Today, dear reader, permit me to take a break from the regular pattern of the Franktalk to re-produce the foreword I did for a book by members of the Katsina State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists. It essentially answers one central question: How it is very possible for a determined governor, president or any public officer for that matter to do so much with so little.
It lays bare the inherent fraud in many of the mega-budgets that are annually thrust at our faces at virtually all the tiers of government. While not underrating the contributions of the governors of such states as Lagos, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Ondo ,who have done impressively with big budgets, today’s piece is essentially a tribute to the governors of such small-budget states as Ekiti, Jigawa, Enugu, Anambra and, of course, Katsina, who continue to literally squeeze water out of stone.
Yes, oil money can make a world of difference but there is a mighty lot leaders can still accomplish without 13 per cent derivation. A certain Ibrahim Shehu Shema, literally and figuratively, is running rings around Katsina. If you take this to mean that, in a state, bursting at the seams with national heavy weights and political sharks, a certain ‘boy’ from Dustin-ma has not only held his own, but has held everyone spellbound and, in the process, inextricable etched his name on virtually every good thing that has to be said of modern Katsina State, may God help you.
Similarly, if you take the running of ring, to mean the tens of kilometres long six-lane Ring Road the Shema administration has just completed round the state capital, you may not also be far from the truth. But that is only one tiny aspect of the bigger picture. However, it does not remove from the fact that this singular road project, as hugely futuristic as it is, has in the present, opened up the state capital for present and future expansion. Or that it has made getting around and out of the state a lot easier and pleasurable. Or that it has seen otherwise poor farmers turn millionaires and prime landowners over night.
Yes! Plots of land on either side of new road, which, by the way, is complete with electricity, pipe borne water and boreholes at every two kilometres, have, in some places, jumped from a meager N30,000 per plot to as high as N7 million and N10 million in eight months. Even as other governors marvel at the foresight and sheer grandiose of this road project, Shema dismisses it with a wave of the hand, saying: “Anybody can build ‘ordinary’ road”; he forgets that this is no ‘ordinary road’.
But then, the question you ask is: If anybody can build ordinary road, why has it taken only the last six or so years of Katsina’s over 25 years of existence for such roads to begin to emerge? Was the state sleeping before now? But again, Shema is quick to remind you that he is only taking to the next level, what was conceptualised by his predecessor in office, the now late former president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. But that is not where the story of this book began. For me, the story of this book began from when I was contacted to write the foreword. Now, journalists, by nature, are usually cynical.
The true journalist, therefore, is likely to be that person, who never takes anything at its face value. The one, who looks beyond the veneer, probes deeper and is critical of almost everything. He is even more critical of politicians. For me, therefore, it was almost unbelievable that journalists would, on their own, decide to write so glowingly of a public officer – much less a politician, in the way that the NUJ in Katsina have approached the central subject of this book, who happens to be the incumbent governor of the state.
So, not wanting to be unwittingly drawn into any image laundering business by professional colleagues, my first reaction was to turn it down. Unfortunately, another hard-to-impress colleague on whom I had bounced the idea, believing he would re-enforce my decision, gave a most shocking comment; that Shema is one of only two shinning lights among all seven governors of the North West Zone.
I called for the manuscript. But the cynical journalist in me still won’t give in, even as I convinced myself that this was developmental journalism, which is genuinely lacking in our clime and that I could sincerely consider it my humble contribution to national development. After going through the manuscript and all the nice things my colleagues have said about Shema, I became even more suspicious. In over 20 years of practice, I have seen outright garbage packaged and veneered in great exterior. I have watched with disbelief as a politician told blatant lies, with his palm firmly on the Quran in front of him.
I have seen men kiss the Bible and tell lies that even the devil would cringe at. I have seen governors take photographs of roads in other places and advertise them in newspapers as their own completed projects! I have seen otherwise respected journalists, on the payroll of politicians (governors in particular), look the rest of us in the face and tell us white is black without bating an eyelid. As an editor, I have long known the pranks correspondents in the states sometimes get up to. So, seeing the unison with which those in Katsina gushed about the “good works” of Shema in the manuscript, before me, I naturally became even more curious. I then gave another condition: I needed to make a return visit to Katsina State.
