Ahmad Rabi’u, the Chairman, Conference of Northern States Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, in this interview with ISAAC AIMURIE, EZRA IJiOMA and RUTH TENE, gives an insight into the losses the north incurs due to the Boko Haram insurgency and urges the states in the region to harness their enormous economic potential.
How much is the northern economy losing to Boko Haram insurgency?
I think, on a daily basis, by my estimation and based on some interactions we have had, we are losing more than N25billion in all respects.When we were discussing the issue of GDP evaluation, we realised that when you have boxed people into a corner and they are not able to operate during the business hours of the night; when you find that all supermarkets close shop at 6pm because people have to go home because of fear of security breaches and more than 50 percent of economic activities that happen in the night do not happen these days, it has been pushed to the lowest. I do not think it is an exaggeration; therefore in a month you are looking at a loss of about N700 - N100 billion, real effective lost. Now the effect of these is you are looking at all the components of loss - that activities have not taken place, a loss has been occasioned, capital has been eroded. As a situation of weakening the future, chances of revival are becoming more unlikely as time goes on and chances of returning to the formal situation where we were are also becoming threatened. So when you put all these things together you find that the loss is insurmountable, but by estimation and going by certain indices, we put it at N25billion daily. You can count how many days now. We have a Vision 20:2020 which should be our focus now to elevation, but where we are now is trying to survive.
As the chairman, what do you think the business community can do to curtail the Boko Haram menace?
In the general scheme of things, there are issues that only a government can handle; therefore, when it gets to a point where certain things are not done correctly, it is for the community to rise up and say it must be done correctly. When the first Boko Haram attack started, that was the time when proper action needed to have been taken to forestall future occurrence, to make sure it does not spread beyond a certain point.
What is the proper action?
The proper action today? For instance, how can you can you expect what is happening today to help matters when the roads are blocked, traffic is slowed down and the people are just being harassed and intimidated by security operatives; that does not give anybody anything, because the attacks are not abated and we have not been informed or seen any evidence that the checkpoints are providing any lead to any people being arrested. And so all we see is that, sometimes, we see kilometres of traffic - it is an eyesore when you are approaching Abuja from Kaduna. If a person has hypertension, he could have a heart attack. By this time what ought to have been done is that CCTVs would have been placed in the right places; intelligence would have been encouraged, because you do not arrest criminals through hardware and physical combat. The way it is happening today in our society is very unkind: when we find that if there is house with a Boko Haram member, they go there to bombard that house. That is very unkind. I believe if they have the intelligence they should be patient enough to follow on his tracks to be able to get him and arrest him at a point that will cause the least problems to the people, but what do they do? They go over to his house, the one that is the neighbourhood, and bombard that house. It is very unkind and causes a lot of problems. We have noticed some wives lose their pregnancies and, of course, many times they could hurt innocent persons. They should use intelligence and we believe everybody knows that to arrest any person of the underworld, it can only be done best through intelligence.
Does that mean you are not satisfied with the level of government intervention; what do you think should be done?
They should use intelligence and should also appreciate that they should avoid punishing the innocent and avoid inflicting unnecessary pain on the populace by mounting checkpoints and cordoning areas where there are police stations. If there are police stations or military formations, they should allow people to use the roads that are public roads and police the area with intelligence equipment. They can import them and put them at certain spots - once anybody is passing with any explosive, the detector can detect it, then they can go after the individual. In Kano, we should not have any curfew or checkpoints in the city.People should just be allowed to go about their businesses. Where there are traffic jams, they should be facilitated to move about freely, that will help to deny any criminal the chance to do any harm. And intelligence operatives can be left around to be looking around to see if there is any abandoned thing that is suspected to be a bomb. If there is CCTV, it could be traced through the camera records who actually deposited it there, and they can go for his jugular and be able to get him, but, as it is now, people are just being punished.
What efforts have been made by the committee to present these issues to the government?
We have been meeting and interacting with the government directly and we have the right to believe that what needs to be done is intelligence gathering to arrest the situation, use equipment that has the capacity to detect and assist in surveillance. And by the time all those things are done, they will be able to nip it in the bud. All these checkpoints that delay traffic and constitute nuisance in the city should as much as possible be avoided.
There seems to be a disconnect between the government and the community?
There is no disconnect between the government and the business community. The governor in Kano is the chief security officer of the state. However, the police are not under him and he has limitations as regards what he can do because the police and military are not under him, so this call we are making is to the federal government to make sure that what it has to do in terms of ensuring safety of lives and properties is done. It should partner with the government of Kano State to instal security devices at various locations, empower the intelligence gathering machinery, ensure appropriate equipment is provided, ensure that when somebody is to be arrested, it is to be done in such a way that no harm is done to innocent people. These are the things we believe ought to be brought to bear in the fight against terror.
As the chairman of CONSCCIMMA, what are you doing to bring back the glory of the north?
