By Ali Alkali
When Muhammadu Sanusi II, the Emir of Kano and former governor the Central Bank of Nigeria, said poverty in Zamfara State is the highest in Nigeria, the incumbent governor of the state, Abdul’Aziz Yari, was quick to fire back at the tradition ruler with many excuses, without dealing with the real issues of the poverty killing people silently. Emir Sanusi’s stance was further confirmed by one of the leading institutions of higher learning in the world, Oxford University. Oxford said, in its human development report on multi-dimensional poverty, that 92 percent of people living in Zamfara live in poverty, ranking the State as the poorest in Nigeria and a top contender anywhere else in the world.
Zamfara, as the seventh largest state in Nigeria, is over 10 times bigger than Lagos in landmass. As an agrarian state where major cereal crop were successfully cultivated, Zamfara has as its slogan: “Farming is our pride”. But this slogan is now but an empty testament.
Zamfara State is also rich in gold extract which, if properly managed, can lead Nigeria into exporting large quantities of gold to the rest of the world, with the state making billions of naira in cash and investments.
Gusau, the capital of the state, was once a very vibrant center of trade and commerce and ranked as second largest commercial center in Northern Nigeria after Kano. Gusau grew rapidly after the arrival of the railway from Zaria in 1927 and became a major collecting point for cotton and groundnuts, grown in the surrounding areas. Besides cotton and groundnuts, Gusau exports clothes, tobacco, and livestock to Zaria and other railway towns in the North. Apart from the normal raining season farming for millet, sorghum, rice, cowpeas, beans, and vegetables, the local people were equally highly engaged in raising cattle, sheep, donkeys, horses, and camels. Even before the arrival of the railway, cotton ginning, weaving, and dyeing were long-established local activities in Gusau and environs. So, in the late 1960s a modern textile plant was opened in the town. A seed-oil mill and soybean-meal processing plants were also built. Several other textile industries were built in the 70s.
Unfortunately, the once second biggest commercial center in Northern Nigeria, after Kano, is no longer even mentioned in commercial circle because of bad leadership at the state level.
Now, the people of Gusau and the entire state are highly impoverished. According to the United Nations Poverty Index, Zamfara State has a 91.9% poverty rate, making it the poorest state in Nigeria despite its abundant agriculture and mineral resources. The state also has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates, while literacy rate among its population is also one of the lowest in Nigeria.
The current political topic in the state now is that people of Zamfara must start seeing themselves as its greatest asset that will define the future of the State at the poll. Their farms and dead industries can never be revived and put back on track if they decide to continue supporting bad leadership instead of electing progressive fresh minds, capable of bringing the state from the bottom of every development index to the top or near top of them all.
As campaign drums start beating for 2019 general election, eight governorship aspirants are jostling for the Zamfara Government House on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). They are Dr. Dauda Lawal, Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi, Malam Ibrahim Wakkala, Alhaji Aminu Sani Jaji, Sagir Hamidu, Gen. Mansur Dan Ali (rtd), Mr. Abu Magaji and Kabiru Garba Marafa.
Dauda Lawal throw his hat into the political ring to seek the governorship ticket of the APC at a well-attended declaration rally in Gusau, early this month.
Born in Gusau on September 2, 1965, Lawal is known throughout Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states as a philanthropist. Highly regarded for his pleasant, humble, calm and generous disposition, Lawal is also considered as man of the people in whom the people have reposed their trust because he has always remained in touch with them. Though he has lived and worked in Washington DC, Abuja, Lagos and London amongst other places while pursuing an illustrious career in banking and the financial services sector, he has remained firmly rooted in Zamfara where people have easy access to him on a regular basis.
He said he answered the call of the people to be in the race because Zamfara needs new vision, mission and selfless leadership. “Zamfara people are tired of the poverty, tired of the killings and of the indignity of being called the poorest of the poor in Nigeria. They want a leader who will manage their resources, empower them and allow them to take their place among the leading states in Nigeria. The people of Zamfara deserve a better deal which can only be provided by good leadership.”
Security issue is one of the biggest challenges in Zamfara. The once peaceful and secure state is no longer safe due to the activities of armed bandits who have had free reign in the last two years, looting, killing and maiming. Despite the ongoing military offensive by the army and air force, many communities across the state still live in constant fear of the killers. “People still cannot go to farm, because when they do the bandits make example of some of them by cutting their hands and putting them in their pockets and sending them home,” Lawal lamented. “How can we continue like this?”
Education is also another huge challenge and embarrassing factor in Zamfara State. In the 2017 November/December senior school certificate examination organized by the National Examination Council, Zamfara State emerged with the worst result, again. For the entire state, only 186 students sat for the examination; and just 24 of them passed. “How can we compete with other states with this dismal performance?” Lawal cried out. He promised the citizens of Zamfara that if he sails through the party primaries and elected as governor on the platform of the APC in 2019, he will find solution to the challenge and many others facing the State.
Lawal believes that with his experience as banker, he will be able to come up with workable economic blueprint that will lift Zamfara State out of poverty, which will subsequently bring an end to the conflict bedeviling the state, ensure lasting peace and promote rapid development. He promised Zamfara people that if he gets the party ticket and elected governor, his government will use the network he built as banker in wooing investors to the State from both within and outside Nigeria.
Many political observers in the state believe that the only way to break away from these tragic situations and chart a new political and economic future for Zamfara people, is to insist on direct primaries, as recommended by the National Working Committee of the APC, against the indirect primaries being advocated in some quarters, to ensure a free and fair process that will be beneficial to all aspirants.
Some of the analysts argue that considering Lawal Dauda’s close bond with the people who love and trust him because of his track record of service to their communities, hard work, respect and bridge-building skills, the APC at the state and national level will do well to ensure a level playing field for all aspirants and let the best man emergence.
They cautioned the party not to allow talks of a successor anointed by the incumbent governor Abdulaziz Yari becloud political calculations and best judgment. According to a stakeholder, “The APC, at the national level, will do well to take a special interest in Zamfara and ensure only a sellable candidate emerges. The recent attack on Governor Yari’s convoy by supporters of aspirants, who prefer direct primary to the indirect option the Governor is advocating, is a pointer to what the people want.
“If Lawal Dauda clinches the APC ticket and eventually emerges the governor, Zamfara would be entering a glorious dawn where the people’s wellbeing will come ahead of any other thing.”
Lawal started out as a Political Education Officer with the defunct Agency for Mass Mobilization for Social and Economic Reliance, MAMSER. He was Assistant General Manager at Westex Nigeria Ltd from 1989 to 1992. He joined the Nigerian Embassy in Washington as Assistant Consular Officer in 1994 and left in 2003 as Chief Protocol Officer.
Lawal Dauda, who was awarded honorary doctorate degree by the Usman Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto, for his enormous contributions to the people of Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi and other states, moved to the private sector, joining First Bank as Relationship Manager, Commercial Banking. He was at various times Senior Manager, Abuja Area office, Business Development Manager, Abuja, Principal Manager, Group Head PSG II, Assistant General Manager (Business Development Manager), Maitama, Deputy General Manager (Business Development Manager), Maitama/Group Head Public Sector, Abuja. Between October 2010 and September 2011 Lawal was elevated to the position of Executive Vice President, Public Sector, North. He retired from the bank in 2017 as Executive Director, Public Sector Group.