Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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The first day of October links Nigeria and Nasarawa State together in that they both celebrate their anniversaries on this day. For Nigeria as a country it is the anniversary of its political independence from its erstwhile colonial master, Britain; and for Nasarawa State, it is the anniversary of its establishment, having been carved out of the old Plateau State by an act of the Federal Military Government headed by late General Sani Abacha in 1996. Whereas Nigeria metaphorically speaking is a 60-year-old fully matured man that is about to step into old age, Nasarawa state in same vein is a 24-year-old youth that is roaring to go. Nasarawa State can likewise be said to be a son to the elderly Nigeria and it is so politically given the trajectory of the APC which is the ruling party in both places. Nigeria’s capital Abuja, is in same zone as Nasarawa’s headquarters, Lafia, and the state itself – the north central zone. This places the state in a unique position. Critics may argue that both Nigeria and Nasarawa state are yet to fulfill their destinies. Agreed. One thing is certain though, they will be fulfilled, albeit the ‘when’ may be uncertain. Nonetheless, the road to such fulfillment is well underway in Nasarawa state in the current administration.
With a total land mass of 27,137 square kilometers, situated on 8.4998’N and 8.1997’E and sharing borders with Plateau, Benue, Kogi, Taraba and Kaduna states, a certain point in Wamba, Nasarawa state is the real centre of Nigeria, being equi-distant to all four corners of Nigeria. Described as a mini-Nigeria because of its diverse nature, it has some 25 ethnic groups; Islam and Christianity are the dominant religion with pockets of traditional religion. Though it had experienced communal clashes, Nasarawa state had never witnessed religious crisis. Also, although the last census (2006) put the state’s population at a little over two million, this figure was highly disputed and in fact the state government filed a petition against it given that its Karu axis which is contiguous to the federal capital territory is a highly populated area. In view of the high cost of living in Abuja, most of those that work or do business in Nigeria’s capital, live in Karu. In fact this part of Nasarawa state is called ‘Abuja’ while the real Abuja proper is referred to as ‘inside Abuja’. Of all the states that share border with the federal capital territory, Nasarawa state has the largest borderline with it.
Being a creation of the military, the state’s first administrator was an air force officer, Wing Commander Abdullahi Ibrahim. He was followed by an army officer, Colonel Bala (August 6, 1998 to May, 29, 1999). Then came the first democratically elected governor of the state, Senator Abdullahi Adamu (Turakin Keffi) who on completion of his two terms handed over to Alhaji Aliyu Akwe Doma (Madauchin Doma). He was succeeded by Alhaji Umaru Tanko Al-makura (popularly known as Ta’al), on May 29, 2011 who after a two term tenure handed over to the incumbent, Engr. Abdullahi Alhaji Sule. Governance being a continuum all of the aforementioned chief executives of Nasarawa state before now did their bit in the state’s development trajectory. The State is lucky to have someone of Engr. Sule’s calibre piloting its affairs at this critical juncture of the 21st century with its peculiar challenges that call for new, intellectual, creative ways of doing things and developing the state faster. A well travelled and educated man, Abdullahi Sule, a top player in the corporate world before now, a hands-on engineer who does not shy away from rubbishing his hands with work, matches the new time in which the state finds itself. As an example, ‘digital economy’ is an evolving phenomenon and he is positioning the state to fit into and take full advantage of it through pervasive, across board digitalization of government services, sectors, etc.
I have always pointed out that building of infrastructures though necessary, is the rudimentary level of dividends of democracy. It is a sad commentary, that 21 years after institution of the 4th Republic and 60 years after its independence , Nigeria is still contending with the basic issue of constructing roads, etc. It speaks volume of our rather low level of development so far. Thus, it is commendable that Governor Sule is setting a new mantra, new agenda for the state, anchoring his development plan on industrialization while consolidating on the infrastructures he met on ground. Industrialization is a faster route to wealth creation and eradication of poverty because of its multiplier effects in the value-added chain, both up and down the chain. Already he has attracted a number of agro-allied industries to the state, taking advantage of the state’s abundant agricultural raw materials. Indeed, Nasarawa is an agricultural state, one of the nation’s food baskets. It is not for nothing that the state is known as ‘Home of solid minerals’ for it is blessed with diverse solid minerals. But these had been comatose, more or less because of legal constraints among others, giving illegal miners, a lee way. Now the government is reforming that sector, getting the miners to form an organized group, registered and pay requisite dues to the government. Do not be surprised if in future it is listed among oil-producing states in the country with Engr.Sule in the forefront of the drive, having been an oil explorer himself overseas. Oil deposits are beneath its soil. He visits various federal ministers regularly to discuss partnership ventures with their ministries or how to scale up certain projects in the state.
The good thing in having a man of means who is not greedy as Engr. Sule at the helm of affairs is that he can donate to certain causes from his own pocket without dipping his hands into the state’s finances. Also, because he has by association ‘rich friends in high places’ the governor has been able to leverage on this goodwill to mobilize them towards contributing monies for some projects in the state, notably, renovation of some schools across the state, giving them a new look and equipping them adequately. Such donations run into hundreds of millions. The University’s School of Engineering and Medical School due to come on stream soon benefitted from such personal monetary gift. Governor Sule was abroad when Nasarawa state was created in 1996. His zeal and commitment to its development may not be unconnected with his desire to ‘give back’ or make up for his absence during the struggle for the realization of Nasarawa state.