Who Will Save Zamfara State? By Ibrahim Dan-Halilu

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Governor Abdul-aziz  Abubakar  Yari of State is one of the numerous politicians that won the 2015 general elections on platter of gold as he has not made any appreciable impact on the lives of the people of the state to deserve being elected for second term.Like many of his contemporaries in the All Progressives Congress who are incompetent and visionless, he rode on the shoulders of Muhammadu Buhari’s popularity and the SAK mantra to get overwhelming majority votes.

The expectation was he would use the second term to amend some of the mistakes he had made during his first term so that he could leave a lasting legacy worthy of praise and emulation by his successor.

Unfortunately, he bungled the chance again with his holier than thou attitude, arrogance and outright lack of understanding of power dynamics. For him, power is a tool for intimidation, unwholesome display of arrogance and trampling on citizens’ rights. He abhors criticisms and is ever ready to launch a deadly assault on whoever challenges his authority or attempts to point his mistakes.

But in a democracy, one cannot have ones cake and eat it at the same time. It’s either one submits to the people’s power to hold one accountable, or else leaves the stage for those who are prepared to respect the tenets of democracy.

Since his return to power, Governor Yari has consolidated on his mismanagement of state resources and gross abuse of due process to the detriment of citizens of State.

There are so many disturbing trends around his style of leadership that one can write a whole book. Initially the grouse against Yari was his notorious absence from the state as he hardly spent seven days in a row in any given month.

Many people in the state testified to his long stay away from the state capital but it seems that the more they discuss it, the clearer it becomes that Yari is no respecter of public opinion or outcry against his handling of state matters.  His frequent absence from the state has denied Yari the benefit of understanding the problems of the state fully as to proffer solutions.

His tenure has been described by many critics as the most extravagant in the history of  Zamfara even as the entire nation is under the worst economic recession in thirty years. He has become a bad manager ofstate resources whose crave for lavish spending is legendary.

His poor management of state funds came to limelight when he received N10bn bail out from the Federal Government in 2015 to settle outstanding salary arrears of workers in the state.  As the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences’s (ICPC) investigations showed, Yari had no need for the bail out as the state was not indebted to workers.  Rather there was backlog of contractors’payments for jobs that had either been completed or suspended due to paucity of funds.

But another source argued that the state owed newly employed workers up to three years’ salary. The source mentioned that many pensioners in the state have not been paid their arrears; over 1400 youth employed under the state poverty alleviation programme have not been paid their salary since 2013 when they were engaged.  This is in addition to other staff of the state Road Transport Authority (ZAROTA) also engaged over three years ago without salary.

All those did not matter to Yari as he allegedly diverted the funds to his pet project of buildingan international airport and 7000 housing units as part of his administration’s plan to ease transportation, boost commercial activities, and provide shelter for the citizens of the state.

He went ahead to securelarge acreage of land at Tashar Rawayya village and paid hundreds of millions as compensation to villagers whose farmlands he acquired for the project. Feelers have suggested that Governor Yari has already made part payment to the contractor handling the project with nothing to show.

There is a consensus among citizens of the state that Zamfara doesn’t need an airport in view of its proximity to Sokoto and Kaduna, and the fact that several states in the North that built their own airportshave later realized they didn’t need it. For instance, Katsina State built one during the tenure of Ibrahim Shema that is patronized only seasonally – during the airlift of Muslim pilgrims. One can only imagine how much the state spends in maintaining the airport and sustaining the staff of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria.

In a strong-worded statement, a northern pressure group, the Northern Youth Assembly rightly observed that the proposed construction of conventional Airport as contained in the 2015 proposed budget of Zamfara State was needless especially with the present economic crisis in the international oil market and the need to allocate more money to other sectors like agriculture, commerce and industries and skills acquisition programme to make the teeming youths of the state self-reliant and to help boost the state internally Generated Revenue.

The group also condemned the allocation of billions of naira to the
construction of additional seven roads across the three senatorial zones, and made suggestion that part of the money should be used to settle the 2014 WAEC/NECO expenses as well as invest heavily in the infrastructural development at the state School of Nursing and Midwifery to enable the institution get accreditation.

