By Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim

The title might sound as though the content of the article would be another of those articles drumming support for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s presidential aspiration. But it isn’t. As a matter of fact, I am not a supporter of that cause.

However, Tinubu is one Nigerian politician I have come to respect immensely for many reasons. He has got stellar credentials in governance and public service —Lagos is a testimonial. He has also got an A grade in human capacity development and political mentorship beneficiaries of which span across the entire 36 states of this country and have come to predominantly constitute a strong force in Nigeria’s politics. He’s surely got style!

But here is the biggest reason why I respect Tinubu. In such a complex environment as Nigeria where internal geopolitics and strong inter-regional competition defines the country’s political dynamics, Tinubu has proven to be a consistent advocate and ambassador of South West Nigeria and have never compromised in protecting and promoting the region’s politico-economic interests.

In 2011 for example, when talks between CPC and ACN on the possibility of a merger hit rock bottom, Tinubu even while having a presidential candidate running under their ACN platform agreed to not actively oppose Goodluck Jonathan in the build up to the 2011 general elections. And the conditions for this passive support included “the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, granting of special status to Lagos in the true spirit of fiscal federalism and the designation of Lagos as an oil producing state” as stated by Tinubu in an interview with Segun Adeniyi for his book, Against the run of play. The conditions were basically ones that would improve enormously the politico-economic standings of the South West, and not Tinubu’s personal interest and I truly respect him for that.

As we approach the 2023 general elections, Northern Nigeria should look beyond the debate of who becomes the next president and from which region and start focusing on the conditions and demands to bring forth that would define our political and socio-economic developmental agenda, agreement(to fulfill) of which would determine our support for any presidential candidate. Some of the conditions and demands I propose are as follows;

– INTERNAL SECURITY AND COUNTER-INSURGENCY

Although the entire country cannot as of today boast of enjoying reasonable level of peace, Northern Nigeria remains the most devastated. From Borno through Zamfara to Zamfara, Katsina to Benue, the entire stretch of territory that houses the Northern region is ravaged by one form of insurgency or the other.

Boko Haram in the North East, operating for more than a decade without a major sustainable success story in counterterrorism. And Farmer-herder conflagrations which have metamorphosed into full blown banditry and kidnapping in North Central and North West. These acts have tremendously affected the region’s socio-economic standings and have rendered it economically crippled.

Apart from loss of thousands of lives(more than 30,000 since 2009 for Boko Haram and more than 1000 in just 2020 for banditry) and displacement of millions(more than 3 million for Boko Haram and more than 200000 for banditry) and destruction of billions of Naira worth of properties; one other key consequence of these crises which holds the potential of affecting not only the region but the entire country is the looming food crisis as a result the interruption of farming activities in major farming communities.

The North should hence demand for a robust and holistic restructuring of Nigeria’s security architecture which would assure the constitution of new national security outfits that would be able to cater for the specific and peculiar needs for Northern Nigeria security. These include constitutional amendment for the allowance of state and regional security/policing outfits to cater for peculiar inland and frontier security needs.

The redesignation of the Federal Ministry of Interior to Federal Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs which would house new security bodies responsible for Border Security and Forestland Security to enhance border defense and extend government authoritative presence to out very vast ungoverned forestlands should also be part of the demands.

Another special security outfit that should be formed in the interim is the Food Security and Anti-Cattle Rustling Special Force that would defend major farming communities and grazing areas and ensure the rejuvenation of farming and grazing activities(in authorized grazing areas) and prevent the looming food crisis from happening. These new and restructured security bodies should adopt a hybrid model drawing their personnel from existing military, police, other paramilitary forces, local vigilante groups who boast of superior knowledge of these terrains and new civilian recruits.

The demand for the sustenance and continued operationalization of the support rendered through the implementation of the National Livestock Transformation Plan for the entrenchment of modern livestock management system(e.g ranching) should also be made.

The North should secure a commitment to end Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, farmer/herder crises within the first term of the next government’s administration.

– EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND POVERTY ALLEVIATION

Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world and Northern Nigerian by extension is the poverty capital of the world’s poverty capital. Nigeria also unfortunately boasts of more than 10 million out-of-school children, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa, 70-90%% of which are in Northern Nigeria. Unemployment is at 33.3%, Northern Nigeria is relatively worse hit here too. The North is arguably the most socio-economically backwards in the country, and has the most undeveloped human capital.

Beyond the drama of who becomes president, this is how messed up the North is. Education, although long term, is the best panacea to the major predicaments bedeviling the North and these should be our demands;

The education system should be significantly restructured in such a way that it would be able to admit a significant number of the out-of-school children into the education net. For the North, it has been established that the Almajiri system is the major contributor to this depressing statistics of out-of-school children. The more than 150 Tsangaya Model Schools(models I, II & III) should be revitalized by the government, this should be complemented by the full and immediate operationalization of a standard almajiri curriculum to be reviewed by The National Board for Arabic and Islamic Studies (NBAIS). Technical and Vocational Education and Training(TVET) should form a major part of the reviewed curriculum.

