By Martin Ike-Muonso
Nigeria’s economic structure appears carefully patterned with enviable spatial interlinkages between the northern and southern parts of Nigeria. Whereas the north provides much of the cattle meat, onions, tomatoes and cereals consumed in the south, the latter offers much of the palm oil, cocoa and cassava-based products consumed in the northern parts of the country. Typical of every long-established balance, the distortion of this pattern has nefarious implications for national output and employment. Unfortunately, Boko Haram, the so-called bandits and Fulani herdsmen currently dislocate this balance. Consistent bouts of bombing, kidnapping and outright mayhem have ensured that peace and stability necessary for a healthy life and economic production almost cease to exist across the country. Production volumes of agricultural outputs are severely worn-out on account of the heinous spikes in the costs of doing business that attend to these havocs. In its trail is the rural-urban and State-to-State migrations that are posing a second level threat that may bring down the entire country. It is easy to see why and how this is possible. Declining investments in response to the aggravating insecurity and the uncurbed migration that unavoidably follows are exacerbated at the destination points by the absence of industrialization and jobs. These definitely, can only stretch the urban population to disastrous points.
Much of the cattle meat and food such as beans, cabbage, onions, tomatoes and carrots consumed in Nigeria are cultivated in northern parts of Nigeria while much of the palm oil, cassava, gari, as well as refined petroleum oil consumed in northern parts of Nigeria, come from the South. These are just a few examples. The pastoralists of the north also depend on the Southern parts of Nigeria for feeding their cattle, particularly during the dry seasons. About three decades or more ago, herdsmen never posed any threat even while their flock grazed in the plains of southern Nigeria. Similarly, the merchants of Igbo extraction were found in virtually every part of the north selling varieties of wares especially motor and bicycle spare parts unperturbed. That peaceful symbiotic economic circularity created the structural balance that benefitted the peoples of both northern and southern poles. And so disruptions of production by the agents of insecurity equally distort relative consumption patterns across the country. Perilous interruptions of farm and mining activities cause supply diminutions as well as a rise in prices that triggers shifts in consumer preferences and consumption patterns.
Employment and income are equally affected. A good case is a place like Zamfara where in some communities the crises got to points where the average number of cattle brought to most markets decreased from about 500 animals to less than 35 animals. Bags of cereals and grains likewise declined in even dreadful proportions. Bandits and other agents of insecurity merely wreak mayhem on farmers and in many instances imposing fines on farmers and outrightly banning communities from venturing into farms or indulging in any economic activity without paying such exorbitant illicit penalties. Inability to meet such stiff obligations is usually visited by either the death of the defaulter or a close relative in situations where a warning needs to be communicated. The implication is that the entire village vacates their farms and home towns and escape for their lives. Consequently, new investments into such activities lessen as well.
With these inauspicious circumstances, it is not difficult to see why would-be investors consume investable monies in farming, minings and in other varieties of trades and occupations in those places. It is also not difficult to connect the dots with losses in current and future outputs as well as the employment that would have generated them and that they would have generated. Dependents – the young, elderly, sick and challenged persons – on those who ordinarily would have been engaged on the back of those ‘consumed’ investments suffer exceptionally untold hardships. Many kids, for instance, will cease to go to school or receive medical attention. And that is if even the schools and hospitals are spared of the insecurity horror. But they are not. Many of the hostage takings are conducted in schools and religious communities. Needless again to say that the government loses out on significant quantum of internally generated revenue as well as VAT collectable/returned from the State. Still, this stifles prospects for marginal public sector employment while the vicious cycle of bads dynamically continues.
Although about 95% of the insecurity situation in Nigeria today appear to originate from and predominantly operate in the northern parts of the country, the Fulani herdsmen seem to be more virulently evangelistic and conduct its mission across the country. Ranked as the fourth terrorist group in the world, this group rampages virtually the entire country producing misery in its trail. They are either kidnapping or robbing innocent persons or mindlessly shooting and killing farmers. In the Southeastern and southwestern parts of the country, for instance, these groups have sacked crop growers from their farms. In my town and other surrounding communities, there are ceaseless cries of woes and lamentations due to the brazen ignominies of this fearless group. In the Southeastern states of the country, unofficial estimates indicate that at least up to 80% of subsistence farming capacity have been lost to the activities of these daredevils. In general, production volumes for food items are down in affected northern parts of Nigeria by almost 80% and about 70% in the affected Southern parts of the country. Women and young men that hitherto depended on the farms for livelihood have no jobs to do anymore. As it is in the north, so is it in the east; the structural balance of progressive circular flows of production, consumption and employment are grievously distorted. Consistent with theory, the shorter the supply ceteris paribus, the higher the price.
The inevitable consequence of the sacking of young men from the farms is their migration to urban areas in droves in search of jobs and safety. When a flock of birds are disturbed by a hunter’s shot, they naturally disperse. Since most of the urban centres are relatively better policed and are safer except for some cases of kidnapping, most young persons flock there. Even families that hitherto depended on natural resource factors for survival and who has been sacked by these terrorists seem to find new havens in urban areas. Unfortunately, most urban centres have deficient levels of industrialization as well as unsuitable shelter and therefore have no jobs and homes to offer the swarming numbers of migrating youths and families. The absence of industrialization or well-thought-through employment schemes in various States – and most critically the urban areas – will undoubtedly trigger the second level of insecurity that will sweep across the country. It is a bomb waiting to detonate. At present, both Lagos State and to a limited extent the Rivers States is taking off the pressure from the rest of the States as a fraction of young men from across the country migrate to those cities.
There is also another dimension to the unfolding palaver. It is the migration of thousands of illiterate young northerners to the Southern parts of the country. Among these groups are those fleeing the mayhem in their respective communities. Many of them are fragments of these terrorist groups that are either running from justice or taking new positions for possible future incursions in the South. But overall, these migrating northern groups have been greeted by the absence of jobs and high costs of living. This is a cause for concern as it will no doubt aggravate the second level of insecurity that will sweep across Nigeria’s urban centres if nothing is urgently done today.
No sane person invests where there is no safety. Safety and protection of private property, as well as lives, are critical drivers of investment. These unquantifiable desiderata for entrepreneurial prosperity appear to be disappearing before our eyes. Investment is the powerhouse of growth, employment and income. It is the engine of prosperity. Threatened investment threatens current and future prosperity. Government loses, private people lose as well. It is not debatable that low IGR will inevitably greet these evil trends. Low IGR, most of the time, has accounted for the delayed salaries of many government workers as well as the implementation of State government’s many fiscal programmes. Delayed or no salary payments will naturally trigger discontents and low commitments to work which are also critical for productivity and employment.
On a final note, it is evident that the government’s response has been inadequate. A long-term rehabilitation plan for youths in northern Nigeria must be urgently prioritized to scale back this present and impending calamity. Such programs should include compulsory primary and secondary education as well as socio-psychological re-orientation for the young of ages fifteen and below. Coupled with this should be elaborate employment or internship programmes that can meaningfully redirect the energies of these young people. Again a credible biometric registration of all Nigerians is critical at this point. It will in no small measure help in managing and predicting crimes.
Professor Ike-Muonso is the Country Director of Baywood Foundation as well as the Chief Transformation Officer of GTI Capital Group