The education deficit in Northern Nigeria is driven by factors such as economic barriers and socio-cultural norms and practices that discourage attendance in formal education, especially for girls.

Political Economy

In post-colonial Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello and other great leaders of the region worked selflessly to promote the region’s economy, incentivized by a spirit of competitive federalism with other regions. They prioritized sectors such as agriculture, trade, industry and general infrastructure. Sir Ahmadu Bello initiated industrialization in the north in the areas of textile mills, groundnut oil mills, and spearheaded the construction many feeder roads and intercity connections within Northern Nigeria. Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Northern Nigeria Development Corporation, Bank of the North, and Kainji Hydroelectric Dam were among the fruits of these efforts.

The story has changed dramatically today, and the north lacks sustainable economic models to take itself out of poverty. The entire 19 states in the three northern geopolitical zones account for only 23% of Nigeria’s GDP. Kano State, which predictably leads other northern states, produces only 3.3% of national GDP. Taraba State leads the rear with 0.25%. In contrast, three states in Southern Nigeria (Delta, Rivers and Lagos) produce 36% of Nigeria’s GDP.

The economic crisis in Northern Nigeria has its roots in the promotion of rent-seeking that progressively focused exclusively on spending and sharing oil “wealth”, factor-endowment thinking in the Nigerian (including Northern) political elite which believes –erroneously – that real national wealth can be built on the proceeds of crude natural resource exports. Superimposed on these factors is Nigeria’s constitutional conundrum of a supposed federation that is in reality a largely unitary government in which the central government retains vast constitutional powers of ownership of natural resources and revenues. Vast rural communities in Northern Nigeria are in a deplorable state because state governments have largely cornered the constitutional fiscal allocation to local government areas.

Prebendal Politics

Political leadership in Northern Nigeria today is marked – as in several other parts of Nigeria but with more harmful effects in the north – by selfishness and corruption.  Northern Nigeria has produced heads of government for 42 years out of the 58 years of the country’s independence. But this fact has had no redemptive impact on the fortunes of the average citizen in Kano, Potiskum or Zamfara. There is a fallacy that if a Northerner holds national political power, the fortunes of the average person in the region will improve. Neither history nor contemporary facts support this nonetheless widespread notion. This truth applies not just to Northern Nigeria but to other parts of Nigeria as well. If access to political power automatically leads to economic success, Northern Nigeria would be the richest part of Nigeria.

The northern political elite influence the poor citizens in the region with an imperative of retaining political power at the national level, but these citizens do not understand that this is simply an elite game by and for the benefit of the elite, and that they should be more interested in performance-based leadership regardless of the ethnic or religious background of individual national leaders. Psychologically satisfied that “power is with the North”, poverty seems a small price to pay and they fail to hold their self-serving ethnic irredentists to account. The seeming preoccupation of the region’s elite with acquiring and retaining political power for the wrong reasons is, paradoxically, one of the most important drivers of underdevelopment of Northern Nigeria. It will take a powerful mindset shift to confront, accept and act on this truth.

Social Factors

Northern Nigeria is riddled today with severe social tensions that include high levels of youth unemployment, drug abuse, and the weak status of women in the society. While youth unemployment is a major problem across the country, it is especially acute in Northern Nigeria. Drug abuse indicates a rising tide of hopelessness that can only be reversed by a combination of measures addressing not just the problem of drug abuse in isolation, but also the underlying causes such as youth unemployment.

The status of women in Northern Nigeria remains relatively weak. I am not a Muslim, and so cannot claim to be an authority in Islamic law, but I am aware that several Islamic scholars have challenged the conventional wisdom of locating the low status of women in Northern Nigeria in religion. There are also several countries where their populations are far more dominantly Islamic than Nigeria, but women play far more muscular roles in political and economic leadership. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan are examples. And there is clear evidence around the world that educating the girl child and women in general helps break inter-cycles of poverty.


Northern Nigeria has been plagued by insecurity in recent years. Longstanding terrorism by the Boko Haram group has now been complicated by armed banditry, kidnapping, and armed herdsmen rampaging across both Northern and Southern states in orgies of killings and violence. In a supreme irony, the security situation in the region has worsened in tandem with the controversial concentration of the leadership of security agencies in the hands of officials of northern origin in recent years. These realities have kept business investment, domestic and foreign, largely out of Northern Nigeria, further contributing to economic depression.

