The north must rise
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.