…Says he should go and read the history of Nigeria
■Listen to the Emir, eminent Nigerians tell northern leaders
By Onyedika Agbedo (Lagos), Noah Ebije and Abdullahi Hassan (Kaduna)
the Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness, Muhammadu Sanusi II, is not new to controversies. In fact, he often courts them with candour. As such, his recent statement that if Nigeria were to be divided, the North-east and North-west zones would be poorest globally, if they were countries, has put him at loggerheads with northern elders.
Spokesman of Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Prof. Ango Abadullahi, who reacted to the statement in a chat with Sunday Sun in Kaduna, not only faulted the Emir, but also declared that “he is a very young man that should go and read the history of Nigeria” before making certain statements about the country.
Meanwhile, some eminent Nigerians have advised leaders in the North to face the truth and work towards the development of the region instead of taking up issues with the monarch.
The former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor (CBN) had while speaking at the Kaduna Economic and Investment Summit, with the theme “Making Kaduna Investment Destination of Choice”, last Wednesday, said the North-east and the North-west of the country were among the poorest parts of the world.
The monarch, who presented the keynote address at the event, also lambasted northern leaders for their complicity in impoverishing the region. He said: “We are in denial. 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.
“As far back as 2000, I looked at the numbers, Borno and Yobe states, UNDP figures… Borno and Yobe states, if they were a country on their own, were poorer than Niger, Cameroon and Chad. Nobody saw this because we were looking at Nigeria as a country that averages the oil-rich Niger Delta, the industrial and commercial-rich Lagos, the commercially viable South-east, and you have an average. Break Nigeria into its component parts and these parts of the country are among the poorest, if it were a country. And, we do not realise we are in trouble.”
Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, re-echoed Sanusi’s argument at the same summit last Thursday saying: “The truth of the matter is when you look at human development in the indices of Nigeria, they hide a lot of information. They saw us as middle-income country; they saw that we are making progress in terms of education and health care. But when you disaggregate this number and look at them from zone to zone, from state to state, it is very revealing. It shows for, instance, that some states in Nigeria are as backward as Afghanistan in terms of education, health care and opportunities. And many of the states in the North-west are afflicted with these challenges.”
Abdullahi, however, told Sunday Sun that the North spearheaded the development of the country ab initio and has the capacity to develop very fast if let go from Nigeria.
The former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, who had recently declared that the North was ready for the breakup of the country, stressed that the North could still stand on its own as an independent entity as it has both the land and the population.
He explained: “With due respect to the Emir of Kano, the statement he made was misleading and misrepresentation of facts about the true state of northern Nigeria. You see, what I have been saying for a long time is that the North has advantage over other parts of the Nigeria in terms of population, proportion and resources. What I am saying is that Northern Nigeria should wake up to its challenges like others part of the Nigeria. Of course, every part of Nigeria has its peculiar challenges and problems in terms of development likewise Nigeria as whole. I am an advocate of dividing Nigeria at the different levels and I disagree with the Emir’s position.”
“The North sustained and can still sustain this country,”Abdullahi insisted, adding: “The greatest advantage of the North over other regions is that 75 per cent of land in Nigeria comes from North; agriculture contributes 45 per cent of the GDP against oil, which contributes 14 per cent. Apart from the foreign exchange which oil provides, which in fact has always been stolen by the leaders, there is nothing much to talk about. Presently, there is potential of oil in many parts of Northern Nigeria. Let me tell you that oil money is idle money, which Nigeria has not worked for. The only place where there is availability of work is the North because it produces a greater percentage of the food we eat as well as those used by some of our industries. In any case, there are countries that said they are not moving forward and decided that the best thing to do was to divide. So, what is wrong in dividing the country?”
He added: “You see, the Emir of Kano is a very young man; he should go and read the history of Nigeria. He is an economist; he needs to go and do a little more research in terms of factors for economic development. North possesses all what it takes to develop faster now.”
The former adviser on food security to ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo further said: “Northern Nigeria has land, population and can generate capital. His views are his own, not that of northerners. I believe many northerners would disagree with him. There are many documented research that northern Nigerian sustained the entire Nigeria state from 1914 up to 1974. Apparently, the Emir ignored the historical fact of this country. It cannot be contested that right from the colonial masters to the late Sardauna of Sokoto’s time, northern Nigerian supported the economic growth of this country. The economic strength of the North was the thing that sustained the Nigeria state in the early days of its existence from 1914 to 1944. Take it from me; the budget of western and eastern Nigeria was derived from resources and revenue from Northern Nigeria earned right from colonial government, which was meant to provide resources to balance their budget. So, I don’t see the fact about poverty and under development the Emir was trying to establish in his argument. There are people living in the North-east and they are doing very well.”
