Decades of undeserving poverty on Plateau the beautiful
Missing Buhari: A delusion of grandeur
Created close to half a century ago, so far ruled by 11 appointed military administrators and governed by five elected civilian governors, Plateau State – one of Nigeria’s 36 states located in the central part of the country – has played pivotal roles in shaping the providence of Nigeria and many Nigerians: from serving as a breeding ground for numerous professional stars to being an incubator of strategic decisions that for decades to come, will feed into the progress of Nigeria.
So, what is specifically unique about the state and its capital city (Jos) to the extent of meriting special attention and focus? A guide to answering this question can be gleaned from raising another question: why, for decades, has the city been chosen to host discrete major political events in the country? For instance, it hosted the 1993 presidential primaries that produced Abiola as the SDP candidate, the 1998/99 Maidan PDP convention that elected President Olusegun Obasanjo, and more recently two of the three leading political parties in Nigeria launched their 2023 presidential campaigns in Jos.
At this juncture, it should be noted that the pioneer chairman of the then largest political party in Africa, Chief Solomon Lar of blessed memory, was a native of the city. Chief Lar, the first Civilian Governor of the state, led the party’s selection of its first presidential candidate, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who to date – is deemed the president who laid the foundation of modern Nigeria.
The economic blueprint – NEEDS also known as the 2001 “Kuru Declaration” which was adopted and implemented during his eight years in office – was drafted and flung in Plateau State. The document was nicknamed Kura Declaration for two reasons. First, Kuru is a suburb of Jos where the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS – regarded as the nation’s foremost and apex policy ‘think-tank – is situated. Annually, private sector leaders and selected leading Nigerian bureaucrats (including a former head of state and army officers) are sent to Kuru to undergo one-year rigorous policy-oriented and academic leadership training. The goal is to equip them for nation-building. Second, the document embodies the progressive firm determination of Nigerian stakeholders in building a prosperous nation. Now, back to the question: why Jos? Let’s plough out the facts.
The geography, the beauty, and the fruitfulness
Plateau state is currently home to an estimated 4.5 million people. Predating the establishment of the state in 1976, was a report about the presence of Tin (metal raw materials) in Jos which was first received 138 years ago (1884). Decades down the line, the report was validated between 1904 and 1909 and by 1919, there were dozens of corporations and consortiums producing thousands of tonnes of tin. And before oil became Nigeria’s leading foreign exchange earner, Jos produces over 90 per cent of the tin in Nigeria such that by 1919 there were over 80 companies and syndicates producing 8,174 tons of tin.
A Nigerian professor of liberal arts, Umar Danfulani, once claimed that tin from Jos was used by the British in building Manchester and Liverpool cities in the United Kingdom. Vindicating this assertion was the setting up pre-independence colonial railroad linking the city to the coastal part of the country in 1927, primarily to transport tin from the state through Lagos (the then colonial capital) to Great Britain.
The mining activity attracted infrastructure (railroads, dams, electricity, telecommunication etc) and individuals from different parts of Nigeria and the world, such that during the peak of the mining, census figures reported that 44 per cent of the population of Jos Division were peopled by those who classified themselves as “strangers.” The city became cosmopolitan, hospitable, and peaceful (to the extent it was phrased as the “Home of Peace and Tourism”).
In terms of weather, Jos competes with European and North American cities in that it has the lowest temperature in the country. In some Summer months, the temperature in Jos was averagely lower than London’s by 2 to 5 degrees Celsius, 2 to 3 than New York’s, 3 to 4 than Paris, 3 to 5 than Toronto’s and 3 to 4 than Berlin’s. The beautiful weather has provided yet-to-be-fully unleashed farming advantages. Given the favourable weather condition, it is the only state in the country that cultivates strawberries and farms more than half of the national output of Irish potatoes in the country, bearing in mind the fact that Nigeria is the fourth-largest producer of this commodity in Sub-Sahara Africa.
Jos: the breeding ground
A couple of leading Nigerian celebrities trace the roots of their career breakthroughs to Jos – the birthplace and the breeding ground for many professional stars. Famous among them include (but not only), Tony Elumelu, Abike Dabiri, Deborah Ajakaiye (the first female professor of Geophysics in Africa), Innocent Idibia, Ali Nuhu, Sani Mu’azu, Paul and Peter Okoye, Jude Lemfani Abaga, Panshak Zamani, Lawal Gwadabe, Salamatu Gbajabiamila (wife of the current speaker of the Nigerian parliament), Desmond Elliot, St Obi. Also, are nine former and current members of the Nigerian national soccer squad: Mikel Obi, Ahmed Musa, Ogenyi Onazi, Moses Simon, Victor Obinna, Dele Aiyenugba, Chibuzor Okonkwo, Joseph Akpala, and Sam Pam, not forgetting the Canadian-based rugby player: Nanyak Dala.
