There is something about some governors in the north. They lay emphasis on road infrastructure. A few of them I have encountered and toured their states do this. It is almost a given that a northern governor would show off richly asphalted roads more than anything else as the highlight of his administration. From Kano to Katsina, the north boasts one of the best road networks in the country. Intra-city roads in this part of the country would inspire any driving freak. Smooth roads paved with trees which cast their shadow on the shimmering dark asphalt make driving around town a real pleasure on wheels.
Last month, I had a pleasurable ride inside Adamawa State where Mohammad Umar Jibrilla Bindowo is the governor. By the way, Bindowo is not actually the Governor’s real name. Bindowo in his Mubi community means ‘writer’. His illiterate father, a successful businessman, gave him the name in the hope that his son would become a writer, in this instance, meaning somebody who has acquired knowledge as defined by western education. And he did just that, becoming both a ‘writer’ (a man of knowledge) and a leader.
The mere thought of visiting Adamawa State in this season of terror got my adrenaline pumping. But the state is safe, largely. Any visitor to this state that has produced great leaders, academics, politicians and business people would not fail to notice the rich network of roads, some under reconstruction. From Yola to Jemeta, good roads define the landscape.
So, how is the Governor funding these road projects in a recession? Loans or some grant from God know where? He was quick to explain. We do not borrow to do these capital projects. My philosophy is that what N10 billion can do, N1 billion can do also; it depends on how you manage your resources and prioritise your projects, he said.
The Governor reputed for building 53 roads in 52 weeks believes that fiscal prudence not how much a state gets from the federation account or internally generated revenue is crucial. To save cost, he had to drastically cut the cost of governance; reduce frequency of travels; drastically cut the inexplicable large contingent of government officials on every trip, a wasteful tradition he inherited from previous administration but which unfortunately still defines governance in many states of the federation. This is akin to what Peter Obi, the former governor of Anambra State did in his state; he simply refused to be wasteful with public funds.
In Nigeria’s political setting, this type of frugality breeds trouble for the Governor. Any governor who refuses to share money with politicians is usually seen as high-handed, and not “carrying people along”. It does not matter whether savings from such prudential management of resources are used to develop infrastructure. This is the challenge Bindowo is facing at home. Some politicians are not enthused about his achievement in agriculture and infrastructural development, they just want him to share the money. But the governor is stingy with public funds and this has set him on a collision course with a band of politicians in his state, especially within his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
There is yet another challenge that Bindowo has to contend with. It is the niggling issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Adamawa is not the hotbed of Boko Haram insurgency but it used to have 21 IDPs which were later reduced to three official and two unofficial IDPs. The unofficial ones are quartered within communities.
Yes, the IDPs were supposed to be temporary reprieve centres for those displaced by the insurgents, but they have created a new paradigm of problem for the government. They have become racketeering and merchandising centres and subjected to abuses by third parties who have seized the moment and have turned a humanitarian outpost to a self-serving enterprise.
The story was told of how an IDP bought six cars. It doesn’t get any better than this. Some persons have turned the concept of IDP into a franchise. Some have turned their stay at these camps into a business venture, swindling both the state and the genuinely displaced persons. How do you justify the case of IDPs buying plots of land and building houses? Ahmed Sajoh, the State’s Commissioner for Information who is also a member of the State Security Council summed it up when he said the IDPs have outlived their usefulness. It is only in IDP camps that people eat imported rice, he said matter-of-factly, a nuanced reference to the lavish lifestyle inside the camps.
But this abuse of IDP camps is not limited to Adamawa alone. The camps in Abuja and elsewhere suffered the same fate. The Federal Government at a time had to raise the alarm, warning third parties especially the platoon of non-governmental organisations pretending to be helping IDPs but actually helping their own pockets. Even the IDPs had to issue a caveat that they would no longer receive any donation through third parties. They wanted all donors to donate directly to them. They argued that articles donated by agencies, individuals and corporate organisations got missing within the convoluted chain created by these third parties leaving them with crumbs and fragments.
The concept of IDP camp has become a national albatross, a sore thumb in the nation’s moment of trial by terror. This informed the logic of Bindowo that such camps in his state be scrapped and the inmates returned to their original communities. He says 99 percent of the IDPs in the camps in Adamawa are not citizens of his state but from neighbouring Borno and Yobe states. And he wants them returned to their states.
Adamawa is contiguous to flashpoint states and empties into Cameroon yet it has not been a profitable festering ground for the insurgents like neighbouring Borno State. Bindowo attributes this to direct engagement of Adamawa youths by the government, steering them away from the precinct of crime and criminality to productive ventures in agriculture and ensuring that those inclined to education are encouraged to get the best. Active engagement of youths will make them less susceptible to being cheap and easy recruits for Boko Haram lords.
Those who accuse Bindowo of being too stingy should look at the other side of the coin. Should a governor squander public money on politicians just to be seen as politically correct to the detriment of development? The advances recorded in agriculture, healthcare delivery, market delineation and modernization, education and road infrastructure with street lighting project to boost at a time many states are reeling under the strain of economic recession ought to make his traducers sheathe their sword.
What most states in Nigeria especially northern states need at the moment is a government that would frugally and creatively manage the available lean resources. The days of lavishing public money on politicians are over. Public service in Nigeria unfortunately has been reduced to an opportunity for self-enrichment. That is not the essence of democracy. Democracy lends itself to service, to public scrutiny and accountability. If being stingy would make Bindowo deliver good governance and advance the cause of his people, so be it. The revelations spewing forth from different states and from Abuja on how previous governments mindlessly squandered public funds should make the politicians to sober up. Nigeria cannot afford another bazaar of fiscal profligacy. Those who have mounted a garrison against Bindowo just because he is not sharing money are enemies of the people and should be treated as such.
What Nigeria needs at the moment are stingy but development-centric governors, ministers and Presidents. Bindowo remains a veritable exemplum of this tribe of politicians. He should stay the course. His philosophy of fiscal management deserves a look in by other governors especially those from economically disadvantaged states.