FEATURE ARTICLE

Osita EzelioraSunday, August 3, 2008
noezeliora@gmail.com
Witwatersrand, South Africa

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POVERTY HAS NO TRIBE: SOLUDO'S DILEMMA OF TELLING TRUTH TO POWER

harles Chukwuma Soludo, respected professor of econometrics and the incumbent Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), has just professed that poverty is a fundamental phenomenon in Northern Nigeria. In his words: "Poverty is unacceptably high in Nigeria but the alarming and persisting level of poverty in Nigeria is a phenomenon in the North". Professor Soludo spoke at the Northern Development Initiative (NDI)'s Arewa Inspirational Leadership Award and Public Lecture, in Arewa House, Kaduna, on Saturday, the 19th day of July, 2008. His lecture, titled 'Banking Reforms in Nigeria', was meant to highlight his legacies since assuming office as the CBN Governor, and how his reforms have impacted on developments in several regions of the country. Sponsored by the Governors of the North Nigerian (Arewa) states, it was a strategic retreat devised to reverse the guilt evident in the lives of northern elites whose dubious sense of 'patriotism' has remained the bane of the nation's desire for meaningful development since the restoration of Nigeria's political independence in 1960.


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Probably unaware of the level of the North's resentment of his principal-ship of the apex bank, and the unsubstantiated claims that his banking policies impoverished the North since the Obasanjo regime, Soludo had gone to defend aspects of his professings before Governors of the Northern States. The Governors have been trying at length to assert their authority by reclaiming their psychological independence from the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF)-the body of Northern elites that has consistently not only negotiated the seat of power, but has actually defined who holds what power in Nigeria. The invitation of Soludo to deliver the lecture at a time when many Nigerians are looking forwarding to President Umaru Yar'Adua's sacking of the "arrogant" CBN Governor is, to say the least, quite disingenuous. In less than six months of President Yar'Adua's assumption of office as President of the Republic, Soludo had ruffled quite some feathers. Probably trying to emulate the style of his South African counterpart, Tito Mboweni, who is known to command 'power' with his tireless restructurings of interest rates, Soludo had tried to tidy up Nigeria's banking sector without considering the implications of his moves. Clearly, it does seem that while Soludo is a brilliant academic, he is certainly no politician and lacks the craft of politicking.

This writer does not know, and has never met Prof Soludo. But he has never hidden his admiration for this young man of Isuofia extraction that showed courage in a very important sector of the Nigerian nation. In fact, not too long ago, an essay was published on this website that appreciated Soludo's poetics of solution, even while trying to draw the learned professor's attention to important areas to which he could attend while in office. What has emerged in Soludo's later pronouncements after his monetary policies were rejected by the Yar'Adua regime has been, to say the least, quite embarrassing. It does seem that the learned professor is bent on doing whatever is possible to remain in 'power' as Governor of the Central Bank. This is disturbing. To have reached the apex of his profession as an academic at his young age is something he should value more than anything else in the world. He has, till very recently, remained a brother with whom many of us are very proud.

And then the questions: Am I angry because he saw poverty as a Northern Nigerian thing? Why should I celebrate him a while ago and then descend heavily on him later on? What has Soludo done wrong that would attract so much anger amongst many Nigerians at this point in time? Is there no poverty in Northern Nigeria? Are Southern Nigerians really wealthier than Northern Nigerians? The questions coming from several quarters are, indeed, numerous. Nigerians should not get ahead of themselves: is there poverty in Northern Nigeria? Everyone knows the answer to that question. Of course, there is poverty in Northern Nigeria: just as there is poverty in every other part of Nigeria. Poverty has got no tribe; no region; no state and certainly does not come specifically from any one community of people. Should we make efforts to alleviate poverty? Absolutely YES! Nigerians should do whatever is positively necessary to improve the condition of their socio-economic status.

