How Zamfara State is spearheading a renaissance in the North

Today, we welcome a Guest Columnist in the person of Sesugh Akume, a public policy analyst and businessman, who is offering his personal reflections on how Zamfara State is making progress in healing the wounds of a broken people.

Until recently, Zamfara was one of the most depressing states in Nigeria. Everything coming from there was bad news for the past two decades, until Bello Matawalle was elected Governor in 2019 by a sheer act of providence.

Zamfara tops in virtually all the underdevelopment indices in Nigeria, where 91 per cent of the population live in extreme poverty. Zamfara fared spectacularly poorly in the education sector. Even in a situation where the pass mark was drastically lowered for Zamfara pupils, very few were enrolled for the National Common Entrance Examination. In 2018, the pass mark for entrance into the Unity Schools for Abia pupils, for example, was 130 out of 200; for Zamfara it was two for girls and four for boys. Even at that, Zamfara had a problem fielding candidates. In 2019, some 25,000 children from Lagos scrambled to get spaces in the Unity Schools out of 75,635 candidates who wrote the National Common Entrance Examination. Zamfara had only 59 candidates.

During 2020, Lagos State came top, with 26,006 registered candidates while FCT came second with registered applicants of 9,763; followed by Anambra with 6,440.  Zamfara made remarkable progress by taking 14th position with 1,742 applicants. This is thanks to the great efforts by the State Government for investing in education and the youths.

Until recently, Zamfara had been in the news for all the bad reasons: banditry, murder, violence, robbery, kidnapping, cattle rustling and banditry. Everybody feigned helplessness but when this mercurial gentleman, Bello Matawalle, became Governor, all of that became history.

A no-nonsense leader, he went straight for the jugular. He wasted no time revoking the Certificates of occupancy (C of O’s) of vast portions of land 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, which fuelled farmers-herders crises in the state.

The Governor further influenced the State Assembly to nullify the N700 million yearly benefits for former Governors and former senior elective office-holders, He signed the revocation into law; promising that all the moneys saved would be deployed to helping the poor in, especially in a situation where he inherited a N252 billion debt that no one can explain.

It takes a lot of courage and conviction to commit the kind of class suicide he did. Usually, people aspire for office in Nigeria in order to join the gravy train and partake in the malfeasance of primitive accumulation. 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.

Last 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 bags of rice, cows and money 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 assembly power of its symbolism and the principle of it outweigh its propriety or not. Someday, 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 two 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 hard-line positions alienated a vast portion of the populace. Emman Shehu, a noted poet, veteran journalist, activist and public intellectual has been banished from the state in the last two decades. He is Fulani, and of the minority Christian population. Not only Christians have had no place in the state; anyone who didn’t buy into the extremism that had taken the state down the hole was persecuted.

It is in light of this that Governor Matawalle’s deliberate act of empathy, inclusion, consensus and confidence building and unifying gesture is heart-warming. His Christmas message to the good people of Zamfara on his Twitter account 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, happy Christmas.”

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 truly unifying message at Christmas. Remarkably, the Governor of the pioneer Sharia State was 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 of Zamfara, as he says he acknowledges the sacrifice they require to function in those remote outposts. Well, pretty much of Zamfara is rural, so that may practically mean an extra allowance for all corps members in Zamfara!

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