Alhaji (Dr.) Aliko Dangote, President of the Dangote Group, needs no introduction as the world’s richest black man alive today. He is the richest African, being the world’s 65th richest man, according to the Bloomberg billionaire’s list. He is also the world’s 66th most influential person. In recent years, he has proven to not only be a successful businessman, but a great philanthropist who cares to give back to society. Last year, he donated 150 well equipped brand new patrol vehicles to the Nigeria Police Force. He was subsequently in Maiduguri to donate a full IDP village with 200 houses, to provide succour to those displaced by the Boko Haram menace in the Northeast. This was the single largest donation so far by any individual towards the reconstruction of the Northeast. Two weeks ago, he was at the convocation ceremony of the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he presented a 10-block fully equipped hostel, worth over N1.2 billion. For the first time, he would accept an honourary doctor of letters from the institution, having turned down numerous offers around the globe.
For someone of Dangote’s calibre to speak publicly about the state of under-development and degradation that the North finds itself in, surely, the time has come for northern governors to brainstorm and find a lasting solution to this ticking time bomb. If a southerner tells us that Northern Nigeria is dragging the country back, we take offence and retort, taking their statements as mere slander from ethnic hatred. But our reality bites us and bites Nigeria, and what the North is becoming today is indeed agonising. When we look at sub national revenue, about 70 percent of internally generated revenue comes from the South, with just four southern states accounting for 46 percent of that revenue. The North accounts for only 21 percent of sub national internally-generated revenue. Which means that apart from the monies from the FAAC allocations that come monthly from Abuja, most northern states are not viable and cannot sustain their governments, let alone provide any meaningful development to their citizens. When we look at the 13.2 million out-of-school children, 69 percent come from the North. Only 28 pupils sat for WAEC in Zamfara state, to buttress this out-of-school children claim. The picture is as gory and scary as it sounds. As it stands, what the North brings to the table is the menace of both terrorism and kidnapping.
The 19 northern states account for 70 percent of the country’s land mass, yet, are unable to be the most productive. Dangote has said that Northern Nigerian states will continue to remain poor despite the agricultural prowess in their states, because they fail to harness the benefit of investing; through partnering with private companies. He said that the North should harness its great agricultural potential in terms of production and processing, noting that no region with such potential should be this poor. He also said that northern governors should move towards closing the development gap. He advised that northern governors should invest in public-private partnerships as they will create jobs, and go a long way in curbing poverty and unemployment.
While speaking at the Kaduna Investment summit (Kadinvest 4.0), Dangote squarely blamed governors for the poverty level in the North. He wondered why such land mass and human capital cannot be utilised in removing poverty from the North and generating revenue. He admitted that the state governments may not have all the capital required for such investments, but argued that the way to go would be through public-private partnerships. He believes that the revenue that could be generated from the land mass of the North through agriculture can surpass that made from oil.
Of the total revenue generated nationally, 52 percent goes to the federal government, and 48 percent goes to the states and their local governments which are largely managed by governors. If the federal government can partner with the private sector on roads and rail and even ports, which we can tangibly appreciate, there is no reason whatsoever the state governments cannot partner on agriculture. The federal government has revived so many fertiliser plants across the federation, drawing investments from Morocco for the construction of a 600 million dollar fertiliser plant in the country. This is readying the ground to boost agriculture.
The rail networks that are being developed into the standard gauge rails are meant to boost agricultural production by simplifying the mode of transport for the agricultural produce. It was never meant for the safe passage of first class passengers between Kaduna and Abuja. The Baro Inland Water port and the Kaduna dry port are all ready infrastructure to boost transportation of agricultural produce. But if there is no yield from agricultural production across the North, then all these facilities would come to waste.
Dangote said recently that he went to a Mosque for Friday prayers and dressed in such a manner that he wouldn’t be recognised and before he knew it, over 1000 youths had gathered around him; and of course your guess is as good as mine, what they wanted. So, the northern governors must understand that we have in our hands an explosion of an unemployed population, along with an implosion of illiterate youths, who constitute a fertile ground for recruitment into terrorism and kidnapping by undesirable elements. And truly, the quickest measure that will curb the unemployment issue is investing in agriculture. Without dedicated effort by northern governors towards poverty eradication, most of government’s efforts in infrastructural development will come to nought. For example; if after spending billions in the rehabilitation of the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano-Maiduguri expressway, and no one is able to ply the roads because of the poverty driven insecurity ravaging our land, wouldn’t it amount to taking Panadol for diarrhoea? The insecurity was given birth to by poverty, and anything done aside curbing poverty will remain at maintenance action level against the insecurity pervading our land.
So while Baba is sizing up the inspector general of police, making sure he is at his best, trying to arrest the kidnapping situation in the country, northern governors too, must size up in confronting the poverty levels in their respective states. They must partner with investors to situate Industries in their states that will find ready raw materials from the agricultural wealth of their states. They must look into the mining activities in their states with a view to harmonising and regulating it; it could also provide employment for their citizenry. A Northern Nigeria Agricultural Summit should be put together, and the governors must pay heed to it dedicatedly. We have the resources and the human capital, the will is what needs more work. This is what needs their attention, and not the creation of more emirates which should be the least of their concerns.
Tahir is Talban Bauchi.