Bala Mohammed as ‘Mr Rural Infrastructure’

Driving out of the Alhaji Tafawa Balewa International Airport in Bauchi, to the city centre, you will be forgiven if you thought you were in another territory or that the driver had lost his way.

That was my predicament when I visited Bauchi three weeks ago. My dilemma was compounded because I was engrossed with a headline that caught my attention. This might be a perfect hyperbole: never take it literally; but quite frankly, you could drive from the airport junction to the city centre, with your eyes close. This is not a stunt. But do not try it. Keep your eyes open. And if you are familiar with the road, you will certainly marvel at the transformation that has taken place within so short a time. Reason: this is one of the several roads being dualized, as part of the Bala Mohammed administration’s urban renewal programme in Bauchi state.

A couple of months earlier, once out of the airport zone, a visitor to Bauchi State had to contend with a bumpy ride even as the driver, no matter how dexterous, navigated the potholes and often blind and winding narrow road to town. At least, that was the situation, from the airport to the Turun village, a location a few kilometres from the Command Guest House, easily one of the most comfortable hotels in Bauchi. (I was told that, that short stretch, a commendable attempt at dualising the road, was built by the administration of Bala Mohammed’s predecessor, Barrister Mohammed Abubakar.)

The return journey was not different. It was always a tortuous trip that consumed considerable travel time. Of course, you had to contend with the security check. Yet, no one would complain about that; it is such an arrangement, inspired by very close collaboration between Bala Mohammed’s government and the security agencies, that has made Bauchi the safest state in the north. It has to be so, given that without security, Bauchi State’s claim, to being the tourism pearl of Nigeria, will be defined only by the presence of the iconic Yankari Games Reserve and nothing more.

For a state that has, since 2019, been painstakingly courting both local and foreign investors, the assurance of security of lives and property is an important deliverable, complimenting the breath-taking pace of infrastructural progress that has become the mantra of the Bala Mohammed administration and for which he won the award, as an icon of rural infrastructure. As governor, I would not ask for more than that: quite often, governors concentrate development in only the urban areas. This provides a façade of excellence while the rural areas where the majority of the people live, continue to deteriorate, with disease, poverty and squalor being their lot. It is in Bala Mohammed’s ability, to balance resource allocation between the urban and rural communities, that his ingenuity as a public servant lies. Fundamental to this disposition is Bala Mohammed’s non-negotiable philosophy, that equity and inclusion should be the hallmark of governmental administration.

Make no mistake about it. Investment in the Bauchi metropolis is massive: the roads-dualized or single lane, the new government house, the water project, the ultra-modern Hajj camp, the renovated stadium and more.

Yet, outside the Bauchi metropolis, the pace of infrastructural development has been no less phenomenal. At the last count, the administration has constructed, rehabilitated or reconstructed over 400 kilometres of road, spread through the three geopolitical zones, always guided by the policy of equitable distribution of amenities. Thus, areas that hitherto never really experienced democracy dividends, save for handouts from privileged politicians, have begun to feel the impact of government.

The educational sector has similarly experienced a tremendous boost, driven by the understanding that placing Bauchi state on a sustainable developmental trajectory required restoring its pride of place, as the hub of human capital formation, in the old northern region. Through astute collaboration with development partners, such as TETFUND, UNICEF, the British Council and others, the state government has built, renovated and equipped over 5000 classrooms in secondary and primary schools all over the state. Teachers are being re-trained while students are being incentivized through merit-based financial support.

It is gratifying that the massive and structured investment in education since 2019, has achieved a very salutary effect by all the performance indices, as shown by the WAEC records. Consider, for instance, the index of students who scored five credits and above between 2016 and 2021: 2016-32.5%, 2017-27.7%, 2018-28.9%, 2019-37.4%, 2020-65.5% and 2021-68.0%. Again, there was a significant improvement in the percentage of those who had five credits with Math and English: 2016-9.2%, 2017-7.3%, 2018-6.6%, 2019-18.7%, 2020-24.2% and 2021-27%. A conducive learning environment, enforcement of discipline, adherence to extant governance regulations particularly in the management of funds and rigorous pursuit of a merit-based system, among other factors, explain this laudable progress in the educational sector, a development that leaves the assurance that another four years of the Bala Mohammed administration will see Bauchi state competing with, if not surpassing some of the educationally advantaged states of the federation.

