Recently, the emir of Kano, Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi proclaimed that if northern Nigeria was to become an independent country, it would be one of the poorest countries in the world, everything being equal. This inspired argument on the economic sensitivity of the north in a United Nigeria, I was interviewed on one of northern Nigeria’s most watched international Hausa TV channel- Wisal TV- to assess how Northern Nigeria fares in Nigeria socially and economically, and I wish to share with you some of my points during the live TV interview as follows:
First, one needs to first look at facts and realities before building opinion or sentiment. Let us look at the economic perspective of the argument using the indicator of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the most recent available disaggregate statistics of 2010 showed that among the top 10 most contributing states, only two were from the north, which were Kano and Kaduna placed at 6th and 10th Positions respectively, the remaining top eight states were all from the south. Looking at the bottom of the table (the relegation zone), eight out of the ten least contributing states were from the north. Based on these statistics, the north contributed only 26% of the total GDP of the country. This means that out of the total GDP of $369 billion in that year, the north contributed only $95 billion.
Therefore, if things are to stay as they are, the north will compare with countries like Sudan and will be placed at 63rd position in the world GDP ranking, instead of the current Nigerian position of 26th, the south would then (without the north) be placed at 54th position.
Looking at poverty indicator, on average, 66% of northerners are poor taking the average poverty prevalence rate of the 20 northern states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as reported by the United Nations using the international poverty threshold. Specifically, the north west is the poorest region in the country, with an average poverty rate of 81%. The average poverty rate of the south is just 24%. So, this indicates relative higher income level and perhaps more expenditure and economic activity in the south than in the north.
Even though poverty is multidimensional, some poverties cannot be measured, but the real experience and observations have shown higher level of mal-nutrition, higher illiteracy, poor health care system and poor drinking water in many of the rural and some urban populations in the north. This weakens productivity and efficiency of many of the northerners.
Despite the agricultural potentials of the north, this has not helped improve the productivity of the region significantly. Firstly, from a macroeconomic perspective, agriculture contributed 21.26% to the Nigerian GDP in the last quarter of last year. This share did not only come from the north, because the south also engages in agricultural activity. So how much the north really contributes to the agricultural productivity of the country? It is obvious, it contributes higher than the south, but the sensitivity of the northern agricultural production to the GDP will not be more than 15%. This is what the Nigerian GDP will lose if the north stops agricultural production in my own estimate.
Some argue that significant portion of agricultural outputs from the north profit the southerners more than the northerners, because the southerners invest and add value in most of agricultural produce in the north. For example, in meat production, a northerner may suffer to rear a cow and sell it at N60k (hypothetically) to a southerner, who will then slaughter the cow, process the meat and package it and sell it either within the country or abroad, and will eventually sell that cow at anything above N100k, making more profit than the northerner that reared the animal. This also applies to vegetables and other crops productions.
There is nowhere in the north where crude oil is being produced, which means 100% of the Nigerian crude oil production comes from the south. Even though oil contributes only 7.15% to the Nigerian GDP in the last quarter of last year, it is still the significant source of foreign earnings for the country. So, without the north, Nigeria can generate significant foreign income from production of crude oil. However, the north may soon find and produce oil, then the equation may change, we will wait and see.
Following all this, one will start to build opinion that north is not a significant contributor to the economy of the country. This may not be mistaken despite the huge population of the region. This is because, the northern population lack the required competitiveness and efficiency to translate into more productivity. With almost half of the region’s population being women, who are largely socially restrained from becoming economically active, as a result they become absolutely dependent on the remaining half of the population, that is men. Though men are the providers, but that does not give excuse for women to live below their potential and rely heavily on the men. Doing this causes high level of divorce and disrespect on women for their dependency. It also makes the economy of the northern women vulnerable to the shock of men’s economy.
Another reason why the northern population seems immaterial is children street begging, where over 20 million children from the region roam the streets begging for food without shelter, appropriate discipline and care. This causes huge waste of human capital, and all the potential productivity of these segments of the northern population are lost. So, despite the growing northern population, that has not translated into increasing economic activity.
One major cause of the poverty trap in the north is the quest for easy and quick money. Relying and preferring government jobs or white collar jobs has crippled the economy of the region. While in the south, hard work, perseverance and creativity has been the major drive of growth and development, especially in the state of Lagos. Some northerners hold the belief that God is the provider (which is true), but tend not to make efforts and endure, they would rather spend all what they have for today, leaving tomorrow uncertain. Of course, God is the provider, but one has to do his/her best, and leave the rest to God. This behaviour discourages efforts and make them engage in spending for a moment of enjoyment without reinvestment, thereby making their future uncertain.
The States’ Reliance on federal government allocation adds salt to the wound, where any shock in the federal government revenue will directly affects the purchasing powers of the northerners and shake their economy. Due to limited number of competitive professionals, viable opportunities are easily accessed once one is qualified in the north. However, in the southern part of the country, professionals will have to create and endure new businesses and opportunities to survive, because there are many competitive professionals competing for limited opportunities, so the safest option for southerners is always to create the job, which helps in growing their economy. So, there is no resistance to new opportunities in the south as opposed to north where traditional jobs and employment are the preferred option.
When talking about development, we have to look at the educational level of the regions, and it is obvious that the south is ahead of the north in terms of educational enrolment, where south has an average enrolment ratio of 88% and the north has 57%. This alone can justify the feeble development of the north, as education drives development. Finally, for every region to develop, it has to have leaders who are visionary, who look at today’s challenges and build a future free of those challenges. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum once said “The word impossible is not in the leaders’ dictionaries. No matter how big the challenges, strong faith, determination and resolve will overcome them.” The north will need to be more receptive and revisit certain cultural ethics and value that are confused with religion, and reorient its social settings. The 21st century civilization and development require a cultural shift from rigid to elastic one, so as to fit and catch up with the tide of globalisation.
Dr. Ahmed Adamu,
Petroleum Economist and Development Expert,
First-Ever Global President of Commonwealth Youth Council,
University Lecturer (Economics), Umaru Musa Yar’adua University, Katsina.