By Charles Kumolu (Vanguard Newspaper)
WHILE international and local reports have repeatedly maintained that Northern Nigeria is the least developed region in the country, Balarabe Musa, a former governor of Kaduna State, in this interview noted that poverty should be seen as national crisis, rather than a northern problem.
He also added, that the educational backwardness in the north, would continuously make the region an obstacle to national unity. He spoke to CHARLES KUMOLU.
THE problem of insecurity threatening the northern part of Nigeria, is regarded by most people as a fallout of poverty across the 19 northern states, as a former governor of a northern state, what role do you think poverty plays in this crises?
The north will always stand in the way of national development and national security, because of the lower level of educational development. That is one aspect that the north is very backward in among other parts of Nigeria. But poverty is everywhere.
And the rich and the powerful, who have sufficient money to engage people to participate in organise violence, are not helping the situation. This kind of people, who fuel violence are found in North and South. So for us, we should be discussing the low level of development, which includes poverty, as a national problem and not a northern problem.
Emphasis should be given to instances where it is quite clear that there is a huge poverty gap between the north and the South.
And that case involves the area of educational development, where the North is lacking behind. Those, who are directly linking the crisis to poverty are expressing their opinion. The view of the CBN governor Sanusi on the issue is an elite opinion. The elite would always take their position, but poverty is everywhere in the country.
Some have placed this issue of underdevelopment of the northern region on the past and present leaders. What do you make of this?
What I want you to understand is that the whole of Nigeria is underdeveloped. What is underdevelopment? You view development in terms of the availability of industries. Is the South more developed than the north? In fact, if you are saying that the South is more developed industrially than the north, you should be talking only about Lagos, which is very developed.
It is Lagos that is more industrialised than any part of the north including Kano. But even at that, the gap is only a ten-year gap because it only concerns medium size industries. And if the northern leaders are patriotic, they can bridge this gap.
There is no industry in the South West that can not be built in the north within ten years. It is only the criminal indifference of northern leaders, that allowed the region to be in this sorry state. As I said, is there any industry in Lagos, which can compete with any industry in West Africa.
So the whole parts of this country is underdeveloped economically and socially. And the gap can be bridged wi
thin ten years if the northern leaders are serious. The only major area where the north is so backward, is in education, which has a 40-year gap.
The advantage that the South has over the north in terms of education, makes the north stand in the way of national unity. It will take time for the north to catch up with the South educationally, because by 1960, it was just a ten-year gap and it was based on secondary education.
But today if the federal government ask the north west, north east and north central to produce 500 engineers, the nineteen northern states, will not be able to do so. But in the South, one state alone can do so. That is why there is so much gap.
What about the argument that a poverty free north, would go a long way in addressing the present insecurity?
Exactly, poverty should be addressed nationally. But in solving the northern problem, there should be free and compulsory primary education. There should also be free secondary education. It can also be extended to the national level.
Northern leaders should not be relied on in doing this, because they have been criminally indifferent to the plight of their people. During Obasanjo’s era as military head of state and civilian president, Obasanjo is not a northerner but a Southerner, but was able to start a process that can bridge the gap between the north and south educationally.
He even brought about a system of nine-year education, which can solve the problem of Almajiri. But the north instead of making Obasanjo stick to it, they frustrated it. The leaders of the north were only interested in bargaining for political positions with Obasanjo.
At the end, they lost the political power and lost the opportunity of dealing with the Almajiri problem. And this has contributed greatly to the widening of the 40-year gap.
Poverty gap between north and south
Any poverty gap can be breached by a competent political leadership in the north. This northern poverty that people are abducing to insecurity is relative. The truth is that the whole of Nigeria is suffering from poverty. For people, who love the country and want the country to be out of the current situation, there should be a positive commitment to address poverty as a national question.
International statistics have proven that the whole of Nigeria is poor. And we that had the opportunity of being at the helm of affairs should work hard in bringing socio-economic benefits to the country.
But the Boko Haram crisis is believed to be a fallout of the excruciating poverty across the Northern states?
No! the backwardness is all over the country. It is like the chain all over the nation. Backwardness is only relative. And even this much talked about northern poverty is only on education. But in terms of social development there is no difference between the north and the south.
It is marginal. In terms of educational development, yes, there is a 40-year gap. But infrastructural level is the same everywhere. If you travel round the South, would you see these much hyped development? We are not saying that there is no poverty in the north.
What people should be saying is that there is a 40 year gap in the educational development of the south. Because of the condition of poverty throughout the north, you can not say there is educational prosperity in the region. Right now in the country, we have a lot of unemployed youths as a result of this poverty.
They are mainly post secondary graduates and most of them are from the south. If the south can produce an alarming number of post secondary graduates, would you say that the South is not poor? And it is because of the higher development of the south.
If you take these development into account, you will see that there is virtually no difference between the north and south. Because the whole country is faced with low level socio-economic development. For example, among the geo-political zones in the country, the south west is the most advanced educationally.
It had more years advantage in terms of educational development. But this advantage does not translate into economic development in the South west. It is not commensurable with the level of education in that region. For instance, if you travel through the northwest and south west, you will see the same level of development.
If you travel from Lagos to Abeokuta as an observer, would you see any socio-economic development that justifies the educational gap between north and south? So what I am saying in essence is that, we agree that the north is poor and the north was not meant to be poor, but for the criminal leadership we have had. But that does not mean that the South west is largely more developed than the north.
Why are you disputing the poverty level across the northern states, when most people even from the region have acknowledged this poor economic situation in the north?
The attitude of every body now, should be to accept that the whole of Nigeria is underdeveloped and poor. And this situation has its attending problems. So, problems should not be seen as a northern or southern problem. Every one should get involved and place Nigeria where it is supposed to be in terms of socio-economic development.
The difference between the north and south in terms of socio-economic level, is marginal and its not worth relying on. Even the so called education available in the country is a colonial dependent education, which needs to be addressed to bring about prosperity in our nation.