“You are a true leader and, like all true leaders, you have the confidence to stand alone, you have the courage to make tough decisions, and you have the compassion to listen to the needs and aspirations of others. You did not set out to be a leader, but you have become one by the equality of your actions and the integrity of your intent.”
This is one chapter in a flowery citation on Mohammed Umar Bago, member representing Chanchaga Federal Constituency in Niger state when he was named Lawmaker of The Year by the North Central Elders and Leaders of Thought in Abuja last year. These are no mean words and the statement is one that even the most rabid opponent of Honourable Bago can dispute.
In a manner of speaking, Honourable Bago is truly on the ground in his home state of Niger and the multitude who refer to him as Gamji must have good cause for doing so. From empowering youth and women groups to providing succour for the elderly, there is hardly a community within the Chanchaga Federal Constituency which he represents at the National Assembly and, indeed, in all the other twenty-four local government areas of Niger state that the politician has not impacted positively.
Honourable Bago is not called Mr. Empowerment for fun. The lawmaker has reached out to more students at all levels of education than any politician in Niger state. He has intervened to restore electricity to communities, sunk boreholes for long-neglected communities in rural and urban areas, singlehandedly renovated dilapidated classrooms in rural and urban schools, has continued to pay examination fees for indigent students and renovated places of worship for religious groups. All these he does without recourse to religious and political affiliations of benefitting individuals and communities.
Politics did not define the philanthropy of Bago; rather, it was his philanthropy that defined his entry into politics. In fact, Honourable Bago did not have politics at the back of his mind when he established the octopoid Bago Foundation, a charitable organization he set up to actualise his philosophy of service to a greater number of people. It must have been the far-reaching activities of the Foundation that convinced people to literally draft Bago into politics.
Always one on the side of the people, Bago did not have to go in search of godfathers when, in deference to popular pressure, he jumped into the political fray in 2011. He believed in himself and, with people’s power in his favour he pitched camp with the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, a party with near-zero presence in Niger state at the time. Even though Bago had warmed his way into the heart of the people through the activities of his foundation, analysts reasoned that he could have joined one of the established political parties to actualize his dream. The analysts were proved wrong because 2011 was payback time for Bago and the people paid him back handsomely with their presence at his campaigns. His convincing victory affirmed the trustful relationship he enjoyed with the people.
Ahead of 2023, Bago is enamoured by two factors; one is that Governor Abubakar Sani Bello will not be on the ballot and, two, the leadership of APC, has jettisoned zoning in order to allow a level-playing ground at all levels. Thus unencumbered, it should not be surprising if, barring any major twist, Umar Bago yields to pressure and seek the mandate of the APC party to contest the 2023 governorship election in Niger state. Though the lawmaker has not admitted that much, snippets from the state show that not a few people in the state will be excited to have Bago on the ballot.
The growing chant of Sai Bago across the state and the upswing in the clamour to draft Bago into the 2023 governorship race is fuelled by prevailing belief among the people of Niger state that a level-headed and committed politician in his mould and who deployed resources to improve lives, initially as a private citizen and later as a federal lawmaker would be a soothing balm on the jaded nerves of Niger state. It is hardly surprising that Bago is considered a credible candidate who can be trusted to take Niger state to the next level. Significantly, the lawmaker has proven that he has the capacity to improve the lot of the state and its people and not a candidate who will depend on the state to improve him.
Central to the factors working in Bago’s favour is his passion for Niger state. With the largest landmass in the country and its abundant natural resources, the 45-year old state has every reason to exploit its proximity to the Federal Capital Territory to its advantage. After two decades of participatory democracy, Niger state is still dotted with untapped money-spinning ventures such as Gurara Water Falls and the iconic Zuma Rock, two of the several tourist attractions that can improve the the state’s internally generated revenue. Bago alluded to this at a dinner in Abuja last year when he called for a public-private partnership to turn the state round through tapping the state’s abundant resources.
Bago has an unrivalled passion for the Nigerian project! And his suggestions to deepen Nigeria’s democracy, just as his antidote for the high cost of governance, are as pragmatic as they are revolutionary. Contrary to assumptions in certain quarters, Honourable Bago has consistently said his agitation for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives to be allotted to the North-central geopolitical zone in 2019 was in pursuit of fair play and the desire to build time-tested structures that will deepen Nigeria’s democracy and enthrone the ideals of free, fair and transparent elections.
With the imminent end of Governor Abubakar Sani’s tenure and considering the on-going jostling to replace him, it is perhaps time for the people of Niger state to focus the klieg light on a tested and trusted hand who can take the state to desired height. The search should be one that seeks to turn round the fortune of Niger state and its people. For very obvious reason, the 2023 governorship race in Niger state which has, in recent years, generated uncommon interest, is not going to be without the usual drama. The 2023 governorship election presents another opportunity for renewal for Niger state and its people.
For Bago, the 2023 governorship election might yet turn out to be another payback. As the jostling for 2023 gets underway, the option available to the people of Niger state is to rally round a political game-changer who, even in the estimation of opponents, has an unrivalled commitment to empower people. After a sterling performance as a three-time federal lawmaker, Honourable Bago, the quintessential lawmaker, has distinguished himself as the man to launch Niger state on the path of greatness.
Bago has the foresight; his foresight should count for Niger state!
Magaji <firstname.lastname@example.org> is based in Abuja