By Yakubu Ahmed BK
The commissioning of the Wacot Rice Factory in Argungu, Kebbi state, by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has come and gone leaving in its trail a heap of controversies. The most trending of them was the allegation of a scam and a charade of a commissioning ceremony. With nothing tangible to show to the world as its own developmental projects, other than badly and poorly constructed township roads of not more than 25 kilometers statewide, the Atiku Bagudu administration allegedly seized and cornered the commissioning of a 100% private sector established Wacot Rice Factory with a mindset to fraudulently profit and to get the credit from a project it never worked for. Wacot was a company that had been in business in Nigeria since the early 60’s. In Funtua, Katsina state, the Indian-owned company had been in the business of cotton production and marketing and is in fact owner of the popular Cotton Ginnery there.
Adversely affected by the glut in cotton business, the company diversified into Rice Milling and chose Argungu due to its proximity to rice farming locations, the cheap labor and climatic conditions. DESERT HERALD can reveal that Wacot reached out to the Argungu Emirate Council where a piece of land said to be owned by the current Emir of Argungu was agreed upon. The Emir was reported to have sold the land to the Indians and at that point, the Govonor Atiku Bagudu administration was informed and as should have ordinarily been the case with just any state government, a five-year tax relief and “an enabling environment’’ was dangled before the Indians in order to encourage them and to give a semblance of government’s participation. It was reliably learnt that other than this role, the Kebbi state government had neither any technical partnership nor counterpart funding agreement with the owners of the company. But when the time for commissioning came, the state government literally seized the whole arrangement from Wacot and pushed them to the background in order to hoodwink Nigerians into seeing it as a 100% state government-owned outfit. Many people wonder why a state government would chose to fraudulently ascribe to itself what is entirely a private investor driven matter. According to he prominent citizen of Kebbi State who spoke to DESERT HERALD, “We wonder why the state government should spend fortunes in the organization of the commissioning ceremony when many critical ‘’life and death’’ situations are competing for attention? As the commissioning was rounding off, gully erosion had devoured and is threatening to render thousands of families homeless in Bayan Kara, Bayan Oando and Malala areas of the state capital. Thousands of families are currently saddled with the responsibility of expending their hard earned stipends in doing the little they can, to save what they could of their houses while a state governor was busy playing to the gallery and immersing himself in what could be described as makeshift and provisional glory,” he lamented
If you ask apologists of the Governor what they could point to, as development project, they quickly point to the so-called township roads in parts of Birnin Kebbi, rehabilitated primary schools, the so-called rice production ‘’revolution’’ in the state and, until the lies ruptured right on their face, the construction of Wacot Rice Factory. It has already been proven that Wacot was a private initiative. The only thing to add is that before Wacot, there was Labana Rice Factory established by former Governor Adamu Aliero. When it was commissioned years ago, Governor Dakingari did not corner the glory nor did he make any attempt to force government into the mix. The later-day apologists of Governor Atiku, most of who pick crumbs from his table or lick his boot have forgotten, or have chosen to ignore the fact that the case of rehabilitation of primary schools was a profit-margin matter. It has a Naira and Kobo definition. If the idea or object of the rehabilitation was to enhance education, many wonder, why did the effort not extend to training and retraining of teachers, stocking the libraries and laboratories with the complimentary teaching aids as well as enhancing and repositioning teacher training schools and establishing more colleges of education in order to holistically address the entire quantum of the malaise and rot in the education sector? According to Mallam Aruna Muhammed, a top politician base in Birnin Kebbi, “The answer is that those who worked the contracts out had their minds set on the profit margin and not on enhancing quality education. I have deliberately refrained from making reference to the identity of the companies that have executed these contracts, their ownership and the sleaze that went with it. I have also refused to draw attention to the antecedents of those in the corridors of power today in the state in order to make a strong case as to why we are justifiably wary and cagey about them.”
He added: “On the so-called township roads in the state capital, can anybody tell us why the projects were concentrated in the state capital only? What do you take the people of the rest of the state? Again, the roads in Birnin Kebbi that are under construction are not more than 25 kilometers in all (none is going on anywhere else). Take note that we have different quality for the roads under construction in Tudun Wada part of the old town and another type of low-grade quality of roads in Bayan Kara and Bayan Oando of Nasarawa part of the state capital. The Atiku Bagudu style is that quality of roads is based on who among his most influential subordinates comes from which part of the city. If his Personal Assistant comes from Tudun Wada area for example, then the roads to that part must be of higher quality while Bayan Kara and Bayan Oando must make do with roads of lesser quality.”
