8.3 trillion naira. 52.7 billion dollars. This is what the 19 northern states of Nigeria received between 1999 and 2010 and the most we have to show for it is the rise of terrorism and the senseless murder of thousands of Nigerians.
Deliberate waste, extravagance and inefficiency dictate that at least 70% of this money was spent on recurrent expenditure (civil servants' salaries, government officials' allowances, cars, official accommodation trips, entertainment etc.) which generated no value for the citizens. But that still leaves over 15 billion dollars unaccounted for and, at the end of the day, no matter how nicely the donor agencies want to package things in Jigawa and Niger states, for example, the citizens who live there know the truth.
Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo, the nation's first periodical written in Hausa language, was founded in northern Nigeria in 1939 and the import of the name of this paper - that truth is more important than money-seems hauntingly prescient not only for the north, but for all of Nigeria. Today, it seems near-impossible to know the truth and tell the truth, and this is because of the corrupting influence of money and the power that comes with those in government not being accountable to anyone.
While citizens who call the north home nurse their hungers and deal with the systematic impoverishment of their minds and bodies, they know that as little as possible of what is supposed to be spent on development actually gets to them. The ex-presidents, statesmen, who consistently bid for and win contracts to fix roads which never get fixed, the governors who force local governments to 'donate' to personal celebrations, white elephant projects with generous mobilization fees, the annual junkets in the name of Allah or God - this is how the money is frittered away. And yet these same governors, some now safely in the National Assembly, keep agitating for even more money and want to be accepted as serious contenders for the presidency.
It is true that we have a taste for making the simplest things extremely complicated and it is accurate to describe our processes as purpose-built to obfuscate, but the truth cannot be hidden forever. After accepting the bitter fact that 70% of the funds that come to the north will be spent on the structures of governance, we are left with the evidence of the human development indices in the north and the existing infrastructure which are not commensurate with what 15 billion dollars can do, if such funds were spent judiciously over 11 years.
As is to be expected, some of the governors are already defending themselves. Former governor of Kaduna and now Senator Makarfi told Daily Trust that it was unfair to lump all the governors and their various terms together, because some of them did well. However, despite his self-promoting list of achievements including restoration and sustenance of peace and an overhead bridge in Kawo, he has missed the point, and many who try to defend themselves will miss the point as well. There could be a few roads, roundabouts and maybe even schools which were set up over the last 11 years - but when the proceeds received are matched with the output, it is unlikely the scale will tip in favour of 'money well spent'.
Unfortunately, the squandering of resources by those in government is only part of the problem with the north. To compound issues, there seems to be a deliberate policy to keep human resources unskilled and unable to contribute to the economy and to promote the worst type of mediocrity into government. This is another 'truth' that gets submerged in the now endless rounds of seminars and symposiums to discuss the north's underdevelopment and security challenges. These same governors find it a rewarding strategy to ensure that their deputies and most of the people they surround themselves with are people who cannot be perceived as threats to their ambitions to completely personalize the institutions they oversee. In so doing, these governors ensure that government is largely made up of people who do not have the capacity to deliver on any of the responsibilities of the state and that there is no credible preparation for worthy successors who will have the experience and skills to drive the development Nigeria so badly needs.
The refusal to tell the truth is what has made it near-impossible for us to have any meaningful conversation about the state of the nation or even the state of the north - it's ironic considering the 'Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo' heritage. Any attempt to demand accountability from government, especially with regards to how revenue is spent, almost inevitably results in counter-allegations and desperate tactics to change the subject - exactly what Oby Ezekwesili is facing as a result of her presentation 'The Wealth and Poverty of a Nation: Who will Restore the Dignity of Nigeria?' which she delivered last week during the University of Nigeria convocation ceremony. By calling on new graduates and all Nigerians to recognize their powers and hold those in positions of authority accountable for public funds, particularly the federal government and its management of the excess crude account and foreign reserve account, she has opened herself to attacks and counter-accusations from the agents of the FG.
This attack is not only an attempt to discredit her and change the topic, but to ensure that Nigerians learn that it does not pay to try to hold government accountable. Yet, this same call she made in Nsukka is the same call the northern elite should be making to the northern governors on behalf of the majority, who have been deliberately kept uneducated, unskilled and disempowered.
But there are no calls - because truth, for now, has been silenced with millions, billions and trillions of naira. Until speaking the truth without fear or favour returns to Nigeria, we will continue to suffer the corruption and mediocrity of those in government.