In history, there have been years that just rolled into one another without noise or even notice. And then there were those that came only once in a generation – times when the human condition was significantly altered or upended. Those were years when in fits and starts or in hugely breathtaking ways, as the case may be, consequential events or changes happened.
In Yobe State, the last ten years of the last 27 years of the state’s history have been those years, by most accounts and estimations, when the course of history was altered in ways that will be felt for many more years to come. Those were years when Governor Ibrahim Gaidam held forte as the state’s chief executive.
A binary perspective for Yobe’s history is significant. It is easily the best way to grasp the scope of the laudable work that Governor Gaidam has done against the anything-goes nature of the previous era.
First, before Governor Gaidam came to power (then a deputy to his boss the late Governor Mamman Ali in 2007), Yobe was arguably a state only in name. The civil service, clearly the engine room for responsible governance, was in atrophy. As a result, nothing else appeared to be working.
Let me demonstrate this in just one sector – financial management. As a state with limited resources and limited earnings, one would expect that government officials would be circumspect about how resources are allocated and expended for the good of the people of the state. But consider the instances when this isn’t nearly the case. There were stories of how payment mandates (called releases) from the governor’s office to the Ministry of Finance were paid twice or thrice for a single mandate using duplicate copies of the same mandate.
There were occasions when payment releases were either deliberately not paid at all or were sold to third parties who had ways with the relevant government officials. At a point, the different senior cadres of the ministry arguably became more ‘powerful’ than the state chief executive because they wielded so much power as to who was paid and who was not.
During that period, such officials were literally hot cakes. Their residences and offices were always swarmed with people looking to be paid for services rendered or contracts executed.
And then there was the ravaging menace of ghost workers. Millions and millions of state funds went down the drain in the name of paying workers who didn’t exist.
To be fair, even in the midst of the Gaidam administration, such financial misconduct occasionally occurred but were always swiftly stamped out when discovered only because the governor, himself an accountant and auditor, was determined to see things work better for the state.
For example, a little over a year ago, a bill of N950 million was once submitted by the state scholarships board for the payment of student bursaries. The governor queried the bill and asked the Ministry of Finance, now under a smart and digitally innovative leadership, to audit the details.
It was discovered, in the course of the audit, that there were names of students who had already graduated; names of students who are government workers on in-service training and already enjoying monthly salaries. There were also names that were duplicated many times over. Using the students’ biometric data, BVN and other novel measures deployed by the Finance Ministry, the bill of over N950 million came down to a little over N400 million. The effort saved more than N500 million for the state government.
As a result of the discoveries made, the entire staff corps of the board was replaced with another from different ministries, departments and agencies and a powerful example was set by the governor for how deliberate misconduct would never be tolerated.
Today, in a financially reforming and steadily growing Yobe State, not many people even know the senior executives at the Ministry of Finance, where much of the state’s financial management is conducted. As a contractor or service provider, you don’t need to know them or even frequent their offices to get paid. Just do your work and wait for your electronic payment alert. It’s that reformed and that easy!
Governor Gaidam’s financial management style and transparency have other benefits for the people of the state. They have ensured that the state government incurred expenditures only when it had the funds to finance them. For this, the Gaidam administration remains the only one in the state to never borrowed a kobo from any financial institution to finance or execute projects.
Gaidam’s financial discipline also ensured that Yobe’s workers always smiled to the banks before the end of any given month at a time that some of their peers elsewhere were waiting two months and three months to get paid. No wonder that the governor is now fondly called ‘Baba Mai Alert’.
And then there is Governor Gaidam’s singular concern for the plight of retirees. I dare say that in Nigeria today, Governor Gaidam is the foremost governor in catering to the welfare of retired workers. This is not difficult to check out. While other states are owing their retirees billions of naira in unpaid pensions and gratuities, Yobe is up to date in such payments and retired workers are regularly scheduled for verification and subsequent payment as soon as they retire from the services of the state government.
It is also the result of Gaidam’s sound financial management that, along with meeting worker obligations, the state government is able to execute and manage numerous projects and programmes with direct benefit to the people of the state. In healthcare and roads development, for example, the stories are legion about how fortunes were changed for people in dire need of such services.
In education, Yobe is on the road to recovery after years of Boko Haram’s devastating and cowardly attacks on educational institutions. In agriculture, things are looking a lot better with a new approach to irrigation farming and in housing, some workers who have never dreamt of owning a home now no longer have to contend with such worry.
Governor Gaidam also made a leap of faith through three new initiatives that have changed the course of history in Yobe State. He built a new College of Medical Sciences so that the state can be assured of its own corps of indigenously trained doctors over the long term. He built a new University Teaching Hospital as the crown jewel of his unprecedented effort in healthcare, and he is building a new airport, which can be a force multiplier for the state if effectively harnessed.
These and many others made Governor Gaidam a sui generis in the history of Yobe State – the idea that he reformed the civil service and how government business is conducted and the fact that without resorting to any borrowing or profligate spending, he executed more projects than would ordinarily be possible under the current heavily challenged security situation.
Governor Gaidam will go on May 29th, 2019 at the end of his eventful tenure. He will be remembered for a long time by many Yobe people who genuinely appreciate his services to the state and his capacity to deliver even when the hour seemed darkest and the odds too many.
Mr Bego is Governor Gaidam’s Director-General for Press Affairs and writes in from Damaturu