21 May 2012

Nigeria: North Doesn't Need a Ministry


As many northerners writhe in penury and insecurity, the United States has urged President Goodluck Jonathan to establish a ministry tasked with the specific development of the north, like the Ministry of the Niger Delta, as a way of addressing poverty and ending insurgency in the region.

It argued that the establishment of the Niger Delta ministry by the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua administration had helped to douse tension and end the militancy that crippled economic activities in the zone.

This position was contained in a recent address entitled "Nigeria: One Year After Elections" delivered by assistant secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, Jonnie Carson, at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC. Carson monitored last year's general election in Nigeria, as under-secretary for African affairs.

Possibly echoing this line of thinking, Osun State governor Rauf Aregbesola also recently called for the creation of the same ministry, as it could be the solution to the security challenges in the north.

He made the call while delivering a speech at a symposium on "Islam and Peaceful Co-existence in Contemporary Multi-Religious State" in Abuja.

Governments across the continent listen to positions expressed by the US on various socio-economic and political issues with due seriousness, whether these are expressed by Carson or other top-echelon officers of that super power. This is not without good reason. However this position would be well reasoned, we are of the opinion that the US, Aregbesola and other tendencies that are pushing this intervention strategy must have got it wrong.

First, the Ministry of Niger Delta model being cited is a failure by all parameters of gauging the efficacy of the socio-economic and quasi-political intervention agency. In the target region, corruption and poverty are rife. The theoretical impact it was envisaged to make is now a chimera.

The very idea of establishing special bodies for structural problems is one of the many bad ideas that Nigerians have inherited from years of military rule. Even at the level of kite flying - because the federal government has not expressed a clear position on this - the idea of creating a ministry of Northern affairs is extremely condescending and demeaning to northerners.

The experiment in southern Italy in the 1950s where the government of Italy intervened to stimulate economic growth and development in the less developed southern regions of the country came to grief with extreme corruption and mismanagement of funds. The Ministry of Niger Delta is mirroring that misadventure.

Transcending intellectual laziness which has come to define governance and policy conceptualisation in Nigeria, it would be better to find out the causative factors of northern poverty and resolutely deal with them. Why should a region of extraordinary promise become an arena of human misery?

If the federal government has neglected the north to the point of needing a ministry of Northern affairs, why should it be called upon to rescue the same north?

The core issues of quality and accountable governance should be addressed to reverse the socio-economic decay of the north. The federal government as well as the democratically elected and traditional leaders of the region have the moral burden to intervene in the circumstance and therefore must put on their thinking caps.

What the north needs is not a caretaker ministry, but genuine efforts by all stakeholders to get the region out of its current doldrums.

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