The current edition of The Africa Report of October 2017 has in a way captured the paradox that is Nigeria today. Right from the cover page that confronts the reader with a screaming caption “Making it in Nigeria: East Nigeria’s industrial revolutionaries are not waiting on Abuja”, and op-ed feature article titled “Kaduna a city divided”, which was squeezed somewhere in page 42, the paradox is glaring. Perhaps it is just an unconscious parallelism. I don’t know, and I can’t see what is in the mind of the publishers of the magazine. But whatever it is, it is reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
The two articles have truthfully captured the paradoxical impulses characteristic of the spiritual and material trajectories of postcolonial Nigeria. The grotesque picture of Nigeria today is indeed one of seeming irreconcilable particularities, simpleminded inanities, gross incompetence, compound stupidity, and large doses of ignorance permeating all aspects of our collective existence. I’m not making that up, am I?
We shall proceed by first x-raying the two articles beginning with the one by Eromo Egbejule which is broadly titled “Wise men of the east”. And I quite agree with him. Egbejule has taken the reader through history of the painstaking efforts of post-independent regional leaders to put the zone on the steady path of economic growth, entrepreneurship and industrialization that even the civil war setback could not arrest. The desire to industrialize has only intensified by the day. In the postwar era, the region’s industrial elite have also not been convinced by the inconsistencies and discontinuities of halfhearted and countless industrialization policy declarations and blueprints of the federal government of Nigeria, which can at best be described as just paying lip service to issues concerning development or industrialization of Nigeria.
The determination to industrialize in the Southeast is more intense now than ever before. This is despite the menace of centrifugal forces of Biafra agenda, and the obvious challenges posed by the pecuniary drive of a section of the Igbos. On a more positive note, the Igbo sons and daughters, as we know them, are very industrious, hard working, creative, innovative and commercially oriented. There is thus no part of the world today where you cannot find the Igbos in their search of means of social mobility, good education and business opportunities. The current local initiative to accelerate the region’s industrialization is captained by Professor Barth Nnaji, described in the article as “a former University of Pittsburgh professor of industrial engineering, and minister of power” in Nigeria. By all global standards, Nnaji is a man of ideas who is more than adequately prepared to passionately champion the agenda of industrialization in not just his region but elsewhere in Nigeria.
The strategy deployed by Nnaji is to carefully analyze the industrialization potentials of the Southeast vis-à-vis available human capital and economic resources. Funds and investments were sourced from mostly foreign companies to finance the development of vital infrastructure that would facilitate the building of an enduring industrial base. The “$530m four-turbine Geometric Power Plant, an independent power project”, a coal based energy source that is meant to generate 1,125mw, which will in turn supply the growing number of industries inundating the region with uninterrupted power. One of the major beneficiaries of this development is Innoson industries with it is automobile assemblies. Free economic zone in the zone in addition to a befitting international airport at Emene with direct flights to Guangzhou, Mumbai and Singapore have all facilitated free flow of capital, goods and businesses. Chinese businessmen have since started swarming the Southeast for business opportunities.
However, the story on Kaduna in the same edition of the magazine by Sada Malumfashi is a different kettle of fish altogether. Kaduna is widely regarded as the “seat of northern power in Nigeria”. Malumfashi recollects Kaduna with much nostalgia in especially its vibrant multiculturalism, its socialites, its modernity, and its peaceful and harmonious aura, which still used to be a home to Nigerians from other parts of the country. It also used to be known as a city that had once served as the industrial hub of northern Nigeria. Sadly, all that is now history. The industries in Kaduna have all closed down with thousands of lower middle-income earners losing their means of livelihood. Economic squeeze has created a situation of hopelessness, disillusionment and frustration among especially restless young people as they faced the social consequences of an almost total de-industrialization of Kaduna, which by its strategic importance permeates the entire North.
