by Collins Uma
The military coup that brought General Muhammadu Buhari to power on December 31, 1983 and replaced the civilian governors with military officers not only arrested this commendable development of a state and giant strides being taken by one man, it also ensured that progress was actually reversed.
While in church in Makurdi on Sunday, January 26, my Pastor, Abel Uloko, started talking about changing our world and how you’re not a world changer because of what you have achieved for yourself but because of what people have achieved for themselves through you. And then he spoke about a former Governor of Benue state, Mr Aper Aku. His words about Aper Aku form the basis of what I’m writing today. February 3, 2014 marks 38 years since the creation of Benue State and this is a good time to talk about the greatest man to ever serve as Governor of the state.
Aku was born in 1938, and in 1979 he became the first civilian governor of Benue State, created just three years previously. Before February 3, 1976 it was part of Benue-Plateau State. For four years Aper Aku moved beyond his Ushongo community and left his footprints all over the state, until Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s military regime rudely truncated the beautiful growth being experienced by the young state in 1983.
Within four years Aku had built several industries to produce fertilizer and process agricultural products, Benue having great agricultural potentials, and located these close to the areas where the produce was grown. Research shows he also launched commercial enterprises such as the Benue Brewery, Benro Packaging, Benue Bottling Company, Lobi Bank, Ber-Agbum Fish Farm, Ikyogen Cattle Ranch, Taraku Vegetable Processing Industry and Benue International Hotel in Makurdi. He initiated the Makurdi International Market and planned to establish a flour mill in Makurdi. Aku also built a state of the art State Secretariat. This secretariat still stands exactly how it was built over 30 years ago. Unpainted.
He cancelled work on a large medical centre at Apir, on the outskirts of Makurdi, and instead began construction of seven cottage hospitals in different locations. He established two Teachers Colleges at Oju and Makurdi and the University of Technology in Makurdi which became the seed bed out of which grew the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi. He embarked on an ambitious program to expand the number of Secondary Schools. He built roads in Makurdi township and provided the street lights, awarded the contract for the Art Council Complex and started work on the Makurdi stadium which is presently named after him.
The military coup that brought General Muhammadu Buhari to power on December 31, 1983 and replaced the civilian governors with military officers not only arrested this commendable development of a state and giant strides being taken by one man, it also ensured that progress was actually reversed. Many of the projects he had begun were later abandoned by the later military governors, and agricultural production plunged. The elaborate water supply schemes that Aku had initiated was abandoned, and the infrastructure that had been built was not maintained.
Buhari jailed Aku and most of the other Governors, setting up military tribunals to investigate their conduct while in office. Aku’s health was broken by the harsh conditions in jail, and he died in 1988 shortly after being released.
The foregoing goes to emphasize the degree of impact one can have on a society within a very short time if one’s heart is put into creating positive change within whatever society one finds oneself. It is instructive to note that the much that was achieved by Aper Aku was done with a budget that is a fraction of what state Governors spend these days without achieving a quarter of what he did. A situation where recurrent expenditures gulp a very huge percentage of budgets, as shown in the federal government’s 2014 budget proposal, for example, cannot help any society desirous of sustainable development.
The clamor for political offices post-2015 has started. The office holders with renewable tenures have started campaigning for re-election and those with expiring tenures are attempting to position themselves for higher office. This is regardless of how much (or how little) impact their administrations have had on the people. Nobody needs eight years to create enduring change in a place like Nigeria, considering the amount of resources usually put at the leaders’ disposal. Aper Aku did it in four years.
Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, in a recent lecture, lamented the role played by ‘vested interests’ in the under-development of Nigeria. Former presidential aide, Olusegun Adeniyi, in his book Power, Politics And Death, also spoke about the existence of these ‘vested interests’ in the Yar’Adua administration and how they fought to see that several people-oriented decisions were never taken by the President. These ‘vested interests’ are however often known. They are not faceless. If this is the hurdle between Nigeria and Eldorado then it is high time we crossed it, no matter who’s ox is gored. It is a wise leader that, instead of just confiscating our common wealth for his/her personal comfort, chooses to take steps that will carve his/her name forever in the hearts of the people.
It is still morning on creation day. Any leader reading this still has the chance to make a difference.
Collins Uma is a trained Sociologist with a bias for Developmental Sociology. He is a public affairs analyst and commentator. He is also a husband and father and an ordained Minister of the Gospel. Collins Uma tweets via @CollinsUma
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