We must not forget that protecting the welfare and the security of lives and property of citizens is the cardinal duty of government. State failure looms in the absence of security such as we have in Northern Nigeria today. While many analysts have described the situation as the chickens coming home to roost from decades of weak governance and wrong priorities of the northern political elite, we cannot accept any excuses for the security situation in the region.


The solutions to Northern Nigeria’s social, economic, political and social challenges are as multidimensional as the challenges. They include a fundamental re-setting of mindsets and strategic priorities in and for the region, constitutional reforms, security reforms, progressive social development, and an economic transformation agenda.

Resetting Mindsets and Priorities

Nigerian citizens in the northern states who, as we know, have played a very large role in today’s Nigeria need to confront and adjust certain aspects of the “Northern worldview”. As I have argued in my book Emerging Africa: How the Global Economy’s Last Frontier Can Prosper and Matter, development generally, and political and economic transformation specifically, begins in the mind. This is a statement of general application and is not unique to Northern Nigeria. But it matters uniquely to the North of Nigeria because of the region’s dismal statistics in all indices of development even within the context of a poor country like Nigeria.

First, northerners need to understand that it is less a problem of “the North versus the rest of Nigeria” and more one of the North versus itself as a part of Nigeria. Northern Nigeria has been the cause of its own problems to a very large extent, and the solutions must go well beyond the surface.

Second, the North must make human development its priority. This requires an understanding that the region needs to re-evaluate its preoccupation with acquiring and retaining political power in the Nigerian state more broadly. The purpose of politics must be to seek to build a better society, and not merely for psychological gratification with power for its own sake.

Third, and following from this, the average northerner needs to understand that the Northern political elite has been the main obstacle to their development, because the political elite in this part of the country has grabbed power for itself alone and simply has not cared much about the talakawa. There is, therefore, a class tension in the North. In this connection, it is just as disappointing when we observe a sustained pattern of elite incest amongst the northern political elite, as it is to exploit the resentful sentiments of the poor towards the corrupt elite without delivering to these poor an escape route from poverty.

Fourth, Northern Nigeria needs social change. If we want to eradicate poverty, the social structure of every society matters just as much as political or macroeconomic reform. As the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has made clear in their reports on “multidimensional poverty” which have reviewed Nigeria and other relevant countries, social factors beyond income – such as exclusion and absence of opportunity – also drive poverty.

To put it clearly, the North must become MODERN. Culture is dynamic, not static. Just as is the case with several predominantly Islamic countries such as Brunei, Malaysia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates, it is possible for Northern Nigeria to become a thriving industrialized society without losing its cultural or religious essence.  This means that women’s rights should be respected, and that women need to be given opportunities. And it means that poverty should neither be glamorized nor merely redistributed with palliatives. Wealth creation for northerners is an imperative: a culture of entrepreneurship and self-reliance must be fostered in the North more broadly, as opposed to one of dependency on wealthy individuals or the political elite. Here, the influential Islamic clergy can play a leadership role of “social conditioning”. Don’t just give a man or women fish; teach him or her how to fish. It is this worldview that motivated the Isaac Moghalu Foundation, which I founded in 2005 in memory of my late father, to sponsor a skills and entrepreneurship training programme for over 1,000 women from Kano State in early 2018.

Politicians in the South-East region, for example, have also let down the people with the self-seeking and aggrandizing, Abuja-contractor mentality of several of them. But the instinct of the average person from the region is to strive and thrive through personal effort and ingenuity, and will rarely wait for a handout from anyone, whether the government or an individual “big man”.

Constitutional Restructuring

The path forward for Nigeria in terms of political engineering towards a more united, stable and prosperous nation lies in the constitutional redesign of the Nigerian federation to return our country to true federalism. And no region will benefit more from “restructuring” than the North-West and North-East zones, popularly called the “core North”. Sir Ahmadu Bello knew this, and was a strong proponent of federalism. What else did he know that those opposed to restructuring don’t?

