Will Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s dash to Makurdi, the Benue State capital respond to the truth of developmental standstill in the state named the ‘food basket’ of the nation? This is the question on the lips now in the aftermath of his one-day visit to the state last Wednesday for an on-the-spot assessment of the flooding in the state. There is a general sense that “there are no footprints of government in the state”, a situation which is not explained exclusively in terms of failures of the Benue State Government but also the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Nigeria is currently seized by a view of federalism bordering on autarky or the self-sufficiency of co-ordinate levels of governments when, in fact, the more strategic principle of federalism is the powerful presence of the Federal Government in every part of the Federation as the only way to make real the national imagination. It is more so in the case of Benue State which has many of her senior citizens in the hierarchy of the ruling party. That seems to compel a return to the Governor Aper Aku rule book for governing the state. Within a short span of four years as governor of Benue State under the defunct National Party of Nigeria, (NPN) in the Second Republic, the Aku governorship established 14 industries, each of them relevant to its locale and none of them requiring expertise or technology that were not available. Benue State was much bigger then because large part of present day Kogi formed part of it then.
Some of these industries included a timber factory at Okura-Lafia, the soft drinks factory in Makurdi, a brewery, the Otukpo Burnt Bricks, the Taraku Soya Mill, Lobi Bank. Some people argue persuasively that such an approach still provide the only meaningful way of talking about employment, income stability, savings, investment and entrepreneurial innovation instead of the propaganda that has taken the place of governance across Nigeria today. Interestingly, a former Deputy-Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly who later emerged as a national leader of the NPN in the Second Republic is very much around at the same level in the APC government. That is Chief Audu Ogbeh, the incumbent Minister of Agriculture. Similarly, Senator George Akume who ran a more stable regime as governor of the state is also a national leader of the APC. So also is Chief Steven Lawani, the immediate past Deputy-Governor of the state who, as it is, provides the important link in the transition from the PDP to the APC in the state. Observers are saying it is surprising that is not that developmental firework commensurate with this strategic presence of some of the most experienced people about governing Benue State. Perhaps, that might be the most important outcome of the Osinbajo visit.
Prof Osinbajo burst upon the state with about six trucks of relief materials Wednesday for victims of the flooding while promising that the Federal Government would provide a lasting solution to flooding in the area by dredging the River Benue. His visit coincided with a week long strike action by unpaid civil servants, leading to a deserted Makurdi township except few social spots where people congregate to rein expletives on people in power. This time, Intervention understands that the state governor, Dr Samuel Ortom and the APC are the direction of such verbal missiles.
Cadres of the Nigeria Labour Congress were fully on the road with their union flag to welcome the VP who visited the victims at the IDP Camp located at the Makurdi International Market after visiting the Tor Tiv, Professor James Ortese Ayatse in Gboko, the cultural capital of the Tiv nation. Prof Osinbajo also went round other areas heavily affected by the flood. He did not commission any projects, federal or state during the visit. It is not clear whether that is because there was no time or because there were no projects, federal or state, to commission or whether a separate date is up for that to happen.
The Vice-President spoke of cooperating with the state government in solving the problem while mentioning ‘careful’ utilisation of resources for the purposes for which they were provided, a statement taken to suggest there might have been a case of careless utilisation before. But the bigger question is whether Osinbajo’s report to his boss, President Buhari, is taking a holistic view of standstill in Benue State or just isolated view of flooding.