Abdullahi argued that virtually every part of the country was facing challenges at the moment, the North not being an exception. “If one tells me that there has been irresponsible leadership in the North, I can accept that. But that one is a universal problem in Nigeria today. Yes, there is the argument that Northern leaders should have done a lot for their people despite the abundant resources in their areas. In 1960 there were only two secondary schools in Northern Nigeria — Government College Keffi and Barewa College Zaria. How many do we have today? So, the problem of illiteracy was caused by some factors like the issue of quality or approach, rather than the premise that instead of building more classrooms the money was squandered.
“There is also issue of the growing number of children begging on the streets. It is true that there should be an effort in each state that will engage the youth in something to encourage them not the so-called feeding programme where a lot of money is being stolen instead of using it to build more classrooms, improve the welfare of teachers and bring more children to school.
“I support this argument but the overall problems of Nigeria today hinge on leadership. So, by the time people have their government within themselves, people would check the excess of waste. That is why we are advocating for the division of the country.
Speaking with Sunday Sun on the issue, former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, noted that the Emir was truthful in his comments and urged northern leaders to listen to him.
“Sanusi has been very truthful in his comments. When Prof. Ango Abdullahi said sometime ago that the North was ready for the disintegration of the country, I was wondering which North he was talking about or whether he was referring to his clan — the feudal elements in the North. But the truth is that the North loses most if Nigeria should breakup today. What is the literacy level in the North? What is the income per head demographically in the North? When did education stop being a major resource for economic development? So, Sanusi is saying something people should listen to. I do not see anything strange in what Sanusi said because I knew it and I had written about it.
“For him to say it, it means he is committed. He is a true northerner who is committed to the long-term interest of the North, which is tied up with one Nigeria. With a breakup, the North will be worse off while the South will survive even with more improvement. But we prefer One Nigeria and one market for all of us. Any group that has intelligence guiding its actions cannot walk away from One Nigeria. But there must be equity and justice. No section of the country should be treated as if they are being pushed out of Nigeria like the Igbos are being treated today,” Ezeife said.
Ezeife called for a return of the country to the foundation laid by its founding fathers. “The Nigeria we have today resulted from a desire by federal troops to win the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. And the military leaders that followed continued with the same pattern and made things worse by creating more states, giving more to the North. A return to the regional structure is what Nigeria needs to move forward.”
Speaking in the same vein, Second Republic politician, Chief Guy Ikokwu, said: “Sanusi is looking at the Nigerian situation holistically and that if the country is founded on justice, fair play and equity, certainly the whole of Nigeria will prosper. And Nigeria’s prosperity will only come by restructuring the system of governance we have. The system of governance we have at the moment promotes indolence. It does not give room for initiatives; it does not give room for various sections of the country to try and capitalise their own God-given resources. If the country is fully returned to a truly federal structure as our founding fathers gave us during independence, you can be sure that the federating units will be more viable than any other West African country today.”
Former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, in his comments, noted that the dynamics of the country has changed and urged northern leaders to work out ways of improving the economy of the region without depending on oil revenue. “Sanusi has expressed an opinion and I expect him to hold an opinion under a democracy. What I know is that Nigerians have opted for unity and when we have the unity, we are going to ensure that we solve all the problems facing Nigeria together. I think the northern people should be able to sit down, speak and plan for themselves. The Niger Deltans would not accept to be ruled without seeing the impact of the oil revenue in their region. They have made up their mind on that. So, if the North continues to depend on revenue from Niger Delta oil and the commercialisation of Lagos, they are wasting their time,” he said.
It remains to be seen how the two zones in the North, which served as case studies in the Kaduna summit, would react to this discourse. But what is clear is that the North has realised its mistakes and is now talking to itself. Recall that the Chairman of Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) and Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, had earlier this year declared that “the North is a poor, pathetic shadow of its former self” at a forum where the creme-de-la-creme of the region were assembled. How far these efforts in self-awakening would go is left for time to tell.