Can Tinubu rescue Northern Nigeria from clutches of poverty?



Uba Group

Nigeria’s President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will surely have his work cut out for him after his inauguration as President and Commander-in-Chief on May 29. From the economy, to education and health care delivery, as well as other critical sectors, the former Governor of Lagos State will have his hands full walking his way through the labyrinth of Nigeria’s national issues.

And when he will be brainstorming about overturning those issues which have been festering on the nation’s anatomy, Tinubu will likely not be overlooking the perennial poverty in the North and how to alleviate the same. This will be crucial as his administration, pivoted on the “Renewed Hope” agenda he promised Nigerians during his campaign, will not escape being placed on a balance to determine how well it tackled poverty, especially in the North.

So far, the poverty outlook for Nigeria’s North is, without any exaggeration, distressing. In spite of the humongous natural resources in the belly of the earth in the North – there are limestone, tin, petroleum, gold, to mention a few – and its sheer size which constitutes a staggering 70 percent of the total landmass of Nigeria, the region has the highest population of people living in extreme poverty.

In comparison to the South, the Northern part of Nigeria is often more associated with poverty and rightly so, too. For instance, in November last year, the National Bureau of Statistics released its “Nigeria Multidimensional Poverty Index” and according to the report, the number of Nigerians living in poverty stands at over 133 million. Frighteningly, this figure represents about 63 percent of the nation’s population.

The report, which followed the last Poverty Index Survey published in 2020 by the NBS, revealed that 65 percent or 86 million of the poor are domiciled in the North, while only 35 percent or 47 million out of the 133 million poor Nigerians live in the South.

Sokoto, Bayelsa, Jigawa, Kebbi and Gombe were listed in the report to be states in Nigeria with the highest poverty rates. Others are Yobe, Plateau, Taraba, Zamfara and Ebonyi States. A cursory glance shows that the North has eight states in the top ten poverty brackets, while the South has two, Bayelsa and Ebonyi.

An agency of the United Nations, the World Food Programme, in its own report, also stated that 133 million Nigerians were living below the poverty line, and that insurgency in the North East had left an additional 4.3 million people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States in food insecurity.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Nigerians are perplexed about how the North has, from Independence in 1960 to the ending of the current civilian administration later this month, had nine heads of government who hailed from the region, out of the 12 the country has had altogether, yet it has remained decrepit because of poverty”

Interestingly, social critic and former Senator, Shehu Sani, had lambasted Nigerian Governors, after he tweeted the startling figures released by the WFP, saying it was despite the $5.4 billion Paris Club intervention fund shared to the Governors in eight years. Sani concluded, saying “our problems are man-made.”

In 2016, Tinubu’s running mate in the February 25 Presidential election and current Vice President-elect of Nigeria, Kashim Shettima, had also noted that “the South is prosperous while the North is a poverty trap.”

Shettima, who was Governor of Borno State at the time and doubled as the Chairman of the Northern State Governors’ Forum when he voiced his thoughts, also added that in Nigeria, poverty wore a Northern cap.

Shettima spoke at the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the demise of former Premier of Northern Nigeria and Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, and he added that the Northern Governors were working hard to continue the legacies of the late Sardauna and also doing all they could to address poverty in the rapidly growing population in the North.

“Unemployment in the North is extremely high. Nigeria is a country of two nations, the South is much more stable and prosperous, and the north on the other hand is in a poverty trap. In Nigeria, poverty wears a northern cap, if you are looking for a poor man, get somebody wearing a northern cap,” Shettima said.

Continuing, he noted, “Sardauna was a leader of his own generation and every generation comes up with its own style of leadership. Sardauna did remarkably well for the North and for the nation…our duty, especially for those of us in the North, is in our interest to invest in the people.”

Today, Shettima has come full circle, only this term, he will assume the role of the second most powerful person in Nigeria. And this, by implication, means he will almost be on a par, status-wise, with other former Nigerian Presidents of Northern extraction, like Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalam Abubakar, who presided over the affairs of the country.
Expectedly, these past leaders from the North and the current President, Muhammadu Buhari, who will retire to Daura, Katsina State, according to him, and who said his administration had taken 10.5 million Nigerians out of poverty, have all taken a bashing and accused of doing very little for their region.

