By Fr. Louis Fowoyo
At independence, the geographical area called Kogi state today, was known as Kabba Province and produced some of the finest bureaucrats that laboured hard to build the Northern region under the leadership of Sir Ahmadu Bello, whom history has shown to be a better politician than many of his contemporaries, as he welded the numerous ethnic groups that filled the region together fairly smoothly.
In his time you could not say he favoured one tribe or discriminated against others. His political savvy might perhaps be measured by the success he achieved in making northern Cameroun part of Northern Nigeria as Sadauna province while the Eastern region playing politics of exclusiveness lost Southern Cameroun. That the elite in the North still refer to “northern interest” today as if referring to a monolithic North, is due to the Sadauna’s heritage.
Once upon a time, Chief S B Awoniyi was the Secretary to the all-powerful Sadauna’s government. Thus some years back when a chairman of the Arewa group was to be chosen Chief Awoniyi was unanimously elected. He is from Kogi state. No trace of Hausa or Fulani blood in him.
Chief S B Awoniyi was not the only one educated and brought to prominence in the old North, whether it was Teachers, Civil Servants, skilled manpower or artisans, Kogi State provided the bulk of the manpower required, because of the education provided in the area by the Christian Missionaries much earlier than the farther Northern provinces. Upon the creation of the state, therefore, expectation was high that the state would grow economically rapidly.
Today the state which was endowed with high level manpower at the start is now so arguably backward educationally, economically, politically, in virtually in all fields of human endeavour when compared with states to the West or North of her borders. Our political elites who control power have at least managed to muddle through and allow the people to move about freely and peacefully in the past. So how did we come to such a pass now that gun fire is being exchanged freely at political rallies, creating a climate of fear and panic among the populace? Politics of brigandage and strong arm tactics used to be the signature tune of another region, not our sleepy and underdeveloped Kogi state.
As a lowly placed priest charged with a singular mission to bring people to Christ and guide their steps as they make efforts to go to heaven, I work among the people all the time and cannot but share in their joys, their anguish and their cries. There are many things people tell me, some of their tales of woe too painful to relate talk less of divulging here. The tales the country people tell me i shall relate but only the more upbeat ones, not the terribly bad cases.
Take a 65 year old pensioner, who studied in University of London, worked hard in the civil service and retired honourably, as a Director (his mates called him ‘Perm. Sec. minus opportunity’). At a time he had not been paid his pension for 13 months. He struggled to build two flats in the village while in service, which he rented out. Upon how cheap flats are in the village, he could not collect rents on his property because the Teachers who rented the flats were not paid salaries. His two children did not get good jobs after graduation so they still relied on their father to subsidize their rents in the cities whenever it was due. He has not been able to discharge his obligations to his church either.
A farmer told me he never had one day of school because his late father could not afford it and he was not brilliant enough to gain admission to government Secondary school at his time, where school fees were not paid. So he was stuck with farm work. He told me last year his means of sustenance was ruined by Cattle herders who descended on his fruits plantation and harvested all pineapples, bananas, plantains, etc., which he used to harvest during dry season. He decided to stay back on his plantation one day, in order to catch the thieves. He actually caught one of them, a young Fulani man who came to harvest his pineapples in the company of his two wives. As the thief harvested them in such a destructive manner, the wives collected them in sacks. He challenged the youth and he received a machete cut on his upper left arm for his troubles. He had not been able to discharge his obligations to his church, rather the church subsidizes him now.
Regularly now ministers of God meet people so distressed economically; homeless, hopeless and rudderless, one feels like building a shelter for them but where is the fund. This was not a feature of village life before. In the past families in the village sheltered and rehabilitated any of their own who fell on hard times.
There are many tales the country told me. I am so moved that sometimes I feel like throwing in my cassock and taking up politics because my position as a priest has limited my participation in active partisan politics. And politics as played in our country today where winner takes all does not encourage one to stick a neck in that arena in order to be on the side of caution. However where sacredness of the people is concerned, I am obliged both as a priest, in conscience and a citizen to try and play an intercessory role in order that those we claim to serve will not suffer for too long in the hands of the high and mighty.
