It is a well appreciated fact that there is extreme and debilitating poverty in Northern Nigeria which is a time bomb that could explode without notice. It is also a fact that the extreme poverty in Arewa is the root of the major ills affecting Arewa today such as Boko haram and youth restiveness. This calls for the Northern Governors to collectively declare a state of emergency on poverty in Northern Nigeria. In this regard, the onus lies on the leaders of the North (who have the authority and control of resources: The Northern Governors) to chart an economic plan towards rescuing Arewa from poverty through a strategic and comprehensive Agricultural development programme. The North controls political power in Nigeria but has not been able to use that political power to help itself. Instead the North has used that political power to help other regions. That is why today poverty is 90% in Zamfara state while it is 17% in Lagos despite the fact that Zamfara state is richer than Lagos in terms natural endowment. In fact Zamfara state is believed to be the richest state in Nigeria when the natural resources in Nigeria are considered. Sokoto state can feed the whole of Nigeria with Rice as a result of its potentials for rice production but Sokoto state has a poverty index of 86%.
More worrisome is the fact that the poverty index in Arewa is rising and not in any way showing signs of decreasing. Of course, setting up research think tanks such as the Arewa Research and Development Project (ARDP) are noble ideas and the right step in the right direction meant to make meaningful and positive contributions towards eradicating poverty from the North. However, the ARDP may not have the financial muscle to implement the excellent recommendations it will come up with hence the need for the Northern Governors forum to work with the ARDP to chart an economic plan for the region founded on a strategic and comprehensive agricultural development plan. Without the desired funding, the research outputs coming out of the region from respected think tanks such as the ARDP may end up only on paper. Although the private sector can also serve as a vehicle for funding the agricultural development programme of the North, it is more desirable to concentrate on the public sector (Government) because that is within the reach of the people.
The business man is risk averse and may not be ready to invest where he feels he is not sure. For example, the Dangote Group recently commissioned a cement factory in Tanzania when it could also have set up such an industry in Sokoto state because Sokoto is also endowed with huge Limestone deposits. Citing the Dangote cement factory in Sokoto would have provided thousands of jobs in Northern Nigeria and helped develop the Arewa’s economy. The main reason why Dangote chose Tanzania to build its second biggest cement factory is because Tanzania has limestone which is also available in Sokoto. We hope that our dear brother Alh Aliko Dangote will include Sokoto state in his expansion programme aimed at building cement factories in 18 countries across the world. Yes we have a cement company in Sokoto, (The Sokoto cement) but we need more.
Agricultural Development Plan for Northern Nigeria
The need then arises for the Northern states to set up an agricultural development plan for Arewa anchored on prioritising a SIGLE agricultural commodity and invest in it with a view to making the region and Nigeria a net exporter of that commodity. In this regard, it is highly recommended that the North adopts RICE production as the vehicle for the economic turnaround of the region. This is as a result of the huge rice potentials of the region including the vast Fadama for mechanised rice production particularly in Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Zamfara, Jigawa and Kano states. Rice is also a stable food in almost every home in Arewa hence it can also serve as a vehicle for food sufficiency in the region.
There is also the need for research centres to drive the formulation and management of the Agricultural development programme for the North. In this case, the AERLS of the A.B.U Zaria can serve as the vehicle to achieve a successful agricultural revolution in Northern Nigeria. I dare say that the North can develop its own agricultural programme without having to solely rely on foreign researchers.
Rice Production can effectively develop the economy of Arewa in the following ares:
Rice can serve as an export commodity for the region and Nigeria as whole
Promotion of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs): There will be opportunities for citizens to set up SMEs as agents, middle men and traders which will help in job creation.
Setting up of Rice processing factories in the North to provide jobs
Self sufficiency in food production in Nigeria.
Funding of Rice Production in Arewa: The Direct Debit Option
To achieve a successful long term rice revolution in Northern Nigeria, the need for funding cannot be overemphasised. In this regard, the Northern states need to pool resources together and set up an AGRICULTURAL TASK FUND and a dedicated account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to be managed by a board of trusted Northern leaders and professionals. 10% of the federal allocation from each state should be sent directly to the fund through a direct debit system which implies deduction of the 10% for each member state from the federation account.
It is absolutely a sad commentary that the North has ruled Nigeria for more than 35 of our nation 55 years history but the region is the poorest and most backward educationally and infrastructurally+. As a matter of fact, poverty is threatening to break down the family ties the North is known for. The North should strategize to salvage the solid foundation laid by our own Gamji Dan Kwarai, the Sardauna of Sokoto Alh. (Sir) Ahmadu Bello. Eradicating poverty in the North will be the mechanical solution that will stop Boko haram and such other vices. To this end, there is the need for a strategic partnership between the Northern governors and the excellent resource persons in the region to design a marshal plan to rid the North of the region’s current extreme and debilitating poverty.
By Abubakar Alkali