Consequently, Shettima will have to bring his A game when himself and Tinubu navigate the North on a voyage to eradicate poverty.

Analysts say it will be a “difficult” mission. However, they insist the priority of the two APC chieftains should be to rescue the North from the clutches of poverty, so that Shettima, at least, would not fit the description of the past Northern leaders who may have failed the North in this regard.

For the avoidance of doubt, Nigerians are perplexed about how the North has, from Independence in 1960 to the ending of the current civilian administration later this month, had nine heads of government who hailed from the region, out of the 12 the country has had altogether, yet it has remained decrepit because of poverty.


The South, on the other hand, has produced only three Presidents in Aguiyi Ironsi who spent roughly six months, Olusegun Obasanjo who was in office for three years as Military Head-of-State before handing over to Shehu Shagari, a Northerner, and later his (Obasanjo) second-coming to power in 1999 when he was the generalissimo for eight years, as well as Goodluck Jonathan, who piloted Nigeria for six years.

It is now 62 years after Independence and those three Presidents from the South stayed in charge for a combined period of a little over 17 years, while their counterparts from the North would be in charge for 45 years, as either Prime Minister, Head-of-State or President, by the time Buhari hands over to Tinubu on May 29.
Perhaps, it would be unfair to solely lay all the blame for the North’s impoverishment at the door of the past Presidents from the region, as it emerged last week that incumbent and former Northern State Governors may also be culpable.

This was after the former Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, said on national television, last week, that the issue of poverty was all over the North and he couldn’t perform any magic to change the situation when he was Governor.

Yari, who is now contesting for the Senate Presidency, was confronted by the anchor of the programme, who reminded the former Governor he wanted to become Senate President despite Zamfara State being among the poorest States in Nigeria with a 92 percent poverty rate, one of the highest as regards people impoverished in Nigeria.

The anchor also stated that Yari was living in affluence and that despite the situation in his state, he donated a whooping N250m or thereabout, at a book launch. In addition, the anchor said he was voicing the question on the minds of Nigerians who want to know why the Governor didn’t put enough effort in fixing and improving the poverty rating of the state when he was the Governor.

Yari replied, saying apart from poverty being prevalent throughout the North and his inability to “make the magic” in eradicating poverty in the region, poverty and unemployment were problems in Nigeria. Yari also claimed that the federal allocation to Zamfara State was meagre.

Continuing, he said during his stewardship as Governor, he did his best and no other Governor from the state served the people of Zamfara State as much as he did. He also said the state was not industrialised, but an agrarian society, and that had affected revenue generation.

Yari’s stance quickly brings to mind the advice former Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, gave before he was deposed. During Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s 60th birthday celebration in 2020, Sanusi said he didn’t expect anyone to be happy considering that poverty and other numerous problems were confronting the North.

Sanusi also talked about the millions of children in the North who were out of school. His “unguarded” utterances might have irked the powers that be, and this was likely part of the reason why the Governor of Kano State, Umar Ganduje, sacked the first class king, and established four more Emirates in the state.

A political analyst based in Kaduna State, Nuru Wanbai, said a lot of factors are responsible for the poverty in the North.

According to Wanbai, until Tinubu tackles these factors, he might play to the gallery.

Wanbai listed some of the factors of extreme poverty to include traditionally supported practices like child marriage, child beggars, flouting of the Child Rights Act.

He also argued that Tinubu had to work with the “right personnel” who understood the “terrain” in the North, in order to beat poverty.

He knocked Governors from the region for embezzling funds, wondering why the region, with more states and Local Government Areas than the South, still struggles with poverty.

He urged the President-elect to tread cautiously when he will be dealing with the Governors.

Wanbai said, “A lot of factors are responsible for the massive poverty in the North. And until Tinubu systematically tackles these factors, he might play to the gallery.

“For instance, it is true the North is predominantly all about farming and livestock, but how many good roads do you find in the rural communities where these crops are planted? Roads are vital to the North….Tinubu must construct them.

“Other factors which cause poverty are child marriage, which is tied to the culture of the people, child labour, street begging, or what has come to be known as child beggars, disregard for the Child Right Acts…these are just some of the causes and to address them, the President-elect needs the right personnel who understand the terrain,” he stated.

