Governors of the nineteen Northern states got a timely piece of advice mid last week when President of the Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, urged them to embark on immediate steps to reduce the high level of extreme poverty in the region. Dangote, reputed to be Africa’s richest man, spoke at the Fourth Edition of Kaduna Economic and Investment Summit in Kaduna. The event, organised by the Kaduna Investment and Promotion Agency, had the theme “Expanding investment frontier.”
Dangote said, “In the north western and north eastern parts of Nigeria, more than 60 per cent of the population live in extreme poverty. It is 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 land mass, collectively generated only 21 percent of the total sub-national Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in 2017.”
He added, “Northern Nigeria will continue to fall behind if respective state governments do not move to close the development gap…The North must focus on harnessing its massive agricultural potentials, in terms of production and processing. No region with such agricultural potential should be this poor. We have what it takes to turn around our fortunes… Given the vast tracts of arable land and conducive condition, 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.”
At a time when there is a deafening complaint about the high level of insecurity in many parts of the North, raising the issue of extreme poverty is very timely because the connection between the two phenomena is not difficult to see. Some experts have however said that it is rising expectations from relative poverty, rather than crippling extreme poverty, that cause widespread criminality such as we are experiencing.
Even though other parts of Nigeria are not exactly beds of roses, the business mogul was right to say that the level of extreme poverty in the North is not acceptable given its land and resource potentials. We should add that most of the people in the region are engaged in backbreaking subsistence farming, fishing, petty trading, energy-sapping pastoralism and tough urban jobs such as long distance truck driving. Yet, the low level of human capital ensures that Northerners do not reap commensurate benefits from their hard work.
Going forward, there is urgent need for a regional economic emancipation plan with short, medium- and long-term elements. The business mogul has already said that agriculture, local and foreign investment are the road to salvation, at least in the short and medium terms. Indeed, governors of the 19 Northern states should play a key role in developing this plan, but the Federal Government has an even bigger responsibility in this regard because it has more resources, is responsible for overall national economic development and it also controls all the national macro-economic mechanisms to woo investors, protect local industry and provide incentives.
Intense investment in education in order to greatly improve human capital is the long-term solution, for the North and other parts of Nigeria. We are in a transitional period right now because eight Northern states will have new administrations from May 29. We challenge these new regimes and the old ones to take off strongly on May 29 with a well thought out, region-wide plan of rapid economic transformation in order to reduce and ultimately eliminate extreme poverty.