The North: Nigeria’s major rent seekers

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Muhammad Buhari - President of Nigeria

“Even more disturbing, one might have thought that an abundance of resources could be used to help the poor, to ensure access to education and health care for all. Taxing work and savings can weaken incentives; in contrast, taxing the “rents” on land, oil, or other natural resources won’t make them disappear.

The resources will still be there to be taken out, if not today, then tomorrow. There are no adverse incentive effects. That means that, in principle, there should be ample revenues to finance both social expenditures and public investments-in, say, health and education.

Yet, among the countries with the greatest inequality are those with the most natural resources. Evidently, a few within these countries are better at rent seeking than others (usually those with political power), and they ensure that the benefits of the resources accrue largely to themselves.” (Joseph Stiglitz – The Price of Inequality)

Need I say more why we are in this mess? Why the elites in northern Nigeria will always stop at nothing to gain and hold on to political power? They are Nigeria’s major rent seekers. They have in their control majority of the oil blocks and other concessions and naturally, nobody with enormous political advantage (giving access to vast economic rewards) would want to relinquish it, unless forced to do so by circumstances beyond his control or by superior force.

The only times the north had not been in control of political power in this country had been through circumstances beyond their control. The coup by Nzeogwu and co, which fortuitously threw up Aguyi Ironsi. The Dimka coup of 1976 which again fortuitously threw up Olusegun Obasanjo. The June 12 political imbroglio which culminated in the emergence of Olusegun Obasanjo again. And lastly, the untimely death of Shehu Musa Yar’adua which again fortuitously threw up Goodluck Jonathan.

Out of all the southerners who had ruled Nigeria, only Goodluck Jonathan could be regarded as a southern president, in that there was no unanimity by the north in his becoming president in his own right. Although Obasanjo is a Yoruba man, he was more or less the candidate of the north and did not disturb the status quo or equilibrium of the northern rent seekers. They have a synergetic relationship.

Jonathan was a different kettle of fish. Perhaps because he is an indigene of the oil producing Niger Delta area. In trying to reduce the opportunities of the northern rent seekers, and probably create some rent seekers of his own from the Niger Delta, he stepped on too many rich, influential and powerful toes, who saw themselves as becoming endangered species if the Jonathan presidency should continue.

At that point in time, any candidate from the north would do for the grand conspiracy of grabbing power back for the north. Buhari was just a beneficiary of the aggregation of northern interest. If the other political party (PDP) had presented a northern candidate, Buhari would probably have lost out. It is thus surprising that some Nigerians of southern origin are fretting over the actions of Buhari in power.

The Buhari presidency is a vehicle specially contrived by the north to recover lost ground and reposition the north to consolidate their rent seeking activities. A Jonathan presidency would not have deemed it appropriate to renew all oil block leases belonging to northerners. Neither would it have deemed it appropriate granting humongous concessions to northern emirs, who are more or less revered as gods by northerners. For those who are losing sleep over Buhari’s northern agenda, they are still going to lose plenty more.

I will not be surprised if no president should come from southern Nigeria until circumstances conspired against the north again. It should be noted that the principle of “rotational presidency” is no where entrenched in the constitution of Nigeria. It is just a political arrangement. For those who are discerning enough, the writing is already on the wall. Probably about eighty percent of Buhari’s appointments have gone to the north on the pretext that those appointments were made on merit.

Ditto, democracy is said to be a game of numbers. In any situation where elections are conducted and a northern candidate were to win, on what grounds would the south protest, especially now in Nigeria where those who count the votes are more relevant than those who cast the votes. And mind you, at any point in time, there would always be a part of the south willing to tag along with the north for some crumbs.

We may not realise it now. The south is going to be out of power for some time to come – may be twelve or sixteen years. The clamour for restructuring of the polity is more relevant now than ever for the economic development of Nigeria. If the north should continue to play the ostrich, more agitators may emerge, clamouring for the Yugoslavia treatment.

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