STATE CREATION AS CATALYST FOR DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA: THE BENUE STATE EXAMPLE
James Uloko, Benue
Nigeria’s democracy is fashioned after the American system of Government with Federal, State and Local Administrative systems created to bring development closer to the people.
On February 3, 1976 a number of states were created by the then Military Administration of General Murtala Mohammed bringing the number of states in the country to 19 from the initial 12.
One of the states created on that date is Benue State carved out of the defunct Benue-Plateau State in North Central Nigeria. The state aptly derived its name from the second longest and largest river in Nigeria, the River Benue.
Since its creation, Benue state has been governed by 16 Chief Executives, eleven of them military governors and five civilians, including the incumbent Governor Samuel Ortom. Colonel Abdullahi Shelleng was appointed the first military governor of the fledgling state from Feb 3, 1976 to July 1978.
As the military administrator of a new state, Shelleng started off with the construction of residential housing estates, opening up the state capital, Makurdi to investors. He also established several schools and colleges for manpower development of the work force and intelligentsia for the state.
The first democratically elected governor of the state was Appolos Aper Aku, who administered the state until December 1983. It was during the pragmatic leadership of Governor Aku that the state witnessed a flurry of socio economic activities which became the ‘Bedrock’ for the overall development of the State.
Governor Aku encouraged mass agricultural production, established Benro Packaging, Benue Bottling Company, Lobi Bank, Ber-Agbum Fish Farm, Ikogen Cattle Ranch, Taraku Vegetable Processing Industry, Benue Hotels, Makurdi, among others. He also established Advance Teachers College Katsina Ala, Oju and Idah.
After a prolonged military administration, power once again returned to civilians with the election of George Akume. The new administration encouraged, promoted and deepened political consciousness among the people and elevated politics to an art.
In terms of governance, the highlights of the Akume administration were its disposition manifested in its attention to personal financial, health, business and other needs of citizens and the commencement of the construction of Benue State University Teaching Hospital.
Dr. Gabriel Suswam was the fourth executive Governor of the State. Between 2007 and 2015, Benue State, under the leadership of Suswam, witnessed accelerated infrastructural development, particularly Makurdi township roads and other roads across the length and breadth of the state.
Governor Ortom, the incumbent governor and the fifth civilian governor, has been building on the foundation of his predecessors. But unlike his predecessors, Ortom assumed leadership of the state on May, 29, 2015 in the face of unprecedented security challenges such as clashes between farmers and cattle herdsmen taking its toll on the resources of the state.
The new Governor moved quickly by introducing the Ranches Establishment and Prohibition of Open Grazing law to curb the incessant clashed between the farmers and herders. The Benue State Livestock Guard was established under the law to monitor, implement and enforce the law.
Apart from reducing the incidence of herdsmen/farmers’ clashes drastically in the state, the law has become a model which other states in the country are adopting in trying to tackle similar security challenges.
In education, the state which had no tertiary institution at inception now has one private and three government universities, four government-owned Colleges of Education.
In the health sector, from only one General hospital at its creation, the State now has two tertiary health institutions, namely the Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi, and the Benue State University Teaching Hospital; and one general hospital in each of the 23 local government areas of the state and Primary Healthcare Centres in the remotest communities across the state.
Benue State has excelled beyond measure in the promotion of culture leading to international recognitions. On December 12, 2019, the United Nation Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO inscribed the Tiv Kwagh-Hir performance on the representative list of intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This is the fifth of Nigeria’s inscription on the UNESCO’s Representative list.
With the level Benue state has attained in terms of development, it is justifiable that the creation of states has no doubt opened up the country, created more jobs and helped in ameliorating and uplifting the standard of living of the people.
On the whole, it has been established that Benue State has witnessed significant development in all spheres of life in its 45 years of existence under 11 governors and has become a shining example of rural development and justification for state creation.
James Uloko is the Special Adviser on Information and Orientation to the Governor of Benue State in North-central Nigeria.