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Nigeria’s Democracy, 20 Years After: Where lies the Hope of the Poor?



Nigeria’s Democracy
By Menyanga Abu

Democracy according to Yusuf Bangura ,is a system of government in which leaders periodically renew their mandates through free, fear and competitive elections. It is a system that acknowledges the right of expression, organization and collective actions of the populace.

These rights grant the citizens the powers to exercise political choice and
to hold leaders accountable for their actions, inactions, decisions and indecisions as the case may be.

Democracy can only produce dividends for the poor masses if only citizens or political groups that have strong ties to the poor exhibit that capacity to mobilize and organize or reconcile internal divisions to create structural links with the policy makers. It is however very imperative to point out that in a situation where social movements or interest groups are weak coupled with defective and noncompetitive electoral system, the poor tends to surfer the more.

Democracy is considered as a powerful tool for meeting people’s aspirations as well as making them partners in decisions that affect their well-being. Functional and sincere democracy will alleviate poverty but where democracy becomes a charade – a capitalist tool or feudal instrument or an authoritarian institution, – it will end providing lip services.

That is a situation where overriding forces manning a sort of pseudo-democratic formations benefit themselves by exploiting the poor. No doubt, democracy in Nigeria has been elevated in public policy. I think we are yet to understand the type of politics and institutions that will make democracy to achieve growth and human wellbeing. Although our democratic process is participatory in outlook, it tends to be limited to few elected people without the involvement of such people like the informal workers, the artisans or the famers whose livelihood are directly  affected by many of the development policies.

For democracy to add values to the lives of the poor masses and economic growth, every democratic practice should put economic liberty and transparency on a par with every other democratic value such as regular elections, rule of law, human rights, freedom of association and speech. For the poor to feel the positive impacts and benefit from democracy, I appeal to the present administration and its agencies not to use superfluities and rhetoric of democracy as a façade while behind the scenes engaging in rent-seeking practices that can lead to systemic entrenchment of corruption as done by the past administrations.

The corrupt system will easily provide avenues for politicians to use political powers for economic gains and the economic gains could be used for buying political influence. In such a situation democratic dividends hardly reach the general populace.

This usually results in persistent poverty among a large percentage of the population coupled with poor social services in struggling and developing democracy like ours. The situation above can lead to declining in supports for democracy by the populace at large and may signify real threat to democracy because impoverished poor masses may not have the necessary tools to fight back and in most cases they are not familiar with/use to demanding government’s accountability and responses.

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Democracy can never be sustained without persistent efforts to eliminate poverty and vice versa. Strengthening democratic governance is an indispensable component of the efforts to alleviate poverty.

Poverty is a big threat to democracy as it tends to deprive people of their political voices, preventing them from holding their government accountable and responsive thus eroding public trust in democratic institutions. Democracy can deliver outcomes that will be beneficial to the poor only if,

(1) the rights of the people are institutionalized that will allow the poor to exercise political choice, build alliance with others and hold leaders to account

(2) groups with strong ties to the poor develop capacity for independent organization  and mobilization as well as reconciling horizontal decisions and establishing structural links with the policy makers – social pacts – and

(3) lastly if there is high likelihood that the sitting government may likely lose office which  can serve as incentives for redistribution. It is believed in some circles that electoral competitiveness can produce redistributive outcomes but competitiveness without effective organization and contestation may
produce weak redistributive outcomes.

Reducing poverty needs power relations at the nucleus of development, as such any strategy put in place to reduce poverty and inequality must consider tipping the balance of power. Eradicating poverty requires an expansion of the bargaining power of the poor masses and those who might represent them.

1999 marked the foundation of the longest continuous democratic governance in the history of Nigeria after her independence in 1960.

Democracy, as expected and believed by many Nigerians supposes to provide the citizens with that opportunity to participate in governance which in turn promotes development. But the said democratic government seems to be working against the aspirations and interests of the poor masses because of the way the democratic system is being operated coupled with corruption in this part of the world.

Take a survey of our National Assembly for example, the Assembly is a major democratic institution in any functional democratic setting, but today
our representatives are not reflecting our views, take less of reflecting our modest lifestyle who they claimed they are representing. Many of them own about four to seven exotic cars, each costing not less than twenty five  to two hundred and fifty million naira in a country where about 130  million people out of the estimated 180 million are living in abject poverty and misery.

