By Gambo Dori
I CAME into Damaturu, the capital of Yobe State, last week to see how the government works despite all the odds – Boko Haram carnage and low revenues as a result of the fall in oil prices in 2015. I set out my itinerary to view those projects whose impact in my considered view would outlast the government in power now. These are what are usually referred to as legacy projects. I had let off the column last week at a stage whereupon I was coming back from the trip to Garin Gada which showcased a 400ha irrigation project that was at the point of completion.
I had set out for Garin Gada in the morning, a day whose weather was rather balmy for the times, going through the fine road north of Damaturu that was reconstructed all the way through Dapchi to Bayamari junction which forked to Geidam and Yunusari and on to Maimalari.
Most of these towns at the northernmost parts the state have suffered from the hands of Boko Haram elements. All the public buildings in Babangida the first major town after Damaturu we came across were completely incinerated by the terrorists. The local government secretariat, hospital, schools and the residence of the 1st class emir were all razed to the ground at the height of the madness in 2013/14. That morning when we run through the town all these buildings were up and functioning.
Geidam, the home town of the State Governor, was not spared by the terrorists. They chose to attack it when the town was bustling on a market day. They probably targeted the market in particular because it had made a name as the busiest and richest among all the towns in that border region. In an attack that spread along many hours they pillaged the market, took what they could and destroyed what they could not. Lorries heavy with goods were razed. Banks were looted. All public buildings were torched.
However that morning when we got into Geidam it was a delight to see. The market is back to its robust self with all the destroyed stalls and other structures wearing new looks. All the burnt public buildings were back on their feet, some like the schools and the General Hospital in even better shape than they were before the terrorists’ ferocious attack. Good roads link most parts of the town and there was a general air of peace all around.
Garin Gada, the home of an old irrigation project was just a few kilometres from Geidam on a tough road that the state government is just poised to reconstruct. The resuscitation of the 400ha project at the banks of River Yobe was almost completed with all the appurtenances, the canals, the pumping station, ready for use. Half of the fields has been cleared and would be handed over to the farmers to start preparing for the next planting season. Actually small irrigation projects are the rave now because they are easier to finance, construct and quicker to utilize. They would be handed over to the beneficiary community to operate and run, thus allowing the government to withdraw and attend to other pressing needs.
As explained to me by Goni Gambomi the team leader of the task force driving these projects, two similar though smaller projects have already taken off at Jumbam and Boloram. These schemes that are based on tube wells so far have farmers now cultivating rice, wheat and maize.
When you consider a possibility of three cropping sessions in a year you would then see the massive effect this could have on employment in a state like Yobe that is mainly rural. Besides, there is another project of 500ha nearing completion in Nguru, the old railway terminal town. I came away from Garin Gada elated that the idea of small scale irrigation schemes is taking hold in Yobe and with the possibility of spreading to other parts of the state in the next few years there is bound to be an enhanced employment opportunities for many. It would truly be a legacy project just like what Audu Bako did in Kano State in the 1970s the benefits that are still being reaped today.
We followed the same route back to Damaturu, through Bayamari and Dapchi. While passing the Dapchi Government Science and Technical College made infamous by the brazen abduction of school girls by Boko Haram terrorists, I noticed that a check point with sand bags manned by armed soldiers waving guns, was in place. It was after a short run from Dapchi that we got into a mighty desert sandstorm that ended with a heavy rain. The interesting thing about these storms is that you see them coming like a looming darkness until you are enveloped. By the time we were forced to veer into safety and stop, it was all darkness around us even though it was just after 3pm. The howling strong winds looked as if they would topple our vehicle, but as the rains started falling, visibility improved and we moved.
The next day I travelled the short distance of 20km or so out of Damaturu, to see the works going at the 11 billion naira cargo airport arena. Fortunately the Governor was making an inspection tour that day and I guessed that everyone involved on the project would be there. I decided to go ahead and was able to be conducted around. The land had been cleared and frenetic activities were taking place at the sites for the terminal building, the control tower, the runway, etc.
The rapid pace of work going on and the way the Governor is breathing down the neck of the contractors, there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that the airport would be handed over as completed soon. However this would not deter from the arguments that had gone on the pages of newspapers and the social on the propriety of an airport in Yobe State. I do not intend to revisit those arguments but to add my belief that the airport would tremendously aid the movement of goods and persons in a region that suffers a great deal from a deficit of transportation infrastructure.
I then proceeded to the new 200-bed Teaching Hospital to find a very well equipped edifice built to complement the needs of the new College of Medicine in the Yobe State University. What struck me about the hospital that day was that despite the nationwide strike by JOHESU the entire medical team was working harmoniously in the premises. I later found that the strike never really took off in the state as the government has been responding to the demands of both the doctors and members of JOHESU.
I was conducted around six departments and in one of them even found myself watching a patient, who came from across the state, on dialysis machine. I also went into the Yobe State University to see College of Medicine. All the buildings are ready to receive the new students arriving to kick-start the college in the next few days.
I left Damaturu on that note. Probably at a time in future, before the regime hands over the baton we shall return to the subject to find answers as to why the state worked.