The North’s Dilemma


There are a lot of myths about the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates to form Nigeria in 1914. With no facts, many demagogues and anarchists have been spreading so much falsehood that the amalgamation by the British was to subsidize an economically “unviable” north with “southern” resources.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. In fact, it is the other way round as we will soon see with proof from the colonialists themselves. Those spreading the lies have forgotten that Nigeria struck oil only in 1958 and even then it was in very small quantity – 60,000 barrels per day then.

In the book An African Survey: A Study of Problems Arising in Africa South of the Sahara, published in 1938, the author Lord Hailey wrote thus: “Kano Emirate which covers an area of 13,000 square miles, and contains a population of about 2,000,000 people, was the most important of the northern native administrations. It had in 1936/7 an estimated revenue of 206,720 pounds, of which £173,600 came from its share of the tax collected in its area, and the remainder from various fees and dues…

“No other native authority in the Northern Provinces approaches the exceptional position of Kano. The nearest are Sokoto with an estimated revenue in 1936/7 of £95,350; Katsina with £75,662; and Bornu with £58,601; at the other end of the list are four administrations with an income of less than £1,000, the lowest being Ilor(in) with £635…

“In the Southern Provinces, the most wealthy of the treasuries are Ibadan and Egba (Abeokuta) with annual revenues exceeding £83,000 and £68,000 respectively, the next largest being Ijebu, Oyo and Benin with annual revenues exceeding £50,000, £27,000 and £25,000 respectively. 23 of the Southern native treasuries have in 1936/7 an estimated income of less than £1,000 and 3 having only £156.”

So which resourceful south are they talking about?

It must be realized that colonial rule is not about benevolence. Colonialism was purely driven by economic factors – getting raw materials for the colonial power’s industries and getting a market for their finished products. Every other thing was secondary. That was why the British constructed the railways to the north immediately after the conquest of the north – to get access to the agricultural products and solid minerals of the north and to get a market for the British products coming from British companies UAC, John Holt etc.

The north was the main revenue-generating region as can be seen from Lord Hailey’s book quoted above. And the revenue was based on taxes paid by the people as well as taxes paid on products of farms and mines. Due to the fact that the north was the economic backbone of Nigeria, many southerners came up north during the colonial era in search of greener pasture. It was not a coincidence that virtually all the major southern political actors during the colonial and even post-colonial times were born in the north. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Emeka Ojukwu, Bola Ige, Chukwuma Nzeogwu, Jim Nwobodo, among others, were all born in the north.

During the late colonial and early post-colonial era, the ministers of Lagos Affairs were Alhaji Mahmudu Ribadu and Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua. They developed Lagos and laid the foundation that subsequently made Lagos what it is now. When oil was discovered in the Niger Delta, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the prime minister of Nigeria, set up the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) to specifically address the development needs of that region even at that initial time. The first chairman of that NDDB was Alhaji Ahmadu Ribadu, the father of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.

What this implies is the fact that there were conscious efforts by these leaders to be fair and just to all. They tried to develop every section of Nigeria. Even when the military under General Murtala Muhammed established the new federal capital, Abuja, every section of Nigeria was treated equally and every group was given a sense of belonging. In this era of resource control, the land acquired from the Gbagyi to build Abuja would have cost trillions of naira but this peace-loving people were hardly compensated for their sacrifice to the nation. In fact, more than 70% of Abuja land is owned by others and not northerners. The indigenous people of Abuja are hardly elected or even appointed into federal government positions. This has to be addressed immediately.

The rapid advances in mechanization and electronics have made matters even worse. The electric fan is a common feature in northern houses. They have learnt to switch it on and off, but know nothing about repairing or making it. At the same time, the northerners who used to make fans out of palm leaves have stopped doing so because no one needs their products anymore. This process is repeated with every new modern amenity or implement which is introduced. The desire to keep up is simply not there and that is why every petty trade in the north is not controlled by northerners. This has to be addressed quickly.

From 1911 when the first census was conducted by the British colonialists to the last census exercise of 2006, the north has consistently been having at least 56% of the population of Nigeria. However, despite this absolute population advantage, in the federal civil service today, Imo State alone has more federal workers than 10 northern states combined. In fact, the north has less than 30% of the total federal civil servants of Nigeria; never mind the visibility of ministers and permanent secretaries. This is despite the fact that there is a so-called federal character commission and federal character principle enshrined in the constitution. Indeed, even the solid minerals that northerners are boasting of, more than 70% of the licences issued so far belong to non-northerners.

In the field of commerce and industry, what is needed is a general awareness of their economic plight by the northerners and their leaders, and of the disaster that must befall them and the nation if they remain complacent. If the leaders are to turn their attention to leading the northerners to a better life, it will need but little effort to study the causes and prescribe the remedies. The truth must be told and told in no uncertain terms. The northerners must be aware of their own faults as much as the faults of others.

Poverty leads to poor education. Poor education perpetrates more poverty. Somewhere, the vicious cycle has to be broken, and a rich country like Nigeria would stand accused of moral irresponsibility if she did not subsidize the education of the poor. Without education and skills acquisition, the north cannot compete. The northern dilemma is whether they should continue to hold the horns for others to keep milking and stop trying to help themselves in order that they should be proud to be poor citizens of a prosperous country.

History is on the side of the oppressed.

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