To the discerning minds, Governor Yari should have conducted a need assessment and hold consultation with his colleagues who already have one to find out if it’s indeed a viable project that needs to be given priority before embarking on it. But typical of most Nigerian governors, he ignored the advice of the youth group and took uninformed decision of wasting the funds on a project that became dead on arrival.

Just imagine what the state would have achieved with that huge sum,if  Yari had put the fund to good use in providing good healthcare, education or even equipping some of the decaying institutions like the state Fire Service which cannot boast of a single functional fire-fighting vehicle. Putting the money to judicious use could have reduced extreme poverty and reverse the damning statistics of maternal and child mortality in the state.

As a truly agrarian state endowed with great potentials and vast water resources, Zamafara could have become one of the major food baskets of the nation, if Governor Yari had directed the funds to proper use and provided the enabling environment for the hardworking citizens of the state to engage in massive agricultural production.

As Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum, Governor Yarialso has an added advantage of drawing from the experience of his colleagues who embarked on similar non-viable projects previously. He also could have leveraged his closeness to Governor Nasiru El-Rufai of Kaduna State and Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger, both fellow members of the All Progressive Congress to study how they identify critical projects for their states and replicate same in Zamfara.

In a deft move to curtail Governor Yari’s spendthrift, the state assembly in July last year served a notice of impeachment on him which he scaled narrowly. The Assembly had accused him of financial impropriety, citing misappropriated of the N10 billion bailout fund, N1 billion agricultural loans released to the state by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and “corrupt abuse of local government funds”. The legislators also accused the governor of failing to remit pension fund and gratuity deductions as required by law.Though he escaped impeachment by the whiskers, the attempt had brought to public limelight the flagrant abuse of due process by Governor Yari.

Just recently, Yari was in the news again for the wrong reason. This time, he is spending the N10bn reimbursement for over deduction of the states’ statutory allocation to upset the Paris Club loan on roads construction, which his critics say was not appropriated by the state assembly.  The project, whose flag off was performed by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki last month, will cover Dauran-Birnin Magaji, Tsaba- Kauran Namoda  Roads.

There are discussions all over the state especially among the elite about the project, describing it as misplacement of priority. But Yari in his characteristic manner of ignoring popular public opinion thought otherwise, andembarked on the project. Sources in Zamfara alleged that the governor had already paid the contractor more than half of the contract sum in flagrant violation of the Public Procurement Act 2007.

Thesituation is so pathetic that no single sector in the state received Yari’s attention in the last six years that he has been in office. He has abandoned the robust youth skills acquisition programme inherited from the previous administration which was aimed to engage thousands of unemployed youth in productive activities to counter violent extremism in the state.  The graduands  of the programme have been roaming the street, constituting nuisance to the society.

The people of the state heaved a sigh of relief when Yari announced plans to launch a massive poverty alleviation programme about three years ago, but few months after, their hopes were dashed. The governor allegedly drew from the local government funds to purchase various types of vehicles for the programme which never take off till today.

Many of the vehicles wasted away at the Kwatanon Shehi as the site where they were parked is called. Up till today, nobody heard of the programme again or received any vehicle or equipment. What a colossal waste to the people of Zamfara!

The irony is that the state is now heavily indebted and a bank has already secured court order to auction landed properties and vehicles owned by the state to recover the debt.

The state Fire Service too has its fair share of the ordeals under Yari’s administration. It is not only starved of essential equipment but totally neglected and left to their fate.  On two occasions, the fire service was constrained to provide any assistance when fire gutted the state medical stores in Gusau, the state capital.

During a visit to the site of the fire incident, Yari shed crocodile tears and put blame on people living near the medical stores instead of tendering unreserved apology for his failure to provide the State Fire Service with fire-fighting equipment which could have prevented the fire.

