When information came to me that we were going to hold our annual conference of the Nigerian Guild of Editors in Katsina, Katsina State, many thoughts raced through my mind. Why Katsina of all places? I asked myself. Why fix this year’s conference in a far place like Katsina at this time? Upon the assurances from the State Governor, Barrister Ibrahim Shehu Shema that Katsina is safe, I took it with a pinch of salt and swallowed my phlegm.
I thought of Boko Haram. I thought of the Chibok girls. I thought of my family. On the night of our arrival being the 27th, I slept with one eye closed in Maikudi Hotel, which I understood is owned by Turai Yar’Adua. The following day, I had a decent night’s sleep, and contrary to my fears, there was no Shekau to knock on my door afterall! Before this time, the feeling amongst most of us was that many journalists would not turn up for the conference for security reasons. But to everybody’s surprise, “Katsina 2014” happened to be the most, if not the best, attended conference since the inception of the Guild ten years ago!
Our trip from Lagos to Katsina on a chartered Azman Airline was buttery smooth, in fact it was the smoothest local flight I have ever taken. On arrival at the Katsina airport named after Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua, the state officials were on ground to welcome us to the ‘Home of Hospitality’. From the airport we were driven straight to the Governor’s Lodge where the Governor—an affable gentleman— and members of the State Executive Council were already waiting to welcome us to this ancient Northern city.
And true to type, Katsina did not disappoint. It is indeed the home of hospitality. For the five days the conference lasted, we didn’t have any dull moment, not even the security situation nor the fact that Katsina is a predominantly moslem state could hold us back from savoring the best of the state.
But that is not to say that Katsina doesn’t have its downside. My visit to Katsina reminded me of George Orwell’s account of his visit to Marrakech in Morroco where, he said, ‘you see hundreds of thousands of people who own nothing except the rags they stand up in’. In Katsina you see little children begging at every traffic hold-up or junction and you begin to ask so many questions: Are these also human beings? Where are their parents? Are they living in houses? Do they know that there is something called education, and that they are entitled to have their own bite of it? Questions and questions!
The governor told us he has done a lot to take the children off the roads by making education free and compulsory. He even went the extra mile by paying the WAEC and NECO examination fees for every final year student so that no child is left behind.
The theme of this year’s conference dwelt on the role of the editor toward a credible election and good governance. The keynote speaker, Alhaji Musa Mutallab said that, as the fourth estate of the realm, the media was central and pivotal in democracy. He said that the success or failure of any democracy all over the world could be traced to the role of the media, especially the editor who is seen as the last gatekeeper in moderating the tempo and flavour of the news.
The gathering at Katsina was indeed an opportune moment for editors across the country to rub minds on many critical issues in the country, especially the forthcoming 2015 general election. How can the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC conduct a free, fair, credible and acceptable election in 2015? How can the commission build confidence in the minds of the electorate and other Nigerians with the dust and disequilibrium it has created following the lopsidedness in the spatial distribution of its newly created Polling Units which is clearly skewed against the south and in favour of the north? What role can the editor play in reversing such an ugly trend and holding politicians accountable to the people?
As the keynote speaker noted, it is true that the editor’s role in midwifing a free and fair election and good governance is central, but what can the editor do when the political class is not ready to create strong institutions that can advance democracy and good governance? These and many issues agitated the minds of the editors that came from the print, electronic and online media.
I must say that my trip to Katsina state was rewarding. For one, it was my first time of going to far North, and I wonder if anything else could have taken me to the north in a period like this. And for another, it afforded me the opportunity to have a glimpse, or a pip, into the philosophy of governance in the North and assess the gains of our democracy these fifteen years.
When we held the 2012 All Nigerian Editors Conference in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, we saw how Godswill Akpabio was transforming the state with billions of Naira state oil money. We went to Delta last year and saw how Uduaghan was battling to keep hope of the people alive with projects that gulped tens and hundreds of billions, as we were told.
But our trip to Katsina created a lot of impressions in me. Katsina is not an oil bearing state and yet the governor, Ibrahim Shehu Shema has demonstrated that with without oil but focus and prudence and good management of resources we can develop our country and lift our people from the bootstraps of despondency and quagmire. With the many beautiful and solid projects we saw the man has executed without regaling us on the tens and hundreds of billions they gulped as our southern governors are wont to, I came home feeling that Northern governors are more people oriented and prudent managers of resources in their attitude to governance. Shema built a beautiful orthopedic specialist hospital that could have cost tens of billions in the south with a mere ₦1.7 billion, compared to the hundreds of billions Akpabio is spending on projects of lesser value.
Katsina Government House is the biggest and the best I have seen. It is a sprawling edifice sitting on over 100 hectares of land tastefully furnished which Shema built and commissioned in March this year by President Goodluck Jonathan. When he told us during the banquet night that it was a gift of his administration to the state, we wondered what he actually meant. It was then that he told us the complex was built without a loan and without the state money but from the profit of an investment the state made, and it cost them N8 billion! He is redefining democracy in Katsina by telling his people and the world that governance is about taking action, not about noise making.