The irony of the whole thing is that, back in their villages, their closest neighbours and relatives are struggling to get some pieces of tiny tilapia fish (ibobo) of barely one hundred naira (N100) per a set of three or four just to give taste to their soups and not enough to eat. Yet these are the honourable members representing our interest that most cases pay us money to vote them to serve us. Nobody is asking why they should pay us for them to offer us services.

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These show that these political elites have different motives that contradict the interests and aspirations of the general populace especially the poor masses. What I have observed in Nigeria today is that, that principle of value we cherished in the past no longer matter to our political elites as they can always use their ill-gotten money to get to public offices by buying the conscience of the poor masses. The highest bidders have takes on whatever is on the table.

The biggest enemy of democracy is poverty because when people are poor, they are in most cases reduced to destitute and a little money can change their minds. In such a situation that freedom of choice which is one of the beauties of democracy could be taken away from the poor masses by those who control the resources. Nigeria has no business with poverty because God has so blessed this nation with abundant resources.

We thought that with the advent of democracy in 1999, the gateway to development has been opened and bye to poverty sand misery. Little did we know that democracy as practiced in Nigeria is a gateway to corruption, individual enrichment resulting in abject poverty and misery instead of general development.

Democracy which is government of the people by the people for the people has tuned to government of the selected rich by the rich for the selected rich. Democracy to our political elites has come to mean government of the rich, making the rich richer and making the poor poorer. The permanent features of our democracy as experienced today are abject poverty and misery.

The first sixteen years of democratic governance in Nigeria was a complete
wastage though with some pockets of achievement that is nothing to write home about. Those years were marked with unprecedented corruption and wanton stealing of our common wealth by those entrusted with power. What we are experiencing today are no doubt the cumulative effects resulting from those years of mismanagement.

For example, sixteen billion dollars was said to have been spent on electricity provision, but where and what is the situation of power in Nigeria today and how was this huge amount spent, may be the details, as we are told are in a book written by one of our leaders. According to Brooking institute – 2018 world poverty clock – about 643 million people across the world are living in extreme poverty, which is below 1.9 dollars, about 540 naira per day. Out of this number, two third – about 428.7 million – of this population is from Africa.

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On 26th June 2018, CNN reported that Nigeria is the new poverty capital of the world after overtaking India with an estimated number of 87 million
Nigerians extremely poor. We all know that the divine forces that drive democratic government to deliver anti-poverty outcomes are complex, but that does not mean that a functional democratic government cannot dismantle these complexities to provide the dividends of democracy to the poor masses that are always at the receiving end.

But then this takes time. Let us support the present administration in the fight against corruption and other of its programmes to bring about even development. I want to point out here that our problem as a country is most times the illusionary belief that we could change Nigeria over night by simply voting a different president into power believing that our problems start and stop with the president.

We tend to think that if we could just have the right person in power, then all of a sudden our numerous problems and Nigeria will be transformed forgetting that the person we are bringing as a new president comes from within Nigerian society and not from the moon or another angelic world or outer-space.

Nigeria’s problem is not just only the man in power but all Nigerians, our shared values and mentalities. Systemic rot and Nigerians are Nigeria’s problems and any day we realize this, we will no doubt get closer to finding solution to our complex problems.

The increasing level of poverty witnessed in Nigeria today results from many-sided problems that are traceable to our political elites/past leaders as well as us the followers because a country cannot good better leaders until it has better people.

Democratization in this country is often contested by the rich who sees it as a process or an avenue for making/stealing money and not for general development. To them democracy is viewed as a battle not of parties but of class and struggle between property and mere numbers.

This phenomenon is making democratization to lose its links between the political parties and broad social movements that define the interest of the poor. Poverty is on the rise as a result of failure of developmentalism; development in democratic setting according to Yusuf Bangura requires high level of continuous mobilization by political elites with development project who are ready to embrace open-led strategies of industrialization.

Any democracy without concerns for the welfare/wellbeing of the poor masses can never be said to be quasi-democracy no matter the colouration of the electoral processes and procedures.

Poverty alleviation in a democratic setting requires expansion of the bargaining power of the poor and those that represent them.

