By Alhazai Baban-Sumayya
A group of young intellectuals from across the northern part of Nigeria recently converged in Kano to engage themselves in frank discussion of issues affecting the development of the region. Some thought-provoking points were raised, writes Alhazai Baban-Sumayya
At a time when drumbeats of political power relocation to the region, are becoming more deafening, it’s indeed worth noting to see that a convergence of young intellectuals– from across the northern part of the country– display such nonchalance to the otherwise all-important matter. There must be a more pressing need then.
Yet to state that some or more precisely, most of these young Turks don’t wish to see that the control of the government at the centre returns to the North come 2015 is obviously not depicting the true reflection of their minds. Still, it doesn’t mask the significance of their current mindsets.
Will the North continue to only agitate for political power alone while it’s obviously lagging behind in taking advantage of most of the Federal Government’s empowerment policies? Can the North develop economically without proper collaboration and policy coordination among the states? Can the North afford to continue waiting until it reclaims the political power before something is done about its economic development?
These, among others, were some of the thought-provoking posers raised when these young men and women seized the opportunity of the Sallah break to discuss the future of the region. Interestingly, some of them in the Diaspora who couldn’t make it physically took advantage of ICT to participate. Professor Abba Gumel, a renowned mathematician based in Canada, was among those who attended via Skype. Others like India based Hajiya Saratu followed the thread in the group cyber page as an effort to join via Skype proved not successful.
However, by the time Alhaji Ahmad Rabiu (Vice Chairman of nation’s chambers of commerce) and Umar Saidu Tudun Wada (GM of Freedom Radio) who co-chaired the occasion began to pilot the affairs, it was clear that the participants drawn from all walks of life were there for frank talks. It was also clear that they think differently from the average politician in the country, who thinks that there’s no development as long as the political power is not residing in his particular region.
This is the pleasant surprise especially when viewed from the nature and the history of our politics. What therefore stands out from the lecture organized by these great minds, under the aegis of Ra’ayi Initiatives for Human Development (RIHD) is the burning desire for the development of Northern Nigeria probably unseen in most of those garrulous politicians. And there’s a remarkable freshness in their diagnoses and prescriptions on what constitutes the bane of the region.
For these young intellectuals, the sense of foreboding about loss of power to the rival South is not only over exaggerated by politicians, but it’s not even the main reason for its economic stagnation. The North’s most immediate need – apart from education – is economy and economy and economy. And this can be achieved with, or without the north necessarily controlling the power at the centre. This was the definitive message seemed to be agreed upon by those who thronged the ancient city of Kano’s venue of the lecture.
Indeed even the choice of the lead topic of discussion was unmistakable: Mitigating the Risk of Dependence on Oil funds: Viable options for the North.
The speaker, Ahmed Umar Sanusi, a brilliant new generation banker, armed with a master’s degree in energy economics, did more than a justice to the topic.
Mounting the podium, following a beautiful preamble of the topics by equally brilliant Husseini Jibrin, an aviation expert, Sanusi lamented the failure of political leadership in the region to move away from over depending on oil revenue. This, according him, doesn’t bode well for the future of the region.
“Nigeria is one of the classical cases of resource curse as agriculture and manufacturing have been terribly neglected. Oil funds keep accumulating without trickling down”, he observed.
According to Sanusi, a decline in revenue to share among the states will spell doom to the northern economy as no state can even pay salaries without the monthly federal allocation”.
Although the above summation is also the reality of most of the states even in the southern part of the country, the inescapable truth is that the consequence of not heeding Sanusi’s warning can be direr in the north.
Thus Sanusi selected agriculture, manufacturing, modernization of trade and improving Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) as key to diversification of the region’s economy. He particularly seeks linkages between agriculture and manufacturing in the region.
“Agriculture being the biggest employer of labour in the North presents the best opportunity of rejuvenating its economy and lifting the poor above the poverty line, checking rural-urban migration, checking the almajiri- beggar system because with all-year-round farming parents will want to keep their children with them to help out on the farms,” he further argued.
Yet Sanusi is of the opinion that nothing much can be achieved if state governments in the region fail to appreciate the need “to promote and take advantage of federal government’s policies on value chain linkages of agricultural products.”
The banker cited the example of sugar refining which is aimed at substituting imported raw material with locally produced sugar cane in sugar refining companies like BUA and Dangote. He equally advocated for taking advantage of 100% levy on rice to encourage local production as well as promoting similar policy on wheat production among others.
On manufacturing, Sanusi lamented the situation in the region which he said has become a dumping ground of manufactured goods not only from abroad but from within the country. He however suggested that the North, should position itself to take advantage of outsourcing of tailoring of global brands going on in Asia.
However, there’s a lot of hard work to be done and emotion must not becloud the thinking of the people according him. The North must collectively put all its weight on clamour for the extension of the gas pipeline project as well as completion of major power projects like the Mambilla hydro power plant.
Sanusi also wants the North to position itself to access finance from banks for its industries. “Banks play a very important role in the economy, matching the surplus segment (savings) with the deficit segment (investment) unfortunately the north is left behind in access to bank loans with 73% of the total loan portfolio of bank loans going to the Southwest with the entire North accessing less than 10%,” he lamented.
The second discussion was however on the decline of Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport which used to be the aviation hub of the West African region.
The presentation was made by Kabiru Mohammed Yusuf, another member of the group who happens to be an authority in the aviation sector.
Like Sanusi, Kabiru too chose a matter-of-fact approach to the discussion. He chose to differ from those who opined that the airport predicament was the handiwork of politicians who are hell bent in killing the economy of the north.
Tracing the history the airport’s decline, Kabiru noted that what’s being witnessed now is just an increased attention as it started long ago.
“It’s important to note that aviation all over the world is a very viable business particularly to the airport operator. As such, it requires more than armchair criticism to bring the airport back to its old glory,” he pointed out.
He therefore suggested that collaborative efforts between the Kano State Government, the Kano Chamber of Commerce and private investors in bringing it back its old well days.
“They can start that by putting to better use the export processing zone that is situated very close to the airport. With those companies doing business in the processing zone will certainly make optimal use of the airport.
He also suggested the construction of a five star hotel close to the airport, with a view to encouraging airliners and investors. Some of the things the chamber of commerce can explore, according to Kabiru includes, duty free shops, aviation fuel depot, cargo complex/ware housing, airport advertisement, housing estate and amusement park. Others are: catering complexes, database and cyber cafes fish/Agric farm, interline offices and shopping malls among others.
According Kabiru all these are available at the Kano airport and what’s needed is just the desire to develop them. Speaking further, the aviation expert noted that the new trend in the sector is an airport city development called AEROTROPOLIS.
“Today the idea of airport cities is welcome by the international traveller. Airports are no longer limited to boutiques and cafes. They have all the modern amenities of any city.”
He said, aerotropolis will comprise large business cities with retail opportunities corporate headquarters and bring greater revenue via non-aeronautical avenues.
“Such rapid commercial development makes the Aerotropolis a leading generator of economic growth as it takes advantage of the high volume of passenger traffic through the airport.
“Also, such rapid commercial growth will be of huge benefit not only to the city Kano, but also to Nigeria as a whole. Once international travellers appreciate the modern facilities and opportunities on offer at MAKIA it will lead to greater passenger numbers and thus increased economic development,” he explained.
All said, there’s need to have more northern intellectuals coming together to give the politicians the desired nudge to demand for specific priorities.
Like some of the speakers and commentators at the event observed, the priorities in the North must change very quickly. It’s time for the region to learn how to collectively demand for specific projects through its politicians. It’s indeed high time, the North sought economic power.
Baban-Sumayya wrote in from Kano.