The journey to the third year of the administration of Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello has been as intriguing as it has been challenging and interesting.
Largely however, it has remained one of hopes kept, promises delivered, projects executed, communities elevated, security of life and property augmented, development programmes and projects evenly spread, and governance conducted with utmost and unalloyed transparency, probity and accountability.
Towards actualising its primary avowal to do governance with – not for – the people of Niger state – a problem which was the undoing of many an administration across parts of the country – Governor Sani Bello embarked on a most successful month-long working tour of the 25 Local Governments in the state. A move tagged ‘Midway performance assessment/feedback tour’, which saw him wining instant accolades across segments and sections of the state. From Wushishi, Mariga, Rafi, Magama, Rijau, Borgu, Kontagora, Agwara, Bida to Bosso, Chanchaga, Gurara, Lapai, Lavun and others, the governor accessed first hand issues and concerns which bothered the communities from residents themselves.
To say the governor got entire marks in this regard is to deliver an understatement! With the communities and town-hall meetings, the governor has done the unusual and set clearly unmatchable record in the governance of Niger state. It is the desire to sustain the development strides of his administration that primarily impelled the move, as Mr. Governor believed meeting the people right within their communities remained the surest and best means to know where the shoe pinched them. To him, sitting down with and listening to them explain their worries at town-hall gatherings would be a rare but often overlooked means to making governance relevant and people focused. The tour without a doubt equally enabled him assess the impact of projects so far completed on the people and the need for adjustments or additions, where and as necessary.
According to him, it is not fashionable again for the state governor to sit down in Government House in Minna to know what gives the people headaches in the remotest parts of the state. Budget making and budgeting must necessarily involve gathering fresh and raw data about actual/factual needs of the people and from the people themselves. Governance to him should not be reduced to mere armchair affair in which he (the Governor) relies solely on reports of lieutenants and requests from elected representatives of the various constituencies. On-the-spot assessment of facilities and situations of the people must facilitate the basis upon which government spending must be based and focused.
Governor Abubakar’s words: “I understand staying in the office will almost always deny me the chance to get first hand information from the people on their (the people’s) plight. That is why we have decided to come out and meet with our people directly and frontally. We have decided to face rural development because often times they get abandoned by the government”.
Factually, the governor is not one who dissipates resources on publicity stunts in the media – going on radio/television and investing heavily even in newspaper adverts to announce all manner of achievements – because, as he has said time and again, “my works will speak for me”. From community/rural electrification projects, to urban/rural road construction and beautification, chennelisation of waterways, renovation/construction of schools, link bridges, motorised boreholes, equipping of hospitals, construction of Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs), recruitment of health professionals, rural electrification, development of New Cities – Niger Smart City Project, and up-to-date payment of workers’ salaries and allowances, Governor Bello in three years has delivered a sizeable chunk of his campaign pledges, and the people have joyful stories to tell. To him, promises should not be empty political pledges!
While some people expressed joy for seeing and meeting the governor physically for the first time, many actually commended him openly for the enablement to contribute to how their lives are being run.
Sectoral analysis of the governor’s achievements seems appertaining at this point. The administration has stimulated the agricultural sector through large scale rice farming, a move which fell within the governor’s holistic Strategic Plan Framework for food production and better living for the people of Niger state. This is understandably so. Rice has been a staple meal in most homes and longstanding favourite of Nigerians, young and old. Underscoring his commitment to supporting the President on the ADA initiative is Governor Abubakar’s commissioning on 8th December 2016 of the Bida Rice Processing and Milling Complex, constructed by Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) at Bida, Niger state.
The rice mill project, which takes after and extends the larger plan of the Governor’s Restoration Agenda, specifically in the area of agriculture/food production, youth employment and women empowerment, is a tripartite cooperation among Niger State Government, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Republic of Korea. At completion the project is hoped to generate well over ten thousand direct and indirect jobs.
