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Building in the midst of scarcity: The Bello model

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By Larry Nwaiwu

BY the time the build-up to the 2015 general elections was nearing its peak, the nation’s economic situation was decidedly grim. Oil, the fulcrum of Nigeria’s economy, was experiencing unprecedented price crash – just a few years after it had seen unprecedented rise. It would have been very easy for any discerning watcher to see the desperate future that lay closely ahead.

  It was, however, former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Chukwuma Soludo (now the governor of Anambra State), who spoke out in a widely published article warning that anyone – between Muhammadu Buhari and Goodluck Jonathan – who won the upcoming election, would have a daunting task carved out for him as far as steering the economy was concerned. The erudite economist feared whether the nation would get the kind of leadership it desperately needed to manouevre through the imminent storm. 

  True to this prediction, the next administration assumed power only to be welcomed by an economic depression that was to alter in time the development trajectory of Nigeria.

  It was under this circumstances that the young Yahaya Bello mounted the saddle as the governor of Kogi State. Then the price of crude oil, which at some point in the life of the preceding administration sold above $110 per barrel, had plummeted to a little above $40 per barrel, about $10 short of the budget estimate. The economy shrank, the value of the naira was on a free fall, and everyone was becoming impoverished. There was little doubt that those were extraordinary times that called for extraordinary measures.

  Unfortunately, little has changed till today, even as the disruptions of COVID-19 pandemic came calling and added to the burden just as President Buhari and those re-elected with him settled in their second tenure. So, since 2015 till now, running the nation’s economy has required something different from the usual approach.

  For Governor Bello of Kogi State, therefore, it has been seven years of austerity-driven economic strategy and governance policy. This was much evident in his 2021 budget presentation speech where he informed his audience that his administration had deliberately crafted the year’s budget “to capture only realisable revenues, enhance Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), aggressively pursue repayment of debt owed us by the federal government, reduce significantly the cost of governance and provide more justification for our development partners across the world to contribute to the state economy.

  “Most importantly, we intend to discover and eliminate all avenues for waste of government funds and resources which may have eluded us before now while blocking any remaining leakage in our Internally Generated Revenue portfolio. Common sense demands that we avoid ‘white elephant’ and ego massaging projects. We will therefore be prioritising payment of salaries to our workforce and completion of on-going projects. New projects will be introduced to meet only critically important infrastructure needs.”

Another key element underpinning this economic response strategy of Governor Bello is public accountability, a governance principles which he has always emphasised in his public speeches. According to him, his administration has pursued some very emphatic reforms aimed at preventing loss of public revenue in these hard times. “In fact, we have institutionalised probity via some far-reaching Public Financial Management Reforms. Kogi State scored an unprecedented 100% in the 2019 Annual Performance Assessment (APA) under the State Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) program for result. Based on this feat, we were ranked first among the 36 states and the FCT.

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This entitled us to a grant of about 20 Million US Dollars from the federal government through the SFTAS program of the World Bank. As you can imagine, this money is a lifesaver for our economy,” he stated.

  Remarkably, prior to the time in question, Kogi State had achieved the second position in the 2019 SFTAS Assessment. Only Kaduna State performed better.

  Besides, the state’s debt profile as gleaned from the data released by the Debt Management Office (DMO) further lends credence to the efficacy of Bello’s austerity and accountability-driven development approach. According to the agency, Kogi State’s internal debt as at December 31, 2021, stood at N70, 660, 141, 638.40, meaning that the state was the 11th least debt-burdened state in the country, performing better than 25 states including the much more endowed entities like Lagos, Ogun, Delta, and Rivers. Regarding external debt, the DMO figures also showed that Kogi performed better than 23 states (almost two-third of the states of the federation) with her debt standing at $55, 987, 205.25.

  As evident in his 2021 and 2022 budget speeches, Governor Bello’s strategy of building in the midst of scarcity also has IGR boosting as one of its cornerstones. Official records indicate that important progress has been made here in the last couple of years. Addressing a gathering recently, the Director-General, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Mr. Asishana Okauru, citing real figures, noted that ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of some states of the federation had, between mid-2020 and mid-2021, made remarkable progress in revenue growth via other taxes and direct assessment. Of these states, Kogi, which recorded 728% growth in other taxes, was outperformed by only Sokoto, Jigawa and Niger states in the whole of the federation.

  Furthermore, as a way of maximising scarce resources in a difficult time, Governor Yahaya Bello has opted for a holistic economic drive aimed at activating growth in all sectors simultaneously through emphasis on the most realizable targets in each sector. This integrated approach is aimed at impacting industrialization, agriculture, education, health, water supply, environment, and road infrastructure among others towards all-round development of the state.

