Thursday 11 July 2019

The Backward North and The Developing South; El-Rufai May Be Humouring South-West For Political Advantage - Babafemi Ojodu

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Babafemi Ojodu, a former aide to President Muhammadu Buhari on political matters, says Nasir el-Rufai, governor of Kaduna, maybe “humouring the south-west for political advantage.”

El-Rufai had portrayed Nigeria as “two countries: developing south and a backward, less educated and unhealthy north, with the world’s highest number of poor people.”

But in an article entitled “El-Rufai is Wrong”, Ojodu said the south-west is living on past glory.
I love reading my friend Mallam El Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State. You may not always agree with him. You may not like his style. Some even think he talks too much. But here is a man who is passionate about Nigeria, and about governance. He fears no foe and he says and do what he believes in.

I prefer him to the caterwauling princes who pretend to be concerned about advancing the cause of the people but are always thinking of the next election and the next appointment. These are those a friend of mine refers to as the “kids without the whiz.” They abound in our land, El Rufai is different.

Hence, when El Rufai talks we must pay heed. To this end, I’m worried about the statement made recently by El Rufai about two Nigerias; one the backward North and second the developing south.

I think he got things wrong and he needs to be quickly corrected. It is very important to correct this assertion so that some non-discerning elements from the South will not start jumping up and dancing. They will not as profoundly delusional as the elephant, who was about to be made king of the jungle where the lion has set a trap with his chief adviser the tortoise on a throne set atop massive hole; a o merin jo ba!

It is a fallacy to say that the south is developing. Every part of Nigeria is at best yearning for development. At worst we have a profound reality, an uneven pace of development across states around which Nigeria has been divided since 1967.

See, it may be high time we stop analyzing Nigeria in the spectrum of North and South protectorates, because that regional divide ceased on January 1, 1914. Nigeria since 1967, has been a nation of states. Some state being lucky every now and then to be blessed with great administrators like Baba Jakande in Lagos or Chief Ajasin in Ondo, or Ahmed Tinubu and his golden team in Lagos in a more recent era.

What becomes obvious on deeper analysis, is that discounting for historical advantages secured between 1952 to 1966 with regional governments in place across Nigeria, what emerges is a nation deeply united in bad governance, poverty index and quality of outcomes.

We have one large underdeveloped country which calls for the attention of all of us be it North or South.

El Rufai assertions may be true some twenty to thirty years ago, with the advantages the South secured in pre-independence governance. I can write a book to put a lie to that assertion now based on the facts known to me.

I have traveled around this country North and South . I have seen things for myself . I am therefore not talking from the prism of someone who sits in Washington and the western capitals and come up with some fake indicators . I know and I can assert that the neglect of many years has come to haunt both the North and the South.

I am from the South West. That part which I know so well is living on past glory. Today education in the Southwest is growing in quantity and not quality. The products rather than portending hope for the future is largely lethal to the health of society. Just go to Facebook and see the quality of the grammar these products of neo-Southwest education propound daily on the platform. It truly will sadden everyone or anyone.

I come from Ekiti which is largely in conventional wisdom regarded as the bastion of education in the Southwest. The myth abroad is that every household can boast of one or two professors. While this may be true in the past, it unfortunately no longer ring true. Here is a state where a governor used to encourage “miracle examination centers” for students, with invigilators bribed to look away so that the students could cheat and top the league table of states.

This produces at the end of the day a high percentage of performance and rating for the state, that is subsequently celebrated by the Governor whose perfunctory attempt at caring is a careless head fake to excellence and perpetual ode to mediocrity!

Now the products of that appalling situation are out of school and are recruited into “yahoo yahoo” and “yahoo plus” as they are called. Parents are now known to look for money to buy laptop for their wards to engage in this despicable business of scam. What a country!

Contrast this with the thousands of students sent out on scholarship by northern governors to some of the good schools abroad yearly, a policy akin to that of China that has made major leap by learning or stealing from the accomplishments of western nations.

So southerners, let no one deceive you that you are developing. You’re living on past glory!

Leave education and go into food production. Or do I say agricultural production. Most of the food consumed in the South today are produced by the North. The youths down here are no longer encouraged to farm. Where there is some modicum of farming going on, it is done by the Igbiras of Kogi, the Igedes Of Benue State and the young farmers from Benin republic. Travel through Benue to any surrounding states you will encounter a gang of youths with cutlasses in hand and hoes hanging on their shoulders joyously heading to farm. Now we have Benue yam, oranges, mango, cashew etc.

Contrast this with a trip from Kabba and go through Ondo or Ekiti and head towards Lagos you will see villages all the way where young and able bodied men are playing table tennis and other sports at 11.00 am or filling pot holes while begging for money from travelers. This cannot be progress.

The beef we consume, the tomatoes, the yam, the beans, the water melon, the goats for our pepper soup are grown or reared by peasant farmers and transported to the South for our dinner table.

The average southerner wants an office job, and there are not enough to go around! In vast areas of our land, young people roam the streets with half bottle filled up with codeine and hard drugs, when they grow despondent and dangerously educated.

