Clearly, many do not think that President Muhammadu Buhari’s alleged request for the World Bank to concentrate activities in Northern Nigeria is an innocent gaffe. The World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, reveals: “In my very first meeting with President Buhari (in 2015), he said specifically that he would like (the World Bank) to shift (its) focus to the Northern region of Nigeria.”
He adds, “We have done that.” He justifies this by saying, “There is so much turbulence in the northern part of the country, and Nigeria has to think ahead and invest in its people.” The World Bank is spending $500 million on the Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Projects scheme, to provide rural roads, and storage facilities for farm produce in 18 Nigerian states, out of which 11 are in the North.
A mischievous report claims that of the 14 projects earmarked for Nigeria by the World Bank after Buhari became President, seven, valued at $1bn, are exclusive to the North, and the remaining seven, worth $2.9bn, are spread to the North-West, North-East, and South-West, excluding the South-South, South-East, and North-Central.
In the school year that commenced in September 2017, the United Nations Children’s Fund established 350 temporary learning centres across Northern Nigeria, to enrol 750,000 children.
President Buhari’s apologist, Borno State Governor Kassim Shettima, confirms that the World Bank, the European Union, and the office of the Vice President prepared a Recovery and Peace Building Assessment Report on six Northern states affected by Boko Haram insurgency.
The Report reveals that both public and private infrastructure destroyed by the insurgency in the Northeast of Nigeria are in the neighbourhood of $9bn, $6bn of which is accounted for by Borno State alone.
President Buhari’s reported sectional brief to the World Bank agrees with his famous argument that elections have consequences: “Going by election results, constituencies that gave me 97 per cent cannot, in all honesty, be treated on the same issues with constituencies that gave me five per cent.”
He added: “These are political realities. While, certainly, there will be justice for everybody, (but) the people who voted, and made their votes count, they must feel (that) the government has appreciated the effort they put in place. I think that is really fair.”
In the 2015 presidential election, Presidential Candidate Buhari conceded all South-South and South-East states to former President Goodluck Jonathan, but swept the entire North-West and North-East, and lost only Ekiti State in the South-West. He lost three in the North-Central, including the Federal Capital Territory.
Those with long memories say President Buhari had always defended parochial interests. In October 2000, he led a Northern delegation that included former Lagos State military administrator, Buba Marwa, and businessman Aliko Dangote, to express dissatisfaction with the plight of Fulani herdsmen in Oyo State.
He told then Oyo State Governor Lam Adesina; “Your Excellency, our visit here is to discuss with your government about our displeasure about the clashes between two peoples-the Fulani cattle rearers and merchants are being killed in Saki. In May 2000, 68 (some accounts say 69), bodies of Fulani cattle rearers were recovered and buried… Some arrests were made… (but they) were released without court trial.”
This protest is legitimate. But when Fulani herdsmen killed or abducted farmers, including former Minister of Finance, Olu Falae, in Kaduna, Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, Taraba, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, Anambra, and Enugu states, now President Buhari failed to visit the victims. Even his 2017 Independence Day broadcast only alluded to “herdsmen/farmers violence.”
But if truth be told, the issues of a largely agrarian Northern Nigeria are better addressed by the interventionist programmes of multilateral agencies like the United Nations, United Nations Development Programme, and UNICEF.
Northern Nigeria is ravaged by insurgency, poverty, disease, high child and maternal mortality, illiteracy, and overpopulation, on a scale much higher than the South. Most of the 10.5 million out of school children in Nigeria are in the North.
As the school year commenced in September 2017, UNICEF announced that Boko Haram insurgents, who disapprove of Western education, have forced the closure of more than 57 per cent of schools in Borno State, leaving many without access to formal education.
Justin Forsyth of UNICEF discloses: “In addition to devastating malnutrition, violence, and outbreak of cholera, the attacks on schools are creating a lost generation of children.” Possibly in agreement with President Buhari, Forsyth is calling for more collaboration between the government, the international community, and the United Nations system.
Forsyth pleads: “Investing in learning and education is an important way of combatting extremism. It is also an important investment in giving those children hope, and building a future, not just for Borno State, but for Nigeria (as a whole).”
The theme for UNICEF’s 2017 school enrolment scheme (especially) in Northern Nigeria is: “Education Matters… Every Nigerian Child Deserves to be in School.” You’ll agree that this message is more apt to Northern Nigeria than the South.
Many Northern Nigerian children are not in school for varied reasons: To provide labour on the farms; parents cannot afford school uniforms, books, and school fees; schools are too far from the home; their nomadic lifestyle; preference of Quranic education to Western education; and perceived futility of educating the girl-child.
The concerns of the relatively more structured and formal economy of Southern Nigeria are corporate governance, introduction of technology into the workplace, Eurobonds for banks, foreign exchange administration, and retraining of staff, issues that are better addressed by trade missions, International Labour Organisation, International Monetary Fund, and the Davos World Economic Summit. UNICEF and the UNDP can’t handle such issues.
You will remember that Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, who was in Nigeria earlier in the year, initially visited the IT hub at Yaba, Lagos. It took President Buhari recalling him from Kenya before he visited Abuja, which was clearly not included in his itinerary.
Yet, a Southerner who gloats because 21,780 or nearly two-thirds of 33,000 primary school teachers in Kaduna State flunked primary four examinations doesn’t realise that the calamity belongs to all Nigerians, regardless of their geographical location. The release of N30m by the World Bank to rehabilitate facilities at the Primary School in Rigasa, is therefore, one small step for Kaduna State, but a giant leap for Nigeria.
Even President Buhari seems to have realised that he cannot be President only of those who voted for hm. In a recent meeting with Igbo leaders, he disclosed his government’s intention to construct new roads, the Second Niger Bridge, and a coastal railway from the East to Western Nigeria.
The Igbo leaders also did not lose the opportunity to remind him to rehabilitate some collapsed South-East roads, like the Enugu-Port Harcourt, and Onitsha-Enugu Expressways; extension of the gas pipeline network; and increase in the gauge of railway lines in the South-East.
President Buhari should acknowledge his gaffe, identify, and implement projects that affect other geopolitical zones. For instance, the South-East is devastated by erosion, while the South-South is ravaged by environmental degradation, resulting from oil exploration.
But President Buhari’s best PR way out of being perceived as sectional is to make policies to favour individual citizens, rather than groups. His spin doctors can’t do this for him.