A grid for Yobe’s rural communities
Despite its phenomenally huge economy and the breathtaking progress it has made over the years, America still worries about the state of its infrastructure and frets over how other countries, such as China, Singapore and even Russia, try to outperform it building the bridges and highways and high speed internet that could give them a competitive edge in a constantly changing world.
To maintain its traditional preeminence and scale up its current World Economic Forum ranking, the US now appears keen to move back – to the Great Society era of the 1960’s - by undertaking reconstruction projects, rebuilding infrastructure and improving schools. In fiscal 2013, for instance, the Obama administration plans to spend a record $476 billion through 2018 on highway, bridge and mass transit projects. It also plans to spend $30 billion on school modernization and another $30 billion to help states retain (and not fire) their school teachers.
So, what does this say about the social services that a government, at whatever level, must provide to stay competitive and make its people live a happier, healthier and wealthier life? Well, the American experience shows that to tap from the creative genius of a people, their government must continuously invest in them - in the roads and bridges they need to move products to the markets; in the schools that would teach their children the skills they need to become innovators of the future; and in agriculture and healthcare to grow food and stay fit, amongst others.
In more ways than the United States, these are the investments we desperately need in great numbers in Nigeria today. We need our governments at the local, state and federal levels to fully deploy the resources at their disposal to intervene in real and concrete ways in our lives as we live them, and move away from being ‘long on rhetoric and short on substance’, as President Obama would say.
This means returning to the drawing board and building our communities – and our nation – from the bottom up. It means local communities must be consciously engineered and empowered to have access to clean water and sanitation, basic healthcare and basic education to be able to engage in agriculture and other economic activities that could lift them out of poverty.
Although the story differs in different parts of the country, and is often a mixed bag of success and failure, the outlook from Yobe State gives one reason to be hopeful. Here is a part of Nigeria which had suffered a mindless and criminal insurgency and, for nearly a decade before that, avoidable deprivations but still retains an amazingly hopeful look to the future, as the current administration in the state continues its work to improve the lives of the people.
For example, at a time that unemployment has become such a combustible social problem across the country, the Yobe State government, under Governor Gaidam, recruited full-time over 4, 000 NCE, HND and University graduates and provided social safety nets to over 6, 000 diploma holders. The government is also said have funded several thousand other youths to undergo skills training at the Sani Abatcha Youth Center in Kano and provided resettlement materials to them after graduation.
The Yobe State government is fully invested in other sectors as well. In roads construction, for example, the government has built over 700 kilometers of road and is currently building a 300-kilometer long road to link the vast swathe of the state’s north from Kanamma to Machina. It has built countless other local roads and bridges and culverts to link communities and open them up to the world.
These efforts have commendably not been restricted to the state level alone. Governor Gaidam is keen to ensure that the local governments do their part, too. This is because they are the pivot through which local communities are easily reached.
Speaking at the swearing-in of newly appointed chairmen of local government management communities in Damaturu last Thursday, the governor spelled out in broad terms what he believes the local councils should focus their attention on. “The councils are expected to give attention to such activities as opening up Fadama farms, provision of water pumps, seedlings and animal traction, as well as purchase of KEKE NAPEP and sewing machines for distribution to their peoples at subsidized rates with a view to creating job opportunities, alleviating poverty and empowering our youths for self-reliance. The councils should also ensure proper maintenance of drainages in the major towns to avert flooding”.
“Local government council chairmen”, the governor added “are also expected to send unemployed youth in their areas to the BEST centers and vocational schools in the state and elsewhere in the country to enable them acquire the necessary skills for self-reliance. They are hereby directed to personally undertake periodic inspection of projects in their respective areas to ensure that projects are executed according to agreed specifications”.
If the local councils in Yobe State apply themselves to meeting these goals, there is little doubt that rural communities would be transformed. And over the last three years, there is a growing trend in this direction. Happily, Governor Gaidam is not only just outlining earmarks. He always gives teeth to his programmes. For instance, before the tenure of the last councils expired, the governor had approved the release of over N5 billion for the local governments to undertake direct community projects that would address the specific needs of their people.
Recent media reports indicate that the Gaidam administration has remarkably democratized the process through which these projects are identified and executed in benefitting communities. For instance, communities in a given local government area, say Bursari, would be asked by their local government council to identify projects they need established or upgraded in specific towns or villages. Through local community leaders, associations and councilors, identified projects are then communicated to the local government council, which then collates various requests and forward them to the governor for funds approval.
Although this might seem a little cumbersome, it allows for transparency and active community involvement and ensures that individual communities take ownership of projects provided in their localities.
Reports also indicate that the Yobe State government, going forward, has set up a monitoring committee to tract how funds released for the local councils are utilized. Governor Gaidam himself had indicated that the performance evaluation of the councils was one of the criteria used to determine the return of some of the council chairmen to their positions after the expiration of their first tenure. It follows that no local government council would take things lying down and each one of them has had to apply itself to the task of investing in and thus empowering its local communities. This seems to me a very effective way of growing Yobe’s economy from the bottom up.
Regardless of ongoing security challenges – challenges that are increasingly being met with the active collaboration and support of the general public – Yobe’s rural empowerment drive and investment in local communities aggregate what even the biggest economies of the world are doing to build healthy, highly productive societies.
Given the breadth of developmental challenges that the state and indeed the country faces, however, the work to build and re-rebuild and thus spread wellbeing and prosperity must be pursued and sustained in every possible way. That’s the only insurance, long term, against the social dislocations that have threatened to consume the whole country. This is the message that Governor Gaidam wishes to convey to his newly appointed council chairmen.
Babangida Jaba writes from Teburin Gambo area, Sabon Gari ward, Gashu’a Yobe State