This is not to say that the symbolic Kaduna too is not without its own share of good planning and well thought out industrialization scheme put up by Northern regional government. But the efforts of officials of the erstwhile northern regional government could not be sustained by the set of people who inherited the mantle of leadership from them, especially after the Nigerian civil war. For sometimes, Kaduna has progressively been cascading downwards into to an abyss, a morass of aimless circle of inter-communal and ethno-religious conflicts that often degenerate into violence, death and destruction, all of our own making because we have allowed ourselves to be swayed by all forms of anti-North and Nigeria machinations cooked up internally and externally. Right now the city of Kaduna is fissured along ethno-religious loyalties. And these existential divides are always at the heart of deadly crises. Ironically, the mega multicultural urban enclaves of the North, epicenter of our social progress, happened to also be the locations in which violent conflagrations are now being hatched.
The Kaduna elite group has been distinguished by its attitude of migrating from their different localities as they made Kaduna their place of domicile since its glorious days as the capital of Northern Nigeria. These individuals have in their active days arrogated to themselves the right to speak for the entire region on all matters. The names that featured in this group are very familiar. They are those highly privileged western education elite. The most prominent names that have come up for mention are “Adamu Chiroma, Mamman Daura, Mahmud Tukur, Ibrahim Dasuki, Tijjani Hashim Galadiman Kano, Hamza Zayyad, Umaru Mutallab, Aliko Mohammed, Ahmed Joda, Shehu Yar’adua, Abubakar Audu, Ango Abdullahi, Sani Zangon Daura, Aminu Tijjani Turakin Zazzau, Ahmadu Ali and Jubril Aminu”. Impliedly, the group was made up of old elite who specialized mainly in intrigues to capture and control power for self-aggrandizement and nepotism rather than productive thinking by fashioning well thought out development agenda for the region.
Today, the North itself is not without men and women of ideas that could not proffer practical solutions to its problems. Our arrested development may not therefore be entirely inexplicable. We are the architects of our collective undoing. The region can be reinvigorated with the excellent technocrats that can be found in all parts of the North.
Beyond the conflicting pictures given in the articles, the old Kaduna elite have since engaged themselves in the habits of assuming a defensive posture as their counterparts elsewhere aggressively pursue the strategy of agenda setting, planning for a prosperous future, infrastructural development and investment in education for their regions. They also ensure that the common Nigerian patrimony is judiciously utilized for projects in their regions since the Northern elite do not see the need for pursuing social development agendas. I do not fault the resolve of elite from other parts a bit in a Nigeria that is unwilling to define and defend its values, and its ethical standards for the sake of national cohesion.
The spirit of patriotism, we must understand, could only be promoted if the citizens of Nigeria are collectively made to feel that the country belongs to them; and it should be a patriotism that is driven by practical application of equity, equal opportunity, justice and fairness to all. That is how to develop a sense of belonging in any serious country.
The annoying dimension of the situation in the North is that nobody could sit down to even objectively analyze the factors that have led to our sudden social collapse without bringing their personal or group sentiments into it. Northern military and educated elite, who used to call the shorts following their control of power at the center, and who have since abandoned the responsibility of providing direction to their own people through the sourcing of well articulated and productive ideas to elevate the region socially, have become atrophied, myopic and completely unthinking. With agitations for democratization, power sharing and contestations for resource control from other sections of the country, something has to necessarily give way. The elite core otherwise known as Kaduna mafia are no longer certain of either their role or their position in Nigeria, as other sections began to earnestly discover, pursue and jealously guard their sectional interests in Nigeria.
To balance the equation, the Southwest geopolitical zone has itself demonstrated a good understanding of its strategic needs and interests in Nigeria. Lagos has been consolidating its gains and privileges as the economic capital of Nigeria, and other parts of the Southwest have associated themselves with that arrangement. This can be seen in the way in which the Southwest states have become economically integrated. Infrastructure in the region is comparatively better than in other sections of Nigeria. Despite robust investment in education, industry, trade and commerce, as demonstrated by the extension of Lagos-Ota industrial zone, that area is determined to forge ahead no matter the political temperature in Nigeria.
The North therefore needs to swallow its pride by taking a decision to go back to the drawing board at all political and administrative levels to come up with realistic solutions to the enormous existential problems threatening the survival of the region. And the problems are many.
Mr Liman is a professor of Comparative Literature and Popular Culture at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria