We all want the good life. We all want to live in a country where things work and we can get on with our lives. Where we tend to differ is who pays for it, who gets to share in it and who is responsible for making sure we all enjoy the good life. Frustrations have been boiling over in several countries and have manifested in Brexit and the election of Trump. The looming French election will test how far populism will go.
Back here in Nigeria, the recession has frayed nerves. The blame game has been going on for almost 2 years after PDP lost the election largely due to its failure to address the security crisis in the North East. Thankfully, the security situation has significantly improved and the economy is showing signs of recovery on the back of higher oil price and increased oil production.
Nevertheless, our vulnerability to collapse in oil price was starkly exposed. Furthermore, the differences in the financial viability of the states was laid bare for all to see. Some states had to be bailed out by the Federal Government and many still owe months of salaries.
Let’s compare Kano and Lagos two states that have been diligent in paying workers salaries. Furthermore, these are the two states with the highest population according to the 2006 census and are the most prosperous in their regions. While Kano budgeted N218 billion in 2017 a decline from the ambitious 2016 budget of N274, Lagos state budgeted N813 billion for the 2017 fiscal year compared to N663 billion in 2016. In other words, and assuming broadly similar populations per the 2006 census, Lagos plans to spend 3.7 times more money per resident compared to Kano.
It is these glaring differences between the fortunes and development trajectories of the 2 regions as exemplified by the two states that the Emir of Kano brought to the fore recently. In the process, some people got upset.
Unfortunately, the harsh truth is that although Nigeria is a lower middle income country, the North has income more in line with low income countries. Not only does the North have the highest incidence of poverty, it also has the worst education and health statistics. For example, according to the data in the 2016 National Health Policy, 78% of doctors are in the South. Meaning, the North, despite higher population has only 22% of the doctors. The gap is not set to reduce anytime soon as according to the Policy, only 6 of the 27 accredited medical schools at the end of 2012 were in the North.
Not only are the economic and social indicators poor in the North, it also must contend with the aftermath of the Boko Haram devastation and the growing environmental threat to its main employer, agriculture, especially in parts of North East and North West. The outlook is indeed sobering.
However, rather than critically reflecting and thinking about these challenges and actively seeking out and implementing solutions, we would rather continue living in denial. Nigeria is poor and the North is poorer. No amount of sugar coating or denial can mask it. It is often said, the first task in dealing with a problem is acknowledging in the first place that there is a problem. Let us all do ourselves one big favour and acknowledge this truth.
Thankfully, the Emir of Kano has reminded us. Now that he has brought it to our consciousness, it is entirely up to us both the led and the leaders to step up to the challenge. We are all responsible for our prosperity, and we must all pay for it if we want to share in it. The other option is to continue living in denial and as a result continue to live with the indignities of poverty. The choice is ours.