In the past four years there has been a near revolution in the agricultural production and processing in the North. The landscape of Kebbi, Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto and many other northern states have been turned to huge plantations of wheat , rice, and sugar cane. This is being followed up with huge processing plants put in place by the private sector in collaboration with the Central Bank.

These programs were on willing state, willing partner basis. After all, the CBN Governor is Igbo and we cannot claim discrimination. Over three hundred billion has been disbursed through Anchor Borrower Program and NIRSAL was originally capitalized to the tune of $500 million to work with states that have leadership and capacity to engage.

Jigawa is going heavily into the red goat rearing with the goal of processing their hides for the consumption of the world animal skin market which has hitherto been dominated by Morocco. Cash trees are being planted by the forward looking governor of Jigawa who has seen that the market for both hard and soft wood in China is limitless. He got the idea when he attended a meeting where deforestation and illegal lumbering was discussed. Instead of digging in against loggers, he volunteered to plant more trees for collective prosperity!

In Kaduna where Governor El Rufai governs, the biggest animal feed plant in Africa was commissioned two years ago. Just imagine the spin-off effect on grain farmers across the North. In Healthcare, his state has been the largest recipient of aid from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as the Kaduna’s primary healthcare system is being transformed.

This is even as only a small glitch which will soon be resolved will ensure Kaduna state get the cheapest ever loan from World Bank to transform her schools. Of course, this is after the Governor bravely reformed the school system by sacking fake teachers and employing more real ones!

El Rufai knows the truth. He is too clever not to. I think he may be saying what he said to ginger his brother governors to do more for their people or at best humoring our people for political advantage. Least of course and very unlikely was that he sought to lure the South of the country to a false sense of accomplishment.

For four years the Buhari administration advertised her anchor borrower program in agriculture. Let us ask how many southern governors took advantage of this program? The ministry of agriculture under the same government came up with a cocoa farm renewal program. No enthusiasm was shown to it. Instead we had a fellow, whose best idea was to cultivate marijuana for export. Good luck.

A friend of mine visited a government agent in charge of this last week. What he told him was depressing. “Why are your government so disinterested in this program that would have been of benefit to your people?”, was the question he raised that requires answers from our governors.

Travel around the South and see the army of youths who are unemployed. Yes there are similar army in the North as well but the values even in their deprivation is different. Northern unemployment numbers are also seasonal according to NIBSS, rising in the dry season due to lack of irrigable lands. That is not even going to last forever, as various programs to revive the River Basins are ongoing and the employment number up North will stabilize.

I have journeyed around the country with people of power. Wherever we have been we have been mobbed by this youths. While the Northern variants of it shout “Sai Baba”, the South variants shout, “give us the money”. Their eyes are bloodshot , their teeth discolored and reeking of the smell of drugs , enough to get you high. Their sense of entitlement is legendary. When you try to pacify them by offering them the change in your pocket they throw it back at you saying “ this is not our money “. Before you know it they are throwing rocks at your convoy. This was my experience as we travelled around the Southwest during the last election. I was ashamed.

Yet our governors live in affluence, appointing several assistants with no defined or productive functions. All they are after is making money from government. This for me is not an indicator of development. We have too many gods rather than governors. This may not be pleasant to some of my friends who are governors. My apologies. I am saying this because it time we must say the truth to ourselves. It is kidnapping and banditry we are seeing now. If we don’t take actions rebellion may knock on the door.

Young men and women who should be employed after half baked Education are unemployable. Even after massive cheating schemes, Southwest states still continue to underperform in standardized tests done in Nigeria. At last count, Abia and Anambra led in 2018 while Oyo, Osun and Ogun were below National Average. Add to the fact that the gap in education is inevitably closing. While in 1990, the North had 14 universities, the South had 27. Today that number is 58 and 102 respectively. This is a 414% versus a 370% improvement. Slowly but surely.

In poverty ranking, while the impact of a more diversified economy is felt in lower poverty rates, the Southwest especially continue to house the highest numbers of the urban poor who continue to depend on welfare from remittances to stay afloat. Poverty better measured in the number of people living their best life will reveal a very different measure I suppose.

In the ease of doing business category that measures current governance, Kaduna was the leader, followed by Enugu while Southwestern states lagged behind at last 10 position with Oyo and Osun struggling for last position with Nasarawa. It is horrible. It is bad. Our Governors are now Demi-gods. They will rather do business with themselves, the Lebanese, than with Nigerians, and have infused the system with frustrated businessmen who rather take their monies elsewhere.

Truth is, a fair comparison will reveal that we are jostling for position among laggards. Let our governors, both in the North and the South, come up and reassess themselves and govern in the true sense of the word. The accoutrements of power is so much than the responsibility. They should begin to do away with the meretricious and opt for the things that will uplift their people. They should not abandon their role to the omnibus Federal Government.

Nigeria as a whole cries for development not a part as expostulated by my dear friend Governor El Rufai. The devil is in the details. We must rise up and demand good governance across board.

● Senator Babafemi Ojudu is the former Special Adviser Political Matters to the President, and aide to His Excellency, Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.

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