Talking about Jigawa isn’t a disinterested affair for me. But it’s no vacuous propaganda either. Governor Sule Lamido’s Special Adviser on Media, Adagbo Onojo, is my friend and mentor. But my relationship with him is defined and sustained by our common love for critical engagement, for robust debates, and for self-questioning. Uncritical, undeserved, and sycophantic adulation would offend Onoja’s—and Lamido’s— sensibilities.
That’s why although Onoja is predictably his boss’ most robust defender he can also be his severest in-house critic. And Governor Lamido, being the scion of a time-honored, critical NEPU/PRP political tradition that cherished and celebrated informed dissent, is at peace with this. He welcomes vigorous, constructive debates about his performance, strengths, and weaknesses. But this isn’t one of those. It’s a genuinely heartfelt tribute to his inspirational and transformational leadership in one of Nigeria’s poorest states.
When Onoja invited me to Jigawa, first, to temporarily take my mind off the recent personal tragedy that has befallen me and, second, to assess the performance of his boss, I didn’t hesitate to honor his invitation. I had visited Jigawa twice in the late 1990s when I worked for the Weekly Trust.
I recall being struck by the intensely dispiriting rusticity and developmental awkwardness of Dutse, the state capital. Upon my return to Kaduna, I told my colleagues then that Dutse reminded me of my natal village. I didn’t imagine that a state capital could be that cruelly denuded of the basic, taken-for-granted infrastructural trappings that we have come to expect of towns and cities of Dutse’s status. It was almost untouched by the faintest sprinkle of modernity.
In early 2007, my friend and former classmate, Dr. Moses Ochonu, who is now an assistant professor of history at Vanderbilt University in the US, had occasion to visit Dutse on a research trip. He recorded his impressions of Dutse in a searingly biting and perceptive piece titled, “The Ground Zero of Corruption.” Dutse hadn’t changed a wee bit since the 1990s.
“Rural, pristine, sleepy, and rocky, the capital of Jigawa state represents in my opinion the ground zero of corruption in Nigeria,” he wrote in the Nigeriavillagesquare.com, a popular Nigerian internet discussion forum. “My first visit to Dutse was in 1991, shortly after the state’s creation…. A succession of military administrators and the brief civilian administration of Ali Sa’ad Birnin Kudu… laid a modest foundation for what could have been a remarkable transformation of Dutse from a rural quasi-emirate headquarters to a truly urbanized capital. Such transformative opportunities were wasted, by all accounts, by the administration of the immediate past governor, Alhaji Saminu Turaki, leaving the town bereft of development and an infrastructural presence befitting a state capital.”
His reflection and critical commentary on the tear-jerking backwardness and decay of Dutse were accompanied by vividly telling pictorial corroborations. Late last year, he was on another research trip to Jigawa. He again recorded his observations in an interesting piece.
Even with the utmost stretch of fantasy, it is difficult to imagine a contrast more striking than that between the condemnatory, censorious, anger- and pity-inspiring reflections he wrote in 2007 and the laudatory, even celebratory, account he gave of the current state of affairs in Jigawa. (Read his “Who is Nigeria’s best performing governor”? in Nigeriavillagesquare.com)
Because I know Moses to be an honest, fiercely independent, hypercritical, and fastidious fellow, my curiosity was piqued. Anything that can attract and sustain Moses’ attention—and praise—must be truly outstanding and inspirational.
Two weeks ago, I saw first-hand what my friend eloquently and persuasively captured in his piece. I didn’t believe I was in the same Dutse that I visited in the 1990s. I do not exaggerate when I say Dutse ranks favorably with Abuja in terms of the beauty and quality of most of its infrastructure.
Dutse’s well-laid, nicely lit, delicately manicured road networks, the spell-binding architectural and esthetic splendor of its newly built structures such as the Sawaba Monument, the Aminu Kano Triangle, the G-9 quarters (all architectural tributes to the governor’s progressive political and ideological provenance), the numerous, well-constructed housing estates that remind me of the Gwarinpa Housing Estate in Abuja, the massive quarters for the speaker and other senior government officers, etc are a visual delight.
Well, you would be right to dismiss these infrastructural accoutrements as vainglorious elite indulgence, as testimonials of bourgeois vanity. However, it is also true that neat, inspiring, beautiful, and lush environments can—indeed do— propel the creative impulses of people, rejuvenate their spirit, and renew their hope and enthusiasm to live.
But it isn’t the radical, almost magical, infrastructural transformation of Dutse and other parts of Jigawa that fascinates me about Lamido. It is the attention he has paid to the social security, education, and health of his people. Jigawa has gone down in the annals as the first—and, for now, the only—state in Nigeria that has instituted basic economic liberties for its severely economically disaffiliated citizens. Every disabled and unemployable person in Jigawa now receives a monthly stipend.
I was also impressed by the quality of infrastructural construction and renewal—and pedagogic preparation—of the schools we visited in Dutse, Hadejia and Birnin Kudu. The quality of the new buildings at the nursing school in Birnin Kudu is particularly so lavishly high-quality, so world-class that I stood transfixed for several minutes. And the Rasheed Shekoni Specialist Hospital in Dutse is simply a marvel. It’s said to be first and best of its kind in Nigeria. That’s not difficult to believe. Going round the wards of the hospital and seeing the state-of-the-art medical equipment installed in them reminded me of the hospitals I’ve visited in the US. No hyperbole.
It is impossible to record in this short piece every impression that registered in me during my two-day stay in Jigawa. But what kept agitating my mind after my sight-seeing—and after reading and hearing the accounts of other credible, otherwise hypercritical people—was: why is Jigawa, with one of the lowest federal allocations in the country, able to financially support its many infrastructural and social initiatives while more financially endowed states vegetate in developmental stagnation? Is Lamido incurring huge debts for his state to fund these projects? Onoja assured me this isn’t the case. I believe him.
Well, for me, Jigawa’s admirable transformation in spite of its modest financial standing aggrandizes the profundity of the corruption that plagues our nation. Lamido is certainly no saint. If he “helps” himself a little with the resources of the state but is still able to do this much with what remains, why have many other state governors with much larger shares of federal allocations condemned their states to perpetual developmental babyhood, to the nadir of despair, hopelessness, and decay? This should be the topic of a national conversation.