Bandits kidnap Emir of Kajuru, 13 family members in Kaduna. Gunmen kidnap College Provost in Zamfara. These are what dominate headlines these days. On an hourly basis, bandits, Boko Haram fighters, and sundry criminals ravage the North, kidnapping, killing, and ‘marrying’ school girls. Nobody and nowhere in the North is safe. They are killers without a cause.
In those days, top government officials usually sat with newsmen in some evenings and share ideas. This was how Audu Ogbeh, then minister of communications during the first term of the Shehu Shagari administration, sat with us in Makurdi, Benue State capital, when he came in 1984 to inspect projects in the state. It was a thing of joy to build exchange centers that enhanced Telecomm in states. That was how Benue got a top communication system.
During one of those chats, Ogbeh told us how the northern caucus in Lagos (the federal seat of power then) commissioned some studies. One study showed how about 84 kobo out of every one naira resided in Lagos, 94 kobo circulated in western Nigeria, and the rest circulated in the North and East. He also revealed another study that warned that keeping power perpetually in the North would ruin the North.
The minister said experts thus advised the caucus to negotiate away power for economic repositioning. Continuing to hold on to power would give the North a bogus basket while the real basket would develop the south, yet, the North would be entirely blamed for mismanaging Nigeria.
Power would create few billionaires (millionaires then) in the North, while the largest number of southerners would find access to small and medium enterprises and create ways for money to roll in, scale small income earners, connect each other and build an economic zone. The warning was issued that a day would come when the youth in the North would explode. Has it come?
The caucus was still working on implementing the advice when another coup took place and toppled Shagari, crashing that intended secret economic transition. So power remained in the North through Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, and Abdulsalami Abubakar until it was ‘loaned’ to Olusegun Obasanjo (a southerner), who later ‘donated’ it to Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (another southerner) before Muhammadu Buhari took it back to the North.
Will it return to the south again? Only God knows.
Where power should go is not the focus of this piece, but the prediction in the 1983 study that continued power in the North would ruin the region. So yes, power continued in the North, and it has totally been destroyed.
The region that was the bastion of peace, where people slept outside without locking doors, where traders went for prayers (masalaci) without anyone overlooking their wares, where vehicles travelled for hours without the police stopping them, the region has turned into a place of death.
Experts in drugs say that northern Nigeria has fallen. Youths have found recourse to an unimaginable number of narcotics. The lower North is drunk with alcohol, creating hordes of young men that sleep in alcohol and wake in it. They hardly have space to reason. The rest of the region is tethered on the strings of drugs. Life means nothing to anybody anymore.
The south keeps mourning the loss of political power to the North, yet, the populace in the North is held down by poverty. How do the brothers of kings and princes still die poor? This is an irony of the farce of political power. Just creating an Abuja in the North has done more good than five presidencies put together. The political position makes one family rich but makes an entire region poorer.
The North may have to revisit the 1983 study in 2023 and seek economic power instead of endless political power. Political power not converted to economic value is dangerous. There are ways to do this. Talk to those who know. Some Shagari ministers are still alive.