The truth is bitter and to criticize and point out flaws is easy. This easily sums up the reactions to last week’s “Legacies & the failed north” and now that the symptoms have been diagnosed and the prognosis is bad, what is the cure for what ails the north?
In a nutshell: long-term focus on using the competitive advantage of the states to drive development for the majority of the people and good, sincere governance. How? Let’s take Yobe as a sample of the opportunities –because it is the poorest state in Nigeria (struggling with Jigawa for this award) and the state of origin of Mohammed Yusuf, the acclaimed leader of Boko Haram. Home to 2.3 million people, Yobe was carved out of Borno in 1991 partly to address its underdevelopment and 21 years later…not much has changed.
In 2011, Yobe’s budget was N69.26 billion with 54 percent spent on capital expenditure and 39 percent spent on its recurrent expenditure. This seems extremely encouraging until you discover what the Yobe government considers to be capital expenditure. The purchase of Lexus jeeps and other motor vehicles for security surveillance at N650 million and the repair of offices and furniture for offices and lodges at N137 million are all categorised as capital expenditure. This is apart from the N746 million spent on completing and furnishing the new office complex for the secretary to the state government and the head of service and N9.4 million for tree planting around offices. This type of spending is unwise because it does yield any returns on investment for the state.
Instead of furnishing hotels to tempt tourists, this is what Ibrahim Geidam, Governor of Yobe could focus on the following.
Yobe has a competitive advantage in the production of certain food and cash crops including gum Arabic which forms 40 percent of the United States of America’s imports. Gum Arabic comes from the acacia tree and is a miracle edible substance which is found in everything from cosmetics to soft drinks, M&M chocolates, paint and even shoe polish. Geidam can increase the investment in planting and harvesting of acacia trees – including partnering with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan to fund research in the most resilient and fastest growing species. Acacia trees already have a reputation for fast growth and ability to survive the dry weather, making it ideal for Yobe where the dry season lasts as long as 7 months of the year.
The drive for the increased production of acacia trees will reduce unemployment especially if he gives all graduates who sign up 5 hectares of land with the promise of a C of O after a fixed number of years. The ultimate aim of the increased growth of acacia trees should be to set up factories which will process, package and export gum Arabic –creating more jobs and increasing internally generated revenue.
Instead of jeeps for surveillance, Geidam can invest in tractors and improve the farm level productivity of Yobe along the recommendations of the experts – who we need improved technology and irrigation, quality seedlings and better post harvest management to halt the loss of 20-30 percent of our perishable crops.
Yobe is already home to the largest cattle export market in West Africa. Apart from using existing research to improve the quality of our cows, Geidam can restart the Damaturu abattoir and/or build a state of the art one for the processing and packaging of our beef – complete with freezer vans to improve our service delivery and start moving along the next logical chain of production. There is a theory that apart from the unimaginable strain living in Nigeria puts on us; Nigerians are aggressive because of the beef we consume. When cows are slaughtered in the view of other cows surrounded in the stench of blood and fear, this increases the adrenalin pumping through the veins of the cows and this extra adrenalin permeates the meat which we eat. In addition to the aggression, this extra adrenalin makes our meat tough to eat – so the abattoir will in addition to improving the value chain of our cattle, also render a social service by decreasing the levels of aggression all across Nigeria and West Africa.
Potiskum is a thriving hub for transporters moving food and cattle to the south of Nigeria and neighbouring countries. It is clear that Yobe and the neigbouring states would benefit from having a plant for the manufacture and/or assembling of basic motor parts as well as trained technicians who know how to fix these trucks. With the right incentives, Yobe should be able to partner with Anamco, Mercedes Benz or Tata to start a plant which would train and employ people.
Now, if all these things are already there – especially the last two i.e. the cattle farming and the long distance transportation of goods, it is safe to wonder…how come Yobe remains poor and backward?
Along with corruption and bad governance, the attitude of the people to education, hard work and long term planning is responsible for the continued underdevelopment. In order to succeed the government has to change minds and hearts about certain policies.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, as of 2008, the literacy rate of adult men and women in Yobe was 51 percent and 27 percent respectively. There is no quick way of improving literacy levels but Yobe can focus on the sciences in primary and secondary and vocational education to support initiatives in agriculture, livestock farming and auto manufacturing and repairs. In 2011, N2.3 billion was allegedly spent on office and school furniture for the Bukar Abba Ibrahim University and apparently a lot more has been spent over the last few years on institutions of higher learning. This is folly – if the majority of the people are illiterate and semi-illiterate with extremely low WAEC and JME scores…who is teaching and who is learning? The few students who have promise should be provided scholarships for other tertiary institutions –with the understanding that when they graduate, they would work for 3-5 years in their areas of expertise before they are expected to come back to the state and work there for at least 10 years – or pay back the cost of the education plus interest. In Singapore, from the time students are entering into university, the government has ear marked those whose careers will be in the judiciary, the civil service or academia – Yobe can do the same.
One of the biggest obstacles to entrepreneurial and small business growth is access to institutional loans. And the two boulders hampering the flow of institutional loans are a weak legal framework and lack of credit bureaus which know the identity of people and their credit worthiness. This makes borrowing expensive and fraught with risk. The Governor can embark on the systematic registration of all citizens with individual tax identification numbers which will serve as their identifiers for all transactions. Yobe can then begin to build a database of citizens who pay their taxes and bills and avoid the possible conflict with the Nigerian Constitution which places census and registration of births and deaths as the sole prerogative of the Federal Government. This identification will also eventually prune the cost of government by burying all ghost workers for good. If the FG decides to meddle, Geidam should make the identification of every Yobe citizen a matter of security and take the matter to the courts if necessary.
Laws need to be enforced – the more high profile the case, the better in order to serve as a deterrent to the population. It is only when the people see real examples being made of their neighbours, chiefs, and relatives that they will begin to obey the law.
The Governor needs to spend most of his time driving attitudinal change around hard work, financial prudence and community service. Financial prudence refers to the culture of government excess. The 20+ commissioners and army of aides will be reduced to the barest minimum and the perks of office slashed until a time when the state can easily afford such luxuries. Working in government will no longer attract those who are looking for a cushy ride pushing papers across dusty tables all day. Driving community service to ensure that women are expected to do their fair share and will empower and embolden women to take more active public part in society. Women who train as midwives and work in hospitals – especially the overnight shift will be given extra bonuses to incentivize husbands who do see that if their wives work the night shift in a hospital then when his daughters and sisters are in need there will be experienced support for them.
This year, Yobe has budgeted N77.5 billion, an 11 percent increase over the 2011 budget with N51.2 billion expected from monthly revenue allocations, VAT and money from the excess crude account. Yobe expects to generate N5 billion internally and the balance will be made up from loans and grants. The bulk of its spend is currently allocated to Works with N16Billion while agriculture gets only N2.3Billion – obviously nothing is going to change as long as the government is focused on spending money on projects to make Yobe look pretty instead of self sufficient.
These possibilities will not solve all the problems in Yobe but they would be a move in the right direction – to plan towards sustainable growth and start redressing poverty, unemployment and inequality. If the Yobe budget spend and projections are any indication of what goes on in the other 18 northern states, then the north is not heading towards better times and all well meaning people of the north have to start strategizing about how to bring real change to the north in 2015.
Feb. 13, 2012