The North Is Dying

Posted: July 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

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Tajudeen Suleiman|amebo

The Boko Haram insurgency, along with other cases of insecurity, is rapidly killing the North and digging deeper the gully that separates the northern and southern parts of the country economically and socially

Kano, the capital city of Kano State in North-west Nigeria, wears the sobriquet of the city of commerce. It is the city that was a Mecca of sorts for traders from the Maghreb region as well as other parts of the country. Not any more. Kano has since lost the allure, the regional attraction that was the appeal to people from within and outside Nigeria. No thanks to the series of attacks on the town by members of the dreaded Boko Haram, the fundamentalist Islamic sect, which is tormenting the northern parts of the country. The immediate effect has been the mass relocation of non-indigenes and business concerns from a city hitherto regarded as one of the most peaceful places to invest in the country. Yet the loss of a bustling business climate is not the only headache that the government of the state would have to deal with. The main concern for the leadership of the state now is how to stem the tide to paralysis that is staring the state in the face.

Members of the ubiquitous National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, have served notice that they will withdraw their service from the state if the authorities do not address the problem of insecurity. PENGASSAN was particularly concerned that the attack on Christians and the reprisal attacks could lead to a state of anomie, which is why they raised the alarm that the country might be going the way of the former Yugoslavia.

A statement signed by Deji Kolawole, national publicity secretary of PENGASSAN, entitled, “The Road to Yugoslavia,” warned: “We must note that an eye for an eye would only make us all blind.” That is why the two unions assume that the region was getting too hot for their members to operate in.

The threat is coming as southern merchants and businessmen living in Kano and some other parts of the North are daily relocating to Abuja or to states in the southern parts of the country. In the solid minerals and the construction sectors where a large population of youths, women and children are employed, the rising cases of kidnap of expatriates have led to an exodus of investors. In Kaduna State alone, officials of the ministry of solid minerals told the magazine that more than 20,000 people are employed in the solid minerals sector. The figure is even more in Zamfara, Kano, Nasarawa and other states under the threat of Boko Haram. The means of livelihood of such persons is now being threatened. The construction industry is also virtually dead, with many companies closing shop. Julius Berger, the construction giant, also announced the suspension of its operations in northern Nigeria due to security concerns. Wolfing Goetsch, managing director, stated this last month at the company’s annual general meeting in Abuja. The company is only trying to protect its staff. The two expatriates killed in the botched rescue exercise in Kano were working at a construction site when people believed to be members of the Boko Haram sect kidnapped them.

Prior to this development, small and medium scale businesses run by non-indigenes had been shut down while their proprietors relocated to other parts of the country. So what used to be the bubbling commercial centre of many years is shrinking to a jungle-like settlement where everybody has to look over his shoulder for safety. The tragedy is that this is having a telling effect on, not only Kano but also, other areas in the region.

The federal government identified this decline last February when Labaran Maku, the minister of information, decried the attack on the city as a dangerous dimension that is capable of crippling commerce in the region. “The attack on Kano is so significant because Kano has always been the commercial centre of western Sudan for the past 500 years. Ever before the evolution of Nigeria, Kano was the economy of the north and the economy of Niger Republic, Chad, and northern Cameroun. So when you destabilise peace in Kano you threaten the foundation of economic and social well-being of all northerners,” he explained.

The spate of insecurity, charaterised by ethnic conflicts and Boko Haram insurgency, is fast demolishing the remnants of economic and social infrastructure of the North, with the unpalatable prospect that life would become tougher and harder in the region. This was why Abubakar Sa’ad, the Sultan of Sokoto, described the attacks as coming from “evil forces,” and not Islam fighters as claimed by the group.

Sambo Dasuki, the new national security adviser, NSA, was also shocked at the devastation caused by the reign of violence unleashed on Nigerians in the North by Boko Haram. He told stakeholders at a security meeting in Jos recently that he had visited the states that had come under the attack of Boko Haram and had seen the “dangerous effects” of their attacks. He called on all to support government’s effort at checking the spread of the menace.

Before Boko Haram, life was already tough and hard enough for most Nigerians, especially those in the northern parts of the country where years of misrule and corruption had rendered most states unviable.

