Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Salisu Suleiman's recent blog post titled, "The Psychology of the Northern Elite" got me thinking about a lot of things. Suleiman pointed out that the northern elite has repeatedly failed to meet the challenges of the region be it in education, health care, infrastructure or business. He went on to argue that the current zoning debate, where the northern elite is staunchly against a southern president for Nigeria in 2011, is merely a self-serving issue because,
"regardless of who is in power, majority of Northerners (regardless of ethnicity or religion) have nothing to show. The psychology of our leaders is to systematically narrow the economic and political space to the exclusion of the majority."
Suleiman's observation of the "psychology of [Northern] leaders" raises many questions about Nigerian leadership and the challenges that citizens face in an age where leadership has little to do with the people. What does this say about Nigeria's future?

I wholeheartedly agree with Suleiman's conclusion that the zoning arrangement will have little impact on the lives of northerners. A leader's experience, provable results and ideas are important, not what part of the country he or she comes from. The zoning arrangement was created by Nigeria's ruling party, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and it dictates that Presidential power will shift between the northern and southern regions of Nigeria. For this reason, the death of late President Yar'Adua, a northerner, meant that a Southerner became President during what would be considered the "North's turn" at the Presidency, according to the PDP's internal agreement. 

In the weeks before Nigeria's January 2011 election, various northern leaders, civic groups and others publicly demanded that current President, Goodluck Jonathan, could not be the PDP's presidential candidate because he is from the southern half of Nigeria. The PDP's Board of trustees, however, determined that although the zoning arrangement would remain a key part of the PDP's constitution, Jonathan could run for President as he would simply be completing the Yar'Adua-Jonathan option at a second term in office. Despite this compromise, certain northerners continue to insist that the presidency should be zoned to the north this election season.

With this political zoning-dance, in mind, Suleiman's arguments magnify the leadership challenge that Nigeria, and not just the north faces. Yes, as Suleiman points out, the northern half of Nigeria is less developed than the south. This, unfortunately, has been a fact for as long as Nigeria has been a self-governing nation, and possibly longer. In fact, it was only in November 2009, that a former Minister of State for Education stated that there were 10 million child beggars primarily in the northern part of Nigeria. Although that number could be a gross miscalculation or exaggeration, there is little doubt that the northern part of the country needs development.

These examples highlight the need to create opportunities for citizens so that they can take care of themselves financially instead of expressing their frustrations and fears in violence. And if the leadership, local and federal, cannot create said opportunities, then they should allow the private sector to do so. The north remains home to vast areas of land and once boasted groundnut/peanut pyramids that dotted the landscape. Such pyramids can once again become a cash crop that will finance families and empower the region. The climate is perfect for cotton, which can easily be leveraged into a textile industry and a garment preparation industry for large corporations that can rival Botswana and other small countries involved in that sector. Land can be used to not only plant cash crops but also foods that can feed families. Mining opportunities are also widespread with numerous natural resources which when conducted in controlled environments will not lead to the lead-related deaths that resulted from individuals eking out a living by mining for gold. 

Of course, these and other possibilities are tempered by the encroachment of the Sahara dessert on northern Nigeria, lack of electricity, lack of roads, political corruption and other matters. However, these challenges are ones that can be overcome with the proper leadership, incentives and motivation - a fact that has been proven in other parts of the country that continue to illustrate that progress, no mater how small, is possible. 

If there is one key thing that I have learned from reading Suleiman's post it is not that the northern leaders, be they political, religious or social, are inept, but that leadership at the federal government level is equally responsible for the development challenge the north faces. Nigeria is technically a federal republic, meaning that states are supposed to have some manner of autonomy. But that is not the reason for the failure on the federal level. I daresay, that failure stems from a complex set of historical events and religious factors that dictate that the north will 'take care of itself'. Clearly, this approach is not working. 

If the north continues to lag behind on all basic indicators such as education or infant mortality, discontent will continue to manifest in violence. Nigeria has already borne witness to what that means in the form of Niger Delta militants dictating global oil prices and thus income from oil exports, Boko Haram spreading messages of hate and causing Islamic militancy to spread, and questions of "who is an indigene?" causing widespread destruction and death in the Jos region. Without such development, there will continue to be such outbursts of violence and insecurity. This will in turn continue to limit development not just in th north but across the country, stalling progress for all but those who thrive on the chaos.

The example of Sierra Leone cannot be ignored either. Like pre-war Sierra Leone, Nigeria primarily depends on a single natural resource, has a large number of young people, has ignored too many other areas of the economy and has incredibly high unemployment. These and other factors combined to create a long civil war. Thankfully, in certain parts of Nigeria, steps are being taken to address some of these factors. Unfortunately, most northern states would not fall into that category and there is a need to face the problem before it becomes absolutely unsolvable.

Nevertheless, my faith that Nigeria will begin to record success in regards to its many challenges remains. That faith stems not from the government level, but from the ordinary Nigerian individuals who manage, despite the odds, to create their own opportunities and thus, success. As for the northern elite, their shortsightedness is not unique. It is a shortsightedness that has, unfortunately, been exemplified by the larger Nigerian elite which focuses on their pockets and not the less fortunate who litter the landscape. And yet, there are those within the northern elite and the larger Nigerian politik who strive to offer responsible leadership. Hopefully, Nigerians will support such individuals instead of those who would much rather keep things the way they are and continue to deprive a majority of Nigerians from achieving their maximum potential.

From the Archives:
- Abysmal Handling of the Hajj Ban
- 23mn Of Nigeria's Youth Are Unemployable 
Nigeria's 10MN Child Beggars 

- Overreliance on oil leads to ....
- What is Crucial for Leadership
Who Will Develop Nigeria Part 2 
Who Will Develop Nigeria 
Who Will Fight For Nigeria? (AFRICOM PT 1)  

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