By Dahiru Musa
It is only apposite to begin this writeup by recalling the time-honoured journalism dictum that facts are sacred, while comments are free. In other words, it is incumbent on any commentator with a modicum of honour to distinguish between facts and comments. You can stretch it further to say between facts and fiction. This requirement assumes greater currency when the commentator is a diplomat, career or political.
The above has been recalled against the background of a recent news story in which Nigeria’s Ambassador to Germany, His Excellency, Yusuf Maitama Tuggar, was reported to have criticised Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, over the on-going Government House project in Bauchi.
Let us state from the outset that anybody has the constitutional right to criticise any government activity. And for an ambassador, such a right assumes greater significance because, as a widely travelled person, he is expected to show knowledge, decorum and a sense of balance. It is regrettable that the ambassador failed to demonstrate any of these qualities in the report under reference.
In the story, published by The Mail News Online on August 9, 2021, Ambassador Tuggar, who had twice run for governor of Bauchi State and failed, was quoted as saying: “At this period of economic meltdown, it is not advisable for one to construct accommodation for the governor and his family because things are being managed. As a common man can manage his livelihood, the same should apply to the governor.” Great thinking.
By hinging his claim on the erroneous basis that Bala Mohammed is deploying the state’s resources on the Government House rather than on empowerment of the youth, the ambassador committed a fallacy that can only be explained by his absence from home. But before looking at the giant developmental steps recorded in the two years and three months of Bala Mohammed’s tenure, it is important to clarify the issue of the Government House. First, it is not a personal project. Like all his predecessors, once his tenure ends, Bala Mohammed will leave the Government House for his successor. Besides, anyone familiar with the Bauchi State Government House would notice the extreme shortage of accommodation that has rendered many a senior government functionary ineffective. Thus, one compelling reason was to provide a conducive environment for Government House personnel and to make for synergy of the administration. It would interest Tuggar and his ilk that the Government House as planned has accommodation for even junior staff serving in it. It is, therefore, cheap blackmail to suggest that it was for self-aggrandisement that Gov. Bala Mohammed embarked on the project to give Bauchi State a Government House that is aesthetically appealing and functionally up to date.
Furthermore, though the project is for N6.2 billion, the segment that has been completed and handed over to the state government is less than 40 per cent of the total project. It might interest Tuggar to know that the main governor’s office is yet to be constructed. So also are the international conference centre, among many other facilities aimed at easing the business of government. It is unfortunate that a man of Tuggar’s standing cannot see the benefits in the project.
Now, to the issue of people empowerment. Tuggar deserves to be congratulated for his newfound expertise in people empowerment, which, according to him, was achieved through travels. President Muhammadu Buhari deserves our gratitude for exposing our brother and compatriot to global practices, which he now flaunts before us in the manner of the soldiers who returned from World War II. But long before Tuggar’s encounter with people empowerment, Bala Mohammed, as a top federal civil servant, senator, minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and governor of Bauchi State had not only been schooled in it (just as Tuggar has recently done) but indeed practiced it. We need not go outside Bauchi State to confirm this.
If His Excellency, Ambassador Tuggar, had cared to find out, beneficiaries of the 1,000 tricycles or the 154 beneficiaries of Sharon cars (taxi) given out by Bala Mohammed would have advised him to return to Germany rather than derail Gov. Bala Mohammed’s focus on the youth. The same goes for the 2000 youths who have undergone training in modern agricultural techniques, not to talk about the many women, young and old, whose lives have been positively affected by the empowerment initiatives of the governor and his wife.
Tuggar must have spoken out of understandable ignorance when he gave the impression that Bala Mohammed’s empowerment programmes lacked sustainability or that he did not follow the Chinese dictum of teaching someone how to farm instead of issuing out handouts. At any rate, what is wrong with handouts? Is that not the import of the social safety nets in European countries? Or Tuggar’s foreign expedition has not yet identified that?
Yet, it bears pointing out that Bala Mohammed’s empowerment programme such as the ongoing KAURAN Economic Empowerment Programme (KEEP) embodies all the attributes of a long term sustainability programme whereby beneficiaries are exposed to skills acquisition and capacity building training in small scale businesses such as welding, netting, fishing, tailoring etc. Following successful mentoring and proficiency in these skills, the beneficiaries are further empowered with N50, 000 cash grant to augment their start up capital requirement. It is instructive to note that beneficiaries from the local governments that have been covered so far are very happy that, for the first time, the State Government is lifting them from underemployment and disguised unemployment to full-fledged self-employed members of a caring community. Perhaps, Tuggar is living in a past, characterised by crass incompetence, ineptitude and insensitivity of which, unfortunately, he was a principal actor.
As the saying goes, it is not yet uhuru, but what cannot be denied is that, within a very short time, Bala Mohammed has demonstrated beyond any doubt that came into government with a clear blue-print to change the ugly narrative of public administration in the state.
In this respect, Tuggar should be honest enough to acknowledge the unparalleled strides recorded in infrastructure development in Bauchi State. All over the State, bulldozers have become a common sight, on the over 20 road projects that are either ongoing or have been completed. Among these, the following stand out:
Bala Mohammed’s breath-taking achievements in the areas of primary health care and education also stand out as emblematic of a people-oriented administration. At the last count, over 627 classrooms were renovated in 2017, 2018 and 2019 at a total cost of N3.4 billion while for the same period, 352 new classrooms were constructed at a total cost of N3.3 billion. In the health sector, 107 primary health care centres have been renovated and equipped with modern facilities across the 20 local government areas in the state, specifically focusing on One Main Primary Health Care Centre per ward as designated by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency. That is not all. In addition, under the watchful eyes of Governor Bala Mohammed, 204 Primary Health Care Centres have been upgraded by NSHIP. These include 12 General Hospitals in the 10 participating LGAs. The evidence of these, alongside other interventions in the health sector, is all there for Tuggar to see.
The massive infrastructural projects undertaken by the Administration have provided jobs for many people who, previously idled away because the absorptive capacity of the state for labour was almost nil. Where was Ambassador Tuggar when all these were happening?
For Tuggar to suggest that a government that has achieved all these is not people oriented calls to question the respect that we think he deserves. We can understand that, in a democracy, arguments are advanced to gain electoral advantage. But when such arguments stand the truth on its head as Tuggar has done, it bespeaks of a certain integrity deficit and palpable deceit, neither of which is good for the purveyor or the unsuspecting targets of such disinformation campaign.
The good news is that those who think that the Bauchi electorate are fools have a surprise waiting for them. Gone are the days when politicians deployed nebulous sentimental arguments to win. Tuggar and his co-travellers should toe the path of honour by showing the people their track record of people empowerment over the years, their record of service in recent years and their road map for taking the state beyond where Governor Bala Mohammed will leave it when it pleases God that his tenure as Governor, should end.
That, to us, is the path of honour; that is what is expected of a diplomat.
•Musa, a self-employed economist and social analyst, lives and works in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja