Jigawa Anti-poverty Summit

October 9, 2008
5 mins read

On the eve of his inauguration as the governor of Jigawa State in May 2007, Sule Lamido visited with us at daily Trust. We spent the better part of one and a half hours exploring his thoughts and ideas about the about the new position he was going to occupy in a few days to the date of his visit. There was no “no-go area” in the interrogation that we attempted with the governor-elect that afternoon, and in fairness, Sule Lamido gave as much as he got from our team. The background was his very rich and often controversial political background: a grounding within the radical traditions of NEPU/PRP and the subsequent schisms within the party leading to the 1983 elections; the emergence of the political processes of the Babangida transition and Lamido’s activities within the SDP and finally his membership of the PDP in this dispensation and especially his closeness to Obasanjo at a point when Obasanjo had become the most unpopular leader in recent Nigerian history.


I was always fascinated by the content of the politics of the radical tradition which Sule Lamido grew within and which formed the basis of his worldview. As any Marxist will say, the ideological platform was petty-bourgeois in content but it was a fact that it corresponded with existential realities of the mass base of NEPU/PRP  and helped to forge many individuals in struggle at critical periods in the history of Northern Nigeria. It was therefore not surprising that Sule Lamido’s actions, utterances, and ideas will be scrutinized perhaps much more than other governors in the present dispensation in Northern Nigeria. He is the proverbial political goldfish whose actions will be interrogated to find conformity with long-held ideas about change and development.


A fre months after Lamido’s inauguration as governor, I was invited along with a group of other journalists to travel around the state to see the base which his government was beginning from. It was a very frightening experience; the decay that we saw everywhere we went was unbelievable and it brought into sharp relief why Jigawa was often described as perhaps the most underdeveloped state in Northern Nigeria. The sad experience of decay in infrastructure, a state that was systematically looted, a despondent people and a much-traumatized population, especially in the previous eight years, all came into bold relief with that trip.


I remember that we visited a Government Technical Secondary School, literally a stone’s throw from the Government Secretariat where students were packed together in very filthy conditions, almost as if from Dante’s hell! It was poignant that the previous regime had overseen unconscionable expenditure to support Obasanjo’s Third Term Agenda; monies that should have been used to pull away the state from its age existence.


It was therefore not surprising to me that under the leadership of Governor Sule Lamido, Jigawa State has attempted some of the most interesting efforts at restitution of the process of governance in Nigeria in the past one year. The fact is that in Jigawa, there has been a far more conscious leadership with a historical memory rooted in a tradition of service located within some of the most progressive currents in Ngierian politics. That explained early projects of the government such as a monthly stipend for the physically challenged; the proclamation of free education for women; the institution of a development intervention agency and the effort to unknot the problem of taking fertilizer to the genuine farmer who actually needs it for production.


But far more significant as an effort at redefining the parameters of politics, in my view, is the forthcoming Jigawa State Anti-Poverty Summit; it opens on 18th October 2008, and as conceptualized, will be a day for the people: those whose lived conditions express the full meaning of being poor. It is a day when those who go hungry; whose children die from preventable diseases; who live in hovels or cannot afford the basic means of existence. The Jigawa anti-poverty summit is for the people to express their conditions of existence and the people here fall within the ideological prism of the NEPU/PRP tradition, of the TALAKAWA; it is a day that will give a voice to spokespersons of the shoe shiner, the butcher, the peasant farmer, the petty trader and sundry urban and rural poor.


They will make presentations about their own conditions. The objective, according to a background document on the summit, it “to see how far existing paradigms of poverty eradication correspond with that of those who experience poverty most”. Thereafter, these views will be collated and published in Hausa and English as reference materials for social policy. It is also the hope that expressed views would become the basis for a fundamental review of the social security regime in Jigawa State.


It is important to emphasize that already, there is a background of experience associated with the limited interactive sessions held on the Social Security Bill and the 2007 interaction which examined the problems associated with fertilizer distribution in Jigawa State. Those interactions were said to have generated popular enthusiasm which rang true with the haloed tradition of popular political mobilization in the Kano-Jigawa area from the 1950s. in a sense, it is that popular tradition which the forthcoming summit clearly hopes to tap into and use in the context of the realities of troday. Already, the summit has engaged the partnerships of such anti-pverty agencies like the UN Millennium Campaign against Poverty; Action Aid International-Nigeria; the Centre for Democracy and Development and the Kano-based Centre for Information Technology and Development.


If I have souded very enthusiastic about the forthcoming summit, it is because I believe that it represent a paradigm shift in the effort to end poverty in our society: the declared aim of the different factions of our nations’s ruling elite. The need to eradicate poverty has been the basis of symposia, meetings and conferences often held within the very comfortable settings of international conference centres and posh hotels in the major cites of our country. Most of the time, the poor themselves are not there to express the realities of their degrading condition. The Jigawa summit hopes to do it in a different way and it hopes to break a new ground that would provide a people-based and people-owned platform for the emergence of a new approach to social policy.


I hope that the paradigm shift that will be actuated can then be reproduced in all the other states, not just of Northern Nigeria, but across the entire country. It is in fact in the best interest of the nation’s ruling elite to find new ways to manage the looming danger which faces the ruling class project with the all-pervasive condition of poverty in our country. The Jigawa summit, if it achieves its objectives, will become the best platform for constructing a new approach to begin to eradicate poverty its salient feature is that it disavows the top-to-bottom approach that has not significantly achieved much for a people-based, bottom-up method of fighting the scourge of poverty and other manifestations of underdevelopment in our country.


On a final note, it will be very useful to have the heads of development agencies such as WHO, UNIDO, UNDP, UNICEF and SUCH AGENCIES LIKE USAIS, DFID, CIDA, AFRICARE and MDG, not to forget traditional rulers and political leaders attend and actively participate in the summit. This layer of anti-poverty policy-makers will certainly learn a lot about the bottom-up approach that I have spoken about here. Maybe, just maybe, they might begin to approach the struggle against poverty in a far more people-friendly way than they have done hitherto. I hope that Sule Lamido and his team will carry through the summit and its aftermath with the determination that informed its organization in the first place; that way, they would have done a lot for the common people of our country; and in so doing, they can also show that governance can actually be responsible and responsive, making the people the real subjects of the historical process.

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