Menyanga Abu, is an Abuja-based Health System and Development Consultant.


Still on Maintaining Balance in Choice of Running Mates




By Golu Timothy 

Last week, melting point focused on the likely choices of running mates of the different political parties after the conduct of their respective national conventions. While the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, quickly and calculatively settled for Delta State governor, Senator Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, Labour and other parties are said to have quietly submitted dummy names to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, subject to final decisions by the respective flag bearers in conjunction with the leadership of the parties.

Timelines have been allotted for such and all other political activities by INEC and last Friday 17th was the dateline for the submission of the names of the running mates. The Electoral Act also provided windows for replacement of names earlier submitted and therefore all the parties have opportunities for proper consultations.

That’s why the APC and LP could submit dummies to INEC and get them comfortably replaced before the dateline for replacements . But for the PDP, it’s a decision taken and sealed, ready for campaigns.

Within the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC which has produced former Lagos State governor, Senator Bola Tinubu as its presidential candidate, growing indications that former Speaker of the 8th House of representatives, Bauchi born Rt Hon Yakubu Dogara is the preferred choice of vice president, is fast gaining momentum. Everyone knows the electoral value and political reach and spread of Dogara having served as one of the best few Speakers the nation has produced. The nation has been agog in debate as to whether Tinubu should pick a Christian or muslim running mate and each religious divide is putting pressure to get the slot.

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It is very imperative to give objective consideration for the choice of a VP from a wider perspective and not from a politically inclined position. If Atiku who is a muslim northerner can pick Okowa a Christian southerner, then it is only proper for Tinubu, a southern muslim to pick a Dogara or any other northern Christian to balance the religious equation. Tinubu, a muslim, from Lagos South West Nigeria, is expected to pair with Dogara, a Christian from Bauchi, North east Nigeria. On the PDP side, Atiku, a muslim from Adamawa in North East Nigeria has already paired with Okowa, a Christian from Delta, South South region of Nigeria. The need for a balanced ticket is not out of place considering the sharp dividing lines of region, religion and ethnicity in the country. That some northern muslims are making strong case for a muslim-muslim ticket is enough for Christians to make a case for balance. Why can’t the Apc and labour tow the line of the PDP? In the submission of their dummies, Tinubu is said to have submitted the name of a fellow muslim from Katsina, Kabir Masari while LP’s Peter Obi has submitted a fellow Christian, Doyin Okupe as running mate. This to me, should be corrected in the final consideration before submission. Its not whether a muslim muslim or Christian Christian ticket can bring victory or not. The most important consideration here is the future of peace, trust, confidence and mutual respect for each other as the nation peruse the next 4 or 8 years as the case may be. As governance takes off with such sentimental affiliations, people will begin to read and define every government policy and action, not on any merit but base on who is saying them and the leadership promoting them.

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If all things being equal ,the polity is not supposed to be divided along ethnic and religious lines, but realities on ground have made it very important for such considerations to hold sway. While some people believe that competence and not where you come from should be the guiding principle, the nature of power dynamics and allocations in politics must have boundaries expressed in such sentiments. We cannot assume otherwise , but must work with the realities in our hands, and the realities are that we are a secular nation dominated by two major religious groups which requires mutual consideration and respect for mutual coexistence. Since we have separate states and constituencies across the nation, one cannot wish away such considerations which are aimed at acquiring power.

Some people keep making reference to the Abiola/ Kingibe era in which both the presidential candidate and running mate were muslim. Such can not be easily applied now in view of the glaring suspicions and differences that exist. One can imagine if Obasanjo who is a Christian had picked a fellow Christian in 1999 or that the late Yar’Adua as a muslim, could have picked another muslim as his vice instead of a Christian. Political crisis and conflicts of monumental proportions could have been created, but for the way the balancing was done, there was peace and stability in governance all through. Why then must we change from the status quo since we have enjoyed doing so in the past and even right now. Buhari could have picked Tinubu as was speculated in 2015 but everyone opposed it then for peace to reign, why now?

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Those who are opposed to such balancing now are not fair to the system. They are self serving and greedy political players who wants to use religion to get what they could not get by merit and who don’t believe in mutual respect or coexistence. If the country can share power between the north and south, why can’t it look at the composition of the two zones in order to also balance the power equation? The choice of Dogara , a Christian to deputise for Tinubu, a muslim is one of the best options of balancing for the nation. It shows he has respect for Christians who in turn will feel a strong sense of belonging in the government.

