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Friday, May 21, 2010

Sule Lamido, My Governor of the Year

Lamido, My Governor of the Year

There is this modern Hausa adage that spells the difficulty, hopelessness and ingratitude of public service in Nigeria. It says ba ka iyawa, ba ka gamawa, ba a yaba ma: You cannot do it right as a public officer; you cannot finish the job, and you will not be praised. The examples are too numerous to mention, from independence to date. However, I will not hesitate to make a confession. We writers – journalists and non-journalists alike, and Dr. Tilde inclusive, possibly – have tremendously contributed to this syndrome. We hardly see any good in a public servant. Even when we see it we keep silent because we are afraid of being branded as sycophants. Then after the servant has left office, we are quick to demonize him for the brown envelopes we will receive from his successor. I am afraid to say that this attitude is discouraging to public service to the extent that many officials in this country hardly read newspapers, as some heads of states and governors disclosed before.

While criticism may discourage some excesses of the ruler, acknowledging his right actions in a developing society like ours could equally encourage his stay on the narrow path of prudence. Also, extolling exemplary behavior courts its repetition by others. Keeping quiet on the good actions of leaders, on the other hand, creates the cynical atmosphere that all leaders are evil, something which erodes the hope for a better future. For this reason, I have decided to come up with my governor of the year, someone who, in my judgment, has through his policies and actions tried to tread the path of rectitude, who has done things similar to what we advised, who has chosen to differ from the cheap trade of squander, corruption, laziness and incompetence, and who has embraced his people.

This year, among many governors, I have found the present governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, to be most suitable for the title. The policies of this unassuming and down-to-earth personality have many times filled my heart with delight in the past six months. There are at least six policies which correspond to the position I have been taking on this page. This is what I intend to discuss them in the following paragraphs.

First, I was delighted with the idea of creating an allowance for the physically challenged in our society. Such people receive a monthly allowance of N7,000.00 monthly in Jigawa State now. The policy which the governor announced at the debut of his administration is an innovation. Life has become so difficult even for the able-bodied individuals in this country. What it has become for the physically challenged can, therefore, only be imagined. Having a government which identified with these people and accords them special attention – not only of empowerment but also of income – deserves our special mention. This is an era in which government rules are aligned with the capitalist policies of IMF and World Bank which are preaching cutting the cost of governance by trimming the work force, removing subsidies and charging citizens for social services. Doing so has aggravated poverty in the developing world and restricted the circulation of wealth to the upper class, as the World Bank has recently admitted.

The second policy was that of increasing agricultural subsidy by selling fertilizer at the rate of N900.00 per 50-kg bag against the market price of N3,200.00, a record subsidy of seventy percent. This is criminal, according to the World Bank, superb according to the farmers. When I heard about this last July, I called Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and asked why they brought the price of the commodity so low. He defended the policy by saying that their people are poor and overwhelmingly farmers; so subsidies are one of the best means of boosting productivity in the state. Besides, he added, America spends over a billion dollars daily as subsidy to its farmers. I was elated to discover such bold individuals in government. And, honestly, I think he had a point here. The only state that came close to Jigawa was its sister, Kano, which sold its fertilizer at N1,000.00. The highest subsidy accorded by most state governments so far is fifty percent.

Another interesting thing is the egalitarian manner in which the fertilizer was distributed. Priority was given to farmers and even the highest government officials were asked to return to their villages to get their shares. The fertilizer was not enough because it was a transition year but I appreciate the principles used in its pricing and distribution. It is my hope that enough of the commodity will be purchased in 2008 and distributed early enough. I would not also mind if the government subsidizes it further while maintaining prudence in the distribution.

I have to commend Jigawa over this because in many other states fertilizer is distributed in a terribly saddening way. Trailer-loads are allocated to elders across the country; many are diverted to traders; many simply disappear, etc. In fact, in a state neighboring Jigawa which claims transparency, thirty truck-loads of fertilizer disappeared in fraud.

The third is that Lamido has correctly captured the essence of governance, which is attending to the needs of his people. Modern jargon aside, in simple terms, a leader is required to carry out only two functions: attending to the problems of his people and bringing whatever good that will improve on their condition. The essence of government is not economic growth that puts the largest number of citizens at disadvantage and concentrating wealth in the hands of a few. The governor holds that a government loses its raison d’etre if it fails to provide basic amenities to its people. Standing in an estate of over 700 houses that is not provided with even a drop of potable water in Dutse, I heard him lamenting, “haba jama’a, ruwa fa, ruwa kawai… (Oh people, we cannot even provide something as basic as water, just water?)!”

The state capital, Dutse, has not witnessed much development since it was created about two decades ago. That is not to say Saminu or other governors did not do anything; despite their effort, however, development is still at its infant stage. Lamido now has embarked on policies that will retain civil servants in the capital. One of them is the adequate provision of enough housing. He is completing houses started by previous administrations and embarking on the construction of new estates. Education is receiving a boost with the intention that no class will be left dilapidated or without furniture by the end of his tenure. Likewise, an inspectorate on education is created under the Governor’s Office – as it was during Sardauna – such that he can receive reports directly on education delivery in the state. For this he is secretly nicknamed “chief inspector of education”. Arrangements are also made to promote intensive fadama development (dry season farming) as a backbone to poverty alleviation. Nothing is more practical than this in a state that has the largest fadama acreage in the country.

The fourth reason is the ability of the Governor to take tough decisions. Two decisions here stand out remarkably. He decided to return government ministries and parastatals to Dutse, from where the previous governor dispersed them to various towns across the state. The decision was right but it would certainly make many unhappy especially those who were not interested in the development of the state capital for political reasons.

