20 Years Of Democracy: Enter the Game-changer, Governor Sani Bello; Consolidating the Socio-Economic Dynamics Of Niger State

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The current Fourth Republic is the longest democratic dispensation Nigeria has ever attained in her journey of nationhood. Haven returned the country to democratic rule on May 29, 1999, the democracy midwifed by General Abdulsalami Abubakar attained 20 years on May 29, 2021. The First and Second Republics lasted six and four years respectively.

For the ‘Power State’ as Niger is fondly called, it has had its push and pull in the period under review.

The two previous administrations did their bits in an effort to reposition the state to its true enviable status. Serving as one of the hinges that holds Northern and Southern Nigeria together, Niger State is naturally positioned to be the economic melting point of Nigeria.

However, the momentum towards achieving the Niger State of Nigerlites’ Dream accelerated in 2015, when Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, a successful business technorat, deployed his resource management acumen into the management of the states’ resources. Despite the complicated security situation he inherited, both friends, admirers and foes can attest that ‘Lolo’, as the Governor is fondly called, is changing the socio-economic dynamics of the State.

In these six years of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello steering the affairs of the state, his leadership has achieved so much in different sectors. They are as follows;

Roads infrastructure:
The road infrastructure is to economic viability, what blood is to human. Alas, that was one of the core challenges Governor Sani Bello had to contend with upon assumption of office. When he came on board on May, 29, 2015, he met on ground ongoing road projects along with some abandoned ones.

As a public officer, who is fully abreast of the fact that government is a continuous process, he did not jettison the ongoing work of his immediate predecessor. He completed some of these road projects, initiated new ones which are at various stages of completion now.

These constructions are being carried out with high quality and standards as value for money are being strictly complied with.

It is expedient to note that the construction of these roads cut across all the three senatorial districts in the state, in the urban and rural areas.

Prior to this administration, rural areas were neglected, leading to farm produce getting perished as access roads to the market non-paassable or non-existent. To deal with this, the Governor Abubakar Sani Bello-led administration brought markets closer to the farmers with the provision of 574km roads by the Rural Access and Mobility Project (RAMP II). Some of the roads were surface-dressed

When the governor assumed office, he knew that government is a continuous process, so, he did not hesitate to complete the Bomas-Old Airport-Kuta Road that his immediate predecessor started but did not complete. Road users heaved a sigh of relief, and inhabitants of the area were saved the ordeal of dust pollution and potholes that characterised their lives.

One of the critical and important roads that was forgotten was the Sabon Gari-Gwari Market-UK Bello Road, a commercial hub road that was left unattended but was fixed by the present administration, rejigging commercial activities in the area.

To ensure that Minna road networks were fixed, the governor awarded various road contracts, most have been completed while few others are ongoing.

The state capital enjoyed more share of the roads provided by this government, the State government completed the Limawa  Road, Himma – Brighter Road, Makera – Lagos Street – Kwangila road, Bosso District Head Road, New York Road – Bosso as well as the Fadikpe – Gbeganu Road.

The dualization of Shiroro (Broadcasting) Road, Tunga Low-cost- Garima Road have been completed. The Imani Hospital -Jonathan Place Road dualization has been advertised, while there is ongoing construction of the Tungan Goro – Tagwai Dam Road; Morris Fertilizer – Union Bank Roundabout Road; as well as the  inherited Maitumbi-Maikunkele Bypass road project.

Neighbourhood roads are not left out. There are the ongoing ones in Maitumbi, Gogo Mai Lalle Road in Bosso, Minna Abattoir Road in Tayi Village, Bosso Estate Road, IBB Specialist Hospital Road to Chanchaga.

To avert the perennial challenges of flooding that cause damage and loss of lives, the state government constructed drains to allow free flow waterways across Minna town, Bida, and the ongoing Rafin Goro in Kontagora.

Other numerous road projects are spread across the state. They include the completion of the dualization of Dokodza Road in Bida, Kontagora Township Roads, Zungeru Township Roads, Rehabilitation of Paiko – Lapai Road, Agaie Township Roads rehabilitation, completion of the Bangaie – Dancitagi road in Bida, construction of Tegina township roads, Jubilee Road Suleja, rehabilitation of Fadama – Abuchi Road in Suleja, Construction of Zariyawa Road Suleja, Reconstruction of Suleja – Maje Road, ongoing construction of 8.1km Kagara Township Road in Rafi LGA, Construction of 11km Tungan Bako Road in Rafi LGA (ongoing) as well as the ongoing construction of 22km Shagunu Road.