The living standard survey conducted by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS, for the year 2010 shows that poverty has been on the increase while standard of living has continued to fall. In a report released last February, the agency found that absolute poverty in the country increased from 54.4 per cent in 2004 to 60.9 per cent in 2010 (or 99,284,512 Nigerians). The report said the North-west and North-east zones of the country recorded the highest poverty rates with 70 per cent and 69 per cent respectively in 2010 while the South-west recorded the lowest at 49.8 per cent. By NBS’s estimation, 61.2 per cent of Nigerians were living below $1 per day, and most of these people are to be found in the North. The report said poverty and inequality in income distribution has been on a steady increase in the country since 2003. But by 2011, the situation had gone worse.

What makes the situation very gloomy for the North is the extent to which the air had been fouled. The business environment performance index compiled by the African Institute for Applied Economics, AIAE, Enugu, for 2010 gave a thumb down for the North-west and North-east. The two zones came lowest in infrastructure and utilities; business development support and investments promotion; and entrepreneurship promotion, scoring below the national average of 33 per cent. The South-west and the South-South were scored highest, with Lagos coming top.

With the siege on Maiduguri and Kano, the two major centres of commerce in the North, members of the business community believe the North may be dead industrially and commercially. Bashir Borodo, a former president of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, said in a recent interview that the North suffers a setback, because nobody would put his money in a place where there is insecurity. To further worsen the problem, Borodo said the commercial cities of Kano and Maiduguri rely more than 80 per cent on outsiders who come in to buy goods. Traders come from Niger, Chad and Cameroun to buy in Maiduguri while Kano is the supply centres for traders and businessmen in the North-west and other parts of the country. But with the prevailing insecurity in the North, the traders have stopped, even as many of the non-indigenes doing business there are voting with their feet.

Ahmad Rabiu, a former president of the Kano Chamber of Commerce and now chairman of the Conference of Northern States Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, disclosed that the North was losing N25 billion daily to the Boko Haram crisis. As if that is not enough, education at all levels is also suffering as a result of the prevailing security situation. In a region where school enrolment is said to be lowest in the country, schools have come under Boko Haramattacks. In a video posted on YouTube in February, the sect leaders called on its followers to destroy schools providing Western education.

A Nigerian education data survey in 2010 found that Borno State had the lowest school enrolment in the country with only 28 per cent of school age children in school. But that figure has no doubt greatly depleted as a result of the Boko Haram siege in the state. At least 15 schools have been reported burnt down in Maiduguri city alone, forcing more than 7,000 children out of school. The figure is believed to be rising daily. This is why some of the state governments have resorted to appealing to parents to keep their children in school and not be intimidated by the security situation. Officials of ministries of education have reportedly begun routine visits to schools to give motivational talks to staff, pupils and parents. Despite this, the security situation is bound to compound the educational woes of the North and further widen the gap between it and the South. While private higher institutions are rapidly springing up in the South to complement the over-stretched public institutions, only a handful has been established in the North. The National Universities Commission, NUC, said 50 private universities have been licensed to operate in the country till date. Out of this figure, fewer than 15 are established in northern Nigeria. The unrelenting activities of Boko Haram in the North have prompted apprehension about the future of northern Nigeria and that of the entire country. Apart from widening the gap between the North and the South economically and educationally, Boko Haram insurgency in the North may endanger the corporate existence of the country. Already, food production and supply of cattle to the South have been impeded as a result of the unrest. In fact, most people who were engaged in productive activities have escaped from the region to find greener pastures in the South. People like this would be forced to join the army of unemployed, except they have some resources to start a business in the South. Apart from that, they would now struggle with people in the South over the limited facilities in the area.

Northern youths believe if the current situation continues, they may have nothing to give them hope about the future. Gambo Gujungu, president of the Arewa Youth Forum, AYF, lamented in an interview with the magazine last week that the North was dying and no one has found any solution to the problem. He said while industries had stopped operating and millions of youth were still without jobs, thousands are graduating from schools without any hope for a livelihood.

