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Saturday, March 31, 2012

NORTHERN POVERTY REVISITED



The last time the issue of Northern poverty generated much controversy like the present one was in 2008 when Soludo, the central bank governor at that time, made a statement to the effect that Northern poverty was dragging the country backward, and in particular, the Southern part of the country. He further added that if not for Northern poverty the Southern part of the country would have become a developed country. At that time many people wrote a rejoinder, some confirming the existence of poverty in the North, while many went ahead to tell Soludo that though there is Northern poverty, Soludo was going out of his way to politicalised the issue, to score some political gains. Therefore, like at that time, the current issue has two realities to its; one it is beyond any doubt that Northern part of the country is been ravaged by poverty, and two, some Southern politicians and technocrats (like then) are trying to score some political advantages out of the issue. I was opportune to listen to a BBC Hausa special program some one month back on the poverty figure released by the national bureau of statistics at that time. The program anchor has invited Dr Hussaini Abdu of Actionaid and Professor Chika Aliyu of Usmanu Dan Fodio University Sokoto to discuss the just released data. While Dr Abdu was of the view that the data was objective as it reflected the reality on the ground, Professor Chika disagreed with him, saying there is always politics in the kind of data been generated by the body. Particularly, Chika draw attention to the fact that majority of the staff of that government agency are from one part of the country and that the method they employed in generating data in the northern part of the country could not give them the reality on the ground. Though, I didn’t agree with all of the argument put forward by professor Chika on the issue; but I quite affirm that there is politics in the data the same way Britton wood institutions (the World Bank and IMF) politicized some of their releases to reflect how their principal masters want to see the world.
    This time around the speeches and utterances of the current CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, about revenue allocation and poverty has generated it own debates and controversies like that of his predecessor in that chair. While at that time Soludo was a Southerner occupying that seat, today the occupier is a northerner, so you can see how each part of the country made their statements at these different times and observe how contrasting their opinions are. While I am of the opinion that the current revenue sharing formula, as Sanusi also observed, is not favourable to the north, the northern elite to me are to be blame for the northern poverty not any individual outside the region. In a region endowed with different type of mineral resources and agricultural potentiality I wonder how the people of that place wallow in poverty the way poor northern peasant do. If the north of the 1960s did not depend on the southern part of the country despite the constraints impose by knowledge and technology of that period of time, I wonder why the north of 21st century will do? We should not forget at this material time that despite the oil resources in the country, about 50% of the country GDP is been generated by the agricultural sector majority of whose contributions still come from the northern part of the country. But, why should a state like Zamfara with hundreds of rich mineral resources that include Gold, Tantalize, and Iron failed to develop them instead preferring to stay in poverty? Is there any justification for Kano state with the second biggest economic and commercial potential after Lagos to prefer to depend on federal (monthly) allocation? Many people tend to argue that the northern poverty is because northerners are not in power in Abuja, forgetting the fact that when these northerners where holding power at the center they did not do anything to assist the region growing poor class, except for themselves families and cronies.
      What are the ways out of the current problem?  First of all, the north has to look inward rather than outward in order to get solution to it problems. The time of blaming some body else for your problems is over, unless you don’t want to get to the root of the problem and attend to them. While rich northern elites like IBB, Abdusalamu and Atiku prefer calling for meeting and conference to discuss northern problem, the like of Danjuma, and Dangote opted for setting up foundations to assist those in need and create jobs. The later is the best option, rather than calling for tea parties the recommendations of which were never implemented, instead do something real for the northern peasant. One of the globally recognized development instruments that help the poor is microfinance banking, the system channel capital to entrepreneurial people among the poor who other wise could not get loan from commercial banks due to absence of collateral. But alas, there are few microfinance institutions in the north, and how many did the like of IBB and Atiku established to assist the poor people in Minna and Yola. Education still remain one of the insurmountable problems of the north, with many of it people not having access to Western education despite the billions said to have been spend on the sector. In a country where public schools were allowed to die and decayed, anything is possible including recruitment of unqualified teachers to teach the children of the poor. Why should farming died, the way it did? I am sure if northern governors will provide their poor farmers with assurance of a market for at least one cash crop in each state, the scheme will be able to cut the northern poverty to half. Because, it will put money in their pockets; like groundnut, cotton and hide and skin did in the 1960s. No body should tell us it is not possible, because the countries of the EU and US are spending Billions of dollars annually to subsidize their farmers who are rich enough already.