By Austin Emaduku
A recent United Nations Development Program, UNDP report puts the poverty rate in the six geopolitical zone of Nigeria as follows: N/West ——– 71.2% N/East ——— 72.2% N/Central —– 67% S/West ——– 43% S/South ——- 36% S/East ——— 26%
I urge Nigerians to take off their religious and ethnic binoculars and take a critical, rational and dispassionate look at these figures. That these figures represent the poverty rate in the North, especially the N/West and N/East which the rest of Nigeria have always accused of marginalising the other geo political zones for the simple reason that their elites have held political power longer and more times than the other regions should be telling to any mind devoid of ethnic and religious bias.
What is marginalization? The term marginalisation is generally used to describe a process, situation or condition whereby a group, a person or something is excluded or denied equal access to opportunities from the general ”scheme of things” to use a popular Nigerian term. Marginalisation can occur in every sphere of human endeavour, be it political, economic, gender, religious, cultural, education, etc, etc. However, in popular Nigerian usage, marginalisation often refers to lack of access to political power and its associated benefits. That is why the South East region is regarded as the most marginalised zone in the country .
In the rarefied theoretical field of Political Economy, political power is different from economic power. Economic power generally consists of the ability to buy and sell. The ability to make contract, control the market place and offer benefits to others. It can be obtained and exercised privately. Political power on the other hand is the power of government obtained through a process and it consists of the ability to make and pass laws to favour ones purposes. While both economic and political power can be seen as instruments for control of others, political power, is more pervading and more powerful because it can be used to confer economic power as well as to punish and to harm.
If the purpose of political power is to improve the economic well-being of a people through economic growth, productivity, rise in GDP, access to education, health care, housing, good roads, other modern facilities and reduction of poverty, how come the North which has held the political reigns of this nation more than other regions is the least developed and have the highest poverty rate? How is it that the zone that cries of marginalisation most is the least on the poverty index of the nation? What exactly are the benefits associated with holding political power to the regions that rotation of power amongst regions is now put forward as the panacea to Nigeria’s multifarious problems? Did the South-South zone become more developed in the six years that President Jonathan, a southerner, became president? In what ways did Obasonjo’s eight years as a President from the South-west benefit the zone to the detriment of the rest of Nigeria? What exactly is marginalisation and who is marginalising who?
The Nigerian problem is a foundational problem in many ways. It all started from the British colonial policy of Divide and Rule which was put in place to prevent the natives from acting and speaking as one so that the British can rule in peace. And the instrument for that divide and rule was tribe and religion. As if to atone for the seed of hate and bitterness it sowed amongst the natives, the British through one of theirs, Lilian Jean Williams, as a parting gift, bequeathed to Nigeria a National Anthem which contained the following lines
“Though tribe and tongue may differ,
In brotherhood we stand”
Nigerians sang and sang but could not sing away tribe and religion and the old anthem has to be replaced with a less inspiring one. There is no doubt that the British saw the potential in the emerging nation and firmly implanted in the minds of the natives the twin “evils” of religion and ethnicity – which I have called “Familiar Spirits of Our Nation” in an earlier article – as a strategy to prevent the former colony from achieving its potential as one of the greatest nations of the world. The British never meant well for Nigeria but did the Nigerians that took over from the British mean well for the nation? The answer is a resounding NO! The nascent Nigerian political leaders at independence due the selfish aim of grabbing and retaining political power perpetuated and accentuated these divisions to the extent that every Christian from the south is programmed to hate the Hausa-Fulani Muslim from cradle to grave. Ditto for the Hausa-Fulani Muslim from the north. For example the average southerner views the current influx of northern youths into the south with grave suspicion. Amidst the atmosphere of heightened insecurity and fractious politics, the influx is seen and propagated as part of grand plan by the north to overrun the south and Islamise the entire country. The clashes between local farmers and herdsmen are held up as examples of this and the famous quote of Ahmadu Bellow that he will dip the Qur’an into the Atlantic Ocean is quoted ad nauseam. This unfortunate and dangerous perception is reinforced and fueled by the political elite who hope to gain political capital from it. But the simple truth is that the northern migrants you see in the south are economic migrants. These are young men in search of better life, fleeing from the grinding poverty and insecurity in the north and not religious jihadist as our primordial minds might want to believe.
Even without the UNDP report, anyone who has traveled round the country or knowledgeable enough to read news reports knows that the north despite having held on to power is the poorest and most undeveloped region in present day Nigeria. It is ravaged by disease and its streets are filled with beggars and Amajiris with no hope for western education. It is inflicted by harsh weather condition and desertification which has greatly affected its water supply and ability to sustain economic activities through agriculture and animal husbandry. It is lately ravaged by intractable insecurity and bloodletting caused by poverty and ignorance.
But how is it so that the region that has controlled political and economic powers since the nation’s independence is the poorest? The answer can only be found in another question “who is marginalising who?” Demonise the ordinary Hausa-Fulani as you would, they are not the ones marginalising anyone. It is the northern elite in connivance with their southern counterparts that have been marginalising everyone. The northern political elite has been so wicked and devious to its own people than they have been to the rest of Nigeria. It is a fact that the northern masses have borne the negative effects of marginalisation more than any other region due to the feudal system of the region and the use of religion to cow and command unquestioning obedience. They have been denied of access to western education which the feudal lords paint to them as against their religion and this has been their greatest undoing. They have no access to traditional and social media as a result of that. If you take a survey, of the outcry against the current state of insecurity in that region in the media, you will find that the outrage is expressed more by those outside the region in a situation that can be likened to crying more than the bereaved.
The rest of Nigeria urgently needs to save the north from itself for if the north boils over, the rest of Nigeria will be thrown into intractable turmoil. Instead of fanning the embers of religious and ethnic differences, rational people should do a scientific and rational analysis of the situation.
As it is, the south is already inundated. I live in Delta state so I will use the examples of the two largest cities in the state. You need to visit the Delta Steel Company-NPA Expressway in Warri-Effurun axis or Cable point Asaba, on a typical morning to see the horde of northerners holding all manner of work implements waiting to be engaged for called up for all manner of jobs, to understand the extent of the problem. They are the ones engaged in almost all menial jobs. They are the keke and okada riders. They are the cart pushers who scavenge for metal and aluminum scraps in our refuse dumps. They have graduated from being gatemen and shoe makers to being farm hands and concrete carriers at construction sites. They have become cheap source of labour while our youths lazy away looking for easy wealth through 419 and “deve” collection.
The migration so far is not because of intention to Islamise but economic push driving young men from the north to the more economically favourable south. But the situation can easily change due to a number of reasons. First of which is that as the influx continues to increase, so will the number of undesirable elements amongst the immigrants. Evidence of this is already rearing its head in the region. We have long had Fulani cattle herders with us, but not until recent have they become killers in our backyards. Second is the possible manipulation of the migrants and locals by the political elite to inflict mayhem for political gains. Third and most importantly is the reaction of the southern youth when they wake up from their reverie to realise that all the available jobs have been taken over by immigrants.
The same condition that produced Xenophobia in South Africa, Trump in USA and Brexit in the UK is staring us in the face. When you pour this mix into an already combustible conundrum of mutual ethnic and religious mistrust, suspicion and hatred, what we have is the potential for a conflagration which once set off will take ages to put off.
The revolution may not start from northern Nigeria but the conflagration will..