Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), has been in the news lately for apparently the wrong reasons, sort of. First, his vigorous and rigorous defence of government’s removal of oil subsidy has been widely regarded as contrary to his image of a compassionate professional.
Then he gave a relatively princely sum of a hundred million Naira for the victims of the recent allegedly Boko Haram insurgency in Kano State on behalf of the CBN. That would not be the first time the bank would donate for charity, but it all looked rather partial not only because he comes from the state. Too, his ambition to be next emir of Kano is a poorly guarded secret.
Then, of course, there was the question of why, since he seemed disposed to be rather generous with the bank’s money in helping victims of terrorism, he had neglected to extend the same financial gesture to victims of the well-publicised Christmas bombing of a Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State, a suburb close to Abuja.
He made up for this two days ago when he donated twenty five million Naira to the church. However, it is doubtful that this will assuage those – and they are not exactly negligible – who think the CBN should not be in the business of charity, to begin with.
Third, the man recently gave the London Financial Time an interview in which he linked the Boko Haram insurrection to the level of poverty in the North. If he had stopped there maybe, just maybe, he would not have attracted the vehement attack he has come under since the interview.
However, rather than stop there he took the logical step of recommending a Marshal plan for the region. Predictably, all hell has broken loose since then.
Again predictably many of the attacks on the man have been long on abuse and short on logic. However, several others, most notably the almost full page Sunday Punch editorial of last Sunday and a two part article by Biodun Jeyiofo of Harvard University in The Guardian of February 12 and 19, have been well reasoned critique of the CBN governor.
For having the effrontery of suggesting a Marshal Plan for the North, the man has been called all manner of names. For many, some of them senior government officials, I suspect, his attempt at linking the Boko Haram insurgency to the level of extreme poverty in the North is an attempt not only to justify it. For such people it is enough proof that, at the least, he is closet Boko Haram, or at the worst, a Boko Haram financier.
Well, if he is any of these things to Boko Haram, then he must be in the good company of at least Bill Clinton, former president of United States.
Speaking penultimate Monday at the 17th Annual Thisday Awards for Excellence, Clinton made the same argument as Sanusi. In an indirect reference to Boko Haram, he said it was impossible to end its terror without dealing with the apparent root of the disaffection of its perpetrators. “You can’t just have this level of inequality persist. That’s what is fuelling all this stuff,” he said.
He went on to express his reservation about the efficacy of government’s obvious over-reliance on wielding the big stick as a solution to the problem. “It is almost impossible,” he said, “to cure a problem based on violence with violence. You have to give people something to look forward to when they wake up in the morning.”
The former American president was obviously speaking from his experience in his own country. In his great 2004 autobiography, My life, he wrote at some length about the race riots of the mid-sixties that tore the American society apart.
Those riots, he pointed out, led President Lyndon Johnson to appoint a commission under Otto Kerner, the governor of Illinois, to look into their causes. The commission found that the riots were the result of police racism and brutality and the absence of economic and educational opportunities for the blacks.
“Its ominous conclusion,” said Clinton in his autobiography, “was summed up in a sentence that became famous: ‘Our nation is moving towards two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.’”
Substitute America’s racial differences with Nigeria’s regional differences and Kerner’s commission might as well have been talking about present day Nigeria.
Whatever anyone thinks of Sanusi’s argument about the dangers of regional differences for the stability and unity of the country, it is hard to dispute the fact that huge regional disparities in public revenue are not good for any nation. Certainly there is a strong argument for the regions collectively to get a bigger share of the federation account than they now do relative to the central government.
This, however, is how far it is sensible to support Sanusi’s concern; regional inequalities are bad for any nation but social inequity are by far worse. I am sure Sanusi would be the first to admit that his London Financial Times interview did not address this root of the violence that has become pervasive in Nigeria, whether it is Boko Haram, MEND, or plain armed robbery or kidnapping.
As Biodun Jeyifor said in his article in The Guardian, revenue allocation to Nigeria’s constituents has been “the bottomless pit of the Nigerian power elite’s megalomaniacal struggle for the wealth of the nation.” Again one cannot agree more with him when he said this emphasis on distribution of revenue among the tiers of government to the neglect of vertical distribution among the social classes of society has only “made a few oligarchs immensely rich and the vast majority of our peoples, North and South, obscenely poverty-stricken.” But in talking about the few immensely rich oligarchs, Jeyifo might as well have pointed out they too are not exclusive to any region.
It should be pretty obvious to any sensible person that the well-being of the citizens of any part of the country does not and cannot depend alone on how much revenue it has. What is more important is how it uses what it has. And in this respect it is obvious that, North and South, our political leaders to whom we have entrusted our commonwealth all these years have used it more to satisfy their own creature comforts and those of their families and friends than for the greatest good of the greatest number of their subjects; the big difference being not so much any differences among the politicians in their abuse of public trust but the impact such abuses is bound to have on the poorer parts of the country.
In this respect the politicians in the North have a greater responsibility to have demonstrated good and transparent governance than their Southern counterparts. Anyone with half an eye can see that this has not been the case.
More than the relatively smaller revenue the region gets from the federation account, it is the shirking of this great responsibility that has led to the widening of the gap between the regions in almost all indices of human development in the country.
The sooner the North wakes up to this bitter truth the better for the region, and by extension, the better for the entire country.