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The North Is Not Poor

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'Some people see things that are, and ask why? But I dream things as they never were, and I ask 'Why Not? - George Bernard Shaw An interesting article titled '' Derivation and Deprivation: Why the North Is Poor'' by a  certain Ross Alabo-George which made the rounds in various newspapers and blogs has generated a cacophony of record breaking on-line responses, reactions and rejoinders. A corollary to the ''disquisition'', as its author christened it, is the number of articles that have come to life with the theme of the north's usurpation of the Niger Delta oil. Two dominant categories of responses have emerged on account of the principal theme of Ross's thesis and both betray the somberness of our fusion or confusion as a nation state.   The elections of 2011 brought to the fore in unprecedented measures the ethnic and religious cleavages evident in our existence. The Boko Haram menace has further compounded our national woes and like old times everything is being viewed through the Muslim/ Christian and / the Hausa, Ibo or Yoruba prism. The torrential reactions / responses from the Lagos-Ibadan axis; and of the south-south, south-east axis see Ross's piece as a liberating one; a long awaited elixir to damn the north (both its elite and commoners).

To the Kaduna-Abuja press and its fans north of the Niger, the piece simply exposes a man devoid of objectivity, thoroughness and balance; with a premeditated agenda of painting the northern oligarchy as the major if not sole architect of Nigeria's perdition. The northern oligarchy, in this view, is seen as being deliberately portrayed as villains by Ross as the region benefitting from the oil flowing beneath the soles of the Niger Deltans. This disposition suggests that the few northern barons listed in his article do not of course possess the monopoly of the oil blocs in the Niger Delta and he should have gone the whole nine yards to list the names of south southerners and south easterners who own oil blocs too.   In-between these two camps are those who were boldly objective and a number of those who towed the path of frivolous technicalities. Of the latter are those who spent time debating whether Mai Deribe, Nasiru Ado Bayero, Atiku Abubakar or Rilwanu Lukman are Hausa, Kanuri, Bachama, or Fulani   men; and whether Kano, Borno or Niger   is of the north-east, or north-west or north-central.

The strain of comments suggest that for every Mai Deribe, Nasiru Ado Bayero, T.Y. Danjuma, and co mentioned, a James Ibori, Dipreye Alamieyesiegha, Peter Odili or Lucky Igbinedion, etc exist who have fleeced the Niger Deltans   in unimaginable proportions. The question for me of course is not about whose loot is most mind-boggling or which region parades the bigger or more ruthless thief; or that with 13% derivation and the NDDC, the Niger Delta has not become the Dubai of Africa - no, but that if the north cries 'we are poor'', ''we are poor'', who impoverished us? James Ibori, Dipreye Alamieyesiegha, Peter Odili or Lucky Igbinedion? The northern intelligentsia and its political leadership must deconstruct this hoax of inflicted poverty by others either by the perceived disadvantageous revenue allocation formula or the imagined sabotage of the oil drilling prospects   in the upper north basin   for we held the reins of power more than any other region in this country.

On the contrary the north is in such pitiable and unacceptable state of poverty because of the actions and inactions of our leaders who have helped themselves, members of their immediate families, friends and cronies generously with the public resources put in their trust. While it is true that at no time did the north go it alone - for where a northerner was the number one man, a different region produced the number two man; the Supreme Military Councils and the Armed Forces Ruling Council of the military governments past, the ministers of both military and democratic governments of the past were representative of all of Nigeria with their varied inputs to the development or underdevelopment of Nigeria; but my focus here is on the north.

While I do not in any way hold brief for Ross, I must say that his disquisition is a powerfully engaging and thought-provoking piece which places a giant mirror in front of the north. It would have been better if he had gone ahead to name the oil block barons from other regions, but then the context within which the article was written should be appreciated.

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (London) :   On January 27, 2012, Sanusi while granting an interview to the Financial Times of London alleged that the revenue allocation   formula skewed in favour of the south-south as it   were is unfavourable to the north, and by extension engenders poverty which in turn is fuelling Boko Haram and sundry violence in the north.