For the purpose of this discuss I use the word Sacred to mean very important and treated with great respect without any religious connotation.
Next to the position of God today in our country is the position of political office holders. They are very sacred, indeed.Look at how much we pay on their personal security. Except local government councillors, I do not think that any other office holder in the country do not have 24hr all round personal body guard. If I say a body guard, I am not talking of one with bare hands to defend his master by fighting kung-Fu, traditional wrestling, boxing or karate. I mean a well-equipped guard with sophisticated guns and tear gas canisters tied round their waists and handcuffs too, in case of eventualities. Many of them go as far as having two or more body guards depending on how high their ranks and how unsecured they feel. The position of such people with great security of this nature cannot but be considered as sacred. How did we come to such a pass that the people we elected and pay so highly to have them protected are so far away from us, the people, as if we are wild beasts.
Our state is endowed with hard working and intelligent people and an abundance of mineral resources. There is no day that I don’t stand shoulder high and head filled with pride to be an indigene ofKogi state. I talk of the greatness of the country and more of my state when I have to talk in public. We have men of timber and calibre, erudite scholars and political strategists. We have quality men in politics, in religion, in the academics. We have people who have been tried and trusted in honesty and integrity. These are men and women we are proud of that are in themselves very humble and unassuming. These are men who are known beyond the coast of this country. If Nigeria is said to be great today, these individuals of worth have contributed to the greatness of the nation without making noise about it. They have made industries notable.They have made their marks solidly as they move on quietly and gently in the way they live lives and contribute to the progress of humanity. They are great people who will not instigate fellow citizens to go against constituted authorities or use illegal means to protest their oppression, in order to fight for their rights. They are people who know and feel that getting ones right is not by violence but by negotiations and dialogue. They are themselves men and women of peace and cannot afford to fight for justice through violence. They are people whose language at any time in life is non-violence. They are people who can tell you off-hand the enormity of the resources in this state that God has established in the middle belt of this great nation. How did we come to such a pass that the counsel of such experts is roughly shoved aside once our political leaders get hold of power.
They are people of hope who know and think very strongly that one day things will be right and so there is no need to destroy the pillars over which the future will be built. The greatest pillar that our future is waiting to be built on is the unity and cohesiveness that we have as a people though we do not have the same language but we have the same objectives and developmental objectives. With all these human resources, how did we come to such a pass that our leaders preoccupy themselves with showing who is mightier rather than how to tackle our numerous challenges. Can you imagine the transformation in the lives of our people if all these energies our leaders dispense on verbal and strong arm tactics is with a little humility harnessed to improve the basic health of the rural man and woman
The mineral resources from the state is enormous:
Kogi state with a population of about 4million people and land area of about 30,000 km, is said to have the highest number of mineral resources in this country. The Nigerian Federal Government has now identified commercial deposits of a total of 37 minerals, up from 33 minerals in 2008. “As far as mineral deposits are concerned, KOGI state and next-door NASARAWA state are the most well-endowed across the entire country. A year or two ago, we made this point on similar platform and someone asked me to “take am easy”(as if we were exaggerating). Well, the scope has even widened since then. Kogi state has deposits of a total of 29 MINERAL RESOURCES available in commercial quantities. These include coal, dolomite, feldspar, bauxite, iron ore, tar, limestone, gold etc. This was contained in the research done from different parts of the country and articulated by the then Minister of Mines and Steel Development in the year 2010.
Each of the 21 LGAs in the state has deposits of at least 2 minerals. So how did we come to such a pass that we do not exploit these resources to the benefit of our people. Indeed if Dangote had not come to use our high quality limestone deposit in Jakura, many of our people would not have known that such a thing existed.
