BY SHEDDY OZOENE
On a recent trip from Abuja to Enugu by road, since Enugu Airport is still under repairs, I was jolted from sleep when the vehicle in which I was traveling commenced the usual topsy-turvy ride in Ajaokuta. I woke up as the driver started manoeuvring the car within that crater that has become the road median within that bad patch of about 5 kilometers, with the occasional nosedive from –and steep climb out of– the embankments. It is even worse as you approach the River Niger bridge into Kogi East where Governor Yahaya Bello is expecting a windfall in votes for his reelection on November 16.
Just as we approached the bridge, I received the second shocker: I saw a convoy of Governor Bello’s campaign vehicles snaking their way out of Ajaokuta Steel Complex. So, the vehicles were allowed to bypass the bad road by going through the complex which in the past provided a relief for commuters until they were shut against the public. That the campaign vehicles belonging to the governor who should have fixed that bad portion in the first place were allowed to exclusively use that facility was scandalous. It was roguish, to say the least.
Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi state represents many things to many people. While some say he is a total failure and a leader without vision, others swear in his ‘good’ name as the best thing that has happened to Kogi people. I always enjoy the altercations between my two friends, Tom Ohikere and Faruk Adejoh-Audu who regularly spar on Facebook over the impending governorship election in the state. Their disagreement usually centre around Bello and his handling of the state’s affairs. My concern here is the manner in which the state government has treated the industrial strip that is rising in Ajaokuta, and if it is a true reflection of the governor’s attitude, as a section of the people of Kogi claim, it is easy to conclude that he is indeed irredemable.
The gigantic Federal government-owned steel complex in Ajaokuta is still lying comatose. But beside it, however, a new industrial complex is rising, attracting multi million dollar investments from Nigerian industrialists and the ubiquitous Chinese. Today, giant ceramics factories are springing up along the major road in Ajaokuta, covering over 5 kilometers on both sides before the bridge across the River Niger, the same stretch where the road is horrendous. We are told the raw materials for ceramics abound in the area and what we are seeing now, impressive as it is, is still a tip of the iceberg compared to what is to come in the future.
With such potential, it is a paradox that the road in that same 5 kilometer stretch represents the worst anywhere in Nigeria, and Bello has done little to encourage the projects. Over the past few years, that road, through which commuters from the South East, South South and other parts of the North Central travel to and from Abuja and other parts of the North, has gone from bad to worse. When you add the hundreds of trucks and articulated vehicles that now converge there, waiting to move ceramic products from the factories, you can only imagine the nightmare travellers face going through Ajaokuta. But for the doggedness of the drivers who have no alternative, the Igala/Bassa ethnic nationality, easily the state’s largest voting block, would have been cut off from the rest of their state.
For a state reeling with unemployment, lack of any visible industrial base and a near-zero opportunity for private commercial activity, the emerging ceramic industrial park in Ajaokuta ought to be embraced as a lifeline by the state government. The rehabilitation of that 5 kilometer stretch ought to be a priority, but the total neglect of the road around the cluster of factories gives the impression that Bello does not appreciate the potentials embedded therein.
What’s my concern here?
I was one of the few people that arrived to settle in Lokoja shortly after the creation of Kogi state in 1991, and in a few months I established the state’s first newspaper, Kogi Express, along with Abubakar Alimi from Ejuku in Yagba East Local Government Area. In doing so, I keyed into the expectation of most people then, that the Confluence state holds a bright prospect for the people. I spoke with some of their leading lights —from SB Awoniyi to Bandele Daniyan, from PS Achimugu to Ibrahim Ocheje, from AT Ahmed to Farouk Abdullaziz — and I couldn’t but get lifted by the spirit of hope and optimism. It is a hope that has largely been dashed by successive administrations in that state, with Lokoja the state capital still looking like a fishing settlement.
It is geographically the centre of Nigeria and the fact that most of the Southern States travel through Kogi to and from the federal capital territory, puts the state at an uncommon advantage for commercial activities. From its first military Governor, Col. Paul Omeruo to its first Civilian Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Audu, the dream for a great future flourished. It is a big disappointment, therefore, that subsequent administrations in the state have done very little to lift the state and its people from the squalor that has been their lot over the years. And if ineptitude has been their lot, Yahaya Bello takes the biggest prize.
The eyesore in Ajaokuta may be a metaphor for decay but it is not an isolated case, notwithstanding the billions poured into Governor Bello’s basket in recent time, and which may have been frittered on hundreds of ‘tokumbo’ vehicles for undiscerning youths engaged in his campaign razzmatazz. I’m told Ajaokuta is several times better than the Zariagi-Kabba road, while the Kabba-Isanlu-Egbe road has become impassable. While some have argued that those roads should not be the yardstick with which to assess Bello’s performance, mainly because they are federal roads, the question that comes to mind is: where are the state roads he is constructing? And if those are federal roads, what has it got to do with President Buhari in Abuja when the benefits of the state government intervention would have a positive spiral effect on the state and its people?
Talking of the Federal government, which state governor enjoys a better relationship with President Buhari than Bello? Bello has proved over time, that he is the President’s favourite political godson and Buhari himself has done little to disprove that perception. What has Bello done towards getting the FG to intervene on that road, or otherwise carrying out the intervention himself in view of the benefits? If Bello could convince the President to approve the release of a whopping N10 billion to him on the eve of an election that is a referendum on his profligacy, getting him to repair a 5 kilometer road, with all the spiral economic benefits should not be too difficult.
Whether the flamboyant but lackluster Governor Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress is fit to be returned or whether the dour looking and inexperienced Musa Wada of the rival Peoples Democratic Party is a better candidate, is a choice that Kogites will make in the next two weeks. And as has been argued elsewhere, it is a defining moment for them. However they choose to express their choice, my opinion is that Bello has not only been a failure, he definitely cannot do any better if re-elected.
BY SHEDDY OZOENE