SOME readers consider columnists busy-bodies who don blinkers that are somehow hooded and could therefore not be relied upon to view many positive things around them. Despite this unwholesome reputation some colleagues in one of the states in the north-east have called me a number of times to come and see their state, where the government works.
Obviously in the last few years many of us have had a rather grim view of financial management in many state governments of the federation. This view was further reinforced with the collapse of oil prices in 2015 which laid bare the underbelly of many of them. More than half of the state governments could not pay the salary of their workers, as and when due, and were simultaneously behind in payment of pensions and gratuities.
To survive and stave off the anger of their citizens, state governments had to go cap in hand to the Federal Government to seek for immediate short term loans to mitigate their precarious financial situation. In spite of the timely and magnanimous assistance of the Federal Government whose generous intervention bailed them out, many states were still behind in paying their workers. For the states in the north-east, it was double jeopardy. They were affected by the drastic shortfalls in the federal allocations and, far more seriously, by the Boko Haram insurgents who were not only killing and maiming citizens but were also determined to bring all government activities to a halt. The terrorists were able to do that by attacking and destroying all government properties, including offices, roads and bridges, schools and hospitals.
My colleagues intimated that even when the financial crisis broke out across the nation in 2015, Yobe stood out as one of the few states that did not delay meeting its obligations to its workers, in terms of salaries, pensions and gratuities. It was also one of the hardest hit by the Boko Haram insurgents whose trail of destruction could be seen in virtually all parts of the state. But as the Boko Haram terrorists destroyed, the state government immediately rebuilt. Besides all these, the Governor embarked on legacy projects, construction of over 1000 km of roads, a cargo airport, small irrigation projects, a medical college and a teaching hospital to go with it.
I had toured Damaturu, the capital, last year to see how it coped with the insurgency. I recalled that during the worst days of the insurgency, I used to run through Damaturu from my base in Abuja, to my family home in Maiduguri. Then Damaturu was a typical war zone with all the visible trappings such as numerous military checkpoints, destroyed buildings and a shell-shocked citizenry. When I went back last year I was pleasantly surprised to find a city at peace with itself. The heavy military presence had been downgraded to a minimum and wherever you looked you saw buildings that were down and destroyed now spruced up and glowing and one found the citizens adjusting once more to life in peace times.
So when the call from Damaturu persisted, the reporter’s instinct in me spiked up and I prepared to go. I toyed with the idea of flying into Maiduguri and driving the one hundred and so kilometres to Damaturu but decided finally to go by road. It would be a journey of about a thousand kilometres, might be tiresome, but if I had flown I would have missed one or two observations I picked up for my readers. In the event I left on Sunday taking the route through Keffi. Just before getting into Keffi we turned into the highway leading to Barde and Kachia.
At Barde we turned right into the road to Gidan Waya and on to the forested village appropriately named ‘Forest’ to begin the long climb to Jos. Military checkpoints have unfortunately now returned to southern parts of Kaduna. The road all the way to Jos is in a sordid condition, in an extreme state of disrepair. The state of the road added to the stops at the checkpoints made the journey that normally would take a mere two hours extended to over four hours. It was a Sunday and Jos at noon was quiet and getting out to Bauchi road was much easier.
From Jos to Bauchi was surprisingly smooth as someone in Bauchi State Government had acted on the Federal Ministry of Works directives to remove all illegal speed ramps added to all roads in the federation. It was an exhilarating run now that the road had been freed of those vexatious bumps that had dotted the Bauchi State towns and villages. The portion of the road that run all the way in Bauchi State – from Tilden Fulani in the outskirts of Jos, to Kukar Gadu, a few kilometres to Potiskum – was over half of the journey and we went through it without any incidence.
At the periphery of Potiskum where we joined the Kano-Maiduguri highway, the smooth journey continued. The road has for the past many years been under construction to be transformed into a dual carriage. Substantial work has been done from the Kano end through Gaya to Azare down to Potiskum. However from Potiskum onwards there seemed to be a go-slow now. In fact, most of the way from Potiskum we rode on only one side of the road. It was already late evening and we were getting anxious as the journey was getting into a zone that was full of uncertainties. We were aware that the insurgents had stuck recently at Mainok and Auno, villages close to Maiduguri.
The insurgents were said to have held the highway for hours instilling fears into many anxious commuters. We rushed through Potiskum and were soon at Damaturu. Dusk was approaching and I learnt that the portion of the road to Maiduguri was not in the best of conditions. After Damaturu the road was fast thinning of vehicles and beyond Ngamdu and Mainok the dual carriage way came to an abrupt end. From there and particularly after Jakana the road was in a terrible state.
Darkness had set in. We carried on in that frightful state of mind through potholes and gullies apprehensively looking sideways into the dark bushes. After what seemed an eternity we drove into Auno and were finally at the military checkpoint the locals dub ‘Jeddah’ leading into Maiduguri. We arrived after 7pm the official curfew time and would been made to spend the night in the open grounds. Nevertheless after some sympathetic considerations we were allowed to proceed into Maiduguri.
In the morning, I drove back to Damaturu to begin the tour that would take me to, as far as a settlement after Geidam called Garin Gada, where the irrigation project is situated near the border with Niger Republic. The intention was to return the same day, see the works going on at the airport and inspect the teaching hospital and the medical college. However when we were on the return journey from Garin Gada we got stuck in a spectacular desert sandstorm – – – -. Keep a date with this page next week as I unfold the results of my tour and find answers as to why the state works.