One of the coal-rich areas is the Okaba district of Ankpa LGA, Kogi state, which alone holds reserves of 99 million tonnes of coal. As things stand, Kogi state has enough deposits of coal to supply all of Nigeria with electricity for 400 years. Kogi state holds enough limestone deposit to keep 3 giant-sized cement factories (with over 15m tons annual capacity) operational for an unbroken stretch of 99 years. This was contained in the research done from different parts of the country and articulated by the then Minister of Mines and Steel Development in the year 2010. I am aware that solid minerals exploitation is vested in the Federal Government to grant lease, operating licences and to take the tax but if the state takes an interest to encourage credible private investors to exploit these minerals, there is no way that some of the benefits from their mining activities would percolate to the people of the state. How did we come to such a pass that we cannot figure out that the salaries mining firms pay to their workers cannot all be carted away from the state. Workers would buy food locally at least.
A call to our leaders:
From the above it is clear that the state does not deserve warring leaders when there is so much to do to improve the lives of our people. What we needare visionary leaders who are prepared to work together as a team irrespective of the party they belong to. We need leaders who will come together and help us harness the resources that we have. We need leaders who will give us a way forward in life and a better life for the citizens of the state.
Leaders in each ethnic group in Nigeria today are looking for a better opportunity for the citizens. I remember when the Ministry of the Niger Delta was created, I asked in one of my homilies as a priest that is the country ready to create a ministry for every warring group? The ministry of the Niger Delta unfortunately has not solved the problem that we are having with that region today. Nigeria a country that has everything to be the greatest country in the world but unfortunately it is a nation that is ranked among the poorest, dirtiest and rated as one of the least developed in the world. Ditto for Kogi State. This is a state that should not be talking of bailout before paying workers’ salaries. How did we come to such a pass that we have desecrated the sacred duty of an employee to pay the wages of his workers regularly to the level where our state cannot even definitively state how much has been paid and how much is due to each worker? Thus every payroll must be backed with bank records only.
On behalf of the people of the state, I will like to make the following appeals hoping that they are not made in vain
- Our political leaders should come together and forget about their individual gains in politics and fight for the common good of the people. Our leaders in the state today are desecrating both the position they occupy and the people that occupy such position in the type of language they are using for each other on the television, radio and in the social media.
- The state today does not deserve warring leaders as we have now, rather our people deserve leaders who will fight a common front to develop all the mineral resources we have. How did we come to such a pass that it is illegal miners with shovels, pike axes, diggers and very crude tools who exploit our solid minerals at very profitable rates to them.
- I have always dreamt and desired that after the elections no matter how imperfect, as soon as a leader is pronounced, we should come and rally round each other to move the state forward. I wish it were possible that after each election, individuals should let go of political parties and make a positive move for a united front. How did we come to such a pass that we cannot borrow a leaf from states to the West of us whose politics is focussed on development no matter who comes to power. In India I have read somewhere they have set developmental goals, which is addressed by successive governments, no matter who wins elections. Why can’t we be that way?
- I envisage that whoever may be the leader in the state should form a cabinet that will comprise the best minds in every area of the state no matter the political orientation instead of a cabinet full of political jobbers, “Come and Chop”.
- Is it in this vain that all the appeals to the present political heavy weights in Kogi state to sheathe their swords and embrace the path of dialogue for progress are made? It is only when there is development that the wellbeing of the people will be realised. As long as you keep the citizens poor by denying them their legitimate rights, you will also not enjoy whatever you have acquired illegitimately while in office.
- The hunger in the state now is great. The rapes of our resources are enormous. I call on all the statesmen leaders in the state to invite themselves to a roundtable discussion as to how to change the direction of the present discuss and move the state forward. We need now and very urgently, the politics that will bring progress. All former Governors qualify to be statesmen now. They should not seat idly by and let the state slide into dishonour or rot. All the big men can fly out, they and their families, when the conflagration consumes us, but the rest of us cannot even find our way to the Seme boarder.