Of course, the watershed performance of the Bala Mohammed administration in the completion of the Bauchi Urban Regional Water Project had already received a high-sounding commendation from no less a person than President Muhammadu Buhari who, at the commissioning of the project in May, had this to say: “I am happy that the Bauchi state government has executed the project creditably. I am not surprised by this accomplishment because the state government personally pursued the project with vigour and determination through the allocation of resources and intervention to eliminate bottlenecks and challenges including even COVID-19 which affected the project extension as well as paying attention to details. This is what leaders in the country should emulate from the Governor of Bauchi State”. Can it be that President Buhari personally nominated Bala Mohammed for the rural infrastructure award? I won’t be surprised if he did. After all, did he not tell us that he was for nobody, but for everyone?

Another important milestone in the Bala Mohammed administration’s pursuit of equity and rural infrastructure is the housing project. involving the provision of 2,500 housing units in the six emirates of the state designed to provide houses for civil servants and low-income earners, the project encapsulates the urban renewal vision of the administration and the policy of empowering Bauchi state indigenes to be active players, in the nation’s economic competitiveness.

Spread over the six emirates of the state, the distribution of the houses is another evidence of the administration’s commitment to equity and inclusiveness as one of the cardinal principles of the government. The distribution is as follows: Bauchi 1500, Katagum 350, Misau 250, Ningi 200, Jamar 100 and Dass 100. While some have been delivered, work has reached an advanced stage in other emirates.

Hardly can the Bala Mohammed administration’s rural infrastructure deliverables be complete without mentioning the Kaura Economic Empowerment Programme (KEEP). Reminiscent of the Chinese dictum of teaching a person to catch a fish, the programme entails equipping people in all the 20 local governments of the state with life-long skills and starter packs/equipment, instead of handing over doles to them. It only takes knowledge of the grinding poverty in rural areas, to appreciate the profound impact the KEEP programme is making on the lives of the rural dwellers.

The achievements in the health sector have been no less spectacular. From available information, due to the worsening brain drain, recruiting adequate health professionals has not matched the pace of infrastructural development in the health sector. Yet, the administration remains undaunted. The high point of this is massive state-wide infrastructure renewal involving construction, reconstruction, renovation and re-equipping of general hospitals in all the 20 LGAs of the state; and equipment of primary healthcare centres (PHCs) in each of the 323 electoral wards in the state. To combat the shortfall in medical personnel, the government has rehabilitated and strengthened the College of Nursing and Midwifery and the College of Health Technology, Ningi. The two were renamed after Aliko Dangote and Belinda Gates, respectively, in recognition of their contributions to the healthcare delivery system of the state and to retain their partnership and collaboration.

In all, the pace of development in Bauchi state tends to obscure the fact that the Bala Mohammed Administration is only in its first term, and that it still has all of seven months to go. But as many indigenes and residents of Bauchi State will readily volunteer, the state has never had it so good.

It is such an iconic performance that stands Bala Mohammed out, as a consummate administrator, a role model among his compatriots and a generational symbol of hope. For one thing, these laudable achievements have been recorded, in the face of dwindling resources, particularly federal allocations, a shrinking economy and mass poverty all over the country.

Trying to figure out why things are turning up favourably for Bauchi when some other states are looking for a path out of the current stagnation? I think the answer is simple: Bauchi is winning because it made a good choice in 2019 by electing a man with a larger-than-life exposure, traversing various segments of public administration between 1984 and 2019; that is, twenty-five solid years of very rich inter-disciplinary and inter-ministerial exposure. For a state to have a governor who rose to a director in the Federal Civil Service is a big bargain. To have one that has also been a Senator is a big boost. To go beyond that, to add the plume of a minister of the Federal Capital Territory, a quasi-gubernatorial status, is a big bonus.

Little wonder that Atiku Abubakar, while commissioning the Gombe By-Pass road named after him, last year, had told the people of Bauchi state thus: “I want to appeal to the people of Bauchi state to support their governor. Give him all the support that he needs as you can see that if you give him the support, he will also serve you very well. He is not a governor that is ruling or governing you. He is a governor who is serving you.” On November 21, 2022, through the rural infrastructure award bestowed on Bala Mohammed, the federal government confirmed what Atiku had said last November.

The rest is left to the Bauchi electorate.

Prince Oyerinde, an Abuja-based businessman and policy analyst, is of the Iresa-Adu Royal House, Ogbomosho, Oyo state.