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Poverty in the North

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Last month, the National Bureau of Statistics came out with the Nigeria Poverty Profile Report 2010 which showed, among other things, that absolute poverty is rising throughout the country and, more importantly, that the North is the most economically depressed and poverty-stricken part of the country. If the Bureau’s statistics have any significance at all, it is that they have confirmed, with facts and figures, what we have always known to be the case. It has always been obvious, from the increasingly falling living standards of most Nigerians, the rising level of rural and infrastructural decay, the  rising rate of unemployment and the collapse of industries, to mention but a few, that absolute poverty has been on the rise in our county. According to the Bureau’s figures, well over 60 million Nigerians now live below the poverty line-living on less than one dollar a day, as has now become the fashionable way of saying it. And, according to the Bureau also, most of these poor of the poor are northerners. The Bureau in fact cited the North-East geo-political zone as the poorest region of the country.

The North has been in a dire strait economically for long time now. Over the decades since the 1970s, the region’s agriculture has suffered a sharp decline, its industries - especially the textiles industry which has been the major source of employment and income generation in the region- have collapsed, its basic infrastructure has been decaying beyond imagination, its performance level in terms of the quantity and quality of education of its people has fallen sharply, its level of attraction of both local and foreign investment is very low, and the desert is fast encroaching into the region from the North, turning vast agricultural lands into waste and forcing millions of people off the land. High level of corruption and lack of clear vision and commitment on the part of the region's leaders have also been contributing to the region's woes.

But by far the biggest source of the region's poverty is the fact of its being short-changed in terms of its share from the federation account. The nation's existing revenue sharing formula has been so skewed against the region that its nineteen states individually and collectively get much, much less than their sizes, populations and the requirements of equity, fairness and justice entitle them to get. The 19 Northern states put together get, in a month, by far less than what the oil producing states, which enjoy 13 % derivation, get. Bayelsa state, very small in size and with a tiny population of a little above  one million people, for instance, gets in a month more than what the six North-Central states put together get from the federation’s purse, and even more than what the North-West zone states, minus Kano, get. Between 1999 and 2008, for instance, as the Governor of Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, pointed out recently, Rivers state, with a population of only about 2 million, got from the federation account a total of N1.52 trillion, while Kano state, with a population of about 10 million people, got, in the same period, only N285 billion, while small Bayelsa, in the same period, collected N660 billion.

In addition to their 13% derivation bonanza, the oil producing states also enjoy huge inflows of billions of Naira and benefit from all sorts of capital development  projects through the instrumentality of interventionist outfits and programmes, like the Niger Delta Basin and Rural Development Authority, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Ministry of Niger Delta, the Presidential Amnesty Programme and royalties from oil companies. In contrast, there is today no federal project or intervention programme worth the name anywhere in the entire Northern region.

It needs hardly be said that imbalances and lopsidedness in a sharing arrangement that puts sections of the country at a disadvantage, are potential sources of instability and conflict in the country. More pertinently, the state of extreme poverty to which such an arrangement has condemned the North, is clearly at the root of the many problems, including the insecurity challenge and violent eruptions that now bedevil the nation. There may not be, as some have argued, a direct connection between poverty and violence. But it can hardly be a coincidence that it is in the poorest parts of the North that we have groups and movements that subscribe to ideologies that preach the use of violence in pursuance of a cause. In any case, if the North is richer and more economically bouyant than it is now, and its industries are working to capacity and its millions of youths are either busy in the work place or in the schools learning, there will hardly be the kind of large armies of able bodied youths who, without jobs or hope of a good future, are available for hire and prone to fashioning their own or imbibing ideologies that may preach violence.

It should be obvious that if we want to overcome our current problems of insecurity, violence, mistrust and suspicions, we must ensure fairness and equity in the way we share our common wealth. The North must be given its fair share of the revenue that arises from a God-given resource that abides in the sea and land to which no one can claim to have an exclusive right of possession. Now that everything and every issue is on the table and the very existence and future of the country are being debated, the leaders of the North must come together and make a strong case for a greater and fairer share of the national wealth.

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