My title for this article might seem like a wild exaggeration. How can a little state tucked in the northeastern fringes of Nigeria be the microcosm of Africa? Well, it is not what you think. Read on to find out why I think Yobe State is a miniature model of Africa of which it is a part.
My thoughts are inspired by an interesting book I just finished reading about Africa. It is titled “Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument” and written in 1999 by Professors Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz, two European authors who looked inside Africa from outside. The basic thesis of their highly influential and, some would say, controversial book is that in spite of the appearance of perpetual chaos and crisis in Africa, the continent works in more ways than people (read: Westerners) expect it to.
In spite of what the West says about Africa’s wars, famine, dictatorships, etc—factors that can halt the functioning of western societies—Africa still trudges along, they say. They point out that the predictions of many Western analysts that Africa would sooner or later implode and explode as a result of its chaos have not come to pass. Instead, Africa now has the world’s fastest growing middle class, and its economic growth has outrivaled that of Europe in the past two years.
To give just one example, a World Bank report in the 1990s pointed out that Africa faced “dire” consequences because it was bedeviled by “income levels [that] are lower than in the late 1960s.” Its future was also said by the 1990s World Bank report to be bleak because it was “racked by war, disease and corruption; and its share of global trade has been shrinking; and it contributes only 2% of the world trade.”
Reading the report, you would be reminded of the kinds of scary reports you sometimes read in Nigerian newspapers about Yobe State—Boko Haram violence, people fleeing the state as a result of the violence, etc. Anyway, years after the World Bank’s predictions about Africa using Western standards, the continent still stands and has developed in ways that have confounded Western observers and theorists.
The authors’ conclusion is that the appearance of disorder can be deceptive. That is, there may be order in what seems like disorder sometimes. You may argue that the authors are intellectualizing and making light of Africa’s developmental challenges and that many people still aren’t doing well in Africa despite all the growth our economies are said to have recorded. That may be true. But you can’t deny the fact that if countries in the West faced half the problems that African countries faced, they would be extinct by now. You also can’t deny the fact that Africa has come a long way from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Or that the middle class in many African countries is growing at a time it is shrinking in other parts of the world. The scholars called this contradictory development in Africa the “instrumentalization of disorder.”
In more ways than one, Yobe State mirrors Africa’s contradictions. Here is a young state that is beset by Boko Haram insurgency; a state that, because of Boko Haram violence it has had to contend with in the last one year, you would expect to be comatose—the same way Westerners expected that Africa would be stagnant because of its perennial chaos. Yet Yobe State, by the accounts of many non-partisan development analysts, is one of Nigeria’s fastest-growing states, although popular media reports hardly portray this fact.
Having lived in Yobe State for some time myself, I can attest to the fact that the state is making more progress in its march to development than most states I know. In the areas of infrastructure, healthcare delivery, agriculture, education, rural transformation, employment generation, etc, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam’s record has no parallel in the northeast sub-region and is certainly at par with such celebrated governors as Governor Raji Fashola of Lagos State. Unfortunately, Governor Gaidam’s modesty and humility, according to people who know him, have made his achievements not as widely known as some other governors who are doing far less but talking more.
Let’s consider a few examples to make my point. Before Gaidam became Governor, Yobe State perennially appeared on the list of Nigerian states with the highest maternal and infant mortality rates. This was, of course, caused by inadequacy (and in some cases total absence of) basic medical facilities. And wherever medical facilities existed, people had no access to them because they couldn’t afford them. That has changed now. Every pregnant woman in Yobe State is now entitled to free medical care. All Yobe State children under the age of 5 are also entitled to free medical care.
It doesn’t stop there. The governor also mandates government hospitals to give free medical treatment to all accident victims within 72 hours of admission to hospitals. My heart melted when I first learned of this gracious humanitarian gesture. This is probably the only state in the whole country that extends this kind of benefit to its citizens.
To make its free healthcare delivery policy even more meaningful, the state is building and upgrading health centers and hospitals all around the state. The latest of such efforts are the construction of a 44-bed maternity ward at the Sani Abatcha Specialist Hospital and the completion of a new 200-bed capacity hospital both in Damaturu.
Agriculture, the mainstay of Yobe’s economy, has also received a massive boost in the past few years. Every farming season, the Gaidam government spends hundreds of millions of naira to assist farmers in cultivation, irrigation and getting access to fertilizer and chemicals. The government has also made available N20 million naira recently to assist the Chad Basin Development Authority (CBDA) to dredge the Kumadugu-Yobe River “so as to de-silt the River and clear it of Typha grass which often inhibit fishing especially around the Nguru-Gashua area,” as one writer put it recently.
But it isn’t only in the areas of health, agriculture, roads, infrastructure, etc that the Gaidam administration is blazing a trail; it is also on record as one of the most people-centered administrations in Nigeria. Governor Gaidam personally symbolizes this with his open-door approach to issues, his tenacious insistence that government officials answer to the needs of the people at all times, and his humble, philosophical take that as leader, he is personally accountable to the people and God Almighty. Few people are aware, for instance, that Yobe State is the first state in the nation to implement the N18, 000 Minimum Wage. Not even Edo State that is ruled by a former NLC president or Ondo State that is ruled by a Labor Party governor beat Governor Gaidam in that respect.
For a state that is wracked by Boko Haram chaos, Yobe’s progress is nothing short of remarkable. One is tempted to ask: If Yobe can be this functional and competitive in spite of its security challenges, what could it possibly be in peace times?
Or has Governor Gaidam ‘instrumentalized disorder’, to paraphrase the authors of “Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument”? Maybe. Maybe not. But what is certain is that researchers interested in the paradoxes of chaos and development in Africa will find Yobe State a compelling case study.
Mustafa, a social and political affairs commentator, lives in Wuse II, Abuja