The delights of Katsina

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I SPENT last weekend in Katsina which I have not visited in nine years. Katsina occupies an important place in the history of education in Northern Nigeria, with many of our grandfathers having attended the old Katsina College. My visit last weekend had been a consequence of a discussion with Garbadeen Muhammed about two weeks earlier.

Garbadeen enjoys having a cup of tea in some of the most beautiful locations around Abuja, and had invited me to join him at one such venue in Maitama. As usual, we discussed the Nigerian situation, zeroing in on crises in Northern Nigeria. Garbadeen then invited me to Katsina to assess the work being done in Katsina State by its governor, Ibrahim Shehu Shema. I took up the challenge.

So last Friday, I drove to Kaduna and then hired a taxi to Katsina. What struck me as we drove through Zaria and Hunkuyi in Kaduna State; and then Danja, Malunfashi, Kankara, Kurfi, Dutsin Ma to Katsina, is the network of solar-powered street lighting in roadside villages helping to make nightlife a pleasure for inhabitants whose nights used to be lit by the moon and stars.

I arrived into the embrace of a cold and dusty harmattan evening and was lodged in the renovated Katsina Motel. Last Saturday, we drove round the city inspecting projects; the most eye-catching were the Katsina Ring Road which is opening up the city and various housing estates, decently designed, constructed and spaced adequately to respect the sanctity of family life; the remarkable Umaru Musa Yar’Adua University and the orthopedic hospital that is near completion.

But for me, the most innovative project is the Youth Craft Center. In the past few years, Governor Shema had endured a running battle with Katsina youth who used to shout slogans against him whenever he appeared in parts of the city. Northern Nigeria faces a serious demographic challenge with a predominantly young population in need of education, skills and jobs.

At the Katsina Youth Craft Centre, young people from the 34 local government areas of the state acquire such skills as GSM phone and computer repairs and networking, auto mechanic, tie and dye, film and photography, pottery, leatherworks, wrought iron and catering. The ambience of learning is very decent and the youth are taught by individuals who successfully run businesses in each of these areas. Even disabled beggars were recruited to learn trades and one of these has become a master in the wrought iron trade, potentially becoming an employer before long. \

Personal commitment

The students have built generator sets that are being sold to people in town. There was on display, two recently constructed generators. Later that evening, we met Governor Shema who confirmed his personal commitment to the Youth Craft project. The students repair his personal vehicles and all poles carrying solar-powered street lights in Katsina are fabricated by the students of the centre.

I encouraged him to make a presentation about the project to his colleagues in the Northern Governors’ Forum for it to be reproduced all around the North. Governor Shema told me further that education was central to achieving modernity and for that reason, his administration funds free education in Katsina State. In respect of the cost of the various projects, he assured me that everything was achieved within the monthly allocation of about N3.2 billion that Katsina receives from the Federation Account.

He said the administration has never borrowed from a local or foreign source, spending N1.5b on the monthly salaries of about 22 thousand civil servants and boasted that by the time he went into the 2011 elections, Katsina State had a cash liquidity of N17b! After the success of the Jihad of the 19th Century, Sheikh Muhammad Bello wrote a famous letter to the first Fulani Emir of Katsina, Umaru Dallaji.

In that letter, USUL SIYASA, Muhammad Bello emphasised the strict standards that a leader was expected to meet in societal administration.

I thought about those words as I left Katsina, convinced that there are some significant green shoots of growth in some of the far-flung destinations of Nigeria, as I saw at the weekend in Katsina.

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