The problem with Professor Soludo's professings, this time, is that he jettisoned his tools as a social scientist and, instead, confined his theories to a populist appeal when what was really required is telling truth to power. Listen to Professor Soludo:

"For development at the national level to be sustainable, we must make it an inclusive development leaving no one behind. All aspects of the economy must be making progress at its various speeds and according to its needs. This is the time for us all to focus our attention on the Northern economy because according to the last census, the North constitutes 52% of the Nigerian population but looking at the indicators of development, the North seems to be lagging far behind the Southern States" (!!!).
The area that has been systematically left behind is Professor Soludo's Eastern region that includes much of the Niger Delta. And our learned professor can professionally attest to this fact more than anyone else. What his hosts needed to hear is that the North has ruled the country for nearly half a century. Within the period Nigeria generated over U$D 700 billion and we all became very lazy as a result of the discovery of crude oil: a blessing that became a curse because instead of tasking our intellects and developing the nation, our leaders devised and perfected various forms of graft to the extent that it has become completely institutionalised.

Contrary to the political propaganda being peddled around by some privileged Northerners within the finance sector, Northern Nigeria has more millionaires than we have in the South. Soludo's community of Isuofia and the neighbouring towns of Nanka, Agulu, Igbo-Ukwu, Amichi, and Ekwulobia-just five towns in Anambra State-have a larger number of poor people than we find in the entire Bauchi and Niger States combined. To avoid the embarrassment of being insulted as beggars, many able-bodied young men and women have taken recourse to petty trading that include selling roasted corn in Isuofia, Igbo-Ukwu and Ekwulobia market squares, truck-pushing, bus attendants and, quite recently, some have ventured into using motorcycles as taxi or what is often called 'Okada'. The concept for these forms of survivalist desperation that we find in Soludo's Anambra State is called 'Poverty'. In fact, one retired Army General in Niger or Kano State could buy the one hundred wealthiest citizens of Isuofia, if not the entire Isuofia town. When Professor Soludo professes about Northern poverty, one is left to wonder whether it is the same Northern Nigeria that have citizens such as the Ibrahim Babangidas, the Abdulsalam Abubakars, the Yar'Adua Empire, the T.Y. Danjumas, the Mai Deribes, the Dantatas, the Abachas, the Chanchanjis, the Usenis, the Nyakos, the David Marks, the Dangotes, the Ishiaku Rabius, the Umaru Dikkos, and the Bamanga Tukurs, just to mention these few.

The problem that Soludo professed as Northern poverty is nothing but the externalisation of the embarrassing realities implicit in the poverty of private wealth. What he has seen is not the face of poor people as such, but the imposing presence of wealthy men who are content with their affliction of the 'Ranka dede' ailment: a submissive culture that impedes the creative potentials and the imaginative horizons of an otherwise vibrant young men and women. The Northern elites should be encouraged to contribute to the development of their communities rather the present reality where they expropriate state treasury and lump the loot in foreign bank accounts. They should be encouraged to establish Town Development Unions for which Nd'Igbo have been denigrated as clannish, rather than be satisfied with the superficial glory they take in feeding the poor every morning, afternoon, and evening. They should establish scholarship foundations and empower their poor for future challenges rather than wait for opportunities to exploit the vulnerability of the downtrodden to settle political scores in the name of religious riots. Above all, they should encourage their youth to understand that the dignity of man is the dignity of labour. Aliko Dangote has demonstrated this fact and, today, he is the richest man in Africa.

Is Soludo no longer a Nigerian? Where was this professor when in the 1990s, Col. Victor Ozodinobi was unceremoniously retired from the Nigerian Army while serving as Governor of Borno State simply because he insisted that scholarships should be reserved for the poor citizens of the state, rather than for the children of the rich? Where was Soludo when one of the brightest minds from Nigeria, Professor Tam David-West, was humiliated by the Northern elites? David-West was informed of the oil deposit in Anambra state, and many thought that our respected professor was going to mobilise exploration firms to identify areas of deposit in Anambra state. But, No! Prof. David-West was more interested in pleasing the North. He spent enormous sums of money as Petroleum Minister trying to find oil deposits in the Chad basin instead. At the end we all stared with consternation as this fine, admirable scholar of virology was rubbished and jailed over trumped up charges of corruption by a government that could not account for U$D 12.4 billion generated from the sell of excess crude oil in 1991. Soludo has immense examples to follow amongst his tribe's men and women. Ngozi Okonjo-Iwuala left when the Obasanjo government attempted to destroy her integrity. Before her, Ebitu Ukiwe showed Nigeria what it means to be a true Army General. Till this day, Cmdr Ukiwe still commands respect among the Igbo wherever he goes. Soludo even has a better reason to quit, since he is a respected academic who is on the verge of becoming an internationally recognised A-rated scientist. It will be a bad day in hell when the same people he is currently trying to please decide one morning to "discipline this bloody nyamiri" who, like Prof. Tam David-West and Col. Victor Ozodinobi, is trying to show that he has a superior intelligence, and better than everyone else.

