President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to visit Bauchi state today. Though the purpose of the visit is purely partisan, to lead the campaign of the presidential candidate of his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, it goes without saying that no matter the role position he plays at any time, Buhari will still carry the insignia of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
For a president, who has always commanded favourable electoral fortune in Bauchi state, a return to the “tourism pearl of the nation” will similarly command nostalgic dimensions. Not to ignore the fact that though party lines may divide him and the incumbent, Governor Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed, who is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the father-son relationship that has existed between them since their days together in the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) has not been eroded by the passage of time and divergent political situations.
That is why, if only for the above reason, Buhari will legitimately expect to be accorded all the courtesies deserving of a president of of Nigeria right from when the presidential jet touches ground at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa International Airport, Bauchi at 8.30 am today.
The point is not to suggest that Governor Bala Mohammed would forget that the president’s visit will seek to upend the presidential candidate of the PDP, former vice president Atiku Abubakar, or even boost the electoral chances of one of Bala Mohammed’s opponents, the governorship candidate of the APC, the former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar. Yet, in addition to being a constitutionalist, Bala Mohammed is a custodian of the traditional values of respect for elders, something he imbibed from childhood, as the son of a district head, a position of inestimable traditional significance in his part of the country.
Under the circumstances, President Buhari should expect a rousing welcome from both the government and people of Bauchi state and members of his APC party. Beside the intended electoral capital for his party, his visit will afford him the opportunity to reconfirm his impression of Governor Bala Mohammed as a leader worthy of emulation by his peers. If he is not being conveyed to town by one of the helicopters in the presidential fleet, right from the airport, the president will experience a smooth bump-free ride on the recently dualized airport road.
The dualised 25-kilometre airport road is emblematic of the unprecedented infrastructure push of the Bala Mohammed administration that has resulted in the construction and rehabilitation of nearly 500 urban and rural roads within a period of three-and-half years, provision of over 5000 school rooms, establishment of over 400 primary health centres and 12 general hospitals, as well as the construction and renovation of the palaces of traditional rulers and local government headquarters all over the state with a view to deepening grassroots administration, foster inclusion and enhance security at the rural level which, to Bala Mohammed, is foundational.
As the first visit of President Buhari since May 2022, this will afford him an opportunity to sip water from the Bauchi Regional Water Scheme, the iconic project whose completion by the Bala Mohammed administration had earned the governor the president’s undiluted applause and commendation. In his speech at the occasion, the president had extolled Bala Mohammed, describing him as a leader to be emulated by other leaders. The president’s words on marble, delivered from his pedestal as a national father and devoid of any partisan proclivity, deserves full mention. These were his words: “I am happy that the Bauchi state government has executed the project creditably. I am not surprised by this accomplishment because the state government personally pursued the project with vigour and determination through the allocation of resources and intervention to eliminate bottlenecks and challenges including even the COVID-19 which affected the project extension as well as paying attention to details. This is what leaders in the country should emulate from the governor of Bauchi state.” Note: “This is what leaders from the country should emulate from the Bauchi state governor”.
That telling statement will not be the first time that President Buhari, intentionally or unintentionally, would be validating Bala Mohammed as a visionary and focused leader. It will be recalled that on assumption of office in 2015, one of the first acts of the FCT Minister Alhaji Mohammed Bello was to suspend the Land Swap policy of Bala Mohammed’s FCT, under the Goodluck Jonathan administration. The programme was viciously discredited, albeit unjustly, as a cesspool of fraud.
Six years later, Bala Mohammed was vindicated when the Buhari administration, citing all the reasons given by the Jonathan administration, reinstated the Land Swap programme. In December 2021, Bala Mohammed’s successor as minister of the FCT Mohammed Bello explained that the Buhari administration adopted the programme when it became obvious that the government could not develop the federal capital territory using its annual budgetary allocation. Bello’s explanation, as reported in the Premium Times edition of December 15, 2021, is worth quoting in detail:
“The Land Swap programme is expected to save the FCT administration nearly N1 trillion, which the administration would have required to procure comprehensive district infrastructure in the 13 districts earmarked under the programme.
”Developing the city using the annual budgetary allocation is simply not possible because of the way the city has grown astronomically in terms of physical expansion and a rising population. The programme in its most basic form is to grant an agreed percentage of land to an investor for comprehensive development.
“In exchange for this grant, the investor is to provide both specified infrastructure as well as resettlement costs. Its primary objective, in its simplest form, includes the encouragement of home ownership and the reduction of housing deficit in the FCT”. These were the reasons given by the Bala Mohammed FCT administration for proposing the scheme and its subsequent adoption by the Jonathan administration.
Going back memory lane it will be recalled that the Land Swap Programme of the Jonathan administration stood out as one of the legacy contributions of the Bala Mohammed-led FCT administration to real estate development and smart city innovation in Nigeria. What FCT minister Bello did not add was that a major reason for its introduction (by his predecessor Bala Mohammed) was its potential to unleash hundreds of thousands of jobs, unchain families and by extension millions of mouths from the pangs of hunger and unfetter the countless youths whose idle heads have become willing repositories for criminal tendencies to incubate and explode into the frightening insecurity that is ravaging the country today.
President Buhari deserves credit for restoring the programme. Had he been preoccupied with the narrow objective of trying to regain Bauchi State for his party, he would not have restored the Land Swap programme that unambiguously validates Bala Mohammed as a visionary leader, quintessential administrator and patriot whose leadership credentials will continue to be needed not just for the development of Bauchi State but in the country’s march towards self-rediscovery and people empowerment.
Yet, as Buhari visits Bauchi state today, the icing on the cake of his stay will come when he sips that thirst-quenching water from the huge Bauchi Water Scheme for which, from his eminent position as president of the country, he had solemnly described Bala Mohammed as a role model who should be emulated by other leaders in the country.
Mr Agu, a senior journalist, writes from Abuja