It is not news that Nigeria is rife with regional inequalities. Social perception as well as wellbeing statistics confirm that the North of Nigeria faces overwhelming poverty in relation to the South. What is rarely considered, however, is the effect of these inequalities on regional peace prospects. As history shows, the North-South economic divide has played a large role in the conflicts that have torn Nigeria apart since independence.
Firstly, let us take a look at the facts. Statistics indicate the precarious health situation faced by children in the North. 58% and 52% of children in the North West and North East respectively are below the standard height for their age. According to the study, stunting is a reflection of chronic malnutrition. This is likely due to the overwhelming majority of the population living in poverty in the North of the country. In 2010, North West had 74% of its population living in relative poverty while the North East has 73% of its population living in relative poverty.
These figures are especially shocking when compared to the same statistics in the South of Nigeria. Child stunting is at 16.9% in the South East and 19.4% in the South West. Poverty prevalence is at 53.5% in the South East and 46.9% in the South West. All of this is to say that the North of the country faces astounding poverty in relation to the South. However, the gap in economic development between the North and the South of the country is responsible for much more than poor wellbeing statistics.
The North-South economic divide has played a role in most major ethnic conflicts in Nigeria since the 1960’s. According to Nicholas Sambanis, oil revenue was a key cause of the Biafran rebellion and war. The perceived divide in wealth between the North and the South at the time caused and further aggravated the tensions that accumulated in the war. And the North-South divide continues to cause conflict in Nigeria to date.
According to a report by the International Crisis Group, many Northern women have voluntarily joined Boko Haram in order to escape poverty. In a similar fashion, President Buhari stated poverty as a main cause of conflict when speaking on the Fulani herdsmen crisis.
All of this indicates the federal government’s failings in developing the North of the country. Although it is not as conducive to mineral gains as the South, Nigeria clearly has a lot to gain in terms of peace and conflict deterrence by eradicating Northern poverty.
Fellow Nigerians, let us stop blaming unchangeable ethno cultural differences for continuing conflicts in the country. We must instead divert our energy towards improving the dire situation in the North if we hope to one day see a nation free from conflict.
Funmilayo Adetokunbo A-A, a political and International Affairs Analyst, writes from Somerset, England, United Kingdom.