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Notes from the 2013 North East Economic Summit

By Atiku Abubakar

Last week I attended the North East Economic Forum in Gombe State, organised by the leadership of the six states that make up the North East geopolitical zone: Adamawa (my home state), Taraba, Borno, Yobe, Gombe and Bauchi states.

As you all know, that part of Nigeria has sadly become synonymous with terror and mindless violence. When Boko Haram is mentioned Borno and Yobe states immediately come to mind – an wave of destruction and bloodletting that has left nowhere untouched: schools, religious houses, highways, government buildings, the airport.

I have spoken in the past about how some Governors focused on setting up and arming gangs of youths to help them win elections, and how the beginnings of the militancy of Boko Haram (and this applies also to militants in the Niger delta) can be traced to that.

All through the summit I recall thinking how important it is for the region’s elite to gather to tell ourselves harsh truths; to acknowledge and face up to the many problems that the area is grappling with. By omission or commission many of these problems have happened on our watch, and posterity will not forgive us if we do not tackle them with urgency and with vision.

This year’s summit focused on agriculture, education, and infrastructure development, three areas I’m very passionate about.

Farming was one of the first businesses I went into, many years ago, producing crops on several hundred acres of land near Yola. It didn’t quite work out as planned, but I am no less convinced of the role agriculture can and must play in providing employment and economic development across Nigeria.

Most of you will also know where I stand regarding education; my own story of striving to get an education in spite of my family’s poor finances, to growing up with a strong belief in self-improvement, to eventually building world-class educational institutions in Yola, one of the major cities in North-eastern Nigeria.

I believe that North East Nigeria can surmount all of its many challenges and go on to fulfill the immense potential it possesses, like every other part of Nigeria. Of course this will involve politicians putting aside their political differences and working in efficient partnerships. The redemption of the North East of Nigeria is something that requires that we all rise beyond squabbling and party labels and ideological differences. The only ideology that will count will be ‘development’. And it was inspiring to see the turnout in Gombe earlier this week – many of the persons gathered to talk about the future of the region would normally be seen disagreeing about party matters on the pages of the newspapers.

I once again commend the organisers of the summit, and I hope that all the ideas and recommendations put forward will be implemented. This is also an opportunity for me to re-assert my commitment to the development of North East Nigeria, and the entire country. I’d like my businesses in the region to create more jobs, provide more alternatives for young people who might otherwise be tempted to give in to their disaffection and pick up guns and bombs. I’d like to see a North-East that is known, not for its armed gangs and death tolls, but instead for the quality of its schools, and the size of its food exports, and the abundance of its wind and solar farms.

In closing, as another election season approaches, I’d like to again ask all contenders, wherever they may be in Nigeria, to refrain from assembling or deploying youth gangs. I can confidently make this call because it is not the type of politics that I play; and it is not the type of politics that will guarantee a safe and prosperous future for Nigeria.

We have all seen the result of arming youths to gain electoral advantage. The monsters we create today will come back to devour all of us, the creators included, tomorrow.

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