A famous British high school known as Eton college has so far schooled twenty prime ministers of the United Kingdom. What then is the connection between Eton and Plateau? There is no apparent connection except that they share a similar trait: Boys Secondary School Gindiri, located in Plateau state near Jos (first run by a British Christian missionary in 1950), is famed for schooling some of the mid-1960s through to the (especially) late 1990s defining faces of the Nigerian military; and distinguished academics.
The leadership history (including power transitions) in Nigeria is incomplete without mentioning some of the ex-students of BSS Gindiri – Generals Joshua Dogonyaro, Iliya Bisalla, Napoleon Bali, Jonathan Temlong; Colonels Ayuba Tense, Buka Dimka; CP JD Gomwalk, and Major Gideon Orkar among many others. In the academic world, the high school has nurtured about a dozen vice-chancellors of federal universities and in politics, governors (e.g., Ahmed Mwazu from Bauchi State), senators, and ambassadors of the federal republic of Nigeria.
Plateau indispensable in the leadership history of Nigeria?
For roughly four decades – from 1966 when General Yakubu Gowon became Nigeria’s youngest head of state for nine years to the early 2000s when Chief Solomon Lar brilliantly led the largest political party in Africa – Plateau natives have been in the corridor of power in Nigeria. General Joseph Garba not only contributed to propelling to power but was a key player in the 1970s government that preceded General Gowon’s.
Then came the two-word coined phrased: Langtang Mafia. The “Langtang Mafia” is a clique of military men from Langtang, Plateau State known for holding positions of power in the Nigerian government, especially from the Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha’s led military junta. Rumoured members of the coterie have included Generals Joshua Dogonyaro (the second force Commander of ECOMOG, under IBB), Jeremiah Useni (second in rank to head of state General Abacha and one-time minister of the federal capital territory); Domkat Bali (former defence minister and Nigeria’s longest servicing Chief of Defence Staff under IBB), John Shagaya (former minister of internal affairs also under IBB), and Muhammad Najib. Arguably, Langtang has the highest number of retired military officers than any local government in the country as nearly every household in the community has at least one military personnel.
The “undeservedness” in a land of missed opportunity?
Plateau state, despite its richness across geography, agriculture, cosmopolitan nature, the birthing of superstars, minerals, and long history of residing in Nigeria’s hallway of power, the livelihoods of the state’s residents for the past four decades have not been in tandem with expectations.
Poverty in this respect is measured by comparing what households spend on goods and services (expenditure) with an amount of money that is deemed appropriate for the provision of basic needs – also known as the poverty line. As of 2019, more than 2.5 million people (the population in poverty) were unable to spend N521.7 per day on basic needs – food, health, education, housing, transportation, communication, etc.
Moreover, the local government with the highest concentration of political connections in Nigeria records the fourth largest intensity poverty (over 80 per cent) in the state in that they could not robustly wield their access to national power in significantly turning around the economic fortunes of their kinsmen let a alone of their state.
Finances also at the root of failure?
Within a decade, the poverty rate fell by roughly 37 per cent even though overall revenue (internally generated revenue, IGR plus monthly federal allocation) also fell by more than 30 per cent.
However, there is a striking pattern: the rise in IGR between 2010 and 2020 coincided with a fall in poverty numbers within the period. At this juncture, it should be noted that higher poverty rates are found in states with high dependence on federal allocation and vice versa. For instance, Lagos has the lowest poverty rate (4.5 per cent) and the lowest share of federal allocation in total revenue, 8.5 per cent, followed by Rivers and Delta states.
On the other hand, Sokoto, Katsina, Kebbi, Bauchi, Niger, Adamawa, Yobe, etc derive 60 – 70 per cent of their total revenues from federal allocations and because of this, their finances become more vulnerable to changes in the price of oil. Therefore Abuja-dependent states should always expect less revenue in the event of falling oil prices because a significant fraction of their incomes is tied to Nigeria’s oil revenue.
Finally, as the leadership baton switches hands in a few months from now, will the new administration rewrite the economic map of the state? Time shall tell but it is ultimately left in the hands of the citizens of the state, using their voting cards, to sweep into power the man that will do the best for most of the people. Dear Plateau, may you one day rise like a Phoenix from the Ashes and surpass the greatness that you were once known for.