One of the major roads in the state that received little attention from the previous administrations but has now gotten the desired attention is the Minna-Katerigi-Bida Road which the firm Dantata and Sawoe is reconstructing.

The road plays a significant role in the socio-economic activities of Nigeria, because it is among the roads linking the Northern and Southern part of the country. Of recent, the road has been unmotorable, causing untold hardship, not just to commuters, but the larger population of the people as movement of goods and farm produce became a major problem. It is believed that the road when completed, will solve these challenges.

The  state government has also intervened on some Federal Roads over these years, particularly the Minna – Suleja Road, rehabilitation of the 5.65km Minna City Gate – Chanchaga dual carraige Road, Tegina-Kagara Road, among others.

However, some road construction has suffered setbacks, especially in areas bedeviled by banditry. The Erena Bridge-Erena Township Road construction hit the rocks due to nefarious acts of bandits, as construction company,Triacta, had to stop work due to the continued kidnapping of their workers and government officials monitoring the work. It is expected that as normalcy returns, work will continue and the people will breath a sigh of relief

Education sector:-
It is a time-tested fact that, no society develops above the level and quality of its education because it remains the fulcrum of mental and human capital development. Qualitative and quantitative education is so sacrosanct that the late anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela, emphasised its ability to change the world and bridge human inequalities.

In view of this truth, the Niger State Government, under the leadership of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, embraced the philosophy of education as key to liberating humanity from poverty, re-enforce the imaginative power of the human mind and bridge inequality.

However, one of the challenges the government has had to contend with, in its quest to provide high quality education in Niger State has been the state of facilities in most of the primary and post primary schools, which have deteriorated terribly, and even become dilapidated over the years.

Realizing that something urgent had to be done to address the situation, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello introduced radical policy changes that completely altered the structure of the school system and consequently improved both the teaching and learning atmosphere across the three senatorial zones of the state.

Lots of efforts and resources have been expended, the decay though not completely reversed, there is no doubt there has been a remarkable and pronounced paradigm shift. The whole School Development Approach under the administration is an idea premised on comprehensive development of selected schools spread across the state.

The state government has been systematic in the way it executes education-related projects, due to the dwindling resources. Six years after, the administration has spent a colossal amount of money in repositioning a number of both primary and post primary schools in the state. So far, government has recorded giant strides and successes, especially in the provision of qualitative primary and secondary education.

Since assumption of office, the Governor has constructed about 1,700 new classrooms and renovated 1,072 classrooms with Offices for teachers at the Basic education level, provided 1,036 additional VIP toilets and 76 boreholes.

Government also constructed 21 high rise structures each comprising 20 classrooms and completed comprehensive renovation of more than 30 schools both primary and post primary schools while others are at various stages of completion under the whole School Development Approach Policy.

The Sani Bello-led administration has equally distributed more than 123,000 furnitures to primary and junior secondary schools across the state. About 20 schools have been fenced for security reasons, while libraries and ICT centres have been built for schools.

A man known for his doggedness, Governor Sani Bello resolutely paid over one billion naira cumulative UBE counterpart funding arrears to enable it assess the trapped funds for 2013 and 2014 federal government interventions. It has fulfilled all its obligations in respect of the payment of counterpart funds and has accessed over N7Billion from the Federal Government, since 2015, for the execution of UBEC projects across the state. Little wonder then, that the Federal Government, through the UBEC, applauded the state government for not only utilizing the funds judiciously but also for the giant strides recorded in the education sector, particularly in the provision of qualitative primary and secondary education.

From 2015 to date, it has been work and work unending from Mokwa to Lapai, Suleja to Kagara, and Wushishi to New Bussa. It is the story of comprehensive renovation of schools under the administration’s pragmatic School Development Approach and the construction of additional classrooms with offices for teachers as there is no ward that has not been given one form of infrastructure facelift or the other.

Niger State government also recruited 3,467 teachers and sustained payment of WAEC and NECO fees, scholarships, and enhanced feeding for boarding students.

Another area that has engaged the attention of the administration is the foundation level of education, to attain the desired and imperative height of standards, quality, and professionalism, especially in the area of teaching and teachers professional development. The initiative for the establishment of a Teachers Professional Development Institute by the administration is predicated on the seemingly collapsed standards and quality of education in the state, as well as the deplorable quality of teachers at all levels.

The Centre, a co-educational institute with uniquely diverse student population drawn from the two hundred and seventy four wards of the state is re-enacting a more appropriate teacher training and career orientation as well as strengthening in-service teachers education by offering extra-training opportunities for filling the missing gaps.