But all efforts are not about rice! Soon after inauguration on 29th May, 2015 and with an awareness of a state with modest presence of natural endowments, especially favouring agriculture, the governor began situating Niger state as Nigeria’s formidable food hub. Currently, sustainable programmes of his administration has extended to poultry, aqua-culture and other areas of agric business.
One of such is the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)-initiated Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) which, within the last one year, benefitted a minimum of 14,000 farmers, with about N2 billion already disbursed from the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund (MSMEDF) in the state.
Earlier and soon after his inauguration, Governor Abubakar also directed the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to distribute 58mt (metric tons) stock of grains to the public at subsidised rates, a move meant to support feeding needs of households, as it came just before the 2015 Ramadan Fast period. The state government had also approved the purchase and distribution of 20,000 metric tons of assorted fertilizers to 164,000 farmers across the 274 wards of the state.
The European Union has expressed readiness to partner with the Niger state government in the area of education infrastructure. At a parley with the Head of the delegation, the Union’s Ambassador, Mr Michele Arrion, the governor assured there was enough resources, both human and material, to supervise and utilise whatever the Union offered the state as support, adding the state government would equally remain transparent and accountable in managing the partnership.
Realising the critical importance Fire fighting stations to modern communities, especially the urban centres, the Governor committed a staggering sum for the construction of ten new state of the art Fire Fighting Stations in some towns across the state. A move which has effectively checked the destruction of valuable properties, especially in major towns by fire outbreak in recent past.
Today, there are fire stations in Minna, the state capital, Bida, Suleja, Kontagora and Mokwa, all falling within the first phase of the project, while those in the second were in Lapai, Agaie, New Bussa, Kuta and Kagara. The first phase have since been equipped with fire fighting engines, alongside other requisite modern facilities.
Governor Abu Sani Bello has also done quite well in the area of industrialisation, believing a state’s development is hinged upon the volume of investment and industrialisation attracted by government. Within the three years of the administration, government has wooed about 5 companies to invest in agricultural sector alone, a move which, targeted employing well over 30000 workers directly and indirectly! Government has equally created Niger State Shea Sector Development Program to enable the state, as the largest producer of shea butter in west Africa, tap the resources well enough for immediate purposes of boosting its internally generated revenue.
Further, technical team of Dangote Group is also on ground to prepare foundations for setting up a rice and sugar factory in the state, just as moves had been made, through Tegina Agric city, to commence early next year,
His steady but methodical development of Niger state has touched the education sector, wherein programmes like the whole school renovation has changed the face and fortunes of education in the state for good.
The importance of education in any growing economy cannot really be overemphasised, and it is no news any longer the administration of Governor Bello inherited an astounding picture of dilapidated education sector. The story ranged from un-condusive learning environment, to poor motivation of teachers, to lack of teachers quarters, lack of standard laboratory, lack ICT centers, lack of this, lack of that. It was a regime of lacks in very many regards!
The Governor, in realising that the problem seemed too enormous to solve all at once, as other sectors equally deserved urgent attention, designed and implemented a plan by choosing nine strategic premier schools (three each across the three senatorial zones) that have not received any attention since their construction.
For these selected nine, the story has changed, with their Staff Quarters entirely renovated, their laboratories totally equipped, Libraries fully equipped, ICT Centres wholly reconstructed, with 24-hrs internet facilities! For those who know what obtains in other climes across the world, the standard of these schools cannot be assessed as less than international. To God be the glory!
Government went ahead to choose another batch of six secondary schools to receive the same treatment as the first phase, across the three senatorial zones of the state, making the story much the same as the earlier nine.
Not done, the governor has since added the tertiary institutions, some of which have been abandoned for as long as the time of their establishment almost 42years ago! This category includes the schools of nursing Bida, that has produced nurses for 42years without accreditation, School of Midwifery Minna and the construction of new school of nursing Kontagora.
To the glory of God and focused efforts of the Governor, The School of Nursing, Bida, which had before now lain comatose for more than four decades, with very many courses unaccredited, is now singing a new, pleasantly attractive song.
