Saturday comment1

Things are once again looking up in Yobe, writes Abdullahi Bego

By mid-2013 every person living in or travelling through the Yobe State capital knew that things were never as they used to be. It was a time of monstrous security challenges and diffused adversity. Boko Haram had carried out its first and deadliest attack on the state capital just a little over a year earlier – on November 4, 2011. Until then, the state was reckoned as a relatively ‘safe’ place to which people sought refuge from Boko Haram’s relentless campaign of violence in Borno State.

With the idea of a ‘safe haven’ now shattered and plenty of Boko Haram’s ‘sleeper cells’ scattered in major towns, 2012, 2013 and 2014 were years in which the people of the state were hit with particular ferocity. This marked the beginning of the intensification of Boko Haram violence across Yobe State, of people fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced. It was a period during which government’s scarce and badly needed resources had to be divested away from development and allocated almost exclusively to security concerns.

As a leader passionate about his people, it was endlessly heart-breaking for Governor Gaidam that those senseless attacks were happening. It was even more heart-breaking that we had a federal government at the time that did not seem to care – or did not seem interested – in taking measures necessary to end the attacks and the suffering of the people with the ‘fierce urgency of now’.

Worst still, the government at the centre, rather than summoning the courage to do what was right, attempted thoughtless state of emergency on the affected Northeast states and was even being prodded by its apologists to subvert the democratic structures in those states by sacking their assemblies and governors.

A collection of these events and the toll on government finances could sap the energy and dampen the spirit of even the most ardent leader.

But not Governor Gaidam. Those close to him would tell you that even when things seemed at their darkest, his optimism in the capacity of the government, the people and the security agencies – together – to overcome the challenges was matchless.

Although he had no control over the security forces – and certainly no direct obligation to fund their operations, Governor Gaidam decided that he had to step in and partner with them in every possible way to help rout the insurgents and ensure the safety of life and property. This was why the Yobe State Government, under his watch, spent humongous amount of money to provide logistics and other forms of support to the security agencies for at least four years before the Buhari-led APC administration took over.

But this came at a heavy cost to the state government. It meant that vital resources that could be used to fund the provision of infrastructure and services to the people, such as roads and education, water supply and healthcare, were now largely rolled over to the security sphere in a seemingly endless loop of unplanned, continuous spending.

What was amazing was that despite the fiscal toll that logistics support to security agencies was exerting on the state, the Yobe State Government had retained its capacity to continue with the provision of basic services and had never failed to pay its workers their wages.

It is testament to the determination of Governor Gaidam to move the state forward that once the curtain was raised to cater to the security agencies with the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari, the pace of development quickened and Yobe was steadily able to recover lost ground in many areas.

Take the construction of roads for example. This is a capital-intensive venture but one that is regarded worldwide as an opportunity-multiplier.

This is even more so in a state like Yobe where roads infrastructure was at near-zero level prior to the current administration. This meant that to open up remote places and connect more people and more communities and make it a little easier for businesses to flourish, more roads have had to be constructed.

To date, the Gaidam administration – before, during and following the insurgency – has built over 1200 kilometres of roads, with even more currently ongoing. Hundreds of communities were linked in ways that many never thought possible. From Kanamma to Yusufari, Gadaka to Godowoli and Machina to Nguru and places too numerous to mention, the people of the state are witnesses to a government truly devoted to making life a little easier for them.  

Or take healthcare, that vital sector where Yobe State under Governor Gaidam had become increasingly noted for.

With a new University Teaching Hospital, a new College of Medical Sciences, an expanded and upgraded State Specialist Hospital and six other major hospitals that were renovated, upgraded and equipped, Yobe’s healthcare sector has continued to reach new heights. This is even more so with hundreds of new specialist staff recruitments and a growing partnership with foundations, agencies and organisations – both governmental and non-governmental.

Under Governor Gaidam, Yobe’s education sector has also received unprecedented attention. More schools were renovated and equipped than had happened in the state previously. These include GGSS Nguru, GSS Gwio-Kura, GSS Fika, GSS Nangere and GSS Yunusari. Several primary school classrooms, burnt down or torched by Boko Haram insurgents, were rebuilt and their stocks replenished. The state government continues to spend huge amounts of money in the payment of student scholarships. More teachers were recruited and more were given opportunities for re-training.

More communities were also provided access to clean, potable water. With the support of development partners, such as the federal government, African Development Bank (AfDB), UNICEF and the Japanese Government, amongst others, the Yobe State Government can now boast of over 70 per cent water coverage across the state.

The Gaidam administration has also set up large-scale irrigation projects in the Nguru Lake area and Mugura-Garin Gada with the capacity to engage thousands of farmers when the projects have been completed.

Already, farmland allocations have started at the Nguru site and farmers are excited to begin a new phase of modern irrigation farming with unprecedented support from the government.

Another key area that has continued remarkably well despite the insurgency is the Gaidam administration’s unalloyed attention to workers. Yobe is where workers never have to worry about whether they are going to get paid at the end of the month. Salaries, pensions and gratuities are so regular that some workers – whose retirements had come nigh – were willing to call it quits just for the certainty of getting their retirement benefits.

Plus, Governor Gaidam has become the first governor in the history of the state to summon the courage to build an airport. Despite suggestions to the contrary, an airport is a long-term investment that will be very useful to the state going forward.

These and many other interventions of the Gaidam administration have surely re-kindled hope of ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. Boko Haram may have set us back, and they surely did. But with the work that Governor Gaidam has done, Yobe people have reasons to be thankful to God and to look to the future with even more optimism.

Bego is Director-General for Media Affairs to Governor Ibrahim Gaidam