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NIGERIA: From Zamfara Comes a Good Story

We cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose and hope. Moreover, the victim in a qualified situation of distress, pain, anguish or indeed deprivation, being rational can make a conscious and conscientious decision to walk away from the established cause of misery. Such response is not only psychological but an innate quality which humans are endowed with as intelligent beings. The logo-therapy, from the Greek word logos (“meaning”) – our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful – “Man’s Search for Meaning” – Viktor E. Franklin. The preceding paragraph sets both the tone and context of the foregoing discourse. This context is best expressed as a geographical entity situated in a promising landscape North-West of Nigeria – Zamfara State.
What is more, Zamfara youths, women, and the down-trodden in this geographical entity may not completely avoid suffering, but coping with abject poverty has even been made absolutely impossible because Hope has died. But in the face of this moribund hope is fortitude. As expressed in the words of the great Nelson Mandela in one of his glowing tributes to his people in the course of the apartheid struggle: ‘nothing is so empowering than the capacity of the human spirit to absorb pain, humiliation and shock and still maintain a semblance of human dignity.’
In 1996, the then Nigerian head of State, General Sani Abacha, created six new States; Zamfara was one of them – carved out from the former Sokoto State, North-west Nigeria. It has fourteen local governments, seven federal constituencies and three senatorial districts.
In 1999, following General Abacha’s death and General Abdul Salami Abubakar (new Head of State) making good his promise to return Nigeria to a democratic government, Zamfara had a chance to get the first democratically elected governor in the person of Governor Sani Yerima. After Yerima’s eight years in office, his deputy, Shinkafi succeeded him as governor in 2007. Governor Shinkafi did only one term of four years; in 2011 he lost the seat to the current governor.
My first experience with Zamfara State was in 1998, when I came from United States to visit a young customs officer friend of mine, Adamu Aliero who is from Aliero, a prominent town in Kebbi State. In the company of Senator Adamu Augie (now late), we drove through Gusau town of Zamfara on our way to Birnin Kebbi, capital of Kebbi State. Our car had a tyre problem on getting to Gusau and we stopped to fix it. It took about thirty minutes to fix the problem, and while this was going on, I engaged in a brief personal excursion and sight-seeing, taking pictures and appreciating the scenic environment since it was my first time in Zamfara. For the benefit of young students in academic research, Adamu Aliero was to become the democratically elected governor of Kebbi State in 1999 while Adamu Augie, who later died in a ghastly motor accident along Gusau express road, was elected a senator.
Since then, I have visited Zamfara again many times, the last being in March 2014, and all I saw in terms of infrastructural and economic development was not different from what I met back in 1998. Why would such a State so endowed with enormous mineral and human resources, huge potentials in agriculture, vast arable land and rich ancient cultural heritage remain so poor, if not the poorest in the nation, continues to beat my imagination.
Why has the different successive governments failed to economically develop the State and empower the people? Why are there no economic activities in the State? Why has the government – at least we know of one – used sharia law in such a negative way that it has adversely impacted commercial and social development and activity and driven many residents out of the State? To be sure, sharia law, if properly implemented, is not anti-foreigners, it is not against women, it is not against girl-child education, it is not against social life and it is not against trade and commerce. It is not about cutting off the fingers or hands of thieves or stoning or condemning women found guilty of marital infidelity to death. This is not sharia law, at all. What Zamfara had (or has), was a government, with ulterior political motive, using sharia law as an instrument of advancing personal political agenda, and in the process branding sharia as a crude and inhuman aspect of Islam. To the outside world, sharia in Zamfara has lost credibility, validity and religious character moulding values.
Responsible, well meaning and hard working people who came to live, trade and help develop the state were forced to run away from that rich cultural state. The youths, women and the down trodden are left without any government program to help alleviate their abject poverty. From lead poisoning that killed many of the citizens to the recent slaughter of innocent citizens in the State, nothing good, worthy of emulation has ever come out from that State since 1999.
Yet, the political leadership has empowered themselves and become very rich, marrying many wives, including fourteen year old girls, at the expense of the money meant for the people. The State monthly allocations have not translated into any meaningful development. During my last visit there, the level of poverty I saw among the children lined up begging along Gusau streets, reminded me of Somalia, Mali and present day Syria. But why? It should not be so and it must not be so.