Many people in Northern Nigeria have been sold the false notion that those who advocate for restructuring – which is nothing more than one of many words that could describe a return to true federalism – want to “break up Nigeria” or support an agenda that is “anti-North”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fixation with keeping Nigeria in its current failing form, with a near –total dependence on crude oil revenues (the “resource curse”) and a top-down fiscal allocation mechanism,  is one of the most important drivers of poverty in Northern Nigeria as well as in the oil-producing states of the South-South. The truth, then, is that those advocating a return to true federalism, which cannot be achieved by a piecemeal “devolution of powers” in an effectively unitary system, actually want our country to make real progress. But a large swathe of the Northern Nigerian political elite (and a few others outside Northern Nigeria) resist the idea of constitutional restructuring on the mistaken assumption that our current “feeding-bottle federalism” arrangement is tantamount to “national unity” and one, “indissoluble” Nigeria. It is far better to make Nigeria a truly workable country rather than the progressively dysfunctional one it has become.  This resistance also springs often from the self-interest of corrupt political elites that have cornered access to Nigeria’s crude oil national resources and don’t want to let go.

How should Nigeria be constitutionally restructured, and what advantages will accrue to Northern Nigeria from such an exercise? We need a new constitution that restores federalism in spirit, truth and letter. This means a structure that explicitly recognizes the exclusive jurisdictions of two tiers of government only – a central national government and sub-national ones. Such a constitution will reduce the bloated powers of the Federal Government of Nigeria represented in an Exclusive Legislative List of 68 items on which only the federal government may make laws, and devolve most of those powers to sub-national governments. The latter will own all natural resources under their soil and pay a tax of about 30—40% to the national government. The central government will retain exclusive control over institutions such as the armed forces, the central bank and monetary and currency policy, foreign affairs, and immigration, citizenship and nationality.

In a proper federal constitution only the central and sub-national governments will be identified as tiers of governance, not three tiers as is the case in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. This does not mean that local governments must be abolished, but rather that sub-national governments may create local governance entities as they wish.

A true Nigerian federation will best be organized on the basis of regions which can be formed along the lines of the current geopolitical zones which the late Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme recommended in the 1990s, introducing the concept into Nigeria’s political geography. Though not recognized in the Constitution, these zones have become the practical anchor of our national politics today. These zones can become geo-economic zones of development. A recent assessment of the fiscal viability of the states of Nigeria by the civil society organization BudgIT has shown that virtually none of the states, except Lagos, is fiscally viable without Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) allocations. Most of the states in Northern Nigeria are among the least viable.

The advantages of a Nigeria restructured along regional lines, especially for the North, are significant. First, each of the three geopolitical zones in the North will have the economies of scale that the component states, with the exceptions of Kano and Kaduna States, do not possess. This means that there will be markets for manufacturing and trading within and between regions based on competitive and comparative advantages. This approach to economic development should begin early. In another decade, the decline of the age of crude oil will fully crystallize as most developed countries have set targets of between 2025 and 2030 to move away completely from fossil energy to clean, renewable energy and electric vehicles for transportation. When this is combined with other developments such as shale oil production, the price of oil is likely to crash to a level that cannot sustain our current constitutional/fiscal arrangement. The North and the rest of Nigeria can smartly stay ahead of this crisis scenario with a forward-looking constitutional restructuring on the basis of a truly federal arrangement that will incentivize economic productivity.

Moreover, as we have seen from our oil resource curse, sustainable economic development is rarely achievable solely on the basis of natural resources alone.  Africa has 70% of the world’s strategic minerals but only 1% of global manufacturing, 2% of world trade – and 60% of global trade is based on manufactured products – and less than 3% of global foreign investment. Northern Nigeria can nevertheless take advantage of its “resource control” of the many solid minerals (gold, tin, colombite, nickel, uranium etc) found in the region in a restructured Nigeria if it adopts the right economic policies that avoid a repeat of the oil curse. These recommended steps include a focus on the development of skilled human capital among the youthful population through partnerships between governments and the private sector, and an investment regime in which governments require investors to establish refineries for value addition to any natural resources to be exploited. Thus, skills and industries will be matched in a clear plan, and only value-added products are to be exported.

This forward-looking approach will avoid the trap in which Nigeria at large has found itself for many decades – exporting crude oil, with exposure to the externalities of oil price shocks, importing refined petroleum products, and subsidizing the cost of those imports with funds that would have been more efficiently and productively spent on social infrastructure such as health and education, as well as physical infrastructure.

Second, restructuring will put the North in a better position to overcome its security challenges. Regional/state police must be part of the devolution of powers to sub-national governments in a restructured Nigeria. (I recommend, however, that the central government retain some form of security “reserve” power, to be invoked only in extreme circumstances such as a national emergency or an attempt by a sub-regional government to challenge the national sovereignty). With community security powers and accountability closer to the people, the development of more effective strategies to counter crime will be easier and more likely.

