GOVERNOR Nasir El-Rufai has conceded that the leadership of northern Nigeria is to blame for its economic backwardness as the area is responsible for the poorest and least educated members of the populace while the south of the country is advancing.
Despite the fact that between 1999 and 2015 Nigeria enjoyed an average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 6%, the country has the highest number of people living in absolute poverty worldwide. In addition, Nigeria also has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world and is home to the highest number of internally displaced persons globally.
Lagos State in southwest Nigeria, accounts for about one quarter of the country’s GDP and about one third of non-oil GDP. This emphasises the lopsided nature of Nigeria’s economic development which has seen the south enjoy industrial growth and rising literacy rates, while the north is plagued by banditry, religious extremism, growing illiteracy, child marriages and an increasing dependence on federal government handouts.
Speaking as a summit in Kaduna yesterday, Governor El-Rufai said that Nigeria is made up of a developing south and a backward, less educated and unhealthy north, with the highest number of poor people in the world. He added that the problems of the region must be addressed collectively as a group by the 19 northern state governors and not as individual states.
Governor El-Rufai said: “When we talk about awakening the spirit, it means the spirit is either sleeping or dead. Looking at the statistics, Nigeria appears to be a middle-income country but, if we segregate those statistics across states and zones, you will see that in terms of human development indicators, Nigeria consists of two countries, as there is a backward, less educated and unhealthy northern Nigeria and a developing, largely educated and healthy southern Nigeria.
“We have to speak the truth to ourselves and ask why is it that northern Nigeria has development indicators similar to Afghanistan, a country still at war? We have the largest number of poor people in the world, most of them in northern Nigeria and Nigeria also has the largest number of out-of-school children, virtually all of them in Northern Nigeria.
“Northern Nigeria has become the centre of drug abuse, gender violence, banditry, kidnapping and terrorism and we have also been associated with high divorce rate and the breakdown of families. We must, therefore, as leaders at all levels have a conversation about the way forward for our part of the country because increasingly, as many of you must have seen on social media, we are being considered as the parasite of the federal economy, even though, that is not entirely true.”
He added, however, that despite these setbacks, there are still a few bright sparks as northern Nigeria still feeds the nation and the richest businessman in Nigeria is still Aliko Dangote. Governor El-Rufai also added that you can hardly can find someone from northern Nigeria convicted of 419 or being a Yahoo boy.
“We are generally considered to be more honest and less corrupt than other Nigerians, which is something we should be proud of. In addition, our demographic superiority gives us a very powerful tool to negotiate in politics and that is something we should be proud of, so we have every reason to unite and not be divided.
“I, therefore, call on you the youth as you account for 80% of the northern population and the future of this region lies in your hands, not in the hands of dinosaurs like me. I’m 59 and among the oldest 5% of the northern population. I shouldn’t even be governor, I should have been governor 10 years ago but na condition make crayfish bend, so we are here.
“In my view, we are here to prepare the next generation of leaders so, you should take the panel discussions very seriously and come up with very clear and implementable decisions that you will circulate to all of us elected to lead in northern Nigeria. I urge Northern Hibiscus to send recommendations from this summit to the chairman of northern state governors’ forum as we have to do something about the situation of northern Nigeria and we must do so as a group of 19 governors, not individual state governors,” Governor El-Rufai said.