  However, a careful scrutiny reveals visible emphasis on agriculture as a critical sector for increasing productivity, growing wealth, and creating employment in as short time as possible. Hence, Kogi State under his watch has pursued critical agro projects like building of garri processing plants at Osara, Ageva, Achonze, Ogbadu and Aiyetoro-Gbede;

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fish feed mills at Geregu, Idah and Ejiba; rehabilitation of fish ponds at Idah, Geregu, Ejiba and Adavi-Eba, clearing with tractorization of 300 hectares of land at Ojapata, Osara with cassava inputs such as NPK fertilizers, cassava stems and chemical distribution to farmers; procurement of assorted consignments of GEO PLUS NPK 24:10:10 and GEO GREEN UREA for distribution to dry season farmers to boost food security; and sustained training and extension activities to farmers in the state in collaboration with the World Bank’s APPEALS project.

  Earlier this year, not less than 342 rice farmers from 27 Commodity Interest Groups (CIGS) in the state revealed how they recorded bumper harvests in spite of poor rainfall having been trained by the State Coordination Office of the Agro-Processing, Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support Project (KOGI APPEALS) on improved farming practices and supported in other ways.

One of the farmers, Atama Akpagi, who spoke to the media, said “So far we appreciate the efforts of KOGI APPEALS Project for introducing us to transplanting methods in rice farming which we have not been doing before now, but with the aid of the APPEALS project through seminars and workshop, we were able to practice transplanting methods which has made so much difference in our harvest this year as compared to the previous year’s harvest.

  “Before the intervention of the APPEALS project, we used to harvest 100 bags of 100kg but with the support of APPEALS we harvest 150 bags of 100kg, while in our group of 10 members, our previous year’s harvest which was 400 bags of 110kg, we later harvested 550 bags of 100kg. This is with the support of Kogi APPEALS project.”

  Testimonies like the foregoing point to the possibility of achieving remarkable progress even in the face of dwindling revenues which has been the lot of Nigeria in recent years, thus assuring people’s confidence in the government.

  However, many critics are of the view that this is exactly the Achilles’ heels of the country’s leaders whom they accuse of continuous failure which has progressively deepened the trust deficit between the government and the masses. Fusi Akinkugbe, a notable public commentator, recently described this unfortunate situation in the following words:

  “A large percentage of people in Nigeria however appear to have lost faith in government officials and the institutions they represent. Why is this? Over the years through their conduct, decisions, and actions these officials and their institutions have lost numerous opportunities to demonstrate themselves as people and institutions worthy of people’s trust.

The result has been not only the apathy of people towards government institutions and its officials, but also the lack of credibility of these people and their institutions, which makes trust in them difficult or even practically impossible. People may seem to ‘follow’ a politician or government official, but this is often because of pecuniary needs which does not equate with trust in such a person. Trust requires no material motivation because it is borne out of personal experience and conviction.”

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  The above sentiment remarkably echoes what has been a serious concern to Governor Bello as evident in his public statements and approach to governance. He has continued to emphasise his belief that governance has a lot to do with trust. Once leaders are unable to earn the trust of the led through evidence-based performance, they are doomed to fail.

In his words: “leadership has a social contract with the led that is in most respects akin to a marriage. It is not enough for one partner to believe that he or she is doing their best if the other wets their bed every night with tears and recriminations from an unending barrage of painful experiences and deprivations.”

  So, for Bello, it is about one’s scorecard; what he/she has been able to do for the governed in concrete terms. Little wonder he has never seemed to shy away from flaunting his own scorecard which he sees as exemplifying this leadership philosophy. This was evident in his submission as he interacted with the press in one of his recent public outings. “The question will be, ‘what have you done in Kogi State, how many millionaires have you made?’

I will tell you that within the limit of our resources, coupled with various challenges and demands on our resources, we have been able to make nothing less than 2,000 millionaires in Kogi State, within this short period. Our government created an enabling environment that if you have N1 million you should be able to turn it around and multiply it… My performance in Kogi will speak for me,” the governor had responded to a question on why he had thrown his hat into the ring for the 2023 presidential race.

  To solidify an age-long maxim which says that a man that is trustworthy in a small thing will also be trustworthy in a big thing, Nigerians are therefore enjoined to give this young man a chance to pilot the affairs of this country as president come 2023. There’s no doubt that Gov. Yahaya Bello has the capability and capacity to steer the ship of this country to safety. It my honest opinion and that of unbiased and patriotic Nigerians that he can replicate his uncommon achievements in Kogi State at the national level as the president of Federal Republic of Nigeria.

  Responding to a question during an interview with Journalists about his chances of picking the his party, APC ticket, he without mincing words stated that he was not afraid of political heavyweights like Vice President Osinbajo, Tinunbu etc.

  Finally, if the words of renowned philosophers in the world which say that confidence breeds excellence and excellence breeds success is anything to go by, GYB is on his way to the Aso Rock Villa as the next President of Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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