Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State on saturday, painted the picture of Nigeria as that of two countries in one: a developing South and a backward, less educated and unhealthy north, with the highest number of poor people in the world.

He also drew similarities between the development indicators of the North and those of war-torn Afghanistan.

The governor spoke at the Northern Youth Summit in Kaduna organised by Northern Hibiscus, an NGO.

He said that for the problems to be tackled effectively, the governors of all the 19 northern states have to work together.

His words: “Looking at the statistics, Nigeria appears to be a middle income country. But, if we segregate those statistics across states and zones, you will see that, in terms of human development indicators, Nigeria consists of two countries; there is a backward, less educated and unhealthy northern Nigeria, and a developing, largely educated and healthy southern Nigeria.

“We have to speak the truth to ourselves and ask why is it that northern Nigeria has development indicators similar to Afghanistan, a country still at war?

“We have the largest number of poor people in the world, most of them in northern Nigeria. Nigeria also has the largest number of out of school children, virtually all of them in Northern Nigeria.

“Northern Nigeria has become the centre of drug abuse, gender violence, banditry, kidnapping and terrorism. We have also been associated with high divorce rate and breakdown of families. These are the challenges that confront us. This is the naked truth that we have to tell ourselves.

“We must therefore, as leaders at all levels, have conversation about the way forward for our part of the country. Because increasingly, as many of you must have seen on social media, we are being considered as the parasite of the federal economy, even though, that is not entirely true. Because northern Nigeria still feeds the nation. The richest business man in Nigeria is still Aliko Dangote, not someone from Southern Nigeria, thank God for that.

“So, we still have a lot to be proud of. We should be proud of our culture and tradition, as well as unity. You hardly can find someone from northern Nigeria convicted of 419 or being a Yahoo boy. That is something we should be proud of.

“We are generally considered to be more honest and less corrupt than other Nigerians. That is something we should be proud of. In addition, our demographic superiority gives us a very powerful tool to negotiate in politics. And that is something we should be proud of and we should preserve. So, we have every reason to unite and not be divided.”

He asked northern youths to rise up to the challenge.

He said:”I therefore call on you the youth, you account for 80 per cent of the northern population and the future of this region lies in your hands, not in the hands of dinosaurs like me.

“I’m 59 and among the oldest five per cent of the northern population. I shouldn’t even be governor; I should have been governor 10 years ago. But ‘na condition make crayfish bend’, so we are here.”

He said the theme of the summit -’Awakening the Arewa Spirit’- was apt as it would help in preparing the next generation of northern leaders.

He told the summit organizers to send recommendations from this talks to the Chairman of northern State Governors Forum.

“We have to do something about the situation of northern Nigeria and we must do so as a group of 19 Governors, not individual state Governors,” El-Rufai said.

Also speaking, the sponsor of the event and immediate past Chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumini Jibrin said while the North is currently in a dire situation, it has not lost everything.

He stressed the need to reawaken the Arewa spirit and called for role models across board, adding that “we have to mould leaders, we have to create ourselves into leaders.”

In her opening remarks, founder of Northern Hibiscus Initiative, Aisha Falke, said the summit organised to examine the numerous challenges of the north, with a view to finding lasting solutions to them.

She said the NGO has also taken the bull by the horn with a 16-year action to empower the youths with useful skills, especially those who are not privileged to have the formal education.