Now, a new prince for the Niger!
In more sense than one Niger State in Nigeria’s middle belt region is unique. At least, that is the opinion of residents of the famed ‘power state.’ The state’s uniqueness is not without basis. The predominantly agrarian state has the largest land mass in the country and plays host to the nation’s major hydro-electric stations. Niger is home to the famed Gurara waterfalls and Zuma Rock, two of the nation’s best known tourist attractions.
What is more, Niger is also one of the four states in the country to have each produced two former Nigerian leaders, the others being Kano, Katsina and Ogun states. But the uniqueness of Niger State has nothing to do with any of these. Rather, each time residents depict their state as unique, they are quick to point to decayed and decaying infrastructure that litter the large plain of the territory as evidence.
Motorists and regular visitors to the state are quick to attest to the fact that the state probably had the worst network of roads in the country! This and several facts on ground may sound outrageous, even unbelievable to Nigerians who regularly had their eardrums jarred by hyped advertisement of nothingness before the advent of the APC-led government of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, otherwise known as Abu Lolo in 2015.
The feeling of outrage is not without reason. Between 2007 and 2015, the former administration of Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu, the self-styled Chief Servant and Talban Minna, initiated a well thought-out campaign of dazzling residents of Niger State by erecting huge, designer billboards across the state to announce the presence of emptiness. At a point, the idea of rebranding was vexatious to have provoked a state-wide outcry over the huge resources expended in erecting billboards across the state.
If residents had any misgivings about the Chief Servant, they merely grumbled and bade their time until the 2015 general elections provided them the opportunity to vote out his hand-picked successor, the young and smooth-faced Umar Gado Nasko whom the Chief Servant claimed was revealed to him in a dream after series of ‘Istihara’, a process of meditation during which Muslims seek divine intervention in their affairs.
The Chief Servant did not fare any better as he failed in his attempt to secure a seat to roost in the Nigerian Senate as has become the pastime of his carbon copies. As if this was not enough sign that the game was up, the former governor’s attempt to make a huge statement with his exit from Government House ended in a fiasco and it was the quick intervention of security men who ferried him to safety that saved the then outgoing governor from being lynched at the inauguration of the incoming government of Governor Sani Bello.
Today, things are beginning to look up for the state and huge billboards are not in place to advertise the modest achievements! Bello, not used to the style of the former administration in which he briefly played a prominent role as a cabinet member, is charting a new course. After an initial slow-paced take-off that expectedly set tongues wagging, the government appears to have stabilised and, with two years to go in its first tenure, the Abu Lolo administration is providing answers to challenges posed by its critics.
One of the surprises the administration gave its critics was its ability to tinker with the unwieldy wage bill it inherited. In fairness to it, the former administration made an attempt to sanitise the wage bill when it engaged a consultancy firm to determine the actual size of the state’s workforce. But, for inexplicable reasons, the administration demurred each time it was expected to act on the findings of the staff audit exercise which identified some 7000 ghost workers.
At his inauguration two years ago, Bello promised not to play to the gallery by initiating new projects when several projects remain abandoned by contractors who evaporated into thin air after pocketing contract fees. It has proved to be a well thought out decision. That government appears to be working today, in spite of dwindling monthly federal allocations, has been due to the uncompromising stance of the government to get defaulting contractors back to site.
As things stand, decayed and decaying infrastructure across the state mean that the long-suffering residents of Niger State may have to endure more months of want. Pipe borne water remains scarce commodity in Minna, the state capital and other parts of the state. Health and educational facilities are overstretched and many parts of rural Niger can do with more feeder roads. The administration’s pledge to frog jump urban and rural electrification remains a pledge which the governor regularly reminds residents is one of the cardinal aims of his administration.
At its inception, the administration identified tourism as a potential revenue earner. It was not an idle wish, considering dwindling federal allocations that challenged state governors to begin to think out of the box. Desirable as it is, in terms of improving the state’s internally generated revenue, government’s plan to turn Gurara waterfalls, Zuma Rock and other site into money-making venture remains on the drawing board.
Magaji is based in Abuja.
The commitment of the administration of Bello to transform Niger state may not be in doubt. And, in fairness to it, the administration has not embarked on any unduly ambitious projects. But, the administration can still do with the funds it conserved after yanking off the names of 7000 ghost workers from the wage bill. Yet, the government may get the needed if it lays hands on some N6 billion alleged stolen from state coffers and lodged in secret accounts by highly-placed officials of the former administration.
At the end of the day, the governor can thump his chest for laying solid structures on which successive administrations can build on. Isn’t it a pleasant surprise to the people of Niger State that their state transport corporation has not been renamed Abu Lolo Mass Transit? Isn’t it refreshing that politicians in Niger State are not falling upon themselves to rename public institutions after the incumbent governor?
Gradually, the state government is endearing itself to the people. And, by executing public office without making noise about it, Bello is proving to be Niger’s long-awaited prince.
Magaji is based in Abuja.