By Ndama Abubakar

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Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State

The article by Dr Tony Iredia, titled, ‘Niger State: Waiting for Gov Bello to recant,’ which appeared in his Vanguard column, ‘Nigeria Today,’ of July 1, 2018 was a very interesting read. The article drew its inspiration and strength from a statement credited to Gov Abubakar Sani Bello, when he fielded questions from journalists to mark the May 29 Democracy Day celebration in the state, that he made no promises to Nigerlites in the campaigns leading up to 2015 election. In that article, there was even a hint of suggestion that Nigerlites voted blindly or naively, in the vocabulary of the columnist, to install Gov Bello in Minna Government House.

What that implied, at the level of social organisation, is mass insanity, which stretches the fact to incredulity – that Nigerlites voted massively to bring Gov Bello into office as if they were in a trance!
Let us go back a bit; in 2015 election, Gov Bello was the most credible alternative among the candidates soliciting the mandate of Nigerlites to superintend their affairs, which had INDEED plummeted to despicable sorry state. Compared to Umar Nasko, his strongest opponent in the race, he had an unblemished past and a highly touted business savvy that many thought was necessary to move the state out of economic disfunction. He had served for one year in the Babangia Aliyu Administration that he sought to replace, and he had done so with individual distinction, among a coterie of political appointees just bent on primitive accumulation of wealth.

In August, 2010, just one year in office as commissioner of investment, commerce and cooperatives, he resigned, as one director of administration under him, Farouk Mamman Shesunze, once explained it in a newspaper interview, due to “ideological differences,” but to strip the explanation of obfuscation, he plainly rebelled against a repulsive style of governance, under which public funds were stolen, in the guise of virement (i.e. votes are moved from your ministry, for example, to destinations where you have no expenditure control, usually for fuzzy or frivolous purposes). He became an instant hit, cutting an enchanting image of a rebel – the only individual in a decadent administration with the scarce moral fiber to say ‘no to illegality.’

When he indicated interest in the gubernatorial office, the image that loomed large in public imagination was that of a lone wolf and a man who, because of his own financial success, would not descend into the cesspit of corruption. Therefore, voting him into office was a conscious decision, not attributable wholesale to the Buhari factor, as was the sweeping error made in some post-election post mortems. To rebut: the mandate given in 2015 gubernatorial election was not senseless, thoughtless or naive; it was one driven by the candidate’s history and merits.

Now back to the issue that drew the venom of Dr Iredia’s pen: Is it really possible that the governor did not make promises to Nigerlites to secure their mandate? I do not think so; it is not possible for any politician to go round the 274 wards in the state empty-handed and win a clear victory, with 593, 709 votes over the 239, 772 votes of his closest rival. What the governor meant, perhaps, was that he didn’t descend to demagoguery, the common ploy employed by many politicians to steal the voter’s mind with rhetoric and unrealistic promises. As a close watcher of the state affairs, I know that he made some promises, not promised heaven and earth – big vacuous promises; no.

Apart from the fact that he had what was tagged, ‘Flagship Priority Programmes’ in his Restoration manifesto, with elaborate road maps for their attainment, he also had a team of rapporteurs, peopled by former media top brass in the state, such as Mr Solomon Nyaze, now his political adviser, and Alh Isah Ciroma, former CEO of Niger State Television, who distilled his random campaign promises into visionary document or future possible policy master plan. When the governor won the election, he immediately turned these documents over to DFID, which ran a governance support programme known as SPARC (i.e. State Partnership for Accountability, Responsiveness and Capability). Under the guidance of SPARC, these documents formed the raw materials for the review of the existing state development action document.

The review, which occurred in two stages, with the final sitting in Abuja, where it was perfected and adopted, arrived at a new catchphrase, minimized into AHE&WE – the acronym which stands for agriculture, health, education, women and youth empowerment. On the hustings, the governor had expressed a strong interest in these issues as the cardinal drivers of his ambition. And there were areas where he had made on-the-spot promise to intervene in local problems, for example at Beji and Tegina, where he gave his word to provide electricity and reconstruct a portion of Tegina-Kaduna road which had become a death trap when elected into office, promises he redeemed immediately he assumed the reins of power.

The key to understanding Gov Bello is that he is modest and literal in speech; he rarely embellishes his communication – no hyperboles, the favourite figure of speech and the sin of many Nigerian politicians. I guess when he said he didn’t make promises, he meant the grandiose, implausible ones, which the dishonest Nigerian politician uses as red-herring to gain undeserved mandate. He didn’t stoop to this level of chicanery and fraud because, as he said in the interview quoted by Dr Iredia, if he had “promised heaven and the earth at that time, we would face problems.”

The governor speaks matter-of-fact, candour dripping always; although he has put up valiant effort, for example, to improve water supply in Minna, the state capital, the governor still underestimates his own success in the area, admitting that although the government had spent a lot of money in the sector, “Water is being seen in some parts of Minna, even though not frequently, but at the moment, the best they can do is to do sharing.” Such frankness is a rarity, even suicidal in government. However, he believes that given the arrival of new water equipment, “We will make serious progress.”

The governor is not given to too much speech, but he is not shy; only he is not effusive. And that, as many analysts say, is not good for his own political career or the party, APC, which needs an outspoken governor to take delight in his own achievements. He has done wonderful restorative work in schools, which Dr Iredia noted, saying he “rehabilitated many schools with perimeter fence, well-furnished dormitories, new classrooms, laboratories, workshops, libraries and staff quarters as well as functional kitchens.” Believing that development is a continuum, the governor has completed many abandoned water, roads, electricity projects, several infrastructures begun by past administrations, a refreshing watershed from the ugly past, when uncompleted projects were treated as ‘pariahs’ by succeeding administrations, wasting public funds. He had even intervened in projects dating back to 1980s, like some Bywater projects, restarted by the Kure Administration, which the governor has completed, rather than start new ones that will suffer the cruel fate of abandonment.

While this logic is fine, but as the CEO of the state, the governor is the Number 1 public relations officer of the state, able to sell himself and his accomplishments. He must commission completed projects, initiated by him or not, as done by El-Rufaj of Kaduna State, who even invited Arc Namadi Sambo, who as governor of the state initiated the project he commissioned. The governor and the party need to win elections, which keeping quiet or being modest does not help, because as the columnist rightly noted, “good publicity matters because whatever he does that is not made known will be counted among those things he couldn’t do.”

Ndama Abubakar, MD, Niger  Printing and Publishing  Company, Publishers of Newsline Newspapers, writes from Minna.  Email:ndamaab@yahoo.com Tel:08077215855

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