By Usha Anenga
It’s public primary schools just came out of a strike over unpaid wages that lasted almost a year. Pupils dropping out of school into their parents farms and doing other menial jobs to keep busy and support the family did not help a society still struggling to drum up interest in western education to its largely rural uneducated population. And for children accustomed to going to school daily, this was not just a tragic experience but a psychological blow many will struggle to recover from. Some would never return to school and life will not be the same again.
I also hear some teachers in some school have endured over four gruelling years without pay for no just reason. Many of them have died, and the remaining look on with no reprieve in sight. God help them!
As if that wasn’t enough, the government slashed to the tune of 10%, the salaries of its already impoverished servants. “To offset a deficit budget” they say, but everyone knows the people are paying for their excessive and lavish lifestyle.
Welcome to Benue State and this is just part of the tale of a once envy of its neighbours and pride of the people. A state blessed beyond measure with dark loams of fertile land dissected through by a fresh flowing river. An oasis in the savannah, coupled with its human resources, unquestionable potential and promise. So blessed, it was tipped to feed the nation, to be a major hub of agricultural export to west Africa and beyond.
Sadly, years on, Benue State’s slogan as the “food basket of the nation” sounds all but a caricature. The optimism that greeted it’s creation from the defunct Benue-Plateau state have fizzled out into the reality of underdevelopment and poverty. This became inevitable when successive government administrations choose to traded cheaply sustainable development and self – reliance for the monthly share of “the national cake”, a phrase that have enjoyed patronage since Nigeria jettisoned agriculture to depend fully on revenue from the sale of crude oil.
It is therefore not a surprise that today, the state’s economic heart beats 12 times a year coinciding with when salaries are paid at the end of each month, albeit heavily taxed. Lack of industries and poor infrastructure have given birth to unemployment, poor enabling environment for business and hence zero economic growth.
The resultant effect is obvious, a legion of politicians and the people at their mercy, a people accustomed to less and adapted to the mediocrity of just the basics of life; food, water (still scarce despite the proximity to River Benue), shelter and strangely, alcohol. A people so oppressed and cursed by the idiosyncrasies of tribalism and it’s sequelae, which is a tale for another day.
As 2015 elections draw close, as usual the political bigwigs abound and permutations alike. Numerous manifestos full of mouthwatering promises are everywhere from social to printed media as the people contemplate who will lead them forward if votes count. Only time will tell how this turns out but the fact still remains that, the people of Benue State are in dire need of a true leader, a revolutionary leader. One in the order of Aper Aku; the benchmark for leadership in Benue State, if you ask me. One who will bridge the giant gulf between the poor and the rich, promises and achievements, abandoned and completed projects, potential and accomplishment, and bring succour to a state so plagued by bad governance.