As it is now, the nation is warming up for the most critical elections in the political history of the people, especially as the country confronts a transition from the outgoing Buhari administration to a new one. Nigerians of all shades and opinions, most especially those at the leadership levels should not divide this country by promoting unpopular and divisive tendencies of Muslim -muslim or Christian- Christian tickets for whatever reasons. While we appreciate PDP’s Atiku for setting the pace, we urge Tinubu, Obi, Kwankwaso and other presidential candidates to, in the same spirit of mutual respect and understanding, balance themselves for the sake of God and a peaceful country. We must look at the nation beyond our personal prisms and calculations. We must know that diaris God oh.

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The Evolving Peter Obi Phenomenon




By Femi Mimiko 

As a political scientist, I am conversant enough with how a momentum similar to the one that is building up behind Peter Obi today propelled hitherto unknown political qualities into high office… The fundamental condition for this type of seismic movement is mass anger and public trust deficit, which are aplenty in Nigeria today… So, let no one underestimate the unfolding Obi phenomenon.

It’s certainly not the case that the piece, “The Peter Obi Tsunami…”, by Farooq Kperogi is a mere stuff for entertainment, as it has been suggested. Far from it! Indeed, the writer has done very well to interrogate the context within which Obi emerged, the forces driving the Obi ‘tsunami’, the limitations thereto, and the upset the candidate may cause in 2023. I associate very well with this broad outline. We should recall that a few days ago, I actually gave vent to my hunch recently that Obi may come off in the 2023 election as a very strong first runner-up, if he does not win.

I guess it’s a similar conclusion Farooq has reached in his piece.

I also fancy the writer’s sensitivity to the fact that Obi tends to embellish his presentations, I add, almost to the point of dancing on the sharp edges separating truth and untruths. Yet, it is absolutely correct that the Labour Party candidate looks far ahead of both Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu in the promise of a better governed Nigeria, which he represents. My four major concerns with, and about his candidature are these: first, Peter Obi doesn’t seem to appreciate that Nigeria of today needs much more than a relatively more efficient, less wasteful, and less corrupt government.

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The primacy of a structural recasting of the country cannot be overemphasised! Obi doesn’t seem to share this concern; or if he does, hasn’t demonstrated any evidence that he knows how to go about addressing it. If extant governance structures are not recast, in the direction of a more functional federal system that would deepen the possibilities for autochthonous development, no matter how much efficiency an Obi brings to governance, the fundamentals of Nigeria’s crises would still be firmly in place.

…while Obi is quite adept as highlighting the challenges of bad governance that Nigeria epitomises, he is not really quite profound in terms of the practicalities of addressing the same. Recounting the difficulties of the country in such an eloquent manner as Obi does it, is good to the ears. The task, however, is what, in precise terms, you need to deliver a qualitative alternative. Obi can still do much better on this.

Secondly, Obi doesn’t come across as tough enough to confront all of the evil forces, and human and institutional principalities that have held Nigeria down for so long. He doesn’t come with a touch of ‘rascality’ that is needful for sorting out this ‘congregation of evil’ that is Nigeria’s rapacious and unconscionable political class. Thirdly, while Obi is quite adept as highlighting the challenges of bad governance that Nigeria epitomises, he is not really quite profound in terms of the practicalities of addressing the same. Recounting the difficulties of the country in such an eloquent manner as Obi does it, is good to the ears. The task, however, is what, in precise terms, you need to deliver a qualitative alternative. Obi can still do much better on this.

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Fourthly, I have this uncomfortable feeling that an Obi presidency could mean greater tension over Lagos, vis-a-vis the thinly veiled ownership claims – or in the least, a sense of entitlement – of his own ethnic nation, on the former federal capital. It would require all the dexterity of an Obi presidency in ensuring this lingering tension does not snowball into a major inter-ethnic inferno. If and when Obi and his handlers are able to persuasively address these issues, so many stakeholders, who are genuinely concerned about the direction in which Nigeria seems again to be headed, may not hesitate to move into his corner.

