X-raying Five Years of Sani-Bello’s Niger

Abubakar Sani Bello

Sulaiman Salawudeen

One clear test of latter day existence as Nigerians is the difficulty of ascertaining, and (of) consistency of voicing/siding with, the truth! Like the virtual reality props in films, distinguishing ‘real’ from ‘fake’ performances by characters in public offices, particularly while in office, is a task the people, as audiences in film houses and across private homes, must often bear with subdued anxieties/worries.

What you look at is not what you see – the fiend is just much as inviting in pictures as the friend! How misleading appearances can indeed be!

Upon such awareness, and against horrific currency of extremely gross corruption in public offices in Nigeria, the writer-commentator has to reassess himself and how he does the trade, more so as the ruler-actor is wont to present exaggerations of commendable performances, however minuscule, while underplaying/covering up undesirable conducts, regardless of extent and grade!
He would rather black was assessed as white and vice versa. Should the raconteur not be pious enough to wait and watch? Releasing frivolous hagiographies to commend the condemnable for pecuniary purposes can wreak epic damages, mislead and misinform, even as it may sully integrities irretrievably.

Amidst these din and flurry of concerns comes the necessity of stocktaking the gains of Niger State in the 5th year of the administration of Alhaji Abubakar Sani-Bello, believing such investment is due/deserved and one as may aid emplacement of more legacies for better survival of indigenes and residents in the three years left for him in directing affairs as second term governor.

To paint an administration, which has had it all rosy in terms of material needs for governance since inception is to wound a commitment meant primarily as a social service – straightening the records while supporting posterity with clear facts – rather than a ritual borne upon mundane logic.

Given irregular incomes, worsened later by the unforeseen hiccup of COVID-19, the task of maintaining needful balance in administration must have been doubly herculean for the helmsman in Nigeria’s largest state.

But a visitor with enough attention to ennobling and lasting fixtures will notice Minna has won significant attention, as much for being the capital, and one of the two cities – the other being Suleja – chosen as pilots for smart cities and integrated development plans (IDPs) projects, initiatives meant to make the cities ‘more compact, integrated, connected, resilient and socially inclusive’.

Designed essentially to explore ways to quicken development, Niger State, in the initiative undertaken with technical assistance from the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and other partners, seeks to fast-track robust growth potential of its rapidly expanding urban centres, latching upon their closeness to Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The goal, ultimately, is to enhance the economic, social and general wellbeing of residents, particularly of the two settlements, which for long have been notorious as target of migrants from across the country seeking economic lifts and better living, and a closer feel of modernity.
In his first inaugural speech titled: “Repositioning the State for Peace and Development” on May 29, 2015, Sani-Bello lamented wide scale corruption, pledging “…we are coming into government prepared and determined to frontally confront these challenges and others that are likely to frustrate our efforts in fulfilling our campaign promises to the electorate.”

Five years on, and amidst dwindling revenues from the federation account, Governor Bello, based on National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) computations, has grown IGR from N5.73 billion in 2014 to N9.127 billion in 2019.

With the Treasury Single Account (TSA) initiative, bolstered by stringent transparency in financial dealings, especially the open and competitive bidding process, he has curbed corruption and sundry other anti-progress practices, including excessive contracts pricing. He has again downsized government spending by merging ministries, departments, agencies and parastatals.

Although the administration’s mediations have so far spread through Water sector, Education, Agriculture/Economic empowerment, and Health, it has won commendations mostly in the area of Security and Infrastructure, with projects like roads, bridges and motorised borehole systems seconding conveniences of largely neglected and disoriented grassroots populace.

Sani-Bello’s Restoration Agenda has today repaired and reconstructed, in conjunction with the State Rural Access and Mobility Project (RAMP III), over 1,500km urban roads and 900km rural roads across the state, a feat, which has desirably impacted socioeconomic activities of the people.
The governor has instituted reverses in the education sector with his Whole Schools Development Approach, through rare but impactful overhauling of decrepit structures, rather than constructing entirely new ones, leading to the renovation of over 600 basic (SUBEB) schools, while nine secondary schools were completely rehabilitated, with well-furnished staff quarters.

To address shortage of requisite manpower in schools, his administration established the Teachers Professional Training Development Institute (TPTDI). Immediate impact of his Education interventions is the improvement in performance of students in West African Senior School Certificate Examinations from 28th position in national, countrywide ranking in 2015 to 27th in 2019.

He has perfected payment of salaries by 25th of every month, approved unadulterated, full-scale implementation of CONMESS – Consolidated Medical Salary Structure – and CONHESS – Consolidated Health Salary Structure – for medical/health workers, and implemented 25 per cent increase in monthly earnings of civil servants on low grade levels.

Aside routine governance duties, Abu Lolo, as fondly called, is noted for his kindness and paying unscheduled visits to project sites and hospitals in the middle of the night without media coverage. He is reported of frequently entering villages and eating, to gist with locals, and demanding to know the needs of peasants.

An icing on the cake of his achievements, coming under agriculture, is the establishment of a Grazing Reserve fortified with a veterinary clinic, nine functional dams, pasture pilot and three primary schools, attainments for which he won commendations of then Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh.

However, Sani-Bello, quite recently, fell out with civil/public servants, who frowned at his reducing their monthly earnings by 30 per cent, even if, as he had assured, such would be repaid soon as incomes improve. He has similarly rowed with members of his own party, the All Progressives Congress, who accused him of favouring opposition elements, especially members of the Peoples Democratic Parties (PDP) in developments they presumed he should favour his party.

But the governor, stating he is for all residents of the state, irrespective of party, religious or ethnic affiliation, and would side with the law, not minding who wins or loses, swore in Safiyanu Yahaya of PDP, as Chairman, Magama Local Government Council. This was soon after the courts had upturned initial victory of the APC candidate, Salihu Ubandoma on grounds of pre-election irregularities.

He is also being criticised for not executing ‘big’ projects to be bankrolled in billions of naira, like massive flyovers and bridges, rather than ‘small’ projects of mere millions! But the governor, rejecting the thesis, insisted ultramodern flyovers and massive bridges in the capital would not remedy residents, who seek basics like water, roads, motorable/pedestrian bridges and electricity in far-flung nooks? He had wondered the possibility to jettison open needs and demands of the grassroots by constructing budgets and executing projects just upon official presumptions.
But the state has been the crucible of insurgency and armed banditry, hottest in four councils, including Rafi, Munya, Shiroro and Mariga. A development that has occasioned surges in figures of internally displaced persons and refugees lately, and threatening to reverse modest gains of governance and peaceful coexistence in the 42-year-old Niger State, has seen the invaders unleash terror mostly on villages day and night.

In their benighted onslaughts, they rape women and children, kidnap and rustle cattle, even steal foodstuff of their victims. This is despite the presence of a ‘Super Camp’ in Kontokoro, an army base fortified with 200 soldiers and built on a 700×700 metres land-size. Sani-Bello, believing the problem has become politicised, maintained each new move planned to reply the insurgents are being routinely leaked to them.

Given the scale of the error, against dangerous, if strategic, centrality of the beleaguered state, the implications of festering insurgency and banditry therein on the FCT and other adjoining enclaves should not be lost on the federal government, which should urgently direct mounting far more ambitious interventions within the environment of the north-central state beyond the 700×700 metres/200 soldiers ‘Super Camp’.

Only such, it is believed, could help contain/curtail an evil that, in tugging at and threatening Niger State, may worsen already extremely parlous security conditions of entire country.

––Salawudeen, writer and freelance journalist, writes via obastunde@yahoo.com