Dear Malam Abubakar Sani Bello: I don’t know how you want to be addressed now, either as “Your Excellency” or, in the fashion of the confused visionary you’ve been elected to replace, as “Chief Servant.” Whichever it is, pardon this first mistake. I’ll take note of any correction that may follow.
This is neither a proposal, nor a prophecy, around the tasks that await you. It’s also not a cataloguing of the problems you’re about to officially inherit. Yet another “celebratory note” would be a nuisance you may not appreciate. Malam Bello, you are about to embark on your life’s biggest test shepherding a state that is always ready to pride itself as the largest, in landmass, but never willing to highlight its position on the index of social development where it’s listed at the bottom. I congratulate you, nonetheless, on the historic victory.
Third-world democracy requires huge investments. It takes a fortune to even have the inspiration to vie for an elective office, and where an aspirant ends up in office, the personal debts are a mountain walling him off from fulfilling electoral promises. Its so in every state of the federation, which is why democracy may be the most expensive of all the systems of government I know. But while it’s predictable that the debts we owe Caesar have to be paid, permit me to say that nothing should make you lose your focus, as had your soon-to-be predecessor, Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, the political showman we all prefer to call “Talba”.
If I were you, I would have a photograph of Talba somewhere in my office. No, that’s not in reverence, nor tribute to his achievements. The aim is to serve as a reminder of the consequences of squandering one’s goodwill. Talba was colourful and eloquent. And that is all there is to say about his eight years in power, expressed through billions of naira used in commissioning projects that exist on the faces of billboards only. On May 29, 2007, Talba was praised as the redeemer of Niger, and widely considered so even by the intellectual community. He had the experience, we agreed. He had the brains as well. He was a seasoned bureaucrat, with a PhD in Policy and Strategic Studies from Pittsburgh. These things dazzle Nigerians, and so we celebrated him as a messiah in essays and poetry and songs. Until reality stared us in the face barely two years into his administration.
On May 29, 2015, Talba will be handing over power to you as a sad man. To this I testify. There was a promise to transform Niger State into an economically developed hub, the third in Nigeria, and here we are without common potable water for the past eight years in my neighbourhood in Minna. He promised to achieve this economic illusion, presented in his Vision 3:2020 development plan, in 20 years, and with 8 years gone without even a foundation for his “vision” in place, you don’t need any more proof to realise that the people of Niger State have been scammed. That supporters of Talba present streetlights as achievements tell you the level of underdevelopment you’re coming to supervise.
Today, Talba has become a partisan infection, like President Goodluck Jonathan. Both were jeopardies who sabotaged the political aspirations of their party members. Your major contender in the April 11 election, Malam Umar Nasko, was one of the victims of Talba’s squandered goodwill. Nasko was liked for his “humility and good heart” – in the words of a friend. He was praised for his youth. I also celebrated as a symbolic victory that implication that age wasn’t a political hindrance after all. I’ve met a lot of people who confessed to liking Nasko but still admitted they wouldn’t support him for fear that he lived too long in the shadow of Talba. Even the ladies, but for the Talba factor, were charmed by Nasko.
Perhaps the highpoint of the hatred of Talba by the people of Niger State was a whisper from the rumour-mill that he was responsible for Senator Dahiru Awaisu’s death. The rumour had it that Talba sought the service of Alhaji Isah Kantigi, a man believed to be a marabout, to eliminate Awaisu, who was likely to be Talba’s main setback in the Niger East Senatorial District, which Talba aspired to represent at the Senate. And, as the rumour continued, Kantigi was chosen as Nasko’s running mate in the Guber race as a reward for his spiritual service.
As silly as this is, it was believed even by supposedly enlightened people. This aggregation of sentiments against the man that was once celebrated as an elephant–riding advocate of populism by poets, singers, intellectuals and artisans should serve as your first lesson as you step into that office on May 29.
So, your election wasn’t really against Nasko, it was against Talba. The people are unpacifiably bitter in their accounts of his failings and deceit over these torturous years of eloquent speeches, misidentifications of expectations and misapplications of policies. Not even his valedictory apologies, when he realised that Awaisu wasn’t his main challenger in his bid to represent the people of Niger East at the Senate, have been acknowledged by the disappointed “servants” for whom he declared himself a Chief.
There are many doubters who still hold that your coming is to turn this unfortunate State into a political enterprise, citing your affluent background to confirm their suspicion of you and yours as being on a mere economic conquest. Your challenge is to prove them wrong, that you are not an entrepreneurial mafioso, and that your ambition was informed by a will to serve.
The past 16 years in Niger State is a justification that you don’t need just a higher education or long experience in a known profession to manage the affairs of a state. We may be contradicting ourselves now, having experienced Governor Aliyu, and his similarly unimpressive predecessor, Governor Abdulkhadir Abdullahi Kure, who all presented certain credentials of excellence in public service, that a life as bureaucrat or technocrat is a guarantee of responsible political leadership. Governing a people as ours, I’ve learned, only requires a painstaking application of common sense. And for this, all the incoming Sheriff needs to stay politically afloat is a conscience; a conscience that responds to the ruin that is Niger State. Any decision against this appeal from a concerned Nigerlite, but may God intervene, is a step towards the shadows of Governor Aliyu and Kure. May God save us from us!