In addition, Wanbai said, “The North has more States and Local Government Areas than the South. The revenue allocated to them from the Centre is more than what the South gets, but their situation up there hasn’t improved. If I were Tinubu, I would not trust Northern Governors completely. I would not continue handing over the destiny of the people totally to them.

“Tinubu should, therefore, be ready to face opposition as he tries to get millions of Northern youths out of the streets. Remember that some of the politicians have kept these people there so that they can be used as thugs during elections,” Wanbai concluded.

Obviously, Tinubu must be aware of the poverty situation in the North. As Governor of Lagos, in conjunction with his wife, Oluremi, he fought poverty to a standstill. Last year, too, while he was still a Presidential hopeful, he told Nigerian workers they were the backbone of the nation, and that none of them should live in poverty.

Tinubu has also given liberally to the less privileged in the North. But as he will be assuming the office of the President in seven days’ time, there will be no more hiding place for the Jagaban. Nigerians, especially Northerners, would expect he quickly addressed the nagging poverty question in their region and set the country on the course for renewed hope.

A senior lawyer, Honesty Eguridu, who gave his assessment on poverty in the North and the panacea to it, told The Point that it could be eradicated through the creation of “social welfare schemes.”

In addition, Eguridu said the “Northern oligarchy” were the orchestrators of the poverty in the region as they used religion to “distort” the system of education introduced by the British colonial masters.

Eguridu also said it would be wrong to think that those in the North were totally illiterate. According to him, though they are educated, the average child in the North goes through Islamic Religious teaching. He said this form of education doesn’t teach the average child in the North any form of trade or business but that the Northern, educated elites send their children to “normal” schools.

Eguridu claimed that the elites do this to subject the masses in the North to poverty so that they, the poor people, would always look to them for food and other basic necessities of life.

“Any serious government that wants to eradicate poverty in any part of Nigeria has to create social welfare schemes that are workable and practicable. The problem with the North is the fact that most of the elites there are very deceptive and the system of education that was introduced by the colonial masters when they came on board has been distorted by the Northern oligarchy who introduced their own Islamic education.

“The North has more States and Local Government Areas than the South. The revenue allocated to them from the Centre is more than what the South gets, but their situation up there hasn’t improved. If I were Tinubu, I would not trust Northern Governors completely. I would not continue handing over the destiny of the people totally to them”

“You see, those in the North, looking at it holistically, the population in the North…it’s not as if they’re illiterate to that extent. They’re educated, but it is Islamic religious education. Every average child there goes through it.

“They put them under Islamic tutors to teach them while the elites…those that are educated and in power, send their children to the normal schools. They allow the poor, the illiterate, so to speak, to send their children to Arabic schools….not to learn a trade or any other thing, but to learn Islamic education. So, you can see the problem we have. And why do they do this? So that the poor people will be “talakawa” to these elites…you know, always looking up to them for food and everything else.

“One ‘big man’ in the North can feed a whole village there. They bring plates to him to beg for food to eat. And you will often see deception when these so-called elites sit down to eat with those poor people.

“But what have they done to impact these people’s lives or lift them out of poverty? The other time, a member of the House of Representatives was reported to have distributed shoe-maker’s boxes and tools and called it an empowerment programme,” Eguridu lamented.

Still speaking, Eguridu said the almajiri system in the North had to be wiped off totally by Tinubu. Explaining the system, he said it involved parents handing their children over to Islamic tutors who would bring them up in the Islamic way. He said the children “take up plates to go and beg for food” when the tutor is unable to cater for them.

Eguridu said former President Jonathan tried his best to build schools for almajiri children, but the North turned against him and kicked him out, saying he wasn’t good enough. He also said he no longer heard anything about the almajiri schools since outgoing President, Buhari, came on board.

Continuing, he said, “That almajiri system….I think the Governors of Kaduna and Kano States have been fighting it by returning almajiri children to their states of origin, showing that the practice has even gone inter-state.

“Parents must cater for their own children. They gave birth to them. Because of the system, a man could give birth to multiple children without knowing where they are or how they’re feeding, and these children are left to cater for themselves on the streets and may eventually become a nuisance to society,” he added.