On top of that, the roads constructed on two major roads in the city leave much to be desired. One one-lane of the dual carriageway, the roads are thinly asphalted, on the adjourning part, you could mistake it for a feeder road. The midsection demarcation too has not been raised and is left without interlocking and at night when the substandard street lights are on, it gives a picture of caricature of a job. Birnin Kebbi is the only state capital in Nigeria that has built major township roads and has refused to interlock the midsection demarcated parts. It is also the only capital city that has built roads without sidewalks. The status of Birnin Kebbi as Nigeria’s most underdeveloped state capital has thus been sealed and delivered by a Governor who won election on the crest of popular demand for a Birnin Kebbi man to, for the first time, occupy the office. For those of us who have seen how it is done elsewhere, the Birnin Kebbi Local Government Council can as well do about the same within the estimates of its own budget.
Another risky development is the sense of mistrust and division that has been fanned by some actions of the Atiku administration. For the first time in the history of politics in the state, Birnin Kebbi is observably divided along Old Town and Nasarawa parts. You can see it in the concentration of appointments into the civil service like where you have 10 directors of Finance appointed from old town to one from Nasarawa or where you have good roads constructed at Tudun Wada to the substandard ones constructed at Bayan Kara and Bayan Oando. If a part of the city could be visited this open hostility, one wonders the kind of antagonism that awaits people from outside the state capital. The chasm that has emerged has exacerbated a feeling of loathe and resentment against the administration and the indifference towards the government is evidently palpable. The implication, at the end of it all, is that these guys will further polarize the state along very flimsy fault-lines in order to boost their capacity to appropriate resources and line their pockets. Make no mistake about it, it is all about cornering resources and dispensing patronage.
On the rice ‘’revolution,’’ many are worried that officialdom tend to be economical with the truth. Kebbi has always been endowed with the Fadama land suitable for wheat and rice production. What Atiku has done did not transcend opening the environment up and making too much noise about it. Of course, the level of awareness created by the government as well as making a very strong case for people to key into the transformation agenda is commendable in the kind of acute leadership deficit which Kebbi has wallowed in since creation. Ordinarily, the two immediate past governments who should have particularly attained this level of achievement long ago, were all headed by two very selfish ex-Customs Officers who misdirected resources to the development of their respective villages to the detriment of the state capital.
If a Governor cannot as much as sign papers to open up a business potential like rice farming, then that person has lost the right to lead people. What Governor Atiku Bagudu has done in the area of the so-called rice revolution should be about the most simplest of tasks to be signed and unfolded. It is just about signing of papers that do not involve channeling of resources into a highly thought-out but risky enterprise. Otherwise, we should be elegizing Adamu Aliero for establishing the state University at Aliero and the Airport in Birnin Kebbi, two critical development issues from which the people of Kebbi have not ceased to benefit from or Sa’idu Dakingari for the Polytechnic in Dakingari, the upgrade of the Airport and the construction of the Hospital at Kalgo. Less I forget, Kebbians should be beating the drums and praising both Aliero and Dakingari for the best township roads (to date) which they have separately built in Birnin Kebbi, roads that were constructed with the same quality across the state. None of them segregated between one part of the capital city and another.
This reporter recalls that he had once debated with a childhood friend who is a well known Atiku apologist on why the state government was apparently dithering in the execution of meaningful projects. While he was vehement in my belief that government could be faster, the friend was making excuses out of ‘’resource constraints or cash squeeze’’ occasioned by falling prizes of oil. But the guy had been to Sokoto only once and that was in 1983. Aside that trip, he has never been to any part of the world. There was no way he could therefore have known that Kebbi has indeed been left behind in the trajectory of development or that Kebbi has some catching up to do. Gombe state, with only 11 local government areas and with about the least of federally allocated funds, has fought to a standstill the monster-gully erosion that had nearly eaten Gombe city up. They have also built the kind of roads people only see on TV. Another resident who are not be named, lamented that “Gombe, though created years after Kebbi, is like New York compared to my state. And the blame goes to all those that have govern the state since creation both military and civilians. We all have the leverage to do as we wish, but one underlying fact is that those in positions have a chance to modify their actions to make up with their creator or continue to play the Ostrich by upping the ante of their sins and coming to terms with it at a place and time no one can intercede for you.” The question now on many lips is: when will the “emperor” of Kebbi wake up from his slumber and deceit?