By Bologi M. Maikudi
The Northern Elders Forum has aligned with Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, who recently raised the alarm over the rising rate of poverty and insecurity in the North.
Dangote had at the 4th edition of the Kaduna Investment and Economic Summit (KADInvest 4.0) said 60 per cent of the northern population lived in extreme poverty.
Saying the level was unacceptable, considering the arable land in the North, Dangote had urged the governors to wake up and pull the North out of abject poverty.
“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 landmass collectively generated only 21 per cent of the total sub-national Internally Generated Revenue in 2017.
“Northern Nigeria will continue to fall behind if the respective state governments do not move to close the development gap…,” Dangote had said.
The NEF chairman, Professor Ango Abdullahi, told journalists in his farmhouse in Zaria, Kaduna State, that the federal government and political leaders in the North are to blame for the regrettable situation in the region.
Abdullahi, who read out the position of the elders on the alarming spate of insecurity in the North, insisted that the governors failed because of their “irresponsible governance.”
“We fully endorsed Dangote’s observations. Of course, you don’t need to go anywhere to search for the existence of abject poverty in this country, particularly in the northern part of Nigeria.
“But then, where do you put claims of responsibility? Our position like Aliko Dangote’s, is that there is irresponsibility of governance especially in the North.
“I think this is consistent with what we said in one of our meetings in Kaduna where NEF and other groups issued a communiqué which indicted both the state and federal governments and even indicted political leaders in their roles and responsibilities, including the legislative and executive branches, for not doing enough to deal with the challenges of poverty and underdevelopment in northern Nigeria.
“We even went on to warn them (governors and political leaders of northern extraction) that we are going to alert our people not to elect them in the recently concluded elections because of their inability to do those things that they were elected to do.
“We completely agree with Dangote that poverty is here (North). Of course, my take is that leadership has failed at governance level, particularly at the state and local government levels,” he lamented.
He, however, said the only way out was to embrace agriculture, noting that there was no way poverty could be eliminated in the North without given proper attention and commitment to agricultural development in the region.
“But then, how do you challenge the poverty situation of the country and northern Nigeria? “If you develop agriculture which employs between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of the entire labour force in the country, that will keep the rural population busy and productive. Once you are productive, you will escape from poverty and you will be taking a lot of people out of poverty,” Abdullahi said.
The former Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, said the alarming spate of insecurity occasioned by banditry particularly in Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Sokoto states, would persist without effective policing.
He also questioned the political and leadership will of President Muhammadu Buhari to effectively tackle insecurity of lives and property of the citizens.
This was just as he described as unacceptable the inadequate funding of the Nigeria Police Force, noting that the capacity of the force to tackle the security challenges bedevilling the country remained unthinkable with its meagre resources and few personnel.
On the establishment of state police, Abdullahi said the issue was a “constitutional” matter that should be discussed thoroughly without emotional outburst.
Also, NEF expressed concern over the 13.5 million out-of-school-children in the North, saying that “if not tackle now, it will pose a great danger to the region.”
He noted that the challenge remained a time bomb in the region should the government failed to tackle it.
The former VC added, “Today, we are talking of 13.5 million children out of school and 90 per cent of this number is from the North.
“These are children of between ages six and seven that are out of school. They have no vocational training and other means of survival and in the next 10 to 15 years, they will become adults. What do you expect?”