July 5, 2020

Democracy Heroes: Dankwambo, three former governors on my mind

with Suleiman Uba Gaya
0803 567 6295 (Text Message Only)

Today, against the backdrop of raging controversy over the appropriateness or otherwise of the sacking of Hon. Emeka Ihedioha as Governor of Imo State by the Supreme Court, as well other judgements that are likely to shake the polity to its foundation, to be delivered by the same apex court next week, I remember four immediate past state governors who sacrificed their personal ambition so that their states, and democracy, could move forward.

These former governors are Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo of Gombe State, Dr. Sule Lamido of Jigawa State, Senator Umaru Jibrilla Bindow of Adamawa State and then the last, but surely not the least: Barrister M.A. Abubakar of Bauchi State.

About ten kilometres after leaving Gombe Airport, on the way to the city, the first major landmark that tells you serious governance had taken place in Gombe State is a sprawling edifice that looks every inch like a five star hotel. It is the International Conference Centre built by the immediate past government in the state, and it is an integral part of former Governor Dankwambo’s strategy to take Gombe to the world and bring the world to the state by making it the conference headquarters of this part of the globe.

As a journalist and member of the World Editors Forum, I know that one of the major requirements for acquiring hosting rights of the annual gathering of global editors is a befitting hall that comfortably sits at least a thousand people. Many cities that vied to host the annual fiesta have missed out on that score alone. The next requirement is frequency of flights and availability of good hotels. On the second and third scores, too, Gombe, courtesy of Dankwambo, been far ahead of its peers, with two major airlines operating to the city throughout the week, and with quality hotels dotting the state capital.

But one thing not many will probably realise is that the frequency of flights to Gombe was also occasioned by Dankwambo’s ability to provide first class infrastructure throughout the state. A core desire of the then Governor was to lift as many of his people as possible out of poverty, and his strategy towards ensuring that is making sure that trade and commerce were taken a notch higher in Gombe, inspite of the pervading recession that had taken a heavy toll on the finances of Nigerians and significantly weakened their spending power.

In the Nigeria of today, not many could afford air travel just for the heck of it. The fact that Gombe has been made attractive for trade and commerce to flourish was the reason things can only get better, as more airlines were also getting set to start operating the Gombe route, because more and more people were desirous of traveling to Gombe, or making it their home. It is all up to Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya, the incumbent governor of the state, to build on these shining legacies and sustain the deeply rich potentials.

Governor Dankwambo was not born when the 33rd American President Harry S. Truman became US President on April 12,1945, taking the office upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. But he was one American president who promoted the thesis that leaders make or mar the societies they lead, depending on their style of governance In one of his famous quotes, he said that “men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skilful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.

Another popular quote of President Truman that comes very true and relevant to Gombe is that “it is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” In the typical Nigerian and indeed Third World concept, continuity is an anathema. Most leaders abandon projects or programmes started by their predecessors because they don’t want to ascribe any credit to them. When all you did is to complete a project, however the depth of your investment into it, people will most likely only remember the person that started it.

This has for ages remained one of the major factors informing the underdevelopment of our societies. Leaders will in most cases start new projects to make sure they alone take the credit. At the end of the day, either owing to poor planning or the usual paucity of resources, the new project will be abandoned, and resources thereby severely wasted. An analyst said recently that the monetary value of abandoned projects account for about a third of our GDP. Just imagine!

In Gombe, former Governor Dankwambo has ensured that virtually all projects started by his predecessors were perfectly completed. A lot of people will think Gombe was an oil producing state that receives derivation funds in billions, when realising that the Dankwambo Administration was paying salaries and pensions promptly, and almost every sector of the state economy was receiving good attention. Yet, Gombe was one of the least paid states throughout the Nigerian Federation. And eventhough trade and commerce have continued to pick up, the internally generated revenue of the state was rather poor, as the people often see government as free service, to which they do not need to contribute a dime.

In a region, the north-east, that is seen as the most volatile in the whole of Nigeria, owing to the dastardly activities of Boko Haram, one other commodity that was in good supply in Gombe when Dankwambo held sway was peace. The people love and trust Dankwambo. Those of them that opposed him are in most cases regretting their action. He was a person who spared no efforts in ensuring only the best for them. It is a partnership that is still working, with the state as the biggest beneficiary.

Until Dankwambo assumed the mantle of leadership of Gombe, even passers by to neighbouring states were almost always afraid of the state capital, owing to the dastardly activities of the Sara-suka cult that reportedly dispatched many innocent souls to the great beyond. This was promptly brought under control.

Dankwambo could well be the best President Nigeria has not yet had. He answered the clarion calls of Nigerians from all books and crannies to contest for the presidential election that took place last year. Sadly, however, he could not muster enough resources to win the primary election of his party, an exercise that was reported to be a sort of bazaar, where only the highest bidder could be assured of victory.

Dankwambo could have chosen to use the resources meant for developing Gombe to beat all the other aspirants by purchasing victory and emerge as presidential candidate of the PDP, but he chose not to tread that dangerous path. He then did what only a true democrat could do: supporting his opponent, the winner all through.

Back to Gombe, the people asked him to vie for the post of senator. He did. But rather than hearken to the counsels of many of his friends and political associates, Dankwambo insisted in allowing a free and fair election throughout Gombe State. That was how an opposition party snatched victory from Dankwambo’s PDP to produce the Governor, a person who could rightly be described as his arch political enemy.