He said: “If it continues like this, God forbid, the North is finished because the future is bleak. Majority of youths are unemployed and our elite and governors have collected billions of naira on our behalf without anything to show for it. Our leaders have failed us and they have misguided us. Now the crisis is moving from political to religious and this is why the situation is dangerous.”

The youths are not the only ones who think political leaders are culpable. Bello Junaid, an elder and co-ordinator of the Sokoto Historical Project, said the Boko Haram crisis was foisted on the North by “selfish northern politicians” who were not happy that power slipped from their hands. That is why Ahmedu Abubakar, a businessman and politician said in an interview first published in TELL edition of September 6, 1999, “unless there is a fundamental shift in political thinking and serious about turn by the North, the future of Nigeria cannot be guaranteed. (See box) That appears to be manifesting now, such that people like Junaid are seriously concerned that “Everything in the North is gone because our leaders lacked focus; everything the first generation leaders did have been allowed to collapse. Our leaders are selfish and self-centred. Even this Boko Haram, is it not our leaders who are behind it? Because power slipped from them, they don’t want any other person there. Our leaders are just fooling us. The leaders have become something like the HIV to us in this zone.” So what benefit has political power held by northerners for decades recorded for the region? The country has been ruled by northerners for the better part of its independence and little has been made in terms of development in the area. This accounts for the high level of poverty in the region.

Festus Okoye, a Kaduna-based legal practitioner, also said a climate of fear, anxiety and insecurity has enveloped most states in northern Nigeria, leading to the exodus of persons and complete paralysis of business activities and developmental initiatives. “In places like Borno, Yobe, Kano and Kaduna states, a substantial number of businesses have closed down or partially closed down. Some are in a period of transition and relocation. Others are not opening and not thinking of opening new outlets. This is on account of the number of deaths recorded in some of the conflicts and the mindless looting and destruction of properties of individuals in these conflicts,” he recounted.

He said the rising cases of insecurity in northern Nigeria has led to exodus of professionals in the health and education sectors, attendant devastating effect on the progress towards attaining the Millennium Development Goals. He warned that the situation must not be allowed to continue as it may jeopardise the future of the country, adding: “Acute poverty in any part of Nigeria is a threat to national security and stability.” He is right. States in the South are already playing host to northerners who could not endure the crisis in the North any longer. The danger is that the little economic gains recorded in the South may be eroded by the influx of people from other parts.

Okoye is supported by Akpan Ekpo, a professor of economics and director-general, West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management, WAIFEM, who told the magazine that investors would not come to a country where there is insecurity in any part of it. He observed that local and foreign investors were running away from the North and Nigeria because of the rising insecurity. “They don’t want to put their money in any economic activity in an area where there is no security, where terrorist acts are perpetrated without restraint, thus jeopardising the lives of their employees and their investments,” he opined, explaining further that “once that continues for a while, it means that there will be no growth in the economy of the North, and when there is no growth, it would affect their living standard in the medium and long term.” But the South would have to accommodate those who run away from the heat that is in the North.

There is no doubt that Boko Haram is a major security challenge for the North and the country now, but the North is also threatened by ethnic, communal and religious crises which have reared their heads in states like Plateau, Bauchi, Benue and Kaduna. The conflict between the Hausa-Fulani settlers and the Berom of Jos has created walls of hatred among the residents, and secret killings have become regular in many communities in the states. The latest was the tragic attack on nine Berom villages at night by suspected Fulani herdsmen. More than 50 persons, including women, were reported killed in the raid. There is widespread belief that unless the crisis in Jos is amicably resolved, groups like Boko Haram would continue to threaten the peaceful co-existence of the country.

Junaid Mohammed, a prominent northern leader, told the magazine that Boko Haram may not end if the Jos crisis does not end. “The Jos crisis is critical to the survival of this country, and if it is not resolved quickly and amicably, I don’t see any end to Boko Haram,” he stated. He may be right. When Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the recent church bombings in Jos, it said it was avenging alleged killings of the Hausa-Fulani in different parts of the state.