Third, constitutional restructuring will restore stability to the Nigerian state, which is surely presently in troubled waters. It will create more equity and justice, and reduce tensions between Northern Nigeria and other parts of the country. It will enable the North to focus more on the welfare of its population and on how to achieve “escape velocity” from poverty. It is not in the long-term interest of Northern Nigeria not only to be continually accused –rightly or wrongly – of an agenda of political or Islamic religious domination of the Nigerian state and holding the country as a whole back from real development, but in addition to suffer that perception while vast millions of Northern Nigerians wallow in extreme poverty.

For Nigeria to prosper and become a real nation with a unifying national ambition, no group or groups within the country must feel disenfranchised or “marginalized”.  This means that the many nations within Nigeria must feel that they have the policy space to thrive within the larger Nigerian nation. This is why real federalism is recommended for a country as large and diverse as Nigeria. The process will be helped by enactment of regional constitutions, to the extent that such constitutions are not in conflict with the Constitution of Nigeria.

Regional Integration

The path to restructuring along regional lines already is already unfolding, albeit unwittingly. Some of the geopolitical zones have begun developing agendas for economic and development cooperation. There is the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN). The South-East is making efforts towards a similar framework. Recently, I have become aware of the existence of a draft framework for North-West Regional Cooperation. This idea should be encouraged because whenever any part of Nigeria is developed, Nigeria is developing. The governors of the various geopolitical zones in Northern Nigeria should therefore come together and develop frameworks for economic cooperation.

Economic Transformation

Economic transformation in Northern Nigeria should be anchored on skills and productive knowledge, industrialization, agriculture, investments in renewable energy, and access to finance for the poor.

  1. Skills: Governments and investors should provide skills training individually and collaboratively, as a priority. Governments should invest in establishing at least one skills acquisition centre per local government area. As noted earlier, investment in industries that match the skills in which young men and women have obtained skills should be a key part of the investment strategy of all Northern states.
  1. Innovation: Innovation hubs and ecosystems are springing up in various cities in the Southwest, South-East and South-South in that order. Northern Nigeria must not be left behind, and Kano offers a good opportunity for innovation-driven economic transformation. Innovation is the key driver of economic transformation, provided, first, that the products of innovation are pipelined into the market as mass-produced commercial goods and, second, that innovation can be linked into industrial policy to increase the productivity of labour.
  1. Agriculture: Northern states are Nigeria’s food basket. Their economies will boom if agriculture is increasingly mechanized, and innovation and value-chain driven. Greater investments in these approaches remain necessary. Mechanization will increase the productivity of labour. Innovative approaches such as the use high-yield seedlings and arid-land/desert farming will improve the productivity of agricultural produce and combat climate change and desertification. The establishment of value chains in cultivation, transportation of agricultural produce, storage, processing, and export will create numerous jobs in crop and livestock agriculture.
  1. Industrialization: The industrial glory of Kano can be revived through targeted industrial policy that restores the industrial estates of Bompai, Challawa and others to full capacity. Today, only 20% of industries in Kano are successful. I agree with Muhammad Abubakar Liman in his excellent paper “A Spatial Analysis of Industrial Growth and Decline in Kano Metropolis, Nigeria” (Liman, 2015) that two things must happen in order to revitalize industrial manufacturing in Kano. The first is that industrialization in Kano needs to be professionally and knowledge-driven, rather than be a hobby of sorts. Second, centralized coordination of industry through industrial policy and central provision of vital infrastructure is essential. Industries in Kano today are loosely organized and do not benefit from any coherent and targeted policy guidance.

I would add that most of Kano’s industrial production is for domestic consumption. This is understandable given the area’s population, but there must be increased production for export in order to to earn foreign exchange. For this to happen, such manufacturing must be increasingly complex and competitively done. This requires productive knowledge, and also suggests an approach that focuses first on investment –public and private – in skills and the infrastructure of electricity and water. More robust industrialization will create jobs in the largest metropolis in Northern Nigeria, and will contribute to the solution of social problems.