Mu'azu Babangida Aliyu (Minna): Taking a cue from the Central Bank Governor, the Chief Talker of Niger State (a title I think fits him much more than his current one) and chairman of the northern governors' forum, Muazu Babangida Aliyu called for the re- evaluation of the revenue allocation formula that gives a ''whopping'' 13% to the south south and creates two Nigerias: a prosperous south and an impoverished north. But aside his loquaciousness, how has he changed the lives of Niger people   with the ''little'' he gets from Abuja every month?

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (Kano): On January 10, Sanusi   Lamido Sanusi made a most morally ambiguous, and professionally controversial donation of   N100 million to victims of Kano State's   Boko Haram bomb blast. Kano is Sanusi's home state of which he is a prince and nurses an open ambition of becoming its emir.

Let it be stated that throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria, the political class has been a disappointment having failed to chart a course of foresighted prosperity and to guarantee the people a decent life. The power they wielded and still do never bore and still does not bear the flames of altruism, patriotism and love. It was and still remains power merely for power's sake. They succeeded and are still enriching themselves beyond comprehension and accountability - at least here on earth - and entrenching corruption along the way a la carte.

Beyond all of this however, we the people of the north must re- examine our socio-economic, socio-political and socio-cultural fundamentals with a view to understanding why we are where we are as the dregs of Nigeria's socio-economic disaster. We must, in all honesty, equally re-visit the misinterpretation or misapplication of our religious fundamentals - be it Christianity or Islam. Isn't there something fundamentally wrong with a system that perpetuates and nearly glorifies and encourages endemic poverty?

Away from the political leadership and its statutory obligation to the people lies the question of individual/private and group intervention in the north and that shall be the thrust of my own disquisition; approaching it from neither of two major paradigms of criticisms mentioned above. Why are the billionaires in the north not the type that give back to society? Why are the northern billionaires not getting busy in touching lives? Does it not shame us and challenge them that the Bill and Mellinda Gates Foundation is so passionate about combating the malaria and polio blight in our country? I cannot help but ask myself what goes on in the minds of our wealthy Alhajis and retired Generals. How about the Mac Arthur Foundation, Carnegie, Rockefeller, etc and their interventions all around us?    Would building a dozen world class primary and secondary schools in Dangote's ward or local government with the best of teachers and facilities be such a reprehensible act? Ironically it had to take Rochas Okorocha miles away, in Imo State, to build a befitting school in Kano and another one in Jos (which by the way is tuition free in addition to free lunch given to the students). How many Kanawa has Dangote sponsored to Harvard to go and study contemporary entrepreneurship or to Princeton; George Washington?

The same applies to Alhaji Dantata the construction mogul (now of blessed memory). How many people from his local government did he sponsor to go and study civil engineering in Paris, Germany or Italy? How many people did Rilwanu Lukman sponsor to go and study petroleum engineering or renewable / alternative/ clean energy having been in the petroleum industry both on the national and international scenes for ages? How many young men and women do these people mentor to follow in their footsteps? Who for the love of God inspires and influences their thought processes? How about the Abachas, the IBBs the Abdusalamis, the Atikus, the TY Danjumas, the   David Marks, the Bamanga Tukurs etc.

Is it not only logical and self-evident that a mass literacy revolution was and is still the way to go? Is the South West today not reaping the massive literacy investment of Awolowo? What then exactly do our leaders discuss at their ACF meetings?   What exactly do the 19 northern governors discuss when they meet - political power? to zone or not to zone? the perpetuation of PDP till eternity? the turbaning of dubious individuals and those of questionable characters with traditional titles (ably rubber-stamped by colluding emirs)? the marriage of Generals' daughters to Ministers' sons? The continued oppression, deprivation and neglect is sadly responsible for the menace of Boko Haram and as it were, it shows no signs of abating.

The thinking that the elite could amass wealth and unabashedly live in opulence next door to life snatching penury; send only their kids off to London, France and Dubai to come back as the new breed of oppressors to continue from where their parents stopped oppressing our parents and live in privileged exclusivity is being threatened.     Now that we all cannot sleep with our eyes closed because we don't know where the next bombs will go off, the north should as a matter of sincere urgency go back to the drawing board and seek redemption from itself. Time is not on our side.

As the north battles with its grip on political power, it would be great to take a close look at every other aspect of the Nigerian project where it trails behind the south and east. The following are my observations.

Aliyu Aliyu is a Masters Student of Public and International Affairs, University of Lag