The structures renovated, rebuilt and reconstructed, as the cases were considered necessary, the laboratory furnished to requisite standard, a new boys hostel under construction while the ICT center equally received generous dose of updating, all done to such a measure that the accreditation team expressed considerable pleasure while visiting for accreditation.
The good work has since touched Schools of Health Technology, Minna, School of Health, Technology Tungan Magajiya in Rijau Local Government which is to be completely remodeled.
Basic education is believed to be the fulcrum upon which further education rests. Government, upon realising the total decay in that sector and how the rural areas have been completely neglected by the past administrations, have also decided to do the needful.
Renovation of entire 600 primary education institutions across 274 wards which was planned for implementation and has been successfully implemented at micro constituents level – ward by ward basis! How such an accomplishment will impact on primary education in the state in the immediate terms can only be imagined! The structures were either renovated or reconstructed, as might have been considered necessary, while new furniture and fittings were procured.
Realising extreme importance of vocational education, state government yet again launched its usual offensive. Awarded and fully executed is a contract for total revamping of 6 out of 12 vocational schools in Niger state which were left unattended to by the past administrations. The vocational schools have also been upgraded to international standards, while requisite equipment and working tools have been procured for effectiveness of teaching and learning. This has effectively ended sourcing artisans from Lagos, Ibadan, and from other states will end in Niger!
Ours is a world of interdependencies. Our society needs as much medical doctors, teachers, lecturers, as it needs artisans, including electricians, builders, carpenters, iron fabricators, tillers, others. This is clear headed realisation that it is not possible for everybody, every child, to secure white collar jobs, even if they have the certificates! The opportunity many have today is their mastery of one vocation or the other, even after securing qualifications in other academic regards.
Alongside capacity building for teachers was the training of 100 teachers, who, upon graduation, have been involved in the training of other teachers across the councils, a move tagged “train the trainer” program, which has since been completed. The state also embarked on training a special corps of teachers through special innovative training arrangement. A move first of its kind across the country, was meant to train and qualify them in various education fields as professional teachers.
Suleja Smart City dreams and vision of Governor Bello is equally at an advanced stage, with papers works concluded. Pilot Smart City in Suleja will, without any shred of doubts, lay sound/solid foundations for Niger to launch into national and possibly international Technology and Innovation Hub (TIH).
Beyond projects however, as as hinted in the earlier part of this write-up, the governor has done his best in spreading ‘dividends of democracy’ as evenly as achievable and logical across the 25 councils and 274 wards of Niger state. No project has been executed or awarded on partisan basis, as the governor himself has maintained time and again, that there would be no council which would be left out in project implementation. The governor has triumphed beyond plastic achievements. Today, accolades pour in on him as much from the party (APC) members as from those in opposition.
The government of the day has carefully avoided the plan of immediate past administration to build whole new Govt House, a new Assembly Complex for the lawmakers, and a new judiciary complex for lawyers and judges.
Despite available excuses for these, Governor Bello’s administration, as it has done on several other projects in the state, thought it would make better economic sense to renovate all the projects, rather than construct/build entire new ones, more so as it was already gauged the old buildings could be renovated to serve same purposes! Government actually thought it would be too expensive and extravagant to construct the projects as planned by erstwhile administration.
Governor Bello has repeatedly asserted that his administration will remain transparently prudent and manifestly fair in the manner public wealth is being applied, and to this pledge, it has stuck in all practical ways. The governor has equally repeatedly pledged to complete all projects abandoned by former administrations, arguing that governance is a continuum, and that indigenes and residents of the state are the losers when projects are abandoned and left to waste, while new ones are embarked upon! As at today, there is no abandoned projects again! If any of the so-called abandoned project has not been touched, it is for the simple reason of limitedness of resources.
Today, those who champion Governor Abubakar Sani Bello’s re-election are spread beyond party. Without the electoral conditionality and constitutional impediment, Bello should in all honesty, deserve automatic re-election to pilot affairs of a state he has made exceedingly fortunate by his pattern of God-led leadership.