Talks about a political structure, or shortage thereof, which the anti-Obi forces are drumming up, are valid, but not insurmountable. As a political scientist, I am conversant enough with how a momentum similar to the one that is building up behind Peter Obi today propelled hitherto unknown political qualities into high office. A recent example was Tunisia in 1999, where such a momentum swept Kais Saied, a professor, into the presidential palace. The fundamental condition for this type of seismic movement is mass anger and public trust deficit, which are aplenty in Nigeria today. The Nigerian state is in the throes of what elsewhere I characterised as a ‘creeping failure,’ the evidence of which is out there for any patriotic mind to track. So, let no one underestimate the unfolding Obi phenomenon. Putting him away with a wave of the hand isn’t in any way scientific.

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Femi Mimiko is a professor of Political Science at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and a member of the National Institute (MNI). 

E-mail:; Twitter: @FemiMimiko

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Zamfara: A Look at Matawalle’s Enviable Strides in Three Years




By Jamil M. Jamil Gusau

The administration of Bello Matawallen Maradun Barden Kasar Hausa and Shatiman Daular Usmaniya is three years old as at 29th May 2022 and as rightly expected by many people and as the tradition, people have been expecting the usual heavy celebration such as commissioning of development projects as part of the fulfillment of the development agenda of the government.

As citizen of Zamfara, I am part of those with similar expectations, but I did not allow such outrageous expectations to take away my conscience, especially about the true situation of the state in terms of the re-emerging security challenges confronting it and its people.Basically, however, I am among those that have always demonstrated their concern and extend goodwill to the government of Bello Matawalle especially, considering the good take-off the Governor had, since inception in 2019.

But we should not also ignore the challenges faced by the administration at its infancy stage, from litigations to political crises and masterminded insecurity by  opponents of the administration.

Before the beginning of this fiscal year, 2022, we are all living witnesses to the genuine aspiration of transforming the state as demonstrated by Governor Bello Matawalle in education, healthcare sector, security management, infrastructure as well as human capital development.

We cannot under-estimate the impact of the lingering political crises deliberately caused by the opposition to distract the much needed attention of the government. Evidently before the beginning of the year 2022, the Governor  started on an excellent note by off-setting the outstanding matching grants to the UBEC National Headquarters, Abuja which assisted the state in accessing additional funds that were used in renovating over one thousand blocks of classrooms and an additional funding for the training and retraining of teachers and also okayed the reinstatement of the abandoned (500) school teachers earlier recruited by his predecessor.

He also ordered for the reinstatement of the aggrieved 1,400 civil servants also recruited by his predecessor but were neglected with an order for the payment of all their outstanding entitlements. He also championed the payment of the annual leave grant, which was not paid throughout the eight year term of his predecessor.

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The government of Bello Matawalle ordered the state Ministry for Health to also recruit additional 200 health personnel into the state civil service and within the year, also approved the recruitment of another set of 500 health workers into the service of the state. He has embarked on the renovation and upgrading of the abandoned Talatar Mafara General Hospital and also awarded the renovation of General Hospitals Gummi and Tsafe. This is beside ongoing total reconstruction of Farida General Hospital and King Fahad General Hospital all in Gusau.

Though the completion of Shinkafi referral hospital is at its peak, the administration of Matawalle saw to the renovation and upgrading of General Hospital Birnin Magaji  and that of Kagara in Talatar Mafara.

His celebrated 142 primary health care centers constructed across the political wards in the state are the first unique projects in the entire Northern Nigeria since the return to democracy in 1999. The volume of the road network provided by the administration of Bello Matawalle is significant enough to speak about the foresight of the administration toward infrastructural development.

In Gusau alone, there are over fifteen of these township roads including the most yearned for Kantin Daji road which had hitherto assumed the position of dead trap before the Matawalle magic touched it in 2019. In education for instance, the administration of Bello Matawalle undertook the renovation, rehabilitation, and the supply of furniture at Government Science Secondary School, Shinkafi at the cost of N911,790,250.

In his persistent effort to settle the backlog of WAEC, NECO and other examination bodies which were not paid by the past administration, Governor Matawalle released the sum of N170,000,000 to both WAEC and NECO to facilitate the writing of the 2021 school leaving examinations by our students in the year under review.

