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The North and Nigeria

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Last week the media was replete with news of the heroics of Governor El Rufai where he came head to head with kidnappers on the ever busy and important Abuja-Kaduna highway.

It is not the commendable sense of responsibility and empathy in promptly taking charge of the situation as expected of him as chief security officer of Kaduna state that we should focus on. It was just that on that particular day the kidnap victims and the hundreds of travellers were lucky that the governor happened to be on that road. Were the situation different, the kidnappers would have had a field day kidnapping hundreds of persons without fear of being apprehended. This sadly has become normal occurrence on that road.

But what is even more fundamental is that the episode reflects on the existential situation of northern Nigeria in contemporary Nigerian political economy. And this is where we should focus our attention.

All three geopolitical regions of northern Nigeria; Northwest, Northeast and North-central, are in the grips of various forms of type of criminal insurgency. In the northwest virtually all the seven states making up the region are either haven for kidnappers or of criminal insurgents laying siege, robbing, killing, displacing and destroying livelihoods. In the northeast the Boko Haram insurgency has morphed into full blown International terrorist dimension involving neighbouring countries. In the north central, the situation as in the northwest and northeast is asymmetrical consisting of herders-farmers clashes, kidnapping and various forms of sectarian violence.

We will be missing the point if we focus on the criminal dimension alone. The wider view which studies backed by statistics show is that the north comparatively falls far behind in all areas of human development in Nigeria. And to cap all that there is universal agreement that the level of poverty in the north is even below world average. No less a personality that Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, himself a northerner acknowledged this recently.

It is this poverty that is responsible for the negative tendencies manifesting in the north today.

But the North is poor not due to lack of resources. Indeed on a comparative scale the north is more resource endowed than the southern part of Nigeria. And again the north does not suffer a lack of entrepreneurs and outstanding personalities who have made a mark in various fields of human endeavour.

Indeed in the history of Nigeria the north holds sway in terms of political capital and the ability to prevail against the others in the intricate and intriguing art of political manoeuvring. With the exception of the short lived General Ironsi military government in 1966 there has been no government military or civilian that the north had not led in Nigeria. Even now as I write against the background of the situation in the north, the top echelon of the President Buhari government including the president himself is dominated by northerners.

So how come the north is the way it is despite all the comparative advantages and endowments it commands in Nigeria?

The simple and obvious reason is that the north is where it is due to socio-cultural beliefs and practices.

In the north where the social structure has been institutionalised over the years, the ruling elite and classes have skilfully used religion to entrench and protect their privileges as well as deflect or prevent any incipient social uprisings directed at them. Where the ruling elite and classes in the north avail themselves and their families and closed allies fully to the trappings and necessities of modern life, they continue on the other hand to exhort the masses to shun the very things they (the ruling classes) hanker after. In this way the masses are subtly encouraged to revel in and glorify poverty and shun the acquisition of “worldly things” which will prevent one from enjoying the bounties of paradise.

The entrenchment of such beliefs and practices has engendered a fatalistic conviction in the masses not to jeopardise one’s smooth passage to the hereafter and the rewards it promises by accepting things the way ordained. Invariably this exacerbates the class divisions as the masses relinquish their right to aspire to better themselves through personal and collective effort while the ruling elite on the one hand in acquiring these trappings become more powerfully entrenched in the social order.

In order not to lose their privileges the ruling elite in the north will never consciously seek to change the narrative wherein the masses will feel encouraged enough to aspire to change their circumstances. That to a large extent explains why despite the north leading virtually all the government since independence, the north has remained impoverished in comparative terms.

Against this background, the question one may ask is why then the manifestations of negative tendencies in the north despite all this?

Through the generations and especially in this age of cutting edge mobile communications and telephony, fast cars and the trappings of modernity, to continue to wallow in poverty is not a virtue. And in order to join and catch up with the gravy train of modernity, what we see today happening across the board in the north is a reaction to the long entrenched narrative and ethos of self-abnegation which the ruling elite in the north had promoted to protect their privileges and keep the masses under check. As the centre cannot continue to hold any longer in the north, this is manifesting in anti-social acts like kidnapping, banditry, robbing, widespread drug abuse and related activities.

As it is, the north is not just a danger to itself but to Nigeria as a whole. The clear and present danger is that we have a Nigeria running on two speeds. The south where the absence of the sort of socio-cultural beliefs and practices prevalent in the north has led to the populace being more productive individually and collectively, and the north where social mobility, individual and collective productivity and enterprise is ossified in the altar of beliefs and practices.

As a result the north has not been able to reap the bounties of its vast resource base. And it has also not been able to avail the country of the full benefit of its potential because its human resources are not productive enough in the ways that will develop both the region and Nigeria as a whole.

Iliyasu Gadu

Email: [email protected]

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