The second bold decision is his refusal to use public funds to finance annual pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia as is done by all governments in northern Nigeria. This must have raised many eyebrows especially among religious leaders, elders and politicians who are the major beneficiaries of such expenditure. The state was spending close to a billion naira annually when there were many pressing needs in the social sector. We have pleaded with our governors to stop this practice because it contravenes the principle of priority in Islam, and it just does not make sense. They have always paid a deaf ear to our plea, using it to buy the ulama especially, until now when one of them at least has mustered the courage to say enough to the squander. I was exhilarated when the news broke out in the BBC. I thought this man must qualify as my man of the year if he is not discounted on other points. I immediately started investigating on whether he is consistent in protecting public funds. And the result was positive.

This brings us to the discovery of the fifth reason – prudence. If his prudence was applied only to pilgrimage and squander had continued in other fronts, Lamido would not have qualified as my governor of the year. Since, as al-mutanabbi said, clarity is achieved by constrast, I compared Jigawa with a neighboring state government. In the neighboring state, for example, there are substantial allegations that the governor spends N750,000.00 as his chefane (domestic feeding expenditure) daily, dolling N250,000.00 to each wife. Yes, daily! His chief of staff and SSG both receive N800,000.00 monthly for the domestic expenditure in addition to their salaries. That state has already incurred overdraft of several billions within six months of its tenure and it is negotiating an international loan of several other billions. From a single bank, it has an overdraft of N1.5billion on purchase of cars alone in the past six months in addition to those it buys directly from its treasury. The office of the SSG, like in the previous administration, still spends millions daily as security vote, etc.

I found out that Jigawa State has saved over N8billion in the last six months. I had a dinner with the SSG and asked him how much chefane is he paid daily. He said none. But he turned to the steward of the guest house where he lives and asked him. The guy said he receives N20,000.00 for ten days, that is N60,000.00. The SSG protested that the figure is high. “No. You have guests”, I explained, “and the steward too, you know, needs a margin of comfort to operate. N2,000.00 daily is reasonable.” And that is how it is in other areas.

The sixth and last reason is the matured stand of not probing his immediate predecessor despite immense pressure from many people in the state. I called on our governors to take this stand last June and I am happy to find one of them at least shares my opinion. Jigawa State is widely considered as badly administered during the past eight years and Lamido would have made sensational headlines if he had decided to probe Saminu, but he refused. He said it is a waste of precious time and will breed a lot of acrimony and unnecessary enemies for the administration.

So he upheld all decisions taken by his predecessor except those that are criminal like the issue of N30billion loan that was inappropriately acquired from some two local banks. According to his transition committee report, the previous government left a liability – the committee even refused to use the word “debt” – of N130billion. Yet, the governor is not tempted to make the headlines. Compare this to what is happening in a state neighboring Jigawa. Its past administration left a liability – eagerly called “debt” in this case – of only N22billion (one-fifth of its 2008 budget) which was accumulated over the past twenty years. The new governor, to cover his own ineptitude, is always in the media lamenting that he is left with an empty treasury. He contracted professional accountants to investigate every contract that was awarded from 1999 to 2007 with the promise that whoever is found guilty “will face the music.” To motivate the investigators, they were promised a good percentage of whatever is recovered.
Then he presented the report to the President, EFCC and ICPC, hoping to use them as his hunting dogs. But except for the theft of N8billion in the Department for Local Government which is quoted many times by the government, the two anti-corruption organizations showed little enthusiasm. Their reason is that the improprieties are petty and, more importantly, the level of corruption in the present administration is higher than in the previous one. The governor, clearly out of frustration, has now instituted a judicial commission of inquiry whose composition, apart from a high court judge who serves as its chairman, is composed of his party members who did the initial investigations and pointed accusing fingers to those they will preside over their cases, thus being judges in their own case. I am ashamed. Thanks to Lamido, Jigawa State is saved from this trouble for the better.

In line with this, the new governor of Jigawa state has decided to continue from where the previous government left and build on it, something I have canvassed for many times. I am an advocate of modernity and do appreciate many things that the former governor did. So when I heard that things like his IT project will not be abandoned, I felt happy. In some states, a lot of energy went into belittling whatever good the previous administration has done, without any sign that the present one has the capacity or even intention to do better in spite of the superior resources at its disposal. We have a case where a governor single handedly closed down a university. This is cheap and not healthy for our development.

I inquired from where Lamido acquired the above qualities. The answer was not far-fetched at all. He followed the rule of antecedent or what the Arabs will call, man shabba ‘ala shay’in shaaba alaih. Jigawa was part of Kano State and its people have been disciples of late Malam Aminu Kano, the leader of the Northern Elements Peoples Union (NEPU), a leftist party in the 1950s and 60s. It was also under the rule of the leftist People’s Redemption Party, a reincarnation of NEPU during the Second Republic. Lamido was very close to Kano State governor, Abubakar Rimi, whom I consider the best governor in modern Nigeria. I heard the governor saying, “Kai, mu nan NEPU ce har yanzu,” meaning we are still NEPU-oriented.

I salute Lamido. It is my sincere hope that Jigawa State will develop fast under his leadership. I hope also that the governor will remain focused on putting his people first in every consideration he makes, just as I hope he will continue to take the right decisions no matter how tough they may be and run his government in peace without the waste that we still witness in some states. He should not be daunted by our cynical perception of ba ka iyawa, ba ka gamawa, ba a yabawa. The essence of this article is to send the message to him and other similar leaders as well that there are people who have never met them; yet, they are ever ready to appreciate whatever good they do in office. As God says, “And whatever good you do, they do not belittle it. And God is aware of those who fear Him.”

I wish him good luck.

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