To illustrate Governor Yari’s high insensitivity to the plight of the people of Zamfara, he never cared to make even an interim arrangement for the Fire Service to operate efficiently, as few weeks after the medical store incident, another disaster struck. This time, a truck load with goods and passengers from Kaura Namoda crashed along the busy Gusau-Talata  Mafara road, destroying homes, killing some residents before it caught fire. The vehicle burntto ashes as there was no fire fighting vehicleat the scene to quench it.

It was only after the incident that Governor Yari went to Talata Mafara on condolence visits during which he narrowly escaped being lynched by angry mob that gathered on the road side to jeer instead of welcome him. What sort of leaders are we electing in our states?

For many months on many of the state buildings, including critical institutions like the state general hospital were in total darkness due to power cut by the Electricity Distribution Companyover huge arrears of electricity bills running into hundreds of millions.

The question on the lips of many citizens of  Zamfara State is what is Governor Yari doing with the statutory allocation and internally generated revenue of the state? He has not approved any staff promotion, salary increase, or recruitment of new staff over three years now. The 1400 youth the administration recruited since 2013 have not received a dime as salary. The staff  of ZARATO have not been paid since the department was created three years ago.  For three years on, students from the state who sat for WAEC/NECO have had their results withheld by the examination bodies due to non-payment of mandatory fees by the state government.

This act of negligence has denied the young promising students of the state who sat for and passed the exams, the opportunity to further their education. Thanks, to the nonchalance of  Shehi, as Governor Yari is popularly called.

Governor Yari’s style of governance and lack of vision is a regular feature among most northern governors and is becoming a great source of concern to every rational mind calling for a deeper reflection on the quality of people that we elect into public offices.  The quality has not only gone low but that those being elected don’t understand why they are there. We have been told more than fifty years ago by the late Premier, Ahmadu Bello and his contemporaries and assistants who later held forte that leaders are elected to serve the people not to be served. That’s what we learnt from the biographies of our first republic leaders. But things have changed.

The leaders want to be served by those they come to serve. They don’t even know how the people they come to serve live, how they feed, and how they conduct their daily affairs. It’s no longer the business of the leaders to cater to the needs of the people that brought them into office. Is this how we will continue, or some salvation is on the way?

But it’s up to we the people to decide how we want to be governed. If we want things to remain as they are, fine and good. But if we really want things to change, we have to change our perception ofleadership. We have set criteria for those intending to contest public offices. We have to find creative ways of holding our leaders to account for every kobo they receive from the centre or from us as revenue.  If by way of weekly or monthly town hall meetings that can be rotated among the three senatorial or the number of local council areas in the states, we can make our leaders to be responsible, responsive, and alert to our plight and aspirations, we need to do so.

The daysto go out and queue up under the scorching sun, or heavy rain to elect a political leader that will few months later closed their gates to us and assign hefty security men armed to teeth not to allow anybody into the Government House, are over.

The people of Zamfara and those in other states must invest as much time in auditing the performance of the people they elected as they spend on their participation in the electoral process, right from nomination of candidates, to campaign rallies and voting. We must understand that democracy does not begin and end with elections. In fact, it starts after elections because most of the dividends we talk about manifest after elections, and only societies where citizens remain steadfast in monitoring performance, engaging with their representatives and participating in decision-making process get the dividends they deserve.

Those that disengage after elections and allow the key players to do as they wish, get nothing from it but tears and sweat. I’m appealing to the elders of Zamfara State and all serious-minded civil society organisations, including the media to rise up to the occasion and call Governor Yari to order since he seems to have disregarded the voices of the poor.

My greatest shock is that no national media has carried any reports on Governor Yari’s mismanagement of state funds. I wonder why all the correspondents of the various media organisations represented in Zamfara have turned their eyes away from this gross abuse of power. Are they bribed by the fire-brand, media assistant of the governor not to report what they see? Why are they silent over these issues?

The elders must tell him to his face that governance is a responsibility that will be accounted for before God and people. If his problem is lack of tutelage, they should adopt diplomacy to teach him the art of governance and administration. History will not judge the elders of Zamfara State favourably, if they remain quiet for fear of losing favours or recognition from the governor.

In the words of Martin Luther King (Jr.), “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”

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