More broadly, the restructured educational system should as a matter of priority create extra routes to employment by creating a complementary skill-based educational system that would assure the creation of a significant amount of “New-Collar” or skill based jobs. A broad apprenticeship program should be constituted that would form part of the TVET initiative and a certification system(for TVET) should be established that would serve the purpose of issuing credible, recognized and verified skills/competences certificates to serve as credentials for employment in the “New-Collar” or informal skills sector. By operationalizing these changes, Nigeria would be opening a vast section of the economy and presenting a significant amount of employment opportunities to millions of youths and women that haven’t passed through the conventional university system and cannot fulfill the traditional requirement of a university degree for employment but have acquired the requisite skills and competencies needed for the skill-based(New-Collar) jobs.

The North is unarguably home to a huge population that would benefit from this system which would improve education and literacy rate, employment rate and reduce poverty.

The North should secure a commitment to reduce the number of out-of-school children by 60%, improve employment by 20-50% and reduce poverty by 30-50% within 3 to 6 years through the implementation of the above policies and programs.

– INFRASTRUCTURE AND POLITICAL ECONOMY

Northern Nigeria holds enormous potentials for economic development especially across the agricultural and mineral resources value chain, manufacturing and MSMEs. However, there are a number factors that are impeding the realization of such potentials major among which is inadequate infrastructure.

The North should demand the completion of the rehabilitation and/or reconstruction of major federal road networks that are of immense economic significance, they include; Abuja-Kaduna-Kano Expressway, Kano-Maiduguri Expressway, Abuja-Lokoja Road, Kano-Kastina Road, Agaie-Katcha-Baro Road, Baro-Muye Road, Loko-Owetto Bridge. The construction and completion of Kano-Lagos Rail line, Maiduguri-Portharcourt, Abuja-Itakpe-Lokoja Rail line, Sokoto-Kebbi-Zamfara-Kano/Katsina Rail line and the Kano-Maradi Rail lines should also be demanded.

The North should explicitly demand the proper dredging of River Niger which will pave way for the full operationalization of Baro and Lokoja ports. This particular dredging project should be done within the first 2 years of the administration.

The privatization of Ajaokuta Steel Complex should be demanded with a clear policy that will ensure that Nigerians form the highest percentage of personnel, backward integration and skills and technology transfer for skills and technologies that we lacking expertise in regardless of whoever takes over management. The government can however maintain reasonable shareholding.

The Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano Gas pipeline is also a major energy infrastructure whose completion should be demanded. Some of these projects are slated for completion before the Buhari administration ends but experts suggest some might exceed the deadlines for their completion. Thus, the need to secure a continuity and completion commitment. The completion of the above mention road, waterways and rail infrastructures will improve multimodal transportation and assure the realization of Northern economic prosperity if utilized properly.

For instance, the Kano-Maradi Rail line when completed will pass through 3 Nigerian states(with stations in 11 Nigerian communities) that boast of having some of the largest food, textile and livestock markets and agro-allied industries in Africa. However, efficient interstate trading has been hampered by lack of proper infrastructures needed to easily access such markets. The rail line also boasts of the potential of connecting Northern Nigeria with not only Niger Republic but also other major Sahel-Saharan nations that are landlocked.

If completed, the Kano-Lagos rail line would also connect to the Kano-Maradi rail route alongside the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri Rail line(through Kaduna) and the Abuja-Baru-Itakpe & Lokoja(through Abuja). This will assure a full North-South stretch of rail network, enhance movement of people and goods along these economically active corridors and enormously transform trade between the Northern Nigeria, Southern Nigeria and also Sahelian-Sahara nations.

The utilization of the AKK gas pipeline infrastructure would improve power supply and assure the rejuvenation of major industrial hubs in Northern Nigeria(Kaduna, Kano, etc) which could leverage the Southern rail connection for inter-regional trade and also the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement(AfCFTA) to export value added goods(agricultural and mineral) to the West through Lagos and to Sahelian-Saharan countries(and further to the South and East of Africa) through Niger Republic.

It is imperative that the North present the above demands and conditions as the Northern Politico-Economic Agenda for 2023, agreement(to fulfill) of which would determine whether the North would consider a presidential candidate for voting or not. However, the requisite complementary policies and programs that need to be implemented by the region(Northern States collectively and individually) should be extracted(From regional security, to educational, to economic, trade and industrial policies and programs) and that should form the framework for our regional development blueprint to be assiduously implemented by the Northern States, collectively and individually as the case may be to complement the national government’s efforts in achieving the set agenda.

The North should secure the national government’s commitment to fulfill these demands within the span of 8 years.

But having outlined the demands that constitute the agenda, the biggest question remains who(individual or group) would stand in, present the agenda and uncompromisingly negotiate in the interest of the North. Tinubu has consistently been standing in for South West Nigeria, who would be our Tinubu?

Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim is a political/public affairs analyst, he writes from Zaria and can be reached through haleemabdul1999@gmail.com

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