Why Bago Must Question Conventions in Niger State
By Mamun Mallam
No governorship election in Niger State was as keenly contested as the one that produced Umar Bago as the governor of Niger State, and no governor had met challenges as enormous as the ones awaiting Bago. With insecurity that is brazenly strutting rural and urban landscape unchallenged, an economy that is egregiously dependent on the civil service, an infrastructure that is embarrassingly comatose, and a revenue streams that is pitifully thin, I do not envy Umar Bago, and no one should. It’s little wonder Kantigi of PDP played a smart card, congratulated his victorious opponent and took off for Dubai, which has an abundance of visionary and selfless leadership, something so expensive in our clime, it’s almost unaffordable.
The questions may be asked: Why has Niger state remained embarrassingly backwards in spite of having produced two former heads-of-state and so many brilliant minds? Why has Niger State just trudged along when it has what it takes to take the lead as encapsulated in the now rested, forgotten Talba’s Vision 3:20:20? Why has the year 2020 passed by without the state getting closer to the third, much less the first most prosperous state in the country as envisioned in the document that was to be a roadmap for the development of Niger State? The answers, my friend, are in the lack of courage by successive governors to interrogate conventions, status quo, if you like. Interestingly, this lack of courage was a theme of a piece I wrote some years back, and will repeat some of the issues I raised then since they are still quite germane.
The first challenge Bago needs to tackle heads on is the pervasive insecurity that is neither sparing the rural areas nor the urban ones. Law and order must first be established for any meaningful progress to be made. The approach the state and federal governments have deployed over the years to arrest insecurity is inadequate and will not take us out of the woods. For example, it’s mortifying that in the era of drones, our security personnel are made to go into kidnappers’ and bandits’ dens without an eye in the sky. The use of technology is a sine qua non in this age for any serious leader to tackle insecurity. And so, this is the first area where Bago needs to question conventions. However, his stated method during electioneering for interrogating convention in this area, his idea of establishing Fulani Rangers to tackle kidnapping and banditry since most of the kidnappers are said to be of this ethnic group, amount to interrogation of convention, but this interrogation also needs to be questioned. This is because the idea of having an armed security outfit for just one ethnic group is itself dangerous and counterproductive in the long run. It is understood that this is not the only strategy the fresh governor will deploy. Of course, the approach should be eclectic, encompassing many areas and sectors: youth empowerment, agric and rural development, and, of course, sport development. It’s ridiculously amazing that our successive governments, both federal and states, have remained ignorant about the place of sport in arresting youth restiveness and criminality. I will return to this issue briefly before closing this piece.
The second convention Bago should question is the manner of assembling a team. More often than not, politicians form the bulk of any incoming administration in Niger State, and this should be expected in a democratic administration, but competence and precedence should be the foremost factors for consideration whether a potential office holder is a politician or not. Gladly, we have seen some competent names in the 62-member transition committee inaugurated recently, and we hope the competence preceding these names will be a factor when the team is finally assembled. Mustafa Ndajiwo, a renowned international consultant who founded the African Centre for Tax and Governance (ACTG), is a huge plus in any team. Alkasim AbdulQadir has navigated private sector, public sector, security sector as well as humanitarian and development practices and can function effectively in many areas, Bako Shatima is highly cerebral and can add value to any team. Prof Kuta Yahaya has much intellectual capital he can bring to bear on any team. Of course, Niger State has a vast array of technocrats and trail blazers carving a niche for themselves in many fields, and so it will not be out of place to point out some of these names who have much to bring to the table. Aminu S. Muhammed has vast experience in the Real Estate sector and Tech entrepreneurship, and initiative for urban renewal and housing development can benefit from his vast experience. BM Dzukogi whose youth engagement endeavours are applauded outside the shores of Nigeria will be almost indispensable in a holistic youth development initiative for Niger State. Ibrahim Dooba who is renowned for both his versatility and principle will certainly contribute significantly in any area with desire to do things differently. Abdullahi Bala Isa, the President of Gamji Members Association is endowed with diplomacy and versatility that makes him a natural asset in any team. Abdulbaqy Ebbo, who likes perfection in his endeavours, will be a plus for the team. In Niger State, the dispiriting aspect of a civil service driven economy can be glimpsed on the faces of traders in Minna central market in the third week of any month when the lull in business transactions becomes intense. AS for civil servants themselves, by the second week, most could barely feed their families.
This has been the scenario in Niger State since the value of Naira was forced to tumble during the military era. And it is for these reasons that Niger State should now be sprinting to the private sector, an area the new governor has had experience in.