The current administration has also released the sum of N186,699,600 as full payment for 67 medical and para-medical students currently in their second year of studies in Sudan. There is also the payment of N24,500,000 for 23 students in India and N56,463,440 92  for students studying in Cyprus, in addition to 19 students studying online in China institutions. The government again released N41,200,000 as part of payment of the backlog of debt inherited and owed Al-Hikmat University, Ilorin and the Crescent University, Abeokuta, respectively.

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Based on the realization of the pivotal role of early childhood education as the foundation of all learning endeavors, Governor Bello Matawalle has been able to maintain a modest effort of giving full support to the Universal Basic Education in the State. Accordingly, the administration  released N1.5 billion naira counterpart funds to UBE, which made it possible for the board to draw matching grants and execute various projects under the fiscal year. Some projects executed include 966 classrooms across the 14 Local Government Areas, 54 classrooms of a story building, 1 Administrative Block and Library, and 11 well furnished blocks of ICT centers.

Others carried out by the Matawalle government include the construction of offices for Education Secretaries and 1 Block of 200 Capacity Students’ Hostel, Perimeter Wall Fence in 31 Schools, and 95 Cells of 32 Blocks of VIP Latrine. Similarly, 520 classrooms were renovated, and 33,246 seats provided. Moreover, 1,372 Teachers’ Tables and Chairs were supplied.

Judges, Emirs and District Heads are also beneficiaries of the gesture of Governor Bello Matawalle. They were given brand-new vehicles to help in reviving their statuses as the royal fathers and learned jurists whose contributions to the development of the state are acknowledged with esteemed regard.

One cannot ignore the significance of the ongoing Cargo Airport to the development of the state. Though criticism have trailed the entire exercise, it is evident that there is no better time Zamfara needed the airport more than now, considering the immense economic opportunities Matawalle has been canvassing through foreign direct investment.

Within the past three years, the administration of Bello Matawalle has made the Ministry of Commerce and Investment more active than ever before. Within the past one year, the present Commissioner for Commerce, Yazeed Danfulani has succeeded in the transformation of the ministry through tour of various countries to canvass for investment opportunities in areas where Zamfara State has comparative opportunities.

On the area of security management, the government invested hugely in the provision of operational vehicles and payment of monthly allowances to security operatives on special duties. He did not stop there but championed the establishment of Nigeria/Niger inter-regional security network where he succeeded in bringing on board, the Governors of the neighboring Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi and Jigawa states to fashion out ways of strengthening transborder security management.

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The administration has also renovated and upgraded its liaison offices at Abuja and Kaduna and also constructed a well befitting Presidential lodge in Gusau, the state capital. In 2021 alone, the administration of Bello Matawalle completed 12 township roads in Gusau, the state capital while eight others are at various levels of completion.

The construction of the Deputy Governor’s office is ongoing, construction of Gusau International Airport, which was awarded at the inception of this government is also ongoing. The most prominent among the projects completed by the administration of Governor Bello Matawalle in three years are summarized below:Supply of 200 Toyota Hilux to Security Agencies, Supply of Prado Jeeps to Sole Adminstrators, supply of Toyota Camry 2019 model to Vice Chairmen and Councilors as well as supply of 200 Tri cycle ambulance to 147 wards across the State.

Other projects included construction of 147 PHCs across all the political wards, construction of three WCWC to each of the senatorial districts, construction of (47) kilometers Danmarke-Kadaddab and Kanoma link road  construction of Gusau township roads which include Stadium junction-Kasuwar Danjuma-Tashar Magami road, Zawiyya-Kanwuri road, Kasuwar Danjuma Dan Mai Kyau ginnerry road, Gusau Hotel- Tashar Magami road, Kantin Daji road, Kanwuri-Kantin Sauki road among others.

Other projects include construction of RUGA, construction of (17) kilometer Maradun, Magami to Faru road ongoing, construction of (42) kilometer Tsafe to Yankuzo road ongoing, construction of Mada to Lilo road as well as construction of Janyau ta Gabas road.

The administration of Matawalle also constructed (14) units of local government lodges, constructed Yar Dantsi Bridge and facilitate the release of cash assistance of N50,000 each to thousands of mini-traders. The administration has also renovated  Zamfara State House of Assembly as well as constructed Garba Nadama Multi-purpose Hall amongst others.

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