Nigeria: Bala Mohammed - Between State and Country

19 January 2021

Emma Agu urges the Bauchi State governor to be focused and steadfast.

Last December, the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus and Sokoto State Governor Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal were in Bauchi State, to flag off the construction of four strategic road projects, within the Bauchi metropolis. Among the roads, the most prominent was the dualization of the 17.7 km Giwo Academy to Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Airport, along Kano Road. Prior to that event, Nyesom Wike, Governor of the oil-rich Rivers State, had also presided over the flag off, of the construction of eleven township roads in Bauchi metropolis.

As if that was not enough, as 2020 was drawing to a close, David Mark, a retired army general and one-time President of the Nigerian Senate, for eight years, was guest at the flag off of the construction of the Katangam Warji-Gwaram Road. That was yet another landmark project in the state-wide infrastructure delivery initiative of the Bala Mohammed Administration that cuts across the health, education, environmental and social sectors of the state.

As would be expected, on such occasions, though speaking at different times and in different fora, all four guests were unanimous in commending the effort of Governor Bala Mohammed and his team. There is the temptation to assert that, the governor, being of the same political party with them, his guests had no choice but to extol the performance of their party man. That seems natural. But for anyone who knows David Mark, he would rather keep quiet than indulge in unearned adulation.

Ever taciturn yet never fazed by hostile reactions to his usually candid speeches, David Mark highlighted how Bala Mohammed and other patriotic senators contributed to his (Mark's) unparalleled success as Senate President. When one considers that Mark was Senate President for an unbroken period of eight years, the import of his commendation assumes greater significance. Mark reiterated what was already in the public domain: that Bala Mohammed stands out for unwavering loyalty, non-negotiable respect for the Constitution, patriotism, equity and justice. No one can dispute that.

Forever, Bala Mohammed will be remembered for moving the historic "Doctrine of Necessity" motion that paved the way for Goodluck Jonathan, who had been glued to his seat as Vice President, to move up the ladder to assume the office of President, albeit in acting capacity. That was at a time that some hawks, in stark defiance of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, were pulling out all the stops, to thwart that constitutional imperative of a Jonathan Presidency. In retrospect, what nobody today debates, is that Nigeria would have been thrown into a political crisis which end, nobody could have predicted.

Now, if anyone thought that his action was a fluke, such a person needs be reminded that Bala Mohammed was, at the time, a member of the opposition All Nigeria Peoples' Party (ANPP) of which Nigeria's current President, Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari, was the leader. Besides, being from Bauchi State, a state reputed to have produced some of Northern Nigeria's foremost politicians, Bala Mohammed's bold initiative, to deepen democracy by respecting the Constitution could, in the nature of things, have spelt an abrupt end to his promising political career.

Thus, his decision, to back the Constitution and not a parochial political agenda, despite the prospect of political suicide; the choice of being a nationalist and statesman over narrow self-serving permutations, will always resonate as a political capital to be culled for greatness. That explains the fact that he is now being called upon, by a coalition of some progressive elements, to run for President in 2023.

The protagonists, under the aegis of the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations for Transparency and Good Governance (COCSOTRAGG), hinge their call on four considerations. First, they claim, correctly, that north east Nigeria, like the south east, has never produced the President. Second, Bala Mohammed is regarded by them as a detribalized bridge builder whose tenure as minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), became a byword for inclusion, equitable distribution of positions and patronage as well as robust infrastructure deployment all over the city. Third, they want Bala Mohammed to export the breath-taking developmental strides that Bauchi State has witnessed, under him, to the national level as a panacea to the country's developmental challenges. At 61, the youths say that age is on the side of Bala Mohammed hence he is expected to provide effective leadership at this critical watershed in the country's history.

Obviously, the demand of the North East youths confirms the adage that, the reward for hard work, is more work. To the youth, therefore, Bala Mohammed should be yanked off his assignment in Bauchi and grafted on to the national leadership architecture, after Buhari.

While their proposition is legitimate, we cannot ignore the paradox therein: Should their dream come true, one wonders what will happen to Bala Mohammed's "My Bauchi Agenda" which he zealously pursued since his inauguration on 29th May 2019. What will happen to the great New Bauchi initiative that is meant to transform the Bauchi city skyline and landscape into a showpiece of urban renewal? What about the novel land reform scheme of the administration or the urban renewal emphasis that has been boosted by Max Airlines' daily flights in and out of the city? Should he abandon the massive people empowerment programme of his government that has seen 1000 youth receive tricycles and another 250 receive motor transport vehicles, among several other deliverables?

Should the fact that his illustrious career that saw him attain directorate cadre in the Federal Civil Service, become a Senator and later Minister of the Federal Republic, become the albatross of the people of Bauchi State who, in 2019, trusted him to lead them from the nadir of despair, to greater heights in self-realisation and economic development? What will become the fate of the civil servants who now receive their salaries as at when due and the pensioners who, for the first time in many years, now look forward to their pension at the end of every month?

The long list of democracy dividends being enjoyed in today's Bauchi State, the new found incorporation of hitherto forgotten constituents of Bauchi State into the developmental compass of government, the changed fortunes of pensioners and government workers, etc., make the call for Bala Mohammed to join the presidential race a dilemma of grotesque proportions.

Time and again, Bala Mohammed has reiterated that his immediate preoccupation is to redress the gross infrastructural deficit in Bauchi State, improve internally generated revenue, eliminate wastages by promoting due process in procurement, and streamlining the payroll to eliminate ghost workers thereby stemming the haemorrhage attendant upon a dubious payroll system. Moreover, for Governor Bala Mohammed, there is no resting until he has significantly achieved his goal of transforming Bauchi from a sleepy civil service capital, to a vibrant political cum business capital that matches the best in Nigeria.

Thus, for a people that are witnessing, for the first time, a rapid transformation in their fortunes, for a people that, unlike before, have suddenly woken to the prospect of good roads, public water supply, improved electricity supply, a transformed educational system and more, wooing their road manager away from the yeoman's performance of his administration, sounds more like a declaration of war than simply a tall order.

As things stand, for the exponents of the contending political visions for Bala Mohammed, there is a consolation: 2023 is still a long way to go. Besides, the PDP is yet to announce its arrangement for the presidential elections. Will the party yield to the demand by the south east that it is its turn to produce the next President? Can Bala Mohammed muster the financial and political capitals to muzzle his way through what promises to be a keenly contested presidential elections? Does he still have some cards to pull out of his political chest to re-enact the feat of defeating a ruling party as he did in 2019?

Notwithstanding the above posers, there is no gainsaying that, as those prompting him to run have deposed, Bala Mohammed is eminently qualified to run for President. Among his peers, he stands out for his track record as a nationalist and constitutionalist; a bridge builder who, time and again, the PDP has used to solve daunting political issues such as the nomination imbroglio caused by Governor Godwin Obaseki's defection to the PDP, the head of the party's campaign for Governor Diri in Bayelsa State and many other knotty party problems. He has demonstrated that he is a dogged political fighter, an astute bridge-builder and manager of men and resources and above all, a statesman and constitutionalist who, entrusted with the high office of President of the Federal Republic, can hold aloft, the banner of national unity, rapid economic transformation of the state and the rights and dignity of the people.

All said and done, Governor Bala Mohammed should be wise enough not to lose focus but to continue with the enviable performance of his administration; that he should guard against his stewardship being derailed by premature endorsements by political action committees, no matter how authentic the endorsers may seem, at first brush. That way, he may be able to mediate the ineluctable conflict, as state and country jostle for his trust-worthy stewardship.

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