Zamfara is still blessed with great sons and daughters, who have not only reached the height of their professional careers but accomplished in their various endeavours. Until recently, I did not know that the Inspector General of police Abubakar is from Zamfara, believing erroneously that he is from Kano State. I did not know until recently, that General Ali Gusau, current minister of defence is from Zamfara, just to mention a few. These are men I personally hold in the highest esteem, because of what I adjudge to be years of meritorious service to this great nation. Former US secretary of State, and first black woman to occupy that position and that of national security adviser to US president (under President Bush 43), Condoleezza Rice, once said during a conference that General Gusau is one of the best security experts (assets) Nigeria, if not Africa has ever produced.
The people of Zamfara deserve better. As election is fast approaching, this is the time for these great sons and daughters of Zamfara to come together with a view to identifying and supporting that person or persons who will deploy the resources of the state for the development of the state. They must not sit back and allow unprepared and accidental leaders to be at the helm of affairs in the State or at any elective office for that matter. After almost 15 years of poor and failed governance, the people are yearning earnestly for responsive, purposeful and responsible government in Zamfara. I can hear their lamentations and woes, and their clarion call for positive change even from my distant location.
I will at this juncture share my encounter with a young Zamfara man I met during my consultancy tenure at the Federal Capital Territory FCT, when I had the privilege of serving as adviser to the former FCT Minister, Adamu Aliero. Aliero had asked me to join him at FCT. I saw that as an opportunity to serve my country at the federal level and in the process study the complex Nigeria federal public service system, with a view to understanding its operational mechanism.
It has always been my professional conviction that, the effectiveness of any Chief executive in any public service setting, is to a large extent, dependent upon the functionality of two key vital departments: Protocol and Finance. So when I arrived at the FCT, I sought to meet the FCT Directors of Protocol and Finance. My goal was to study their attitude to work, mindset and general ethical orientation, cognizant of the fact that the functional effectiveness of their departments and themselves, will impact on the performance of my principal. For the purpose of this article, I will only discuss my experience with this Zamfara born gentleman, who was then FCT Director of Protocol. We met and began the process of professional interaction.
After many years of working with this man, I observed to a mutual friend that this guy has the mentality and character of the old northern generation of leaders. My friend demanded an elucidation of what I meant by that.
In this man, I saw the embodiment of the old northern leaders’ qualities. His industriousness is remarkable. He has an exceptional attention to details and excellent organizational skill. In an era when sycophancy has been elevated and institutionalized as art, this man’s sense of loyalty is refined. And the aspect of his loyalty that captured my special attention is his loyalty to those he owes allegiance even in their absence; that is, being loyal to people who are not present. When I jokingly questioned him on this, he retorted innocently by saying, it is what you say or do behind others that measures ones true loyalty and if you have nothing nice to say about people who are absent, silence is the best option. Such philosophy is consistent with Stephen Covey’s credo in his best-seller Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: ‘do not judge those who are absent.’
His focus is primarily on how to move people from dependency to a state of independence. His argument is, it is only when people become independent, that you can forge an inter-dependent relationship with them. The ideal is where people rely on each other and teamwork to accomplish a desired task. This is to my mind, what is lacking in Zamfara, among other things. Everybody in Zamfara today is dependent upon government’s free money and patronage. And government in turn leverages on it as an instrument of manipulation and youth deployment to cause harm and violence to political opponents.
As I came to know this man on a more intimate level, I saw a man who has huge appreciation for strategic investment in human capital development through education, skill acquisition and other forms of vocational training. This interest propelled him to be a part of educating many young boys and girls in schools he helped set up at the capital city of Abuja and another in Kaduna. This school, according to school rating experts, is one of the best in the country, modelled after the British educational curriculum. Furthermore, everywhere in Abuja, you see his vocational enterprises start-ups like Barber shops and block industries, designed to get many unemployed youths engaged in money making endeavours.
I once asked him why all these small cottage industries, he looked at me and said, if the young poor people are not availed the chance for economic empowerment, we the elites will not have peace. I set up these places as my own modest contribution to employing this poor young men and women and creating a chance for skill acquisition, so that they can use the skills to create wealth and so attain economic independence.
This man says what he means and means what he says. A devoted Muslim, a man with strong family values and ties. To be sure, he once said, Sharia law in itself is not the problem, but the ulterior motives behind its introduction in his home State of Zamfara and the methodology of implementation and enforcement of the law. Islam he said is a complete way of life, peaceful and non-violent, providing answers to most life questions.