Now there are fears that the Jos scenario is now being re-enacted in Kaduna where the state has become more polarised along ethnic and religious lines. The conflict is also between the Hausa-Fulani who are mainly Muslims and the people of southern Kaduna who are largely Christians. The political rivalry between the two major ethnic and religious blocs in the state has become more delicate after the recent bombings of three churches in Zaria and Kaduna where scores of worshippers lost their lives.

Residents who spoke to the magazine reported secret killings by the two sides since after the church bombings, a development that has now put the state and residents on edge. The state government had to impose a 24-hour curfew on the state following a spate of reprisal killings after the church blasts. The curfew was relaxed a few days later but the heavy presence of security personnel in parts of the state is an indication that things were still far from calm.

No doubt, the challenge of resolving the ethnic conflict in Plateau and Kaduna states is as daunting as tackling Boko Haram, and no one knows that better than Sambo Dasuki, the new NSA. Less than two weeks after assuming duties, he called a stakeholders’ meeting in Jos, where he listened to the people’s explanations for the crisis and the way forward. He told the gathering, which included top religious and ethnic leaders, that the well-being of Jos was critical for the well-being of the country. He solicited their cooperation and said government would do its best to redress the situation.

But can the North and Nigeria get out of this impasse? Everyone seemed to believe that the problems are not insurmountable if those in government at state and federal levels are willing to solve the problems. The first step, many agreed, is to achieve a Boko Haram ceasefire so that governments could begin the process of reconciliation and rehabilitation.

The federal government has repeatedly said it was ready for dialogue, but could not engage in a discussion with a faceless group. Instead, the government has continued to pursue the military option, hoping to neutralise the sect. But that has not happened, and many in government, including the new NSA, seem to now believe that the way out is for government to initiate dialogue with the group. He was quoted as saying he had also obtained telephone numbers of key leaders of the sect with a view to talking with them on bringing the violence to an end. But in what appears a setback last week, Boko Haram denied the claim, accusing Dasuki of lying about the telephone numbers.

This notwithstanding, Abubakar Tsav, a retired commissioner of police and one of the critics of government’s approach to the Boko Haram crisis, told the magazine last week that “the new NSA has started well because you need to talk to people and get their confidence. Even the Fulani herdsmen who are killing people, they should be invited for dialogue. They have leaders and government should talk to them and not ignore them. They may have grievances. I believe the way the NSA is going, we will soon see the end of these crises,” he stated with a tinge of optimism.

But even if the government is able to persuade Boko Haram to cease fire, it may just be the beginning of another crisis. Isa Aremu, deputy president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, said: “Whether in Kaduna, Jos, Kano or Maiduguri (the problems) are all crises of governance,” because governments have abandoned “development agenda and replaced it with corruption and selfish agenda.” This is why the international community, especially the United States of America, has urged the government to look at the socio-economic angle of Boko Haram. Johnnie Carson, the United States assistant secretary for African Affairs, recently stated that Nigeria “requires a security as well as a socio-economic strategy to ultimately resolve the problem of insecurity.”

But who will address the socio-economic woes of northern Nigeria? Is it the state governments or the federal government? But while the people look up to their state governments to improve their living conditions and give hope to the youths, the Northern Governors’ Forum, NGF, wants a review of the revenue sharing formula that would give more money to states in the region to address security and the problem of mass poverty. Some northern leaders have also suggested that if the federal government could create the Ministry of Niger Delta to address the problems of unemployment and environmental degradation in the region, it should also create a similar ministry to address the problem of mass poverty in the North. But the South insists that the case of the Niger Delta is different and expects northern governors to be more creative with the allocations they receive from the federation accounts.

However, even among northerners, there are northern leaders who believe most of the governors merely squander the allocations for their states. Jeremiah Useni, a retired general and former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, said the governors should use the allocations given to them well before asking for more. In a similar vein, Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress, alleged: “Only a few of them are working, the rest are just squandering the money.” Junaid has a more radical suggestion: “I swear, I don’t think we can catch up with the South ever. Unless these elders leave the scene and allow a generational shift so that we can have leaders with focus, we’re not going anywhere. If you look at the South, there is a generational shift going on.”

Additional report by Helen Eni

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