Nigeria: Why The North Remains Poor

By Nasir Sambo

Reflective of its huge population and landmass, the region has produced one Prime Minister, six Military Heads of State, three civilian Presidents and out of 60 years of Nigeria’s post British rulership, the North accounts for 42 years. Thus, Northerners have ruled Nigeria for 42 years out of its 60 years of existence.

Economically, States like Benue, Plateau, Niger and Nasarawa are the powerhouses in food production while Kaduna, Sokoto, Nasarawa, Zamfara are rich in gold, diamond, copper and manganese.

Nigeria has a goat population of 34.5million, 22.1million sheep and 13.9million cattle. The larger proportion of these animals’ population are however largely concentrated in the northern region.

With all these daunting credentials, the region called Northern Nigeria is supposed to be the richest and most prosperous of all the geopolitical zones in the country yet it is the poorest and the most backward.
A World Bank report released on January 28, 2020 says 87 per cent of the poorest people in the world are from Northern Nigeria. The report also disclosed that Nigeria, in spite of its rich resources both in human and material, has the largest number of the world’s extremely poor persons.

X-raying the inequality in the Nation, the World Bank report said, “Nigeria experiences high inequality along geographic lines, with poverty mostly concentrated in the North and in rural areas. The North-West, specifically, was described as home to almost half of all the poor in the country.

Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, is from Katsina, a state in the North-West, which like other parts of the North, has produced a larger proportion of Nigerian leaders but this fact has not changed anything.

Excerpts from the report which was titled ‘Advancing Social Protection in a Dynamic Nigeria’, reveals:

“Poverty in the northern region of the country has been increasing, especially in the North-West zone.

“Almost half of all the poor lived in the North-West and the North accounts for 87 per cent of all the poor in the country in 2016.

“Poverty rates in the southern zones were around 12 per cent with little variation across zones. The South-South zone saw the most significant drop in poverty from 2011-2016.

“Poverty was significantly higher in rural areas of the country in 2016. An estimated 64 per cent of all poor lived in rural areas and 52 per cent of the rural population lived below the poverty line in 2016. In contrast, the poverty rate in urban areas remained stable at 16 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

“Only 26-38 per cent of people in Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, Maiduguri and Yola plus other towns and villages comprising the North West and North East have access to basic services such as electricity, water and sanitation.”

The World Bank further observed that the number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty went up from 2011 to 2016.

It also notes that the rate of poverty in Nigeria jerked up from 35.0 to 38.8 per cent of the total population from 2011 to 2016.

Others Lend Their Voices

It is not only the World Bank that has come out with such damning statistics about the perilous state of things in Northern Nigeria.

Many Nigerians and Northerners have in the past voiced out their fears and views about the extreme volatility in terms of human capital development in the North.

Two years back, Aliko Dangote, one of the richest men in Africa, warned that sixty per cent of Northerners, specifically those in the Northwest and North East, are living in extreme poverty.

Dangote, who is a Northerner from Kano, spoke at the Fourth Economic and Investment Summit in Kaduna in 2018, where he warned that if the state governors do not diversify and invest in the agricultural potentials of their respective states, poverty would remain endemic in the region.

He said “While the overall socio-economic consideration in the country is a cause for concern, the regional indicators are very alarming. In the north-western and north-eastern parts of Nigeria, more than 60 per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty.

“It is instructive to know that the 19 northern states, which account for over 54 per cent of the country’s population and 70 per cent of its landmass, collectively generated only 21 per cent of the total sub-national internally generated revenue in 2017.

“Northern Nigeria will continue to fall behind if the respective state governments do not move to close the development gap.”

Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna also paints a gloomy picture of things in his region when in 2017 he likened the North to a failed state like Afghanistan. He lamented the degree of backwardness in the three geopolitical zones of the North.

According to the Governor, the largest number of poor people is from the North, the highest number of out of school children in Nigeria is in the North and he capped it all by saying that the North is the hub or kidnapping capital of Nigeria, center of violence and terrorism.

The Governor was reported to have said: “We have the largest number of poor people in the world, most of them in northern Nigeria. Nigeria also has the largest number of out of school children, virtually all of them in Northern Nigeria.

“Northern Nigeria has become the center of drug abuse, gender violence, banditry, kidnapping, and terrorism. We have also been associated with a high divorce rate and breakdown of families. This is the naked truth that we have to tell ourselves,” Mallam El-Rufai said.


Political pundits, civil society organizations and stakeholders all agree that the North missed its opportunity to harness all the resources bestowed on it and squandered the goodwill of the people for various reasons.

According to Mr. Alex Agbo, the excess quest for money and personal ego by Northern politicians accounted for the backwardness of the region.

Agbo affirmed that “The late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, built lasting legacies such as New Nigeria Development Corporation, NNDC; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and all the Colleges of Agriculture with little resources.

“When the late Sarduna died, it was discovered that he did not all these years built a single house for himself.”

Another major factor that is said to be responsible for the woes bedeviling the North according to him is the issue of nepotism and ethnicity.

He further explained that “the crop of leaders that came after the Sardauna were only interested in their own tribes and would embezzle money in the name of their states, local government areas or tribes without doing anything tangible for the people to see.

“Every year, our politicians collect constituency allowances to build schools, boreholes, roads and to help stamp out polio in Northern States.

“The sad reality is that members of this political class pocket such monies and do nothing for their constituencies.

Similarly, the former Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, had attributed the major cause of poverty and backwardness in the north to the predominant culture of marrying more than one wife.

According to him, the people of the North will continue to be poor and backward if they don’t change their culture of polygamy.

Sanusi advised Northerners to marry more than one wife if only they can fend for their wives and the off springs, else they will continue to live in poverty.

To Prof Pius Keyamus, a Florida based researcher, the inability of the political class to develop the North by building schools, roads, dams, windmills is one major factor why that region remains underdeveloped.

“Create an enabling environment (good roads, security, 24/7 electricity) and the North will supply the entire African continent and beyond with agricultural produce, thus, increased internally generated revenue (IGR).

However, Danjuma Bello Sarki, a youth leader in Kaduna believes that the indices of poverty in the North spiraled when Buhari took over.

He explained that Buhari’s economic policies of heavy taxation, increases in fuel prices, removal of subsidies, lack of investment in education all led to impoverishment of Northerners.

For Aliko Dangote, the North must work to develop its resources that it is endowed with and only then would it come out of the woods.

He is of the opinion that the North must focus on harnessing its massive agricultural potentials in terms of both production and processing. “No region with such high agricultural potentials should be this poor,” he maintained.

“We have what it takes to turn around our fortunes and I pray all the 19 governors of the northern states will wake up and follow the footsteps of the Kaduna State Government.

“Given the vast arable land and conducive condition, I think in the next 10 years, agriculture can generate more revenue and prosperity than oil that we have now if we have the right commitment,” Dangote concluded.

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