The administration is fully sponsoring the students from the center to the university level. One hundred and fifty-six of the students have gained admission into the department of education in the state government-owned university, IBBU Lapai. The centres at the Maraban Dan Daudu and Kuta have taken off while that of Agaie is at seventy percent completion. The Governor Sani Bello-led administration is working assiduously for the establishment of another centre at Nassarawa, Kainji in Borgu local government area of the state.

The key thing is that the institute is well grounded as it is already an Associate member of African Teaching Regulatory Association (AFTRA) with headquarters in Lusaka and Academic head office in Abuja.

From what the administration has been able to achieve in the past six years in terms of providing a conducive teaching and learning environment in both primary and post primary schools, there is no doubt that a formidable foundation has been laid and the rapid educational development of the state is just a matter of time.
Healthcare Sector:-

Realising the importance of a well rounded healthcare system for Nigerlites, the health restoration agenda in Niger State has been top in the Governor Abubakar Sani Bello led-administration’s “to do list” tackling infrastructure deficit through construction, rejuvenation of dilapidated structures, and reviving the primary healthcare subsystem as center point of an integrated healthcare delivery architecture, and providing the facilities with modern equipment.

Governor Abubakar Sani Bello’s active and sustained support to the health sector has seen Niger State moving from an isolated point to the mainstream of Nigeria’s health sector over the years.

The administration has remained steadfast and committed to addressing issues as they affect poor access to health services, dilapidated infrastructure, low productivity and inadequate supply of medical equipment, as well as paucity of donor support and external funding to health sector.

The state government came up with a policy of establishing a primary health care centre in all the 274 wards of the state. The policy is aimed at reducing burden and influx of patients to the secondary and tertiary healthcare system. In this regard, there has been the construction, reconstruction and upgrading of many functional Primary Healthcare Centers across the three senatorial Districts in the state.

For the secondary healthcare facilities, there has been a gradual decay in the entire system without commensurate inputs. The General Hospital Kontagora, built in 1920s, which is serving many communities in Niger North Senatorial District was strategically located, but with a lot of challenges.

Governor Abubakar Sani Bello is committing about one point five billion naira (N1.5b) to reposition the hospital for effective service delivery. The state government has also concluded arrangements to overhaul the oldest hospital in that area, the Tunga Magajiya Hospital.

Minna General Hospital, built in the late 1920s as a railway clinic, is witnessing tremendous facility upgrade and expansion of services. The project will be executed in phases to avoid disruption of services. The state government also did some interventions in General Hospital Kuta, where the staff quarters have been made habitable, while the General Hospital Suleja has been earmarked for remodeling. This is in spite of the pockets of interventions that have been happening in most of the health facilities including the provision of medical equipment.

The state government has improved the capacity of its workforce in the health sector by training and retraining about 1076 health workers. Niger State government has also employed the services of more than 30 medical consultants in different fields of medicine and provided hospitals with equipments to work with.

The present administration has also completed the reconstruction and upgrade of the Neonatal Wing of Minna General Hospital, as well as the rehabilitation of General Hospitals across the state, with some of the staff of the Jummai Babangida Maternal and Neonatal Hospital, Minna, trained at the Imperial College of London on maternal and newborn service to address the level of maternal and child mortality. The administration has also employed over 250 health workers across the state and increased the salary of medical personnel and health workers by up to 40 per cent.

For tertiary healthcare delivery, the administration has completed the reconstruction and upgrade of IBB Specialist Hospital, Minna; the School of Nursing Bida established in 1976 got full accreditation under Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, following its renovation, creation of enabling environment. It is now graduating more than 50 students which was not possible before the full accreditation. The School of Midwifery also got the same treatment. .

Under the present administration, the IBB Specialist Hospital is ready to commence Kidney transplant in the state. The Kidney Center at the hospital now has the capacity to carry out dialysis of over 800 sessions per year. When it fully becomes operational, those with such medical conditions will have access to cost-effective treatment and will reduce medical tourism and save the cost of medical assistance given to Nigerlites by the state government. The hospital now has modern machines to enhance neurosurgery and make possible surgeries that, in the past, were difficult to carry out.

A Cancer Management Institute that will cater not only for the country but Africa at large, is being established.

The implementation of the Contributory Healthcare Scheme has begun as part of efforts by the state government to make available and affordable quality healthcare services, maintain high standard of healthcare, ensure efficiency of the system and ease the hardship of people in the payment of medical bills. The state government is partnering with the Federal Government, the World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other relevant stakeholders to ensure a successful implementation of the scheme.