In the last 10 or so years, I have tangentially driven past Katsina, at least, twice every year, but never really visited. Although I was only familiar with the border post at Jibia, I always thought of Katsina as another of those glorified village states of the North where every important person was either domiciled in Kaduna or Abuja. I was mistaken – or rather, I was behind time. Katsina has transformed. Six years has made all the difference. But to make sure one was not giving Shema credit for other people’s efforts, I made it a point of duty to stop intermittently to ask the people: When did this project A or B come into being?
The answers were the same everywhere: “A few months ago “, “one year”, last year”, “two years ago” “2008”,”2010” and so on. The new beginning seems to have started just a little before 2007. Aptly, therefore, this book, which is a study in dogged human, infrastructural, educational and economic development models is partially a study of the Shema phenomenon and his uncommon approach to the development of a state that is not among the richest in the country but has been lifted to rank among the best developing and the most efficient.
Because Shema believes every idiot can build roads (which several of his colleagues are gloating about in the media), he has shifted his attention to more enduring legacies and areas of development. No wonder then that his total agenda for the state has reduced to just three areas: 1. Education 2. Education 3. Education In this book, therefore, Katsina-based journalists attempt to capture how this agenda is translated in the different sectors of government. They spice it up with interviews of key players in the related fields.
They look at the key sectors of education, infrastructure, human development, agriculture, youth development and empowerment, amongst others. They capture the Youth Craft Centre, the refurbished and rebuilt primary schools, the model secondary schools, the tertiary education corridor on the Katsina – Kankia Road, etc. As you read, however, you are likely going to be so carried away by the sheer magnitude of the Shema revolution that you could fail to notice the economics of it, which is the very essence of the emerging Shemanomics.
It is a principle that enables Katsina accomplish both modest and big projects without recourse to big budgets. It explains why, with a combined monthly federal allocation and internally generated revenue earning of sometimes less than N5 billion, Katsina can accomplish landmark achievements without recourse to borrowing. Yes, a couple of other state governors may also claim that they too are not borrowing or owing, but that would be missing the Katsina edge.
In Katsina, Gov. Shema never started any project without the 100per cent money needed for it at hand. After the contractor is paid his mobilisation, the rest of the money (to be paid on completion) is put in a fixed deposit for the state. That way, no contractor is owed after completing his work, since the money is not tampered with. But that’s not all. In three years, interests accruing to such deposits came to an unbelievable N8 billion. It is with this seeming bonus that Shema bought land and has put up a Governor’s lodge for the state in Abuja.
It is also from it that he is finally building a new government House, which the elders and leaders of the state have long been yearning for, and he still manages to run free education, model health infrastructure, empowerment, educational infrastructure and all. This book captures all these in appreciable details. Of course I have resisted the temptation to edit the manuscript. I have refused to tighten the language in one or two places where I felt it was watery. It is intentional: to let the reader feel the passion of the writers/reporters – their raw views.
That was how the Tutuolas of this world (Palmwine Drinkard) got global acclaim. Sometimes, it’s better to serve the feelings and views as raw and unpolished as they come – even if the writer transliterated his mother tongue and imposed it on English language. It usually makes better reading because editing can sometimes take away the soul of written work. What the Katsina-based journalists have done without probably knowing it is that they have thrown up a national challenge: The fact that Nigeria has a lot to learn from the Shema model.
If it is projected on a national scale, would it not sound the death knell for big budget governments? Especially the big budgets that are low on deliverables but end up accumulating debts for generations unborn? I see this compilation as the first part of a study series on how society can be transformed to achieve its full potential through visionary leadership and financial discipline.
My only grouse with it is that I did not see too much of Katsina’s usually vibrant opposition voices. But then, I immediately forgave the authors because this is not really about politics; it is about development. From: Gov. Shema and the Transformation of Katsina State