The potential for making Niger State economy a private sector driven one is there, waiting to be tapped. Will Bago blaze a trail in Niger State and become the first governor to make Niger State economy a private sector driven one? There is no reason why he shouldn’t, if he draws from his experience and connections in the sector, and if he realizes the position history will reserve for him upon achieving that feat. Now let’s look at some possible courses of actions that Bago’s government can take.
To get our unemployed and underemployed youths on the path of self-realization and to wean the citizens of the state off government dependence, a number of initiatives should be crafted and the workable ones on ground should be reinvigorated. First, the NDE model should be replicated in Niger State. The approach was so comprehensive, so relevant and so well-articulated that all employment generation initiative of successive governments only replicated some aspects or components of the NDE, but these initiatives, like the NDE itself that lost steam along the line, were not properly implemented; no thanks to corruption, which was the only Nigerian problem that Babangida’s government, which created NDE, did not attempt to solve. With four core employment generation approaches covering vocational skills, small scale business development, special public works and rural employment promotion, virtually all angles to sustainable employment generation are covered. The National Open Apprenticeship Scheme [NOAS] of the NDE designed to give vocational skills to school leavers and other interested unemployed youths that lacked productive and marketable skill, and to assist them after training to establish micro-businesses in their chosen trades can absorb many unskilled youths.
The Small Scale Enterprises programme was designed to instill in unemployed Nigerian graduates and other interested persons, the spirit of entrepreneurship, creativity and self-reliance as oppose to the prevailing dependence on public and private sector establishments for wages employment as well as to assist them to set up their own businesses in order to create employment for themselves and other Nigerians. In order to achieve this, NDE established the following schemes under the Small Scale Enterprise Department: (i) Entrepreneurship development program (EDP), (ii) Graduate job creation loan scheme, (iii) matured peoples loan scheme, (iv)Motorcycle loan scheme, (v) Start Your Own Business (SYOB) training scheme and improve Your Business (IYB) training scheme.
The Rural Employment Promotion [REP] of the NDE aims to use agriculture to generate employments among Nigerians through Graduate Agricultural Self Employment Scheme, School Leavers Farming Scheme, Block Farming Employment Scheme, Integrated Farming Training Scheme, Agro Services Rural Agricultural Development Training Scheme, and Seeds Multiplication Training Scheme among others.
The Special Public Works [SPW] Department of the NDE engages both unemployed graduates and non-graduates to execute labour intensive construction or renovation projects such as community roads, motor parks, drainage and building in the participants’ local government areas. All that is required to successfully replicate this model is the right political will and identification of the right leadership for the initiative, which could come under any beautiful nomenclature, and which could be modified to fit prevailing realities and specific items in the new governor’s manifesto. The need for the right leadership brings us back to the urgent imperative of a sound team. When it comes to youth engagement, the leading name in Niger State is BM Dzukogi, who is not in the transition committee, but who could function effectively in this area. In fact, I am aware of a model he has developed for sport development, but it is a model that also fits into the eclectic approach that needs to be developed for tackling youth criminality. This model could be indispensable in an eclectic strategy for youth development and tackling insecurity.
Adopting all or even some of these approaches will amount to interrogating the convention of making youths and other Nigerlites special assistants and special advisers when we know most of them have no special assistance or any valuable pieces of advice to give [This is not to dismiss the imperatives of having competent advisers for the government]. A new youth empowerment agency can be created or a department under the ministry of youth should be charged with this responsibility, and targets given while periodic performance evaluation should be undertaken.
Finally, the imperative of a sound Monitoring and Evaluation Unit for a governor to track activities, outputs and their outcomes is obvious, but often overlooked, and this explains why the chief executives of a state are not kept in the loop. This explains why, for example, since Baro Inland Port was commissioned, no barge has berthed at the port− the President was simply not effectively kept in the loop. I am not talking about a mere collection of people that will go to some sites in the name of monitoring, take pictures and gossip in the office. I am talking about a unit that can from the very inception help create a monitoring system, including man and materials; monitoring plan with logical framework, activities, outputs and outcome indicators and their definitions, data flows, reporting and review mechanisms, all of which will effectively aid implementation and decision making. Ironically, even Talba’s Vision 3:20:20 that was so comprehensive did not make a provision for a monitoring unit to track the progress of the vision, and that may partly explain why the vision was jettisoned. Obviously, Bago will be interrogating another convention if he creates an effective monitoring unit to keep track of his government’s progress. Going by whom the new Governor took campaigns to first and whom he took campaigns to at the end, we can say he is prepared to interrogate conventions. May his era be a positive turning point for us and the entire state.
Al-Mamun Mallam is a development practitioner, and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org or on 08036085067