It is on the record that Niger State was the first of the three legacy states to release the one hundred million naira commitment fund for the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund (BHCPF).

The state has remained a loyal partner through the consistent payment of its counterpart fund in its bilateral agreement with development partners such as WHO, UNICEF, FGN, GAVI and Neonatal Concerns Ltd.

It is in recognition of these remarkable and dogged commitment in repositioning of the health sector that the state government received performance-based support from the Federal Government through the World Bank assisted Performance-based Support Programme for states. Interestingly, Niger State is also among the three states, and the only one in the North, to benefit from the BHCPF.

Niger State government under the present administration, was also proactive enough to pay five years counterpart fund outrightly to avoid any delays thereby making the WHO/ World Bank to implement various projects at the primary health care across the State.

With the emergence and outbreak of the scourge of Coronavirus (COVID-19), Governor Abubakar Sani Bello demonstrated a proactive sense of leadership by responding promptly and instituting measures and strategies to contain the devastating effect of the ravaging pandemic. Without much ado, the Governor constituted the State Taskforce on Covid-19 with the Secretary to the State Government, Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, as its Chairman.

Through the Taskforce, the state government reactivated its Isolation Center at the General Hospital, Minna, and isolation rooms in all General Hospitals across the state. It also established Quarantine Centers in major cities across the state, purchased respiratory machines and prepositioned drugs, medical supplies and Personal Protective Equipment to the Isolation Center in Minna.

Apart from strengthening the surveillance system to detect any case of the Coronavirus disease, the state government embarked on the training and sensitization of its clinicians on the management of epidemic prone diseases and treatment protocols.

That’s not all. The state government, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) has continued to enforce all preventive measures, especially the physical distancing and hand washing routines.

In an effort to combat the dreaded disease, the state government in its wisdom, thought it wise to look beyond COVID-19 and established a laboratory that will outlive COVID-19. The laboratory which is one of the best in the country, has the capacity to test all other disease, except for anthrax.

Further measures have, so far, been taken such as the imposition of curfew and lockdown; closure of public, private and Almajiri schools and institutions; prohibition of all public gathering of more than 20 persons, banning street hawking and begging, restriction of movement while workers remained at home. Meanwhile, to cushion the effect of the lockdown, the state government distributed palliatives to the vulnerable and less privileged across the state.

Also to fight COVID-19 and upgrade public health centres in the State, an Emergency Operation and Communication Centre (EOC) was established by the present administration in collaboration with USAID.

The EOC has been instrumental in making the health sector in the State go  electronical as data are being sent to EOC centres, dash board centres from even the remote area of Babanna, Mazakari etc in the State. The sector is getting prompt information on its dashboard at the EOC about the presence of any disease from those places at any given time. This has been helping in adequately addressing any disease in the State

Without an iota of a doubt, a new era of effective health system delivery in Niger State has been heralded and all that is needed is for the citizens to intensify their support for the present administration to enable it do more
Agriculture:-

Walking The Talk: Gov Sani Bello’s Agriculture  Initiatives To Banish Hunger In Niger State

The debate on how to ensure security of lives and property  cannot be complete until Food Security is part of the menu. This is against the backdrop of the fact that a nation that cannot feed itself or depends on food importation to feed its population is a vulnerable one.

Nigeria is home to 923,768 square kms of landmass, out of which  34 million hectares is arable, 6.5 million hectares for permanent crops, and 30.3 million hectares on meadows and pastures. Agriculture accounts for over 20 percent of Nigeria’s GDP.

Realizing the robust role Agriculture can play in socio-economic transformation and security of lives, Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Sani Bello, whose state accounts for ten per cent (10%) of Nigeria’s landmass, embraced the sector with the ‘tenacity of a bulldog.’

For hindsight, Niger State created in 1976 is a land of immense natural resources, the largest and major contributor to the national policy on Food Security having been blessed with vast tracts of rich and arable  land.

It is therefore not surprising that Governor Abubakar Sani Bello led administration had from the onset indicated that on any scale of preference agriculture will rank very high in his priority list and has shown greater commitment to stimulating the economy and bringing prosperity to the state and her citizens.

He has thus demonstrated this in the provision of regular farm inputs, purchase and distribution of tractors to farming households, and released money for the resuscitation and distribution of mechanized tillers, abandoned for many years, to boost agricultural activities.