As I associated more closely with him, I identified unique leadership traits, uncommon in many of Nigerian leaders. His style is characterized by what former US Treasury Secretary (during Clinton era), Robert Rubin will describe as a probabilistic decision making process. Here, a leader weighs his options against two contending forces and settling for the one with the least adverse consequences by identifying all relevant variables and attaching probabilities to each of them.
This was what made old northern leaders unique and exceptional, one that is lacking in most of the new ones today. This man has a big leadership future, I quibbled to myself. It became obvious to me that he has gone through series of political and spiritual tutelages, one that is anchored on core fundamental values and principles. He served former Governor Kure (during Kure’s time at FCT), current governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu (when he was permanent secretary in FCT), he also served El Rufai, (when he was FCT Minister), Mallam Modibu (when he was FCT minister) and Adamu Aliero (when he was FCT Minister). A seasoned technocrat and public servant, who rose from the lower cadre of civil service, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria, to become a director in the Federal Civil Service.
Last year I received a call from the coordinator of a foundation that was looking for expertise to help them achieve a skill acquisition program. The foundation is called Sagir Foundation, based in Zamfara State. After he explained the details to me, I immediately offered my assistance. When I arrived Nigeria, our organization elicited the cooperation of the Nigeria Entrepreneurship Forum as we sought to create a model that will work for them in Zamfara. Today, Sagir Foundation has successfully launched a skill acquisition program, currently training over 100 youths in different skills and vocations, in Kano State. On the day this program was launched in Gusau town, Zamfara, I was close to tears when the man behind the foundation spoke of his vision for these poor youths, describing how poverty, ignorance, malnutrition and illiteracy have reduced these youths to mere street beggars. Why an individual would assume the role of a government, is mind boggling, but an unfolding sad reality is precisely what Sagir Foundation is providing in Zamfara today.
This is the kind of a man Zamfara needs. Unlike most rich and powerful Nigerians, this man is not allergic to being around the company of poor people. The youths of Zamfara call him the friend of the masses. I was later told, he has been doing philanthropic works for a long time – over ten years now. From what I gathered talking to folks, people only come around to drop token monetary gestures when they want to vie for elections or need political favour from their party. But Sagir Foundation, the youths told me, has been involved with poverty alleviation of his people for many years in and outside Zamfara State. In fact, the foundation has started the construction of a standard primary school in Gusau as his contribution to promoting primary education in the state at no cost to students who will go there. No wonder his level of popularity is unprecedented, as evidenced on the day his foundation launched 100 youths skill acquisition sent-forth ceremony.
Perplexed by what I saw, I asked him why he waited till now to want to be governor. His answer was unceremonious, deliberate and unequivocal, but reminded me of the response of the great ZIK of Africa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in answer to a question as to why he is joining party politics in 1979 under the platform of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP). Zik had said, ‘I have accepted the invitation of the NPP to enable me associate with its members in the herculean task of salvaging Nigeria from the wreck of our own making. He continued, ‘were I to be nonchalant consistent with my past profession, history will not exonerate me from a wilful act of omission. I am therefore determined to exterminate, extirpate and excoriate the bigotry of intolerance manifested by petulant dregs and intransigent renegades in the Nigerian politics.’ There is a parallel, between the Sagir’s patriotic zeal and determination and the current quest by Mallam
This is why in response to my question, he began by saying: ‘ordinarily, I would not have been interested in that office, but I can only do so much with my personal resources. It is not enough given the enormity of my peoples’ sufferings and poverty in all aspects of life, from zero standard of education, to broken health care system, no infrastructural development, agriculture, trade and commerce. I need the institutional structure and instrument of government to do greater good to greater number of people in Zamfara. This is why I want to be governor in 2015’. I nodded my head, and said to myself, no better reason can best convey justifiable rationality for a worthy cause than this.
This is the new emerging face of a young, dynamic and progressive northern leader. This is the new emerging face of a true leader in Zamfara. Someone who has the caliber and contact to bring in authentic foreign investors; attract Moslems, Christians, Jews and all people back to the State. His friendship cut across all ethnic groups, from Ndigbo to Yoruba to South-South people. I am glad the Peoples Democratic Party has identified this man for recruitment into her party. I am very delighted at the position of the new chairman of PDP, Mu’azu (former governor of Bauchi State), that any person aspiring for any position, must emerge from the grass root nomination. The era of imposition must stop. Internal democracy in PDP as in all parties must dictate the trend of events.
–– Dr. Agbai is the executive Vice-President, Center for Policy and Foreign Engagement, USA

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