I was elegantly enthralled the other day when I encountered Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu (MBA), the Governor of Niger State, at close quarters. I had gone to Minna to have him speak on a few national issues for purposes of elucidation and documentation. But as it turned out, I was to discover, rather pleasantly, that I was in for a chat with a kindred spirit , indeed with someone I feel a spiritual connection to. Governor Aliyu, a graduate of English Education of the Bayero University Kano, had a lot of exposure with the written word before he branched off into other fields of study. His career has largely been one of intellectual struggles. On his emergence as the governor of his state in 2007, he decided to take deliberate steps to reinvigorate the educational and literary activities of the state.
The objective is to broaden the economic fortunes of the state to embrace a knowledge-based economy that is propelled by the development of an intellectual power base. Going to Minna and being regaled with the intellectual trove that the Aliyu administration parades reminded me immensely of my intellectual roots. In a clime like ours where government and governance are decidedly anti-intellectual in their outlook, I took a deep breath of fresh air on discovering that the government in Minna is deeply engaged in matters of intellectualism, creative writing, education and documentation as pivots for the sustainable development of the state.
Whereas the environment created and nurtured by successive Nigerian governments has always stifled vision and vitiated the creative process, the Aliyu government in Minna has underscored the place of knowledge in development. It believes, and of course rightly so, that any decision or action that is supported by knowledge will necessarily endure and improve the human condition. To this end, the government is taking calculated and deliberate steps towards book development. Today, the state parades an array of monographs which explores the educational history of the state. In the Nigerian literary community, Governor Aliyu is now fondly referred to as MBA, a romantic reference to his brainchild -Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu (MBA) National Literary Colloquium, which has become an annual literary festival.
Indeed, Niger state, under governor Aliyu, aspires to be the intellectual capital of Nigeria as well as the emerging headquarters of the written word. As a state that has set for itself the target of becoming one of the three most developed economies in Nigeria by 2020, Niger under governor Aliyu hopes to realise this through the exchange of creative ideas. It has chosen the platform of Literature for the attainment of this objective. In fact, in recognition of his support for Literature, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Niger State, has named the writers’ resort in the state after him.
While connecting with the intellectual world for the overall development of the state, Governor Aliyu is also very conscious of the meaning and import of politics. He is not carried away by literary flourishes; he understands and appreciates the fact that he is in office at the pleasure of the people. This awareness is total and deep-seated in him. That explains the difference he is making in his relationship with the people who voted him into office. It also explains his adoption of the title of servant leader. I find this aspect of the governor fascinating.
Since some of us are very used to addressing Governors as “Excellencies” , I struggled to no end to ensure that I did not address Governor Aliyu in similar manner. I did not want to run foul of the accepted rule of address in government circles in Minna. But the governor has a ready explanation for his rejection of the tag of “Excellency”. According to him, Excellency is for sovereign leaders like the President and the Vice President. An Ambassador who represents a sovereign leader in a foreign counrty can also make use of the sobriquet. But he does not understand why a governor who is supposed to serve the people should be so addressed. Excellency, he says, is a mark of superiority. For a governor to be addressed as Excellency means that he is superior to the people that chose him.
“How can you be superior to those that elected you?” he queried. For Aliyu therefore, Excellency does not remind him of his job. Instead, it alienates the leader from the people. What reminds him of his job is the word ‘servant’. The governor, he says, is the servant of the people. He applied for a job among other job seekers. But the people chose him among the lot. He is therefore there to serve the people. “Your job is an appointment. Those that appointed you are the sovereign. You should remain where you are as the servant of the people. You must not elevate yourself above those that chose you’. He therefore believes that those who see themselves as Excellency deceive themselves. ‘The chief in the servant is there because I am the head of the servants in the state.
Chief servant reminds me of my job. Excellency does not,’ he concluded. That is vintage Aliyu. That is the simplicity that defines his view of and approach to governance. In fact, Governor Aliyu expouses on the concept of servant leadership. According to him, the servant leader needs to be people-centred. He needs to stay focused. He must trust the people and maintain a balance and act with integrity and authenticity so as to be a source of comfort and support to the people. He also believes that a servant leader must have consistency of character. There should be congruity in his relationships and dealings with others. Above all, the servant leader must be humble and humane and must show tremendous respect for his followers. It would appear from the facts before the people that the governor lives by example, not precepts, especially in the area of his relationship with his followers.
That easily attests to his unassuming, down-to-earth approach to issues. But if there is any aspect of Aliyu’s servant leadership that is clearly manifest, it is the people- centred strand of it. The people are certainly the centre of governance in the state. Where many in his shoes would adopt platitude as a way of impressing the people, he would prefer to deliver the goods and have his performance speak for him . This approach to governance has clearly manifested itself in the scheme called ward development committee which has made development in the state to be ward-based. The concept is a programme of grassroots development which seeks to unite the will of the people with the resources of government. It is aimed at improving the living standard of the communities through the provision of basic necessities such as water, electricity, feeder roads, classrooms and clinics, among others.
The concept encourages people’s congress and this has effectively killed god fatherism in the state. The government has, through the approach, executed well over 5,000 projects in the 274 wards of the state. Owing to its success in the state, the concept is now being understudied by some other states of the North. Essentially, Governor Aliyu is creating his own system in the State. So far, the system is showing signs of promise. It gives the impression that the servant leader has a positive plan of action for his environment. However, the ultimate mark he will make still dwells in the womb of time.