The Benue Leadership Question, By Collins Uma
A friend of mine was in Makurdi recently. The last time he visited the town was over ten years ago. After he was done with his business, I called him to know his impression of my town. Did he see the changes in the town? What changes, he asked me. I thought a little bit but the answer wasn’t coming. He then said something that has refused to leave my mind ever since. He said Makurdi is one town a visitor can never get lost in. The town never changes. Everything remained as it was ten years ago when he last came to the town. One noticeable change, though, was the banners hanging from what used to be streetlights on the major roads across the town. Ten years ago some of the streetlights were working but now most of them are only good enough for the advertisement of different companies’ products. Scathing as this remark was, it is the truth. What happened to our streetlights? What has changed in Makurdi in the past ten years?
One of the major talking points in Benue at the moment is Governor Gabriel Suswam’s senatorial ambition. I do not have a problem with his aspirations but, on what basis is he seeking this election into the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. When the eight years of his governorship of Benue state is critically appraised, would he come up as someone that merits further election? Primary school pupils have just gone back to school after almost one year at home, the teachers not being paid the full amount owed them. State civil servants and pensioners are also groaning because they have not been paid for months. I have had a hard time thinking of which past Benue state governor’s administration Suswam’s has been better than. I still can’t think of one. Even if the Senate is a retirement home, Gabriel Suswam has not merited it.
I have spoken in different fora about what can be accomplished by a leader who truly has the interest of his people at heart. The last time Benue had such a leader was over 30 years ago when a certain Aper Aku was governor. He didn’t need eight years to make an impact. He did, in four years, what no other leader has been able to match. Below are excerpts of a piece I published earlier this year on his stewardship.
“Aper Aku was born in 1938, and, in 1979, he became the first civilian governor of Benue State, created just three years previously. Before February 3, 1976 it was part of Benue-Plateau State. For four years Aper Aku moved beyond his Ushongo community and left his footprints all over the state, until Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s military regime rudely truncated the beautiful growth being experienced by the young state in 1983.
“Within four years Aku had built several industries to produce fertilizer and process agricultural products, Benue having great agricultural potentials, and located these close to the areas where the produce was grown. Research shows he also launched commercial enterprises such as the Benue Brewery, Benro Packaging, Benue Bottling Company, Lobi Bank, Ber-Agbum Fish Farm, Ikyogen Cattle Ranch, Taraku Vegetable Processing Industry and Benue International Hotel in Makurdi. He initiated the Makurdi International Market and planned to establish a flour mill in Makurdi. Aku also built a state of the art State Secretariat. This secretariat still stands exactly how it was built over 30 years ago. Unpainted.
“He cancelled work on a large medical centre at Apir, on the outskirts of Makurdi, and instead began construction of seven cottage hospitals in different locations. He established two Teachers Colleges at Oju and Makurdi and the University of Technology in Makurdi which became the seed-bed out of which grew the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi. He embarked on an ambitious program to expand the number of Secondary Schools. He built roads in Makurdi township and provided the street lights, awarded the contract for the Art Council Complex and started work on the Makurdi stadium which is presently named after him.
“The military coup that brought General Muhammadu Buhari to power on December 31, 1983 and replaced the civilian governors with military officers not only arrested this commendable development of a state and the giant strides being taken by one man, it also ensured that progress was actually reversed. Many of the projects he had begun were later abandoned by the military governors, and agricultural production plunged. The elaborate water supply schemes that Aku had initiated was abandoned, and the infrastructure that had been built was not maintained.
“Buhari jailed Aper Aku and most of the other Governors, setting up military tribunals to investigate their conduct while in office. Aku’s health was broken by the harsh conditions in jail, and he died in 1988 shortly after being released.
“The foregoing emphasizes the degree of impact one can have on a society within a very short time if one’s heart is put into creating positive change within whatever society one finds oneself. It is instructive to note that the much that was achieved by Aper Aku was done with a budget that is a fraction of what state Governors spend these days without achieving a quarter of what he did. A situation where recurrent expenditures gulp a very huge percentage of budgets, as shown in the federal government’s 2014 budget, for example, cannot help any society desirous of sustainable development.
“The clamor for political offices post-2015 has started. The office holders with renewable tenures have started campaigning for re-election and those with expiring tenures are attempting to position themselves for higher office. This is regardless of how much (or how little) impact their administrations have had on the people. Nobody needs eight years to create enduring change in a place like Nigeria, considering the amount of resources usually put at the leaders’ disposal. Aper Aku did it in four years.”
From next year Benue will have a new governor. Will it be more of the same? Will we see someone who will attempt to leave indelible footprints as Aku did? I believe this can be done. I haven’t met any of the aspirants but, from the antecedents of a few, if I had to choose it wouldn’t be a very difficult choice. Dr Samuel Ortom has built a business conglomerate out of his personal resources. If given state resources, I believe, he will do more for the state.
It is a wise leader that, instead of just confiscating our common wealth for his/her personal comfort, chooses to take steps that will carve his/her name forever in the hearts of the people.
Follow the writer on Twitter: @CollinsUma
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