By Al-Mamun Mallam

Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State

Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State

The euphoria heralding the election of Abubakar Sani Bello [Abulolo] into the position of the Niger State Governor is not different from the one that heralded the ascension of Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu [MBA] in 2007, nor is it different from the one that announced the first victory of Abdulkadir Kure in 1999. The line between euphoria and despair is very thin in a polity, in almost all milieus of Homo sapiens, and indeed in our state. In many climes including our own, leaders that had been celebrated and hailed were later denigrated and booed! Many governments that had been feted and admired were later despised. Many hold the view that Abdulkadir Kure and Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu would not have won their reelection in spite of the huge support that ushered in their administrations if the 2003 and 2011 elections were more credible. In this are BIG lessons for Abu Lolo.

Why did the popularity of Abubakar Sani Bello’s two predecessors dramatically ebb away after a short time in office? Both Kure and Talba started off well, no question. Kure brought in massive electrification of the rural communities, encouraged rural development and empowerment through Fadama project and LEEMP, rehabilitated roads in all the three senatorial districts, paid the USUAL attention to the education, health and agric sectors, and ‘empowered’ politicians, especially close friends and political associates.

Talban Minna studied Kure’s shortcomings including the neglect of, some said disdain for the civil servants, and started from that point, clearing a backlog of up to ten years of civil servants’ retirement benefits, payment of bonus to civil servants in the first two years of his administration and, having campaign under the platform of participatory democracy, cleared the backlog of Fadama and CSDP counterpart contribution inherited from Kure, two projects using the World Bank Community Driven Development [CDD] approach in the state. He also tried to domesticate the CDD method by creating the Ward Development Project, which if it had been appropriately implemented would have saved him the trouble of having to campaign for ANY POLITICAL position in Niger Stat. He also noted that Kure was doing things without an articulated vision, which was more or less like shooting in the dark, so he encapsulated his journey in Vision 3:20:20, a beautiful document that was not accompanied by a sound M&E team with a robust M&E framwork that would have tracked the Vision’s implementation and would have warned the implementers that as the journey was progressing the Vision was getting cloudier and not clearer. He also introduced the FREE education policy and paid the ‘usual’ attention to the health and agric sectors. MBA also radiated enthusiasm for service and talked so much about the many, many, many things he would do that I actually began to wonder if scarcity hadn’t ceased being a basic economic problem of society. In fact, at a point, I had to google ‘scarcity’ to check if the hypothesis of a political economist friend of mine, Kamar Hamza, about scarcity never been an economic problem had gained global currency.

So why did Abulolo’s two predecessors’ popularity nosedive after a short while in office? One can adduce many reasons to explain this, and one will then naturally be tempted to point to appropriate direction from the viewpoint of a spectator and analyst that one can modestly lay claim to.

First, both Kure and Talba did not pay adequate attention to provision of certain basic necessities of life or went about the wrong way providing them. Water for example. Water scarcity and, in many occasions, ACUTE water scarcity was a problem in the state capital and in many communities across the state. Sight of queues of water vendors at water fetching points owned by private citizens, and of them pushing or pulling carts of jerry cans of water and constituting hazards to road users is common in Minna, Kontagora, Suleja and other urban centers in the state. The situation is the same in rural areas except in places where CSDP, MDG and RUWATSAN have provided functional boreholes. Now how do you expect a citizen who has to go through much trouble daily to get water, a necessity that should be taken for granted, to admire a leader that ought to make water available but fail to do so? Many factors may have caused this problem: near obsoleteness of the ancient water plants, sabotage, corruption and leadership. The acuteness of water scarcity was acquiring an endemic status in Minna in particular until Hajiya Hadiza Abdullahi was drafted to the ministry of water resources where she managed to reduce the acute shortage, proving that leadership could actually ameliorate a problem. Some of her predecessors proved that leadership could exacerbate a problem. Now the amount of money said to have been spent on fixing Minna water supply alone could have built standard water plants in some climes, proving that corruption need tackling heads on; there is no other way.

Water issue escaped me while going through Abulolo’s manifesto. But under the activities for meeting the vision of getting Niger State into the top three water and sanitation sectors of Nigeria in terms of supplying adequate portable water for domestic, industrial, agricultural and recreational purposes in the Vision 3:20:20 document [and please hear me out: if a good document is not properly implemented, blame the implementers of the document and not the document] only short term activities (2009-2011) were spelt out in the document, namely: (a) undertake water supply and sanitation feasibility survey for all local government to acquire baseline data for proper investment planning; (b) rehabilitation and modernization of existing water supply works to restore them to their optimum operational capacity; (c) distribution network repair and renewal for all urban water supply schemes; (d) maintenance of strict plumbing standards and codes for all consumer property and premises. If these short term activities had been carried out, output and indeed the outcome levels results of these activities are not evident. In fact, the indicators to show successes that were spelt out in the document were at variance with the actual results on ground; water scarcity persisted and still persists.

So how will the new government address this issue? It doesn’t take a water engineer to explain the importance of the variables of generation, transmission, distribution as well as operation and maintenance in the dynamics of water supply, so in addition to undertaking these four listed activities in vision 3:20:20‒ a document from which important ideas can be drawn even as the government that produced the document failed to implement much of it, the new government should modify and deploy the Biwater model, to be powered using solar energy and (or) the national grid in different part of our urban and rural centers. Using this model, public taps should be made to spring up in our urban and rural communities. The citizens should be involved in maintenance and supervision of the small water works in their communities. If the new government can address this long standing problem, it will help in meeting one of the unmet basic expectations of the people and in sustaining its popularity.

Secondly, the USUAL attention that Kure paid to education sector failed to address the problems it met, because the sector deserved SPECIAL attention, and the FREE education policy of Talban Minna failed to avail the children of the poor qualitative education because, like many of his policies, Social Impact Assessment [SIA] of the policy was not done before its introduction. I actually sent a cautious warning about this oversight in the Newsline newspaper of March 4, 2009, but my advice that government can use Social Impact Assessment to engender lasting enthusiasm and participation in its policies, programmes and projects was not heeded. The result was that even some primary beneficiaries of the free education policy sabotaged it.

Abulolo’s manifesto actually accorded education a prime place, listing infrastructure, teaching and instructional materials and skills and competency of teachers as the cardinal problems areas it would face and listing specific steps in the manifesto’s roadmap for a free, relevant quality education. However, given our dwindling resources from federal allocation and unimpressive IGR against rising expectations, I do not know how the state government can implement all the education items in the Roadmap for Free Quality Education in the manifesto. Items ‘c’,‘d’ and ‘f’ look very knotty to me. Have we cost what it will take the state government to provide free tertiary education to STEM students and education majors? How many STEM and education majors do we have? Can we begin, and if we do, can we sustain the payment of stipends to education majors, especially given that protest may result if the payment are started and then suspended? Even item ‘g’ and ‘h’ are tricky not so much because they will require huge financial implication as because of their workability in the existing framework in the federation. A solution here, if the idea is to have an acceptable teacher to students’ ratio, is to provide incentives for teachers in the rural areas because the population of the teachers in the urban areas is likely to beat even the required ratio of 1:40. However, the quality of the teachers, whether in rural or urban areas, is a different matter altogether. Abulolo’s manifesto said half of our children who complete primary six cannot read, but the problem is much worse; about half of our children who have completed SS3 cannot read, and it is most of this half that ends up in the colleges of education. So, what can the new government do in the education sector, in addition to the remaining implementable items in the manifesto?

To be continued

Al-Mamun Mallam is a development practitioner in Minna, and can be reached at almamunmahb@gmail.com 

TAURARUWA