We held an economic summit in 2008 which we had called ‘Northern Nigeria Economic Summit’. After doing it, we came out with some resolutions. Regrettably only two governors actually attended that summit, and a deputy governor. Therefore, the recommendations have not been adopted by any state. At some point I understand that one of the state governors established a committee to study the recommendations with a view to implementing them, but the rest of the governors, whether under the Northern Governors’ Forum or in their individual capacities, did not make any efforts to do that. We had planned to do a second round in 2010, but at that time, we realised that the best bet was to wait until we had the buy- in of the governors. So we continued to work on them until 2011 when we were able to get proper contact with them and continued discussions. Regrettable, by the end of the year, we were not able to conclude, but we had made submissions to the SSGs and several things to the governors of Nigeria and we were to hold it earlier in February, but then there was the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) peace conference and so we had to defer to them and allowed them and changed our date to meet 7-8th; and after we had done that, we realised that we were yet to conclude, up until this point, we are with the northern governors for them to buy in on the projects, because we want them to write formally and sit with us properly to fund the project to the extent that they need to do, and we get the rest from the private sector and be able to meet to the extent that when we finish it, they will be able to implement it. We started this summit before any sub-regional group or region of Nigeria. South South copied from us and held their first summit after we held our own, and they have already held the second one; and in the second one they came up with three resolutions - to improve their infrastructure, industries and agriculture. Just what we talking about in the north - agriculture and solid minerals, and we believe if we are able to use them, they are areas of comparative advantage. We have also developed some competitive phase now and should be able to move to the next level, but until the governors are able to conclude with us, we will not hold that seminar. We are hopeful that, that will happen now, most likely before August. We should be coming around to do the summit just like it has happened in the South South. We already have got our resolution since 2008; we will only reaffirm and correct certain byelines and be able to meet. So we are doing quite at lot at Chamber of Commerce, both at state levels in Northern Nigeria and conference levels, where we are trying to ensure that states in northern Nigeria partner with themselves. There are some states, like Nasarawa, Benue, Plateau, that can partner on issues regarding solid minerals, some tuber productions and others. If you look at Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi, they can collaborate on the axis of steel, limestone; then you talk of Yobe, Borno on rice production. So there are so many advantages. The moment we are able to hold the next summit, we believe the north will be able to be on the pedestal of real economic prosperity.
Given the similarity in party leadership, do you not hold them responsible for the continual underdevelopment of the north?
Certainly, they are the people that are responsible for the development of their states and the region as a whole.We have responsibility, as private sector, to partner with them. Both of us need the capacity to know how to partner. What has happened in the past is that most government operatives that have been assigned to handle certain tasks are the wrong ones. You find that a commissioner for trade and investment is appointed by a governor, who does not know trade and investment and does not know that he is a marketing officer. He does not know the job; he is just a politician and takes the job as a political settlement, and therefore looks around to see what he can get from the parastatals under his office. All these kind of things have not helped us, and some of us also in the chambers, except few, do not also have the capacity to partner with government. A lot of them think we should go to government for handshake. We are supposed to go to government to only influence policy direction, give support to government in terms of polity inputs and also institute a pressure group to make sure that the right decisions are taken, and partner with government in giving them support towards doing things that will generally uplift the economy. These are things that we should do, but if we are lacking, then we now go about apportioning blame and, of course, there is colossal lack of capacity on both sides
Where will you now locate the development of the north within the federation?
That is why we are concerned and holding the summit. We are concerned about the contribution of northern Nigeria towards the achievement of Vision 20:2020. That is why we held the first summit and will hold the second summit to make sure that when states have something to contribute and achieve, maybe 30 percent, but if they could partner, they can raise their output to about 40/50 percent. These are the things we are working on to make sure that all the issues among us are geared to factors of comparative advantage. With the factors of competitive advantage all within ourselves, we would be able to be partners, to use what we have within ourselves and move the northern economy forward. We are working on that to move the northern economy forward positively, and we are achieving some success. Hitherto, some states did not have chamber of commerce, but now we are trying to make sure that every state has a functional one.
What is the state of solid minerals in the north?
Solid minerals became a controversial issue when it became just like petroleum products - under total federal government control. Licences have been given by the federal government but the states do not have any control over it, but can only appoint advisers on solid minerals, not commissioners, because there is nothing to execute. We as a chamber are partnering with those advisers to sensitise the public on issues relating to the environment and business opportunities from the solid minerals sector. Lots of people do not understand that the state can contribute to the geological survey to confirm what actually is on the ground and encourages people within the environment to also invest. There are a lot of places you will find that there is a particular mineral, but do not have any programme of production or excavation or processing, so that interested buyers can confirm what is available. The federal government ought to be handling it but it is not, and the state governments are just being awakened to manage the solid minerals in a better way because it is as good as petroleum; if the solid minerals sector is properly harnessed, then the people are rich. Look at the Ibeshe Cement Factory by Dangote; it has generated both value and employment.
What are you doing as a chamber concerning the lead poisoning incidence in Zamfara?
We have been sensitising the public, especially businessmen, against allowing their children to be used for cheap labour while the gold is excavated and sold very cheaply. We also inform the government on illegal mining operations while letting the miners and community members know that they get no value when mining is done illegally.