9 January 2013

Nigeria: Growing Poverty in the North


The latest information on the country's human capital index released last weekend by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) returned a grim picture of northern Nigeria. According to the NBS, at the end of 2012, Sokoto was the poorest state in the country with 81.2 per cent poverty rate.

Other states with over 70 per cent poverty rate include Katsina, 74.5 per cent; Adamawa, 74.2 per cent; Gombe, 74.2 per cent; Jigawa, 74.1 per cent; Plateau, 74.1 per cent; Ebonyi, 73.6 per cent; Bauchi, 73 per cent; Kebbi, 72 per cent and Zamfara, 70.8 per cent. All except Ebonyi are located in the northern hemisphere of the country. The average poverty rate of the states in the north-west geopolitical zone remained the highest at 71.4 per cent followed by the north-east at 69.1 per cent and the north-central, 60.7 per cent.

The report also showed that unemployment was highest in Zamfara State with 42.6 per cent, followed by Bauchi, 41.4 per cent; Gombe, 38.7 per cent; Nassarawa, 36.5 per cent; and Jigawa, 35.9 per cent.

However, the NBS statistics appear to have grossly underestimated the intensity of poverty that defines Nigeria's paradox of "rich country with poor people". While we agree that the north certainly has the highest number of poor people in the country, we do not agree that the north is poor. It is one of the vibrant regions of the country.

It has approximately half the percentage population of the country and occupies 70 per cent of the country's land mass of 923.713 square kilometres. This is accentuated by its land potential as arable resource that can support all-year-round agricultural production. The north's endowment of huge deposit of solid minerals is also an indictment on its leadership, especially northern governors who could not think outside the box to tap these resources and maximize the opportunity to make life more abundant for the people.

It is quite strange that 90 per cent of northern Nigerians are poor and exist largely at the mercy of fate. A better-governed region or country should have been talking about how to fine-tune the rich potential in agriculture, how to find more money to upgrade the education of children many of whom have taken to street begging, how to provide food security and health care, how to reduce defence expenditure, how to more effectively fight crime or protect the entire environment, how to revamp the economy or scale the pinnacles of information and communication technology.

Compounding these crises that the region faces is the absence of major industrial concerns that could have absorbed the increasing number of unemployed young people. Little wonder corruption in and around the seat of government has led to indiscipline, social atrophy, economic deprivation and social injustice, aggravating chaos and violence that now threaten national security.

To save the north and the nation, there is need to embark on aggressive re-industrialisation and strategic development planning. Indiscriminate setting up of tertiary institutions that churn out millions of half-baked, unemployable graduates can never cure the ills of the country. Poverty rates can only get worse. The one-cure solution is good leadership that our country has not been able to get.

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