The devastation inflicted by Boko Haram is sufficient justification for President Muhammadu Buhari to ask the World Bank to concentrate development in northern Nigeria. However, a deeper examination would reveal other obvious reasons, which have been scantily highlighted. The President’s aloofness and the attendant limitations it imposes on his information managers obliterate the opportunity to engage the public more constructively.
Here are some indisputable facts that may have influenced the President’s supplication to the World Bank. He knows that the North is Nigeria’s poorest region. He knows that literacy level is lowest in the north. He knows that healthcare is abysmal or non-existent in the North. He knows that gender inequality is massive in the North. He knows that life expectancy is low. He knows that the gap between the rich and the poor in the North is immeasurable. He knows that the north constitutes an insignificant fraction of corporate Nigeria. He knows that infant and mother mortality rates are very high. He knows that more children in the North are out of school. He knows that in the Human Development Index, the North can hardly identify any indicator pointing upwards. He knows that due to self-affliction and a dysfunctional federation, the North depends more on accruals from the centre. He knows that a combination of these factors constitute the building blocks of poverty, hopelessness, intolerance, crime, bigotry and extremism.
The World Bank is not an alternative government. No country was created and developed by the World Bank. The World Bank ‘functions as an international organization that fights poverty by offering developmental assistance to middle-income and low-income countries.’ Its biggest job is proffering policy choices to help in poverty reduction in developing countries. The World Bank will not force people to acquire education. The World Bank will not sweep our streets or keep our surroundings clean. The World Bank will not maintain facilities left unattended.
Development does not occur without commensurate human capital. That was the clear message from the World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim. The abundance of crude oil will not and has not developed any country, including Nigeria. What develops any society is development of the mind through education, skills and drive.
Other parts of the world are pushing for a knowledge economy; Nigeria is injecting billions of dollars in search of oil in areas that have been consistently searched over the past 60 years without yield. It seems in everyone’s interest that oil be discovered in the north. It will reduce the tension over claims of parasitic dependence and possibly encourage the north to accept a true federation or independence. But whether that would upend Kim’s counsel on human capital development is doubtful.
The President has never hidden his love for the North. His only problem, mostly trumpeted by the South, is that he is Nigeria’s president. They say he should be a national figure. But that is not his trajectory. He comes across as a conqueror with the power of life and death. It seems as if it was not votes or democracy that brought him to power. He undertook a brutish battle and vanquished his enemies, to better the lot of his beloved Northerners who gave him 95% votes. They say he has conveniently forgotten that he ran for the office three times on whatever qualities were ascribed to him and failed. It was simply PDP and Bola Tinubu that actualized his ambition.
They say the President Buhari seems oblivious or ignores the truth that the North has benefited from the commonwealth more than any other region. He appears to dismiss the fact that Southerners find it harder to access the commonwealth. He seems to overlook Kim’s proposition that development of human capital is imperative to achieve any meaningful development. He seems ignorant of the fact that even when you site projects in a favoured region, skilled manpower will still be required to sustain such projects. He does not know that by asking the World Bank to concentrate investments in the north, he reinforces the claim among Southerners that he is a sectional leader. He probably does not know that his bias tends to create the impression that the south is responsible for the North’s backwardness and must be stalled. He probably does not recognize that Northern underdevelopment is majorly the failure of Northern leadership, which includes him. He seems not to recognize that slowing the South is not what will develop the North.
At 74, most Nigerians expect Buhari to embody maturity, wisdom and experience; not the bigotry, hate, discrimination, vindictiveness and disrespect for the rule of law that have come to characterize this administration. If anyone ought to be a father-figure president, it is Buhari. For a country endowed with so much resource to be begging for its development is unfortunately tragic.