Partnership with foreign investors in the areas of sugar and rice production is equally yielding positive results. The South Korean Government through the Korean International Cooperation Agency has established a modern rice processing complex in Bida, Niger State under its Technical Assistance Programme to Nigeria to improve the competitiveness of Nigerian produced rice and enhance her capacity to export.

Sunti Golden Estate is a Multi-billion naira investment by an indigenous conglomerate of Sunti in Mokwa Local  Government Area with the support of the Abubakar Sani Bello led administration.

With the ingenuity and dexterity of a businessman and an accomplished entrepreneur, Governor Sani Bello conceived and developed the RUGA Model through the establishment of the massive thirty three thousand seven hundred and thirty one (33,731) hectares multi million Naira Bobi Grazing Reserve to boost meat and dairy production. The project aims to generate revenue, and curb insecurity amidst the increasing farmers/herders clash, which has remained a threat to the corporate existence of the country.

The landmark initiative has brought about the desired growth and development to the area and equally attracted a number of investors. Already, five thousand hectares of land is being developed at the reserve by WAMCO Nigeria Ltd to start the first indigenous milk production company in the country. Collaborations are also ongoing with countries with pedigree in livestock and dairy production such as Brazil, Hungary, Netherlands, India and Pakistan. There is also plan to import a particularly nutrition breed of cattle to enhance production.

The Federal Government and the Niger State Government haven fulfilled partnership obligations, the agricultural policy of Niger State Government has received a boost as a result of the sustained partnership in intervention projects such as FADAMA III, DFID, IFAD Value-Chain Development Programme and Agricultural Transformation Agenda Support Programme (ATASP).

Apart from the foregoing, the administration is collaborating with the Federal Government to sustain the CBN Anchor Borrowers Scheme and exploit all available opportunities inherent in the agriculture Value-Chain.

The Anchor Borrowers Scheme initiated by the Federal Government has proven to be a game-changer in the financing of small farm holders as shown by the activity of farmers in Niger State.

In other to provide ample opportunities for the Agriculture Ministry towards enhancing Agricultural products and processing, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello has been able to establish an agricultural policy framework and investment plan for the state. This for more than a decade has not been done by the Agriculture Ministry.

Livestock farming is another sub-sector that has engaged the attention of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello. The administration has been able to provide support to farmers, especially small scale farmers by increasing market accessibility through the provision of rural access roads, which has in-turn improved their socio-economic status. It has, through a mutually beneficial partnership with RAMP, embarked on surface dressing of 130 Kilometers of Rural Roads across the State.

The Tegina Farm Institute that has been in a sorry state over the years was upgraded within this same economically difficult year.

It is said that in difficult times, it is better to invest. In this spirit, and despite the economic downturn, the State government embarked on a pilot scheme project of developing 30 hectares of Oil Palm Plantation with the planting of 2,500 Oil Palm Seedlings at Labozhi, in Mokwa Local Government Area. Soon, the State will start benefiting from the project. Also, government procured and distributed 30 Metric Tons of improved Sesame Seeds to farmers all over the State under the Sesame Value Chain Development Programme.

Moreover, the administration has established a cotton pilot scheme in the state. Funds for the scheme has been made available. The project will be sited in Babanna in Borgu Local Government Area(LGA) Kontagora in Kontagora LGA, Mariga in Mariga LGA, Mashegu in Mashegu LGA, and Rijau in LGA,

The government under Abubakar Sani Bello also completed the new irrigation scheme at Tamanai in Borgu LGA, and has reactivated four existing ones at Lioji in Kontagora LGA, Chanchaga in Chanchaga LGA, Agaie in Agaie LGA, and Gbakogi in Katcha LGA. All these are in a bid to ensure food security in the State in particular and the nation in general.

Due to the obvious potential in creating countless employment opportunities across the agriculture value-chain, this administration has trained 100 youths in modern agribusiness techniques, under the Green House Project, to replace the cumbersome traditional agricultural techniques. It also revitalized the School of Agriculture, Mokwa and its Study Centre in Kuta.

Governor Sani Bello has, in addition to procuring hundreds of tractors, annually subsidized fertilizer for the rural farmers across the state to boost mechanized farming. He equally initiated the renovation of about 17 stores across the state. Some of these stores include Agwara, Beri, Garatu, Farm Centre in Minna, and Lapai.

Indeed, Niger State in the hands of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello is in safe hands and working. With the steady progress being made in the agriculture sector, it is only a matter of time, when hunger would be banished from the ‘power state’ and a new day beckons for youth employment, which will permanently vanguish insecurity to the pages of history.