Two weeks earlier, Dankwambo himself allowed himself to be defeated at the senatorial polls in his senatorial constituency. I used the word “allowed” because he could have chosen to tow the same line that his colleagues in many other states have done, which is the hiring of deadly thugs and arming them to frighten the opposition and snatch ballot boxes to ensure victory. Today, there are governors and legislators who are in office courtesy of that direct affront on our democracy. Some of them have even managed to have their “election” affirmed by the highest courts of the land.

Many governors who have attained half of what Dr. Ibrahim Dankwambo did will have seen a senate seat as their birthright. Dankwambo did none of that, even when he could do otherwise. By that action, and for developing Gombe to heights hitherto unknown, Dr. Dankwambo has earned the respect of Democrats in Nigeria and globally, and his political future is definitely assured.

There is also my big brother, Senator Muhammad Umar Jibrilla Bindow, who governed Adamawa State for four years and left indelible marks on the sands of history.

A little over two years ago I was part of the leadership of the Nigerian Guild of Editors that was hosted by Governor Bindow In Yola, for our quarterly executive council meeting. We seized the moment to grill the Governor on his development agenda, and I remember very well that all of us were very impressed with his performance, after undertaking a physical tour of some of the projects he executed for the people. He was the quintessential road master who also sought to move as many of his people out of poverty as possible, by massively linking rural communities with urban ones, building roads of high quality and at a low cost.

It came as a rude shock to some of us that such a person could be denied a second term of office by the very people he did his very best to serve. Such is politics, of the Nigeria variant, where as minor as a disagreement with a godfather or group of godfathers could deny a high achieving political office holder a chance at second, or even first term of office.

Only few have survived the shenanigans of godfathers. Sadly, Bindow could not, even when he also have deployed brute force to defeat these godfathers.

The story of Barrister Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar is a sad one. He was popularly elected as governor by the good people of Bauchi State. Sadly, he fell out with federal legislators from the state a few months after he took over the reins of office. Some of them deployed massive resources to engage in all sorts of negative propaganda against him, deploying along the way, tribal sentiments, showing that one of the parents of the then governor was not originally from the state.

These tribal champions have forgotten that their next door neighbour, Kano, has become the undisputed leader of the North in terms of overall development because of its ability to accommodate non-natives. At least two former governors of Kano have their ancestral roots elsewhere, but all that the people of Kano were interested in was good development, and they willingly allowed these “non-natives” to govern them, which they did excellently well.

I will not want to dwell much on the story of Barrister Abubakar, especially as it pertains his lost of a second term bid, because the matter is subjudice, still in court.

But I have told a countless number of people that I am very impressed with the way he personified politics of deep decency, without bitterness, and devoid of desperation. Even when he was declared loser of the gubernatorial election last year, he chose to take his fate and allow the winner a peaceful reign, but he was prevailed upon by his political party, which insisted there were credible grounds to contest the victory in court.

These are leaders Nigerians should not forget about. They did their best for the states they governed, and eventhough being a governor in Nigeria is one of the sweetest things to get, they did not cling to power against the wishes of their people.

By their action, they have continued to give meaning to our democracy, and proving that it indeed is the best form of government.

Another former governor who has every right to beat his chest and be very proud of the unprecedented achievements he recorded while in office is Dr. Sule Lamido.

Until Lamido became governor of the rural state twelve years ago, Jigawa was a backwater state with no hope of ever developing or competing with its peers.

But it wasn’t only bad governance that had become the major bane for the development of Jigawa. Geography was, in a way, also not very kind to the state it is nestled between Kano and Bauchi, though it shares border with Yobe as well. With the all-conquering Kano about 120 kilometers away, a lot of people – foreign and domestic investors alike – will have preferred saving themselves the hassles of road travel to Jigawa and limiting themselves to the allures of cosmopolitan Kano.

But Lamido, the man of deep vision thought out a solution: he quickly constructed a befitting airport at a cost that was one of the lowest in the country. It was an airport with the longest runway and some of the most sophisticated equipment.

In no time, Jigawa started receiving high profile visitors. Sadly, the project was accomplished towards the end of his second term of office, and Jigawa did not reap full benefits of that useful project, before Sule’s successor placed a spammer in the works.

But to make the most out of the airport, the then governor subsidized the airfare, and airlines were operating to Dutse, the state capital that Sule Lamido turned to a small heaven with unprecedented, modern infrastructure all over the place.

Given his achievements, Sule will have contested and won a senatorial election as his colleagues outgoing governors were popularly doing. But he chose not to do so. But then am impressed populace insisted in his son contesting, in his stead. The son, Mustapha, contested. He was well accepted, courtesy of his father’s goodwill and popularity. But Sule “allowed” (permit the use of that term, yet again) his own son to be defeated at that election. All that Lanido needed to do was to also hire deadly thugs and arm them to ensure they chase every opponent away. He also did the same thing for the governorship, with a member of the opposition emerging as winner twice, even when Lamido had his own candidate, an astute administrator that could have seamlessly carried on from where his benefactor stopped.

And to prove that he is a master of politics without bitterness, the former governor is reported to be guiding the incumbent to also get it right, so much that incumbent Governor Badaru is toeing Lamido’s policy of aggressive development, buoying it up with enthroning a policy of accountable governance.

One major lesson incumbent leaders should learn from Sule Lamido is his pan-Nigerian disposition. He was, and is still very accommodative to Nigerians of all shades and colors, irrespective of background, tribe or religion. He sees the humanity in every human being, and treats them as such, even when there are others – and they are many – who detest the air of seeming arrogance around him.

Those around him will tell you, however, that it was confidence, not arrogance, borne out of his deep believe in Nigeria, and the ability of its citizens to collectively drive it to attain its manifest destiny.

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