How does Professor Soludo's theory of Northern poverty attend to the gully erosion crisis that is threatening to bury alive the entire peoples of Isuofia, Nanka, Agulu, Utuh, and the many communities of Anambra State? Is Professor Soludo even aware that his professing is meant to provide legitimacy to the arrant robbery going on in certain quarters in the country? Is Professor Soludo unaware that there is not a single Federal presence-in terms of industries and everything else-in the entire South East zone, especially in his native Anambra State? What seems pathetic, here, is that the Northern elites always know where to go whenever they decide to provide rationale for their continued deprivation of the South East zone of their entitlements within the polity called Nigeria. How long ago was it when a policy was designed by Yakubu Gowon and Obafemi Awolowo to seize the property of Professor Soludo's tribe's men and women-including every cent they had in the banks? What form of trick in the book has not been deployed by these oligarchies to subject Soludo's tribe's men and women to perennial penury?

In a paper presented in June 2007 at Oxford University titled 'Institutionalising ethnic representation: How effective is the Federal Character Commission in Nigeria', a Northern Nigerian academic, Dr. Abdul Raufu Mustapha, had quoted Professor Soludo's other theories of Northern poverty. It was meant to provide support for the continuing lopsidedness in the distribution of social infrastructure, Federal presence across the zones of the federation, and the need to redress what the scholar saw or imagined as the dominance of Southern Nigeria in the social development of the citizenry. Efforts, the scholar suggested, should be devoted to channelling more developments to the North. Unlike Prof Soludo, the scholar went beyond politics to identify cultural reasons, especially the drive and competitive spirit of some Southern Nigerians that enabled them to move above the poverty bracket. Surprisingly, the learned scholar did not see reason to condemn the Federal Character Commission, the subject of his research, for the unit's silence on why the South East zone of the country have been deprived of nearly all the basic facilities they deserve since the end of the civil war. He does not challenge the distribution of Federal Government's owned industries, steel rolling mills, international airports, etc. No! This would not be necessary, as it would expose the fact that Prof. Soludo's zone is the only one that does not have a single Federal presence

I feel very sad doing this opinion article, knowing how much I personally respect and admire Professor Soludo. But the challenge at this point in time is to speak truth to power: T.M Aluko, veteran Nigerian novelist, would have looked at this young man in the face with pity, and say to him: "my friend, this is conduct unbecoming". Some of his professional colleagues might even add: "Prof, your recent professings are quite unprofessorial". I would not say any of these things. Yet, those who are close to Prof Soludo should kindly remind him that to look in the faces of Aliko Dangote, Ishiaku Rabiu, Ibrahim Babangida, Jeremiah Useni, Bamanga Tukur, etc, and still consider them very poor Nigerians could be misread as a professor's deliberate abstention from maximum learning. For, he knows, as well as we all do, that the wealthiest Nigerians are all Northerners: many of these Northern millionaires do not patronise the banks, and would rather have their millions buried underground or left in their closets. Many Nigerians still remember the humorous but very intelligent late Alhaji Barkin Zuwo who would prefer to keep "Gwoment money in Gwoment House" rather than keep it in the banks. What is being exposed, therefore, is the poverty of private wealth.

Ezeliora recently completed his doctoral research in Post-Apartheid Narratives in the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

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