Beginning right away in the Preface with an admission of northern specificity to the underdevelopment crisis in Nigeria, this interesting documentation steps in to how alarming the existential details are in the region. But rather than play the blame game card or pass the buck, the approach here is a form of taking the bull by the horn. The book is thus the outcome of putting expertise to work on northern revivalism and repositioning, arming the politics of development with a strategy document that the masterminds hope can undo the past.
Driven by the belief in the power of ideas or of knowledge to shape reality, the team of development thinkers and activists are posing an agenda for an alternative development future. It calls the document Strategic Agenda for Northern Development, (STAND), defined in terms of key internal comparative regional advantages with the aim of recapturing the high ground in the agro-allied realm; strategic engagement with the energy requirements that would power development, a regional human development intervention that should manufacture the human component of social transformation, same with infrastructure and a reinvigorated governance orientation that can underpin all of these. Its sense of governance is a much broader one, stretching across what it calls the organised private sector, the NGOs, academia and the media. In other words, the fifth plank of the pillars of the strategy is leadership that can harmonise all these into tangibles.
What this means is that we are basically dealing with a think tank approach by which some actors hope to re-create the north through power over interpretation of facts and figures in favour of development. The reader is led into a statistical warfare that lays bare the north as a carcass of underdevelopment, from whichever dimension this is taken. The data wealth is much and impressive. Strewn across the pages from Chapter One, (P. 23) to Chapter Fourteen (which ends on page 199), there are no statistical details the reader doesn’t encounter. Appendices Two and three which brings the war of data to a close would interest many. They contain a list of industries that have closed down from Kano to Jos to Bauchi to Gboko and so on.
As a whole, STAND is a remarkable effort, especially at the level of documentation. It is the start all over again of the battle of ideas over how to develop the region but, this time, on a documented scale. The north is a fantastic candidate for rapid social transformation. It has got the population, the land mass and the water. And now, with ARDP, the idealism that can drive the making of History.
Be that as it may, some people see troubling signs, not so much from this book but about this book. Its reckoning with the contradictory manifestations of deformed capitalism is not only grudging but virtually absent. There is mention of colonial conquest of pre-colonial polities at the start of Chapter One and a mention of how globalisation or informational capitalism is reconstituting the north in terms of values, with particular reference to leadership or governance. Outside this, there is no such sustained discussion of how the most agrarian region of Nigeria fell and to what forces it fell in relation to the question of reviving it. It might be psychologically satisfying to lambast the northern elite but there is need to also reckon that they too are victims of forces they have either not quite understood how powerful it is or have been constrained to act as its willing tools. In other words, “The Incorporation of Northern Nigeria into the World Capitalist Economy” is not a dated aspect of this whole question of developmental revivalism in the north.
The second and even more surprising feature of the strategy document is its acceptance of the north as such an autonomous entity that can be revived just like that outside of the Nigerian State. Coinciding with a debate on restructuring which came from nowhere, so to say, the document’s biggest baggage might this strategic error of judgment. It is very surprising that this passed even with statists such as Dr Yima Sen and Dr Bello Aliyu Gusau on the Editorial Committee. Is it possible that the manipulation of distortions in the Nigerian political economy has started wrecking ideological havoc on certain people that were thought to be immune to such possibility? Bello Gusau is the author of the Daily Trust piece in 2001 mocking how Obasanjo, Adamu Ciroma, Philip Asiodu and others who supervened the Second National Development Plan were back in power (in 1999) to supervise IMF/World Bank dismantling of same. It marked him out.
That is because much of what Nigeria achieved since Independence, aside victory over separatists, are the fruits of that discourse of development – the Second National Development Plan. Through it, state interventionism reified the Nigerian State from Bama to Brass, creating sense of belonging in the technology, practices and symbols of common ownership. In order words, before China became the all time exemplar of state interventionism, Nigeria had sent a signal. This was before Obasanjo’s over-excited disciples started bringing down the roof on nationalism, thinking they were merely selling state owned enterprises. They had no idea of the nexus between these enterprises and the idea of the nation state in a complex federal arrangement such as Nigeria.
China has shown how state firms can beat so-called private enterprises even in WTO best practices. And that there is no other way to rapid development for Nigeria other than state interventionism! After all, the Chinese companies enacting relative development across Africa are all state owned enterprises.
It is in this context that it is surprising again that there is no sustained drawing upon the China experience. It would not have been a terrible thing to read in STAND such a statement that Nigeria needs just ten years to make the transition, since it has the benefit of understudying China which took twenty years, (1979 – 1999). It is plausible the book on the north contains no such statement because it is talking about the north instead of talking about social transformation in Nigeria through state interventionism. As such, it did not privilege a leadership that can penetrate Washington, Brussels and The Great Hall of the People, (Beijing) simultaneously. Instead of that, the authors of STAND are talking of NGOs, academia and private sector. Where does anyone find the private sector, NGOs and academics with the autonomy to trigger social transformation in Nigeria, much less in the north? The state is sadly missing from STAND in a way that subverts the book completely. Nigeria cannot make that rapid climb to where it ought to be in the comity of nations through separate regional development. It is not arrogant to say that people pushing such options are simply products of how far they can see from wherever they stand. Otherwise, the rapid social transformation of northern or any other region of Nigeria should be discussed under state interventionism.
The strategy has mentioned peace and security quite alright as part of the problems. However, did the book wonder sufficiently if the degree of calm required for development even exists in the north. It is a deeply fragmented entity along all imaginable fault-lines. That is not totally strange, given its complexity. What appears strange is the absence of aggressive and open efforts at reconciling the north. Some people would argue that a collection of activists taking a bet on an alternative future would depart from the denial, avoidance and silence that currently define attitude to spaces of violent conflicts in the region. But isn’t a clean slate required for an ambitious take-off?
Lastly, the book needs to be complemented with the right leadership. Is there any hope for this strategy in the absence of the think tankers transforming into a political movement? There is consensus basically that the current set of leaders building cargo airports or building universities in states that have no secondary or primary school system worth the name cannot provide the leadership required for developmental revivalism. Actually, democracy has almost become madness as far as leadership recruitment is concerned. STAND has a wonderful but rather sketchy section on ‘Catching Them Young’, (p. 194). It would have been an expanded treatise on leadership recruitment or selection process. Even then, that’s for tomorrow. The current leadership gap is still without an answer in the text. More so if development is in its elevated sense as rapid social transformation rather than governance as just doing projects. And even more so if that strategy has worked in China and other East Asian countries and it is only lack of patriotic and politically informed leadership that might be working against it in Nigeria.