By Tonnie Iredia
Today, we remember with delight the then Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia, erstwhile Military Governor of the old Midwest region who transformed the region beyond imagination. He built the University of Benin and its Teaching Hospital; established Midwest Television now NTA Benin; set up the Nigerian Observer; built the State Secretariat and the High Court complexes as well as the Stadium which became famous for an annual international tennis championship-the Ogbe Hard Court.
Under him, industry flourished in the region with Glass in Ughelli, Textile in Asaba and Cement in Ukpilla. His acquisition of Armels-a private transport company which he converted into a viable business concern, Midwest line, silenced pro- privatization economists. Bearing in mind that Ogbemudia is not the topic of today’s article, it would be out of place to enumerate here, all the miracles of development performed by that superman.
But we cannot forget to make the point that the man was not elected as Governor-his was a military posting making it unnecessary to impress the people so as to get a second term. More importantly, Ogbemudia didn’t need any slogan like ‘health for all in year whatever’ or ‘7-point agenda’ or vision 20 -20- 20. He just transformed his region as a man with ample vision and passion. He did it so well that those who came after him were, at the expiration of their time, still trying to fathom what had not been done.
At the point at which Ogbemudia was mandated to run the Midwest region, the place was an infant political entity born some 4 years earlier. It was thus a virgin land making what was crying to be done undeniably evident. Many of our 36 States have had a similar fate at one point or the other but often lacked the required agents of transformation.
A good example is Nasarawa State which in its 15th anniversary, is still crawling. That the State is stunted is self-evident because in the words of its present Governor, Tanko Al Makura, it has “since its creation been held hostage to the folly and excesses of its rulers”.
So, is Al Makura the redeemer Nasarawa State has long awaited? It seems so because despite the power of incumbency which in Nigeria is based more on the misuse of public funds, the people voted for him and rejected their former Governor in the April 2011 elections without rejecting his party flag bearers in the House of Assembly polls. In any case, the new Governor is confident that “the mantle of power has now passed to a new generation, who must bear the burden of a long titanic struggle, and for which there can be no adequate reward other than its fulfillment”.
Besides, Al Makura having made a success of every previous assignment he handled can be aptly described as an achiever. For Nasarawa State therefore, this is probably the assured era of development-it is now or never. In other words, if Al Makura does not succeed, the State may have to accept that it has lost it.
To avoid this, what the Governor needs now, is courage and plenty of it too. First, he must have the political will to deal with the over-loaded work force of the State. The issue of ‘ghost workers’ is not restricted to Nasarawa. It is a national phenomenon in Nigeria. The other day, there were reports that well over forty thousand were discovered at the federal level. It is thus a reality in our culture of pervasive indiscipline.
Al Makura must tackle it beyond the mere deletion of ghost names in his public service. He must in addition identify the needs of the service and thereafter carry out a sample staff audit to match skills with deployment and knowledge. This is because the finding of those of us who consult on the subject is that over-employment subsists in most public institutions in Nigeria because wrong hands are foisted on organizations by their political masters. Second, the Governor must halt the trend whereby political office holders are usually over-indulged at the expense of the public purse.
These assignments are in no way easy matters. Opposition to their implementation may mount to high heavens and the charge of an anti-people posture would be dramatized but a visionary leader with a concise knowledge of where he is heading must stand his ground.
Our premise is that decisions which are in the public good ought to be handled with appropriate courage. Here it is worthy of note that Al Makura has mustered enough courage to reverse the relocation of the state owned College of Agriculture from Lafia to Doma. The Governor has also distanced himself from the inertia of the past by approving the use of the new House of Assembly complex which for undisclosed reasons, his predecessor refused to commission thereby leaving the legislature in a tardy make shift accommodation for longer than makes sense.
There are many other things begging to be done in Nasarawa State. It is expedient for example to rationalize all inherited white elephant projects. Perhaps the most notable is the Farin Ruwa Eco-Tourism project which critics estimate may have gulped 12 times the value of what is on ground. The fertilizer blending project has reportedly suffered the same scandalous fate.
Two other projects in the same group are the Keffi Market and the State Liaison Office in Abuja. While the latter has consumed as much as two billion naira with less than 50% of the work done, the Keffi market has remained inchoate. Although the Tourism and Fertilizer projects qualify for immediate privatization and should be so treated, the government must take steps to recover funds that may have been misappropriated.
Again, this may elicit orchestrated propaganda on witch-hunting and vendetta. Some elders would even counsel against it as a wasted exercise. All of these may make the ordinary citizen lose sight of the fact that the recovery of embezzled funds is in the public interest and that if properly handled, political officer holders would in the future be dissuaded from the unwholesome act.
We are not unaware that if Governor Al Makura follows this path, he could be impeached by reactionary elements as was done to Governor Balarabe Musa of Kaduna State during the second republic. That is not enough to deter a man of destiny from having an eye on history and its verdict.
Indeed, Nasarawa is already heated up with the Governor’s recent constitution of management committees for the 16 Development Area Councils of the state which the House of Assembly swiftly reacted to as “null and void”. If adhering to the law is the point the legislators are harping on, fair enough, but if as we hear, their anger is that their request to nominate 3 out of the 5 members of each committee failed, then self interest which has characterized law making in Nigeria since 1999 is again at play. To this, civil society must rise to save States like Nasarawa.