I ARRIVED Yola on Monday this week, for my first visit since 2013. But the prelude to this trip came four days before the gubernatorial election last year. As is my wont, I had written my column in the early hours of the Wednesday before the election, during which I endorsed a couple of candidates: Kashim Shettima in Borno; Nasir El-Rufai in Kaduna; Aminu Tambuwal in Sokoto; Umar Al-Makura in Nasarawa; Aminu Bello Masari in Katsina and Umar Jibrilla Bindow in Adamawa.
As it turned out, each of the candidates won the election and has inherited the mantle of leadership. The quality of governance in each of the states has varied from place to place, but on balance, I have remained optimistic that each of the governors that I endorsed was still going to make a positive impact on governance.
The fact that I felt a vicarious responsibility for their positions made it imperative for me to also look out for them so that it won’t be that I had endorsed duds and therefore endangered our various states. I have written quite extensively about Kashim Shettima in Borno and a few weeks ago, I made a very effusive analysis of the schools feeding programme in Kaduna state, because of the long-term effect that it would have on education in Kaduna, one of the three places that I live in.
Well, last week, I received an invitation to come to Yola, to see the effort being put into governance, by Governor Umar Jibrilla Bindow. In the company of Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed and Garbadeen Muhammed, I arrived on Monday evening into a cool, windswept and hazy Yola city, still firmly in the embrace of Harmattan.
To understand governance in Adamawa, one has to put in context a couple of related issues. This is one of the most complicated states in northern Nigeria, with its overlapping array of language and ethnic groups, as well as serious religious consciousness thus making identity politics particularly keen and central to its enduring difficulties.
There is also Adamawa’s array of heavyweight politicians, bureaucrats and members of the nomenclatural and throw in the succession of thieving governors, and the spillover of the Boko Haram insurgency, then Adamawa’s complications begin to make sense.
The consequence has been the decayed infrastructure; a bloated civil service structure; an under-performing economy; plus a serially disappointed people. Yet Adamawa is a state with tremendous possibilities: rich water resources; a farming and livestock culture; very educated civil service; the diversity of cultures that can become the basis of a rich tourist industry, just to mention a few.
This was the backdrop against which Bindow was elected governor. He was the ultimate outsider, as far as the elite groups were concerned and he was not their candidate; but the past few years under Governor Murtala Nyako had been so disappointing, with its jaw-dropping mix of corruption, crass incompetence and nepotism, that the people made a strategic decision to vote outside of an old loop of power.
It served the rich but left the masses poorer and in acute frustration. In Bindow, the Adamawa people found a young man who could convey their yearning for change. The moment of change found its man!
Social change programme
I have held several discussions over the past couple of months with some members of the Adamawa elite, who are literally on exile away from home, having found an early retirement from politics. They were swept away by the Tsunami of change, which also swept the PDP out of power after 16 years. They never had a good word about Umar Jibrilla Bindow.
But when pressed to outline their grievances, they were often related to an inordinate sense of entitlement, which they believed that Bindow has refused to indulge. They want “business-as-usual”; a continuation of a governance process as gimmick, which satisfies elite gluttony but does not deliver on promises made to millions of poor people in the state. They could not be bothered that the enveloping anarchy associated with the Boko Haram crisis, was directly related to the manner that they have husbanded their state over the past sixteen years. Bindow chose to be people-oriented and that is really his offence as far as these members of the Adamawa elite were concerned!
Governor Bindow received us on Tuesday morning in his office, and he had a team of officers that included the deputy governor, but led by the SSG, Dr. Umar Bindir, to offer us a power point presentation that outlined the programme of social change that they were determined to implement over the next four years.
The most immediate item is the massive reconstruction of roads within Yola/Jimeta; a total of 41 of these roads will be ready for commissioning by June. At the heart of the BINDOW FOR SOCIAL CHANGE programme is an elaborate project aimed at infrastructure renewal and development as well as the economic empowerment of people at the community level.
A pilot project is underway, that will be financed with N500million; and is targeting 15, 000 beneficiaries from the 226 wards of Adamawa state, translating to 66 persons per ward.
The project carried out a census of all the traditional occupational activities carried out by the people in the state and each beneficiary will be given N30, 000 each to improve his/her activity.
The ratio of women to men is envisaged to be 60/40%, but these sums are expected to be repaid by beneficiaries, so that others might also benefit. Each beneficiary must open a bank account and they will be guaranteed by the traditional structures of leadership up to the community level.
The expected outcome is to accelerate the economic activities at the micro-level and get people at these informal levels to become part of a thriving economic life in the state. There is also an exciting agricultural project that is fashioned after the Songhai Farm project in Benin Republic.
The process will commence organic agricultural production in Adamawa, with emphasis on fish farming, citrus crops, and canning. I feel very excited about this, especially because I come from Kwara state, where the people were hoodwinked through a so-called Zimbabwe farm project that was actually used to pipe hundreds of millions out of the Kwara state treasury! Here in Adamawa, the agricultural project will genuinely be people-centred and is not an avenue of looting the state, like Kwara state witnessed!
Green shoots of growth
But Governor Umar Jibrilla Bindow only came to power in May 2015. He has not even spent a year in office. However, the vision that is behind the programme of his government and the quality of the team that he has built as well as the evidence of work being done, show clearly that in this corner of Nigeria, there are interesting green shoots of growth.
Coming after the troubled years that this state went through in its recent past, people’s enthusiasm for Bindow can be understood and appreciated. There is clearly more to governance and delivery than the start made; the government must ensure that it does not derail and the people must remain firmly central to the vision.
Similarly, the complexities of Adamawa must be taken into account in the manner of implementation of the development vision in the programme for social change. What is most reassuring, is the fact that the governor and his team, seem to realise that they have a date with history and cannot afford to fail their people as several other governors and administrations have done in the past, and consequently deepening the despair of the people in those wasted years. Umar Jibrilla Bindow will have to remain permanently under the searchlight, in a season of high expectations, which the slogan of social change has triggered for the masses of Nigerians.
And these changes will have to be delivered at a time of dwindling revenue for government. I do not envy Governor Umar Jibrilla Bindow, but what I have seen on this visit to Adamawa state leaves the conviction that when there is genuine commitment to the best interest of the people, and there is a vision and a good team of workers to actualise a programme of action, then a lot can be achieved in record time.
I will be interested in returning to Adamawa state in another couple of months to see how far the government here would have gone in implementing a well-scripted programme of action that was rolled out for us this week. But we saw enough, especially in the rehabilitation of infrastructure to hope for the best for this very remarkable state, and its very humble and determined governor, Umar Jibrilla Bindow.