At the threshold of 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari made a fairly elaborate speech in which he reeled off much needed infrastructure projects, including railway lines, highways and power, which cut across some sections of Nigeria to facilitate their economic wellbeing, and perhaps that of Nigeria.
The essence of such ambitious rundown was to “renew and increase Nigeria’s stock of infrastructure in order to achieve global economic competitiveness as targeted under the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan”, according to Mr. President. The speech has however generated some mixed reactions from unexpected quarters, from a geopolitical zone that can be considered as the traditional base of APC government. I used unexpected quarters advisedly considering the amount of goodwill our President is enjoying from especially the section of the country under discussion. We are here referring to a large chunk of the Northwest geopolitical zone that was cleverly designated SOKEZA, an acronym for the old Sokoto State comprising present day Sokoto State, Kebbi and Zamfara States in that order by an indefatigable social media warrior, Mal. Suraj Malami. I can’t say precisely whether Malami is the originator of that acronym or not.
However, my concern here is more with the write-up by Dr. Musab Isah Mafara, a Nigerian citizen of Zamfara extraction living in the Diaspora, and another yet person – Dr. Bello Inua Anka. In a swift reaction to President Buhari’s New Year speech, which coincidentally attracted lots of mixed reactions, despite the unflinching support enjoyed by Mr. President from those three states, Dr. Mafara courageously dug his heels in the ground as he stuck to his guns without fear of blame of the blamer. Following his robust expression of discontent, which clearly borders on state of malcontent by a people that think they did not deserve being neglected in President’s Buhari’s distribution of infrastructure largesse. Moments after the first salvo, all hell was let loose in the Northwestern front. The Facebook witnesses plethora of vigorous criticisms that ensued from the netizens of our robust cyber spaces in solidarity with an unusual critical observation in which that part of Nigeria is virtually neglected by the government of President Buhari. You can also decipher ample spirit of camaraderie among Facebook users. I’m not making that up, am I?
In this diatribe, I would like to start by revisiting the submission of Dr. Mafara and the cyber warriors’ reactions that trailed his views before I give my own humble opinion on the matter. Frontally arising from President Buhari’s speech, Dr. Mafara opines that “large percentage of people from old Sokoto state … feel like the government of PMB is neglecting the subregion in terms of anything development. This is what I gathered from the Facebook posts of the people, the WhatsApp groups I am involved in, and my direct interactions with people from the region. This is also my view”. He further expressed that “In the spirit of a new year and a new beginning, we hope the government will do better for us in what remains of its tenure. We did not vote PMB for the sake of it, we expected something in return. For our loyalty to the President and his party, we expect to get at the very least a similar treatment to other regions of the country”. And as an addendum, he unambiguously states, and methinks President Buhari should hear it raw, “[t]here is actually nothing for us based on the President’s speech … I think we need to start thinking about 2019. I no more see reason why people from old Sokoto State should support PMB in 2019”. As a matter of fact, even Maradi in Niger is to enjoy a railway line project from Buhari’s New Year infrastructure largesse.
Aha! That’s the cachet in the whole hurly burly. But, as if to rub salt to the wound of our collective conscience, I mean the seeming docility of the entire people of the old Sokoto State, Dr. Bello Inua Anka has in his own Facebook posting, which he made almost at the same day, hour and minutes with Dr. Musab Isah Mafara at around 5 or 15 minutes pass 10:00am, complained that there was “[a]bsolutely NOTHING for Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi in the Presidential speech. Who to blame? Just compare/contrast our leadership/representatives with say…. that of the South West. What do those chaps do in Abuja? I rest my case”. I absolutely agreed there and then. Our problem is more of the quality of those that representing us politically not just at the centre but also locally in our three States. Just the next day, at a time close to the wee hours of January 3rd 2018, Mal. Jaafar Jaafar followed up the issue with his typical banter and parody when he posted using the Sokoto dialect of Hausa language to scribble his own contribution to the sudden reawakening of the denizens of SOKEZA to the realities of our politics of development in Nigeria. As if in a deliberate attempt to conceal the gravity of President Muhammadu Buhari’s litany of offences in the estimation of the people of old Sokoto State, Mal. Jaafar claimed “Buhari is executing his government projects in an alphabetical order. Thus, if he starts a project from Abia, it would gradually reach Sokoto, and then it would be completed in Zamfara” (my translation). This seemingly innocent statement has, even in translation, appeared to be pregnant with so much meaning. Anyway, your guess is as good as mine.
Now to the army of malcontents that could not resist the temptation of airing their grievances openly, unambiguously and unequivocally through a vast array of comments, for and against, on both the postings of Dr. Musab Isah Mafara and Dr. Bello Inua Anka, respectively. On a more general note, a number of the commentators wondered vociferously why, apart from his charitable doling out of projects (gratis) to all other sections of the country, would President Buhari neglect the old Sokoto State, a region that has become a dependable APC turf? In case it was forgotten, the old Sokoto State has been sticking to Buhari’s politics through thick and thin, right from the days he actively joined partisan politics between 2003 and date. That region it was claimed gave President Buhari 100% votes, but he is now behaving as if the region does not matter in his preparations for a second term in 2019. Although Jamilu Sada has argued in defense of Buhari’s government where he referred to a “blueprint released by minister of transport some months back” in which the railway project would be extended to Kaura Namoda and Sokoto when the line joining Kano and Lagos eventually gets completed, and that the Kebbi Rice Project that was launched almost two years back by Federal Government was, according to him, another feat achieved through Buhari’s government presence in that part of Nigeria.
However, in his comment Bashir Muhammad has beautifully articulated the character of Nigerian politics that the masses in the old Sokoto State are oblivious of, perhaps because of their lack of education and enlightenment. He said, “Politics in Nigeria doesn’t demand that you cast your vote and stay quite. No, you have to add some threats to strengthen your course. Tell the President you won’t align with his party anymore if they fail to light up your region with projects”. Another person Abdullahi Abdujabbar is of the opinion that “[e]ven during his days in PTF he (referring to President Buhari) did the same thing. Gusau – Sokoto road, Sokoto-Jega-Kontagora road and Sokoto-Illela road were amongst the most terrible Federal roads then, but never got his attention”. He accused the President of concentrating his attention on those States where the governors are very loyal to him. What is this business of loyalty, again? Even our own ace veteran journalist Na-Allah Mohammed Zagga had to lend his voice in support of those arguing against President Buhari’s negligence of the SOKEZA region in his award of infrastructure projects.
For me, the problems of Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi are too many. But one clear problem for sure is that of lack of quality leadership at all levels of governance, even though it is said somewhere that quality people beget quality leaders. Always. Now that the educated elite are finally waking up to their responsibility of providing leadership to the pool of uneducated masses, the next major task is political participation, something the educated elite have perilously left to the vagaries of few elements that do not have what it takes to provide leadership to either their family or the people. Politics everywhere is a process of give and take, and as someone rightly observed above, you don’t just vote and go back to sleep. You have to know what you are voting for. Your sentimental attachment to any candidate is not going to help you insofar as you don’t know what you are voting for, what exactly are your interests in those you are voting? In case you don’t know, that’s how other communities in Nigeria are playing the game. Therefore, our collective task in the short and immediate terms is to sensitize our people, to make them understand clearly their needs and priorities. That’s what development politics is to the people that know what they want.
There are lessons to be learnt from the way the politicians we have democratically elected are taking us for granted. Next time we must define and negotiate our development priorities with them. Before we agree to cast our vote for any politician, whether he is President Muhammadu Buhari or not, we must extract commitment.