Public Official of the Year (2019)
By Sesugh Akume
Zamfara is by far Nigeria’s saddest news as everything coming from there has been depressing for the past 2 decades, until this gentleman became governor by a sheer act of Providence.
Zamfara tops virtually all the underdevelopment indices in Nigeria where 91% of the population lives in extreme poverty. Everything from there has been simply depressing. To add perspective to this, in 2019, the pass mark for entrance not into the federal government Unity Schools for any child in Abia is 130 out of 200; for Zamfara it is 2 for girls and 4 for boys. Yes, with a score of 2 or 4 over 200, a child in Zamfara is deemed to have passed the exam! Whereas close to 25,000 children from Lagos scrambled to get spaces in the schools out of the 75,635 candidates who wrote the National Common Entrance Examination this year, only 59 sat for the exam in Zamfara; it was 28 in 2018.
More recently, the state has been in the news for the cheapening of human life where scores were murdered daily with entire communities sacked, as were the daily cases of robbery, kidnapping, cattle rustling and banditry. Everybody feigned helplessness, from the governor to the immediate-past minister of defence who is from the state, to the interior minister, to the president. When this mercurial gentleman, Bello Matawalle, became governor, all of that became history.
There is too much pretence and hypocrisy everywhere in Nigeria, it is one thing he cannot abide. He went straight for the jugular. He promptly deposed and replaced the emir of Maru, Abubakar Cika Ibrahim; and the district head of Kanomo, Lawal Ahmed. It is no news that emirs, district heads, top politicians, and other VIP are behind the evil but everybody pretends about it. Five more emirs and 33 district heads are likely to go this same route, if the recommendations of the former inspector-general of police, M D Suleiman committee report is implemented.
He wasted no time revoking the certificates of occupancy (C’s of O) of vast portions of land his predecessors appropriated for themselves and their cronies in the past 2 decades which used to be reserved as grazing areas. We all have heard that grazing reserves have been appropriated, cattle herders have inadequate pasture for grazing therefore roam, which leads to the farmer-herder crises. What no one says is where these reserves are, who appropriated them and why. Whether this action leads to destabilisation and murder of thousands, the wicked, soulless people do not care. Everyone pretends about it.
Well, the deposed emir of Maru, along with the emirs of Dansadau, Bakura, Gummi all lost the land they took for themselves. So did all 3 former governors of the state in the past 2 years, a former secretary to the state government, former speaker of the state assembly, 4 former commissioners, and a former National Assembly member. Such has been the elite conspiracy against the people of Zamfara until this governor came into office.
He further influenced the state assembly to nullify the N700 million yearly benefits for former governors, deputy governors, speakers and deputies; and sign the revocation into law. He says the amount could go into other uses, especially considering that he inherited a N252 billion debt no one can explain.
It takes a lot of courage and conviction to commit the class suicide he did. Usually, people aspire for office in Nigeria join the gravy train and partake in the malfeasance. You don’t disrupt anything, you simply let sleeping dogs lie and coast through in order to have your own share. In the process, you say all the nice things, but never hitting the nail on the head. You do all the cosmetic activities without addressing any issue at the foundation. All politicians in Nigeria belong to one political party, with different acronyms. You never take on the entire elite class of a state in order to deliver the public good. Doing so is suicide. No public official in Nigeria has upset and disrupted the status quo in their place of influence as Bello Matawalle has, none even comes close.
This December, he reached out to the Christian community which is a gross minority, extending the spirit and cheer of the season to them. He specifically asked them to imbibe the spirit of love in line with the teachings of Christmas, and reiterated that both Christians and Muslims live in peace and unity in the state. He also gave them hundreds of bags of rice, tens of cows, and millions of naira for the season’s celebrations. I usually have issues with the state giving out cash and food items (‘stomach infrastructure’) to people; but in this instance the the power of its symbolism, and the principle of it outweighs its propriety or not. Some day we will entirely outgrow that practice.
Nothing has destabilised Nigeria, created distrust, heightened suspicion, and widened the fissures between what is termed the ‘Muslim north’ and everyone else, as the controversial adoption of the Sharia code in many states in the northern part of the country in the last 2 decades. It all began in Zamfara. This, aside from the gruelling poverty and backwardness, the killing, a woman facing death for ‘adultery’, a man facing amputation for stealing, and their serial thieving governors, Zamfara is known for nothing else, maybe save their gold deposits.
The adoption of the code along with the extremist hardline positions alienated a vast portion of the populace. Emman Shehu, a noted and veteran journalist, activist, and public intellectual has been banished from the state in the last 2 decades. He is Fulani, and of the minority Christian population. Not only Christians have had no place in state, but anyone who doesn’t buy into the alienation and extremism that has taken the state down the hole in the last 2 decades. It is in light of this that the governor’s deliberate act of empathy, inclusion, consensus and confidence building, and unifying gesture is heartwarming.
His Christmas message to the good people of Zamfara on his Twitter accountt reads: ‘This is the season to wish joy, peace and happiness to one another. I wish the good people of Zamfara a Merry Christmas. May God protect us and our families in this festive season, may he bring everlasting peace in Zamfara and Nigeria at large, happy holidays. #HappyChristmas’. Notice that his Christmas message is not only to Christians in Zamfara — as I’ve seen even some of the most sophisticated people wishing (only) Christians a Merry Christmas — but to everyone. It is a unifying message at Christmas. The governor of the premier Sharia state wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!
Wanting to open up the state, he has instituted a special allowance for youth corps members serving in the rural areas, as he says he acknowledges the sacrifice they require to function. Well, pretty much of Zamfara is rural, so that may practically mean an extra allowance for all corps members in Zamfara!
Muhammad Bello, the Matawallen Maradun, Zamfara governor, is not only my most outstanding governor for 2019, but out and out the most exceptional public official for the year!