The north must rise

Sunday Trust - - VIEWPOINT - ochima44@ya­ with Dan Agbese 08055001912 (SMS only)

Iam glad that His Royal High­ness, the Emir of Kano, Al­haji Muham­madu Sanusi II, has re­fused to be seen but not heard. I wel­come his rad­i­cal de­ci­sion not to pad­lock his lips when he knows he has a duty to make in­formed con­tri­bu­tions to is­sues that ag­i­tate the Nige­rian state and parts thereof.

I have fol­lowed his con­tri­bu­tions to na­tional de­bates on the econ­omy since he as­cended the throne. I know they have been as con­tro­ver­sial as they have been in­formed. But then the emir has never shied away from con­tro­versy. It is wired into his in­tel­lect.

I would have been dis­ap­pointed if the former gover­nor of the Cen­tral Bank of Nige­ria had opted to see no evil and speak no evil in or­der to re­spect the tra­di­tional view that a tra­di­tional ruler must pad­lock his lips in or­der not to be seen to be play­ing pol­i­tics. That view is now ef­fec­tively blasé. The tra­di­tional in­sti­tu­tion to­day pa­rades some of the most ed­u­cated and ex­pe­ri­enced men in the var­i­ous pro­fes­sions lawyers, very se­nior mil­i­tary, po­lice and cus­toms of­fi­cers, en­gi­neers, econ­o­mists, pro­fes­sors, doc­tors, phar­ma­cists, den­tists, etc., - in the coun­try.

It would be crim­i­nal to moth­ball the ex­pe­ri­ences and the ex­po­sure of these men be­cause it was once thought wise to in­su­late tra­di­tional rulers from pol­i­tics. The irony of that ar­gu­ment was lost on those who ad­vanced it and forced those tra­di­tional rulers then to say noth­ing other than where ap­pro­pri­ate, mouth in­can­ta­tions in the course of their pour­ing li­ba­tion to the an­ces­tral spir­its. The tra­di­tional in­sti­tu­tion was, is and will al­ways be, high wire pol­i­tics. Our first ex­pe­ri­ence of democ­racy and elec­tive of­fices was at the level of our tra­di­tional in­sti­tu­tion.

Any­way, on April 5, the emir de­liv­ered a lec­ture at an eco­nomic sum­mit in Kaduna. He spoke on Pro­mot­ing in­vest­ments in the midst of eco­nomic chal­lenges. A rather mild sub­ject and one the emir was pro­fes­sion­ally at home with. I think some of his lis­ten­ers ex­pected him to of­fer pre­scrip­tive views on what must be done to pro­mote in­vest­ments. If so, the emir dis­ap­pointed them. He chose to speak truth to the north­ern lead­ers, past and present. And not for the first time. He said what those men have prob­lems tol­er­at­ing, namely, that through acts of omis­sion and com­mis­sion on their part, the two largest geo-po­lit­i­cal zones in the former re­gion are among the poor­est ar­eas in the world to­day. Shock­ing to hear that about an oil rich na­tion, right?

Not good mu­sic in the ears. But it is a solid fact; a sad fact. In its an­nual re­ports, the UNDP has never minced words about the level of poverty in the two zones in the coun­try. I am in­clined to quote the emir at length here. He said: “The North-West and the North-East de­mo­graph­i­cally con­sti­tute the bulk of Nige­ria’s pop­u­la­tion, but look at hu­man devel­op­ment in­dices, look at the num­ber of chil­dren out of school, look at adult lit­er­acy, look at ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity, look at in­fant mor­tal­ity, look at girl-child com­ple­tion rate, look at in­come per capita, the North-East and the North-West Nige­ria are among the poor­est parts of the world.”

The emir did not in­dulge in polemics. He spoke against the back­ground of the 2016 UNDP an­nual re­port, among oth­ers, to make his case. Not ev­ery­one agreed with him, es­pe­cially on his dis­qui­si­tion on the pull-back ef­fects of religion on the sec­u­lar prob­lems. Con­tro­versy is swirling over and around his ar­gu­ment. But that is nei­ther here nor there.

Let us not miss the point. This is not about the blame game. It is about fac­ing the re­al­i­ties of the enor­mous chal­lenges that con­front the former re­gion. Ex­co­ri­at­ing the emir for his con­tro­ver­sial views would not change the fact that af­ter we must have suf­fi­ciently in­dulged our­selves in hav­ing a kick at him, we would still face the prob­lems he pointed out. The funny thing about prob­lems is that you can­not run away from them. You must re­main where you are and deal with them; or they con­sume you.

I do not have the statis­tics but my guess is that the North-Cen­tral geo-po­lit­i­cal zone is marginally bet­ter than the other two zones. It means that for north­ern lead­ers at what­ever level, there is much to do to change the pic­ture. The Boko Haram in­sur­gency will worsen the poverty and the so­cial dis­ar­tic­u­la­tion in the North-Eastern geo-po­lit­i­cal zone. It would mean the deep­en­ing of the frus­tra­tion now and the years to come, given the tun­nel of eco­nomic dif­fi­cul­ties called re­ces­sion that we are pass­ing through.

Our north­ern lead­ers have a choice here. They ei­ther wait for the fairy god­mother to of­fer them some help or get to­gether to look at the prob­lems, an­a­lyse them and prof­fer so­lu­tions to them. They are not likely to get much help from con­ven­ing eco­nomic sum­mits. There is a sur­feit of that. The eco­nomic sum­mits have be­come fancy talk shops down the length and the breadth of the coun­try. Their re­ports and rec­om­men­da­tions are gath­er­ing dust on many a shelf in gov­ern­ment of­fices.

The so­lu­tion is not hid­den some­where in a haystack. If they have the will and the de­ter­mi­na­tion to change the ugly poverty-pork marked face of North­ern Nige­ria, yes, they can. The north must ei­ther rise now or sink fur­ther in poverty and hu­man devel­op­ment. I see no se­ri­ous think­ing on the part of the state gov­er­nors, most of whom can­not even dis­charge their ba­sic re­spon­si­bil­ity of pay­ing their civil ser­vants and pen­sion­ers but all of whom carry on as if they are the true faces of the so­cial and eco­nomic devel­op­ment in their re­spec­tive states. They are, to quote Sanusi II, “liv­ing in de­nial.”

A thou­sand pities.

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