By Ahmed Ibrahim
Governor Aminu Bello Masari bows out today after eight years of meritorious service to the people of Katsina State. But today is also significant for another reason. Born on 29 May 1950, today marks Masari’s 73 birthday, although he is not given to such celebrations. As he therefore hands over power to his successor, Masari can look back with satisfaction not only on a job well done but also for the service he has rendered over many decades to the people of Katsina and all Nigerians. From being general manager in charge of operations in the department of hydrological services, ministry of water resources to becoming the state commissioner for works, housing and transport in 1992, and then Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2003, Masari has had a distinguished career in the public service. But it is in the last eight years in Katsina that he has proved his mettle despite daunting odds.
Elected governor on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and re-elected in 2019, Masari has done a lot to change the fortunes of the agrarian state. Eight years ago, Masari came up with an agenda for three critical areas: restoring education to its primacy, provision of health and infrastructural facilities and securing the state. Education, of course, was the first sector that attracted Masari’s attention in Katsina. Today, there is a considerable improvement in the total number of pupil enrolment and general performance in external examinations. “We have recorded significant performance of our students in external examinations,” said Masari in a rare moment of chest-beating that cannot be faulted. When Masari first assumed office, about 11 percent of pupils sat for the West African Examination Council (WAEC) while in the National Examination Council (NECO) examination, the maximum recorded was 20 per cent. Today, the difference is as clear as daylight. The percentage of those who sat for the last WAEC examination was 69 per cent, and NECO, 91 per cent. For those who could not proceed to tertiary institutions, the state government, in partnership with United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), renovated and equipped 12 vocational training centres to cater for their needs. “Skills acquisition is key to developing small skill and medium skill enterprises as well as support daily lives. We can’t survive without bricklayers, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, painters,” noted Masari who has over the past eight years prioritised the welfare of teacher and ensured their prompt promotion. On assuming office, the first thing he did was to clear the backlog of years of non-promotion of teachers immediately he assumed office.
Like education, Masari has paid great attention to the health needs of Katsina people. When he assumed office in 2015, the healthcare system was in a shambles. The government resolved to elevate three premier hospitals (Katsina General Hospital, Daura General Hospital and Funtua General Hospital) to a level that would help them mee the health need of the people. The improvements he brought about were in terms of equipment and numbers of personnel (doctors, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, technicians, and others). The government invited consultants from some other states to Daura, Katsina and Funtua in addition to the ones in Katsina to beef up the health services. “Our plan is to make sure any person who leaves Katsina for medical vacation is doing it based on his or her choice,” Masari had pledged while initiating the collaboration with the Islamic Development Bank to finance 103 healthcare centres across the 34 local governments in the state.
In terms of infrastructure, Masari has done a lot in road construction. The completed roads include Dutsinma-Tsaskiya-Kukar Samu road, Gora-Makaurachi-Gamzago, Dayi-Wawarkaza road, Fago-Kwasarawa-Maiadua-Koza road, and Marabar Sandamu-kwasarawa. Some other ones like Dogon Marke to Kafur, Katsina to Dankama, Dankama to Maiadua Bumbum, Zango to Rugogo, Marabar Sandamu to Baure, Babanmutum have been rehabilitated. The government has also devoted reasonable attention to agriculture and the provision of water resources. The Ajiwa water production is performing ultimately. All the pumps, generating sets, clarifiers, and everything else in Ajiwa Water works, are brand new. Many reservoirs that have not worked in the last 20 years are functioning. Those in Malumfashi, Funtua, and luckily the one in Jobe is adding 60 million litres of water supply in Katsina.
As governor, one of the major challenges Masari faced is insecurity. Katsina, also the home state of the President, has become a playground for bandits, who kill, maim, and seize people for ransom. At one time when things became unbearable, the government held series of meetings with many of these criminals. As a result of the initiative, peace and normalcy returned with a resultant boom in commercial and economic activities in the state. But not for long. Barely two years later, due largely to lack of cooperation from the neighbouring states in the Northwest, banditry returned to Katsina in fiercer forms. That, quite naturally, affected Masari’s plan for the state. On reflection, Masari regrets negotiating with the bandits. “I wouldn’t have done it. They are not pushing for any ideological view; they are not pushing for any religious view. They are simply bandits, criminals, and thieves. Any person in the forest is a potential criminal and should be dealt with as such,” who learnt his lesson the hard way.
As a politician, Masari is renowned as a bridge-builder. That much was attested to by the APC founding national chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, in his recent memoir. Masari played a critical role in the emergence of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the APC presidential candidate, and he was in the forefront of Northern governors who worked tirelessly during the election. As a governor of Katsina, the home state of the president, Masari approached his duty with every sense of responsibility, and earned the respect of his people as well as those of fellow governors in the Northwest and beyond.
As he hands over the baton to Dikko Radda today on his 73rd birthday, Masari will easily be remembered by the people of Katsina State as a man who came, saw, and added value to their lives.
Ibrahim, a retired civil servant, writes from Funtua, Katsina State