  1. Access to Finance: This is an important economic/financial policy imperative for inclusive economic growth in Northern Nigeria, and one that has much potential as well for investors. Microfinance banks and financial technology (Fintech) lending can promote financial and private capital for the poor. Northern Nigeria is seriously under-banked, with only 288 out of 1023 microfinance banks in the country. This is also a larger national problem, as over 70 % of all credit by financial institutions in Nigeria is concentrated in Lagos State. The problem of economic productivity and profitability that might be inadequate to absorb high interest rates can be addressed by the recent establishment of a national microfinance bank that will lend in single digits by the Central Bank of Nigeria, and improving the regulatory framework for Fintech in Nigeria in order to expand access to Northern Nigeria because Fintech solutions have far lower costs than “bricks and mortar” financial institutions.

Security Solutions

Regrettably, as a result of constitutional dysfunction vis-à-vis security in which state governors are supposedly the ‘chief security officers” of their states but police security remains under centralized command from Abuja, the solutions to the breakdown of security in Northern Nigeria still are largely to be found in the “pre-eminent” domain of an embattled federal government. But communities and political executives in the North still have a role to play, not least to apply political pressure on the Federal Government of Nigeria to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to secure the lives of Nigerians. Communities should also be more proactive in providing intelligence to the armed forces, the police and other security agencies on the local activities of terrorists, bandits and kidnappers. Beyond active citizen-government intelligence sharing, I recommend the following solutions:

  1. The national security strategy of the FGN needs to be forward-looking and less reactive, knowledge-based, and longer-term. It should increase emphasis on prevention of security threats while seeking to increase the ability of security agencies for a robust security response.
  2. Comprehensively reform the Nigerian Police Force by recruiting, equipping and training new members of the Force and beefing up its numerical strength given Nigeria’s large population and land territorial expanse. I have suggested the need to recruit, train and equip 1.5 million policemen and women over four years.
  3. Cease the posture of appeasement of terrorists and criminals and develop the political will to confront security threats effectively.
  4. Demarcate and effectively man all Nigeria’s borders to prevent illegal entry of foreign nationals who are potential security threats to Nigerian citizens.
  5. Address the root causes of poverty and unemployment, and wage a battle of hearts and minds to counter the radicalization of Northern youth.

Solutions to Social Problems

To achieve economic and social transformation in Northern Nigeria, the region must address fundamental social challenges that affect governance, the economy, and even security. These approaches must include repositioning on issues such as the child marriages, girl-child education and the broader role of women in society, attitudes to preventive public health, for children, the destabilizing social effects of uncontrolled population growth, the almajiri crisis, and the role of traditional rulers.

I recommend a comprehensive review of all laws and customs relating to women in order to ensure gender equity, which is to say equality of opportunity and reward. Equal access to education is key, and state governments should establish incentives for families to educate girls until full secondary school at the very least. The phenomenon of child brides should be discouraged and penalized in line with constitutional and legal provisions on the threshold of adulthood.

Unchecked population growth, which puts pressures on job opportunities for young people and feeds unemployment, should be countered with voluntary population planning education programs for couples. The almajiri system should be reformed by ensuring that children receive a combination of religious education, standard western education, and vocational skills that ensure that children are prepared for a well rounded and productive life.

Last but not least is the role of traditional leaders. They are more influential in the North than in most other parts of Nigeria. The Emirs have largely framed Islamic Northern Nigeria historically over the past two centuries. As a result, the social transformation of the North will not happen without their engaged and active participation. Northern Nigerian emirs need to come together, deliberate, and agree on a program of social reforms that have become imperative. Traditional rulers also should be given formal advisory roles in constitutional reforms without prejudice to the legitimacy of elected political leaders. The selection processes for their appointment should be more independent of political leaders in order to avoid politicization of their roles in society.


No one can deny that, while our country as a whole has huge problems of governance and development, the challenges that face Northern Nigeria are exaggerated by the region’s unique political worldview and deeply rooted socio-cultural practices. A certain tension between these, on the one hand, and more individualistic cultures in other parts of Nigeria needs to be resolved. Can the North be a modern, industrially productive part of Nigeria while retaining its religious and social authenticity? I believe it can. Or does it want to remain insular, with the talakawa perpetually denied the opportunities for personal growth and development through education, skills and other acquisitions that empower individual agency while the Northern elite live in luxury?.  I believe it is possible to resolve these contradictions by creating a balance between a focus on the importance of politics and political power, and the more urgent need for its human development which requires a new, sustained focus from its political elite. For the sake of the North itself and our country as a whole, this tension must be bridged.

Prof. Moghalu, former Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria and Convener, To Build a Nation (TBAN), delivered the speech at Mallam Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital Conference Hall, Kano, last week

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