BY OCHEREOME NNANNA
The day-long journey started from Jigawa Hotels, better known in Dutse, Jigawa State capital, as “Three Star”. There were six of us journalists, accompanied by the Director of Press, Government House, Malam Umar Kyari. Our assignment was to travel to as many parts of the state as possible to monitor the local government elections which were taking place on Saturday, January 18 , 2014. Naturally, Kyari also wanted us to see some of the projects that the state government under Governor Sule Lamido was putting in place to justify his mandate by the Jigawa electorate.
Our first port of call was the palace of the Emir of Dutse, where we went to see how the elections were going. Merely looking at the geographical surroundings, you will immediately understand why the city is called “Dutse”, Hausa word for “stone” or “rock”. The site of the palace is surrounded by billion year-old extrusive rocks which bear evidence to the ancient tectonic events that shaped these parts of the world at the beginning of time. Story has it that these rocks provided refuge for the local inhabitants of the town from series of raids by invaders centuries ago.
From there we proceeded to the Dutse International Cargo Airport on the verge of completion. It has a four-kilometer runway, easily the longest of its sort in the country. We were informed the entire airport project cost just about 11.5 billion Naira. When you compare this with the over 60 billion Naira bill slapped on the Nigerian taxpayer by a firm for the construction of an extra runway in the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja a few years ago, you will wonder how the company and its collaborators in government arrived at that humongous cost.
From there we swung southward to Bamaina in Birnin Kudu Local Government Area. Bamaina is the hometown of Lamido. It is also the site of the Jigawa Academy for Gifted Children. From a school for the exceptionally intelligent children of Jigawa origin, it was later expanded to admit students from the 19 northern states. But following the visit of President Goodluck Jonathan some time ago, it has opened its armed to students from all over the country. Admission is strictly on merit, and students who make the mark enjoy completely free education at the expense of the Jigawa taxpayer.
From Bamaina, we moved to the extreme northeast town of Hadejia. Hadejia is the biggest town in Jigawa State and its commercial hub, though tucked away in a fairly remote region. Hadejia should have been the capital of the Jigawa State that was created in 1991 had its level of relative development been taken into account. In fact, there was a big riot in the area when the capital was awarded to Dutse which, in 1991, was a mere village with only one major road running through it en route to Potiskum in Yobe State.
On our way to Hadejia, Kyari decided we should pause for a few moments in Nasarawa village in Kiyawa Local Government Area. He wanted us to visit Malam Magaji Tuba, a friend of Lamido. You might wonder what was special about this friend. After all, any governor would have friends – lots of them – even if most of them are attracted in the main by powerful office he occupies. However, we discovered that Magaji was a friend with a difference.
When we came down from our vehicles, Kyari led us into a shed made of tin. Inside the shed was a threshing machine. There was only one occupant in the shed – Magaji. He was wearing a shabby, old brown polo shirt (obviously browned by old age and lack of regular washing). He also had on an old pair of trousers, which was frayed here and there. Magaji was smiling when we came in. He is that kind of person who always smiles. But this time, he had a good reason. Kyari was the man who was responsible for his rehabilitation.
Magaji, not long ago, was a lunatic roaming the major streets of Dutse. It is not a common sight to see beggars and mentally ill persons on the streets of Dutse or other major towns in Jiagawa State. This is because Lamido has a welfare package that pays N7,000 per month to such persons to keep off the streets. He believes that street begging is inhumane, and that government has a duty to reserve a little portion of public funds to cater for those left behind in the rat race of modern living.
While Magaji was still on Dutse streets, Kyari told us, it was obvious he was not totally mad. He had moments of clear focus and conversed normally with the folks around. One day, Kyari stopped and engaged Magaji in conversation. He learnt what sent Magaji round the bend: he lost his means of livelihood, an experience which he could not handle. The owner of a grinding machine he was operating had suddenly taken it back. Magaji could no longer cater for himself his wife, children and aged parents. Then, he lost it.
When Kyari brought the story to the attention of the governor, Lamido gave him N200,000 to purchase a threshing machine for Magaji. He also instructed that a shed be built and the machine installed in Magaji’s village. When this was done, the governor also instructed that a motorcycle should be purchased for him to enable him go to the nearest town to buy gas for his machine. Thus settled in, Magaji has resumed full control of his life. He still needs a little more time for the grogginess to clear, but he is fully able to conduct his business and look after his family.
Soon after he was resettled, Lamido was on his usual inspection tours when he asked Kyari to take him to Magaji. When he arrived there, the entire village came out. He shook Magaji’s hands, to the surprise of many village folk who see governors as if they are gods.
When we came calling, the villagers, who had just finished their election duties, were out to see us. Now, they have another request to make of Lamido: they want a school built in their village. They told us they were tired of travelling long distances to attend school. These ones are not like the Boko Haram people who say they don’t want western education. When the message was conveyed to the governor, he humorously asked them to tell their “spokesman”, Magaji. Nasarawa village will soon have a school for their children.
There is a big lesson from this unusual story: these underprivileged, downtrodden ones, especially the destitute among us, need only very little to regain their humanity, not just their sanity. If the chief custodians of public funds could just spare a few sobre moments, so much can be done with so little.
The question is: how many state high officials will be interested in talking to mentally ill persons on the streets? How many governors will even want to know how they can help? How many will like to find out if the money they gave produced any result?
How many know that being a leader is not just about occupying high, powerful office and preening in the midst of the high and mighty but also paying heed to the least among us, who are also entitled to their share of the monthly federal allocation?