(Published in The PUNCH of Monday, April 15, 2019)
Sitting on a pyramid of wealth exceeding $10bn, Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, shouldn’t be worried by poverty. In fact, if Dangote decides to line his path and walk on $1million daily, poverty can’t come near his tent. But poverty has a way of worrying the superrich and giving them headaches. The blood-curdling sight of poverty burying its fangs in the jugular of the North has left Dangote in fright. He disclosed his personal fears some days ago when he spoke at the Kaduna Economic and Investment Summit, in Kaduna. Dangote said, “The North must focus on harnessing its massive agricultural potential in terms of both production and processing. No region with such a high agricultural potential should be this poor. We have what it takes to turn around our fortunes and I pray all the 19 governors of the northern states will wake up and follow (in) the footsteps of the Kaduna State Government.
“Given the vast arable land and conducive environment, I think in the next 10 years, agriculture can generate more revenue and prosperity than oil that we have now if we have the right commitment. While the overall socio-economic consideration in the country is a cause for concern, the regional indicators are very alarming. In the north-western and north-eastern parts of Nigeria, more than 60 per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty. It’s instructive to know that the 19 northern states, which account for over 54 per cent of the country’s population and 70 per cent of its landmass, collectively generated over 21 per cent of the total sub-national internally-generated revenue in 2017. Northern Nigeria will continue to fall behind if the respective state governments do not move to close the development gap.”
I admire Dangote for his honest view and decent public life. But I sympathize with him for agonizing over a regional malady long cast in beggary steel. The backwardness in northern Nigeria which Dangote seeks to address by his lamentation has long been overtaken by defiance. With their backs to the wall, hungry, angry and vengeful northern youths have been poking their fingers in the eyes of the nation, mushrooming into Boko Haram, herdsmen and kidnap gangs.
Death is the synonym for power without control. Today, the North is writhing in self-immolation because its leaders, over the years, had sought and got power, but never used it for regional or national good. They used it for personal enrichment while the army of disgruntled youths expanded beyond control. It’s not that the current leaders of the South-West and South-East are any better than their northern counterparts in terms of corruption and neglect, but the region’s First and Second Republic leaders invested in education whose dividends the regions have been enjoying for over five decades. The North, however, had been glued to the pyrrhic victory of attaining power and protecting it from other regions while it failed to prepare for the future.
Nigeria is a mistake in history. It’s the product of colonial rape, whose offspring has been struck by cerebral palsy, making it unable to get up from the crib – 58 years after birth. Nigeria was conceived in the slave era treachery and birthed into ethnic suspicion among her major tribes. If the wages of sin is death, the wages of Nigeria’s political suspicion and insincerity is poverty. The foundation for the country’s enduring poverty and backwardness was set at independence when the colonial lords preferred the mortar to the pestle. That was the advent of our national problem. At independence in 1960, the outgoing British overlords, wanting to still maintain a measure of control over Nigeria, decided to align with the North, placing political power in its hands. While other countries like Malaysia, India, Ghana, Canada, Australia etc that similarly got independence from Britain at various stages have made good their freedom, Nigeria has been shackled to the sin of her thoughtless past when General Yakubu Gowon declared that the problem with Nigeria wasn’t money, but how to spend it. The British have come and gone; I won’t be one to perpetually bemoan a paradise lost. But I’ll be the first to announce the signs indicating that our lost glories are in the horizon as we work out our redemption. I prefer our lion to pounce and not to roar in vain. I prefer the truth like Dangote expressed it.
Like a powerful geyser, truth squirted gallons of ceiling-high cold facts from the floor of the red chamber of the National Assembly few days ago. For about eight minutes, the dam of truth broke in the hallowed chamber, flushing through the hollow aisles, seeking to sweep off the country’s choking constitution in a tide wave. But after eight minutes of gushing truth, the oasis in the senate ebbed as the rickety pro-establishment engine croaked back to life, spurted black smoke and moved on. This is the same fate that will befall Dangote’s warning. Dangote has spoken. The powers that be have heard. But nothing will be done. People have been speaking in the last 50 years. Like an unheeded prophet, Dangote had warned in October 2016 that over 100 million Nigerians were living in poverty.
Since the inception of the National Assembly in 1999, I cannot remember when last truth was spoken so frankly, so audaciously and so tellingly as the senator representing Osun-Central senatorial district, Prof Sola Adeyeye, did some days ago on the floor of the Senate. With barely three weeks to the final breath of the 8th National Assembly, Adeyeye announced to a nonchalant parliament that the problem of the country was her constitution! While watching his presentation, I did a quick mental note on many of the 109 serving senators in the country and the word, b-e-n-c-h-w-a-r-m-e-r-s, echoed in my skull.
Canvassing for true federalism, the white-bearded biologist said, “When a nation or Republic cannot keep faith with justice and with the truth, it will never achieve unity, it will never achieve peace and it will never achieve progress. I dare to tell this nation today that this (thrusting up the constitution) is the problem; this constitution can never give us progress, this constitution can never give us peace, this constitution can never give us unity, and unfortunately, most of us in this National Assembly don’t have the spine to do what we need to do for this Republic to have peace and progress.
“What do I mean? This constitution has 68 items on the Exclusive List, this constitution has only 12 on the Concurrent List, and those 12 are written so nebulously, so fraudulently that you will know that the intention is to even undermine those on the Concurrent List. We must put in place, the same safeguards that presidential systems across the world put in place so that we can have what needs to run the society. In this chamber, we tried to federalize the police system. In this chamber, we failed. We failed because we didn’t summon the courage, the wisdom, the tenacity of purpose and the vision and the understanding of what is making nations across the world to work. We must revisit the revenue formula such that more money goes to states; states are where the people live, states are where the problems occur; states are where local ingenuity can be brought to solve local problems. We have only two months left, I don’t believe it’s too late, tomorrow, let our constitution review committee bring only one item, and let’s fast-track everything that we must have state police.”
But Adeyeye’s presentation was dead on arrival at a Senate which murmured in protest, turning his effort into a futile exercise in verbal gymnastics. Like Dangote, like Adeyeye.