BY VICTORIA N. IKEANO
February should rank as the busiest for Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari this year as he visited a number of states to commission projects, attended international conferences and had intensive meetings with chieftains of his ruling All Progressives Congress party (governors and exco members) with regard to preparing the grounds for next year’s general elections. This is apart from his hosting groups and governors individually. Among them was outgoing governor of Anambra state, Chief Willie Obiano, accompanied by his wife who came to officially bid Mr. President goodbye as he finally vacates office this month upon expiration of his constitutionally mandated two terms. The last state President Buhari visited in February was Nasarawa, his next-door neighbour. No sooner had the president concluded this visit and landed back in the Villa on Friday, than he got down to work, signing the historic Electoral Amendment bill into law. It is fitting that the president has jetted off for a private visit that would afford him the desired rest after such a hectic February schedule. His visit to Nasarawa was no less historic. Although Buhari had set foot on Nasarawa soil several times – on private visits, campaign trail, to inaugurate certain lone projects, the visit of 24th February was the second official presidential visit to Nasarawa state since its creation in 1996. Coincidentally, its first presidential state visit was by President Buhari himself in February, 2018.
Like his 2018 working visit, Mr. President’s 2022 visit was also postponed from its initial date. His busy/ pressing state matters are cited as the reason.The president was originally expected here on the 17th but it was pushed backwards to 24th as the initial date saw him in Brussels for an international conference. Some residents took the reshedulling for cancellation. However, this begs the question about whether those who chose 17th for the visit, did not see the Brussels date on the calendar? Its rescheduling to 24th makes it seem as if Mr. President’s personal attendance at the Brussels conference was an afterthought. Asked if the postponement derailed its programmes, Nasarawa state new Commissioner of Information, Culture and Tourism Hon. Yakubu Lawal said, ‘’Not at all’’, adding that it instead gave the government more time to fine tune its arrangements to give President Buhari a rousing welcome and reception. In 2018 the president was to be in the state for two days but eventually stayed for one day, completed his working visit of projects’ commissioning that same day. This time around, he did stay for two days, commissioned four projects on arrival day, passed the night in Nasarawa State, attended a state banquet in his honour and launched more projects the next day.
Last time in 2018, the Lafia Comprehensive (Model) Health Centre in Kwandere was about the only federal government project President Buhari launched. All others were state projects, among them were the Karu International Market (named after him), the State Fire Service and the Lafia Comprehensive Special School (for physically disadvantaged and autistic children). One critic of the president’s 2018 state visit had sent me a text message asking, ‘’Lady Victoria, where in the world have you seen a president commissioning a market…? Other critics had maintained that what Buhari commissioned at the time were ‘’petty’’ projects. I disagree though for they were all important projects for the state given its development trajectory. The government views markets as ‘’critical infrastructure’’. This is understandable because Nasarawa being largely a civil service state relies/relied majorly on establishment of markets to empower its people and generate revenue. Hence the establishment of the Karu (Muhammadu Buhari) International Market as well as modern markets in all three senatorial districts, namely, the New Market and Neighbourhood Market in Lafia, Akwanga Model Market and the Keffi Modern Market. The latter along side the Keffi Comprehensive Square were launched last week by Mr. President. Hon. Abdulhamid Yakubu Kwarra then Information Commissioner while refuting critics’ claims that projects commissioned by President Buhari in 2018 were ‘petty’, asserted, ‘’Since the creation of Nasarawa state in 1996 did we have a modern market? Since creation of Nasarawa State in 1996 did we have a fire service? Since creation of Nasarawa state in 1996, did we have these projects?’
This time around, the president commissioned more projects, both state and federal-owned. What is more, they are flagship projects because they have far reaching implications for the people and government. According to the incumbent Information Commissioner, Hon. Lawal, they are landmark, legacy projects because they will outlive the administration of Governor A.A. Sule and are very important to the socio-economic development of the state. For instance, the 330 KVA Akurba power substation in Lafia has opened a new world and opportunities for the state capital and its environs with steady uninterrupted electricity supply. Importance of electricity for both individual and industrial use cannot be overemphasised. And no sooner did Mr. President commission this federal government sponsored project that was greatly supported by the state government than the governor called on investors to take full advantage of the now steady power supply to come invest in Nasarawa state. They are already trickling in. There was also the new, imposing Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) state office.
The N10 billion Cargo Airport in Kwandere, Lafia was started by the last administration but expanded and completed by the current Sule-led administration. It is rated as ‘’one of its kind’’ in the north central zone, being a cargo airport. The zone being Nigeria’s food basket, this airport would greatly help in transportation of agricultural produce to local and international markets. Its location in Nasarawa state close to the federal capital territory means it can also support the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport in Abuja. Nonetheless, airports are capital intensive and could demand a lot from a state, not least a relatively small state like Nasarawa. Thus, Governor Sule’s call for the federal government to take over this airport and also construction of the long stretch of road from the kwandere to Keffi that would greatly shorten the travel time from Lafia to Abuja, is a wise one. The ultra-modern expansive bus terminal in Karu ( a stone throw from the federal capital city) started and completed by this administration is a master stroke. It will now be the hub of especially inter-state transportation for both Abuja and karu local government area residents in Nasarawa state. Some 90 per cent of those working in Abuja live in Karu and its environs. Apart from boosting its revenues, it would also lead to springing up of enterprises that service the transport sector. That there is a similar Bus terminal in the state capital also launched by Mr. President is expected. For the upgraded Skills acquisition and Vocational Institute also in Lafia equipped with modern equipment, it will empower the youths, making them become employers rather than job seekers. Development follows the road, so goes a saying. This is true for the Shinge- Kilema road that leads to the cattle market and rice mill in Lafia.
In 2018 the Emir of Lafia who doubles as chairman of the State’s Council of Emirs and Chiefs was HRM Mustapha Agwai 1. He has since passed on. And the new monarch on the throne who received Mr. President in the palace this time around is Justice Sidi Bage(rtd). Most of the projects commissioned are in Lafia. And for this, chairman of Lafia local government council, Hon. Aminu Muazu Maifata stated that the people are grateful to President Buhari, past and present Nasarawa governors for uplifting their city, Lafia, explaining that Mr. President has further enhanced his status in the eyes of the average Lafia person. Overall, Governor Sule played the good and dutiful host to Mr. President. However, whereas President Buhari inaugurated projects in the two senatorial districts of Lafia and Keffi, he did not commission any in the governor’s own Akwanga zone. I believe he would sooner or later site a befitting project in his own district. Whether Governor Sule would have the opportunity of having Mr. President commission it/them is another matter.