WE HAVE DEVELOPED AN ECONOMIC STRATEGY AND IT IS NAMED NASARAWA ECONOMIC AND DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY - Governor Abdullahi A Sule

The Governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Sule, talks to journalists on the sidelines of the Nigerian Bar Association’s annual conference in Lagos about local government autonomy, the issue of state police and other issues.

It’s about 100 days since you were sworn in as the governor, what would you describe as your major achievement?

First is the issue of peace and stability that we have had in the state, in addition to the unity and cohesion in the state. Starting from the party primaries, the 10 aspirants that contested the primary election with me decided to be members of the campaign council after I won. I mean all of them. The person who came second in the election decided to even be the chairman of the campaign council that produced us. So, we have some level of unity and stability in the state.

What are the things you have done in the major sectors?

In the area of education, we have completed most of the projects, especially for skill acquisition centres, special education and technical education. Also, we have seen the completion and near completion of most of the primary and secondary schools projects that were initiated by the former administration. In the area of special education, one of our biggest achievements is that the former administration set up a special school for the disabled. SUBEB is excited about that and they have said they would build another one for us to complement what the state had done. So, we will end up with two established special schools to cater for those who have a disability to ensure that they are being carried along. On road construction started by the former administration, we have been able to complete most of them while we are still on some of them. We have also given out new ones. We listed about 14 areas of interest that we strongly believe we are going to focus on and one of them is to ensure that we promote our agricultural sector. We are already working with the Federal Government to give us a facility of N1.5bn to empower the youth. Right now, they are undergoing training before they are given the funds, and we have identified land areas where those farms would be situated.

Farming is a major trade in Nasarawa State, what specific things are you doing to assist farmers and boost production?

Yes, we are a state with interest in agriculture, so we are selling fertilisers to our farmers at a subsidised rate that is lower than anywhere else. We buy from the cheapest source and sell to them at 50 per cent of the cost. We support them so they could have a bumper harvest, whilst attracting major commercial farmers to the state. Another exciting thing we did for our economic advancement was to set up an Investment and Economic Advisory Council, with Prof Konyinsola Ajayi as the chairman. The committee has so many prominent Nigerians that are known in the area of economy, including the Special Adviser to the President on Economy. The former Managing Director of NEXIM Bank is also a member. We brought people from various fields. The President of GE in Nigeria, Lazarus Angbazo, is also a member. We have former generals, former governors, former deputy governors and others in the committee. They have agreed to come and serve in the committee because they believe in the economic potential of our state. We have developed an economic strategy for the state and it is named Nasarawa Economic and Development Strategy. That is what we are promoting and that was part of what we went to sell to the Nigerian Bar Association conference.

Your state has a waterfall that could be harnessed for power generation, what is your plan in that regard?

On hydropower, we are successfully getting the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to start the process of constructing a dam at a waterfall that we call Farin Ruwa. On our own part, we have awarded the contract for the road linking the major highway to that site. Overall, in the area of power, we have already identified three major areas that we would focus on, starting with solar power. Today, all the new solar power that we are installing are the brand new technology of solar where you don’t have the batteries that can be stolen. Also, most of the boreholes we are building at the various primary and secondary schools are solar-powered. But, the major area in the power sector that we are talking about is ensuring that the huge coal deposit that we have in the state would now be converted to fuel and source of power for the coal-fired turbines that we are working with General Electric on.

During your campaign, you promised to launch the Small and Medium-scale Enterprises ambassadors programme where 3,000 women, youth and physically challenged persons would be empowered, have you started that?

We have gone far on that. First and foremost, we have gone round to do the sensitisation on what the SMEs would be all about in the areas of agriculture, mining and trading. In addition to that, we have given forms to the prospective beneficiaries of the programme who would do that. About 48 hours after I was sworn in as the governor, we started by distributing sewing machines, grinding machines and such things to people. Most of the things we did were for them to go and create employment opportunities for themselves and their families so they could earn a living. In agriculture, the CBN is going to offer to Nasarawa State about N1.5bn. That money would be used to empower the youth and women so that they can grow their own small scale farming activities.

The issue of debts has been an issue across states, what is the volume of debt your administration incurred?

Nasarawa is one of the least indebted states in Nigeria. We are very lucky that the last administration only had one major debt through a bond they raised but before we came in, they repaid it. However, they had inherited debt, most of which is still being verified, like those who said they collected contracts and we do not even have any major overdraft. So, since we came, debt servicing has been the least of our concerns.

What are the things you have done in the major sectors?

In the area of education, we have completed most of the projects, especially for skill acquisition centres, special education and technical education. Also, we have seen the completion and near completion of most of the primary and secondary schools projects that were initiated by the former administration. In the area of special education, one of our biggest achievements is that the former administration set up a special school for the disabled. SUBEB is excited about that and they have said they would build another one for us to complement what the state had done. So, we will end up with two established special schools to cater for those who have a disability to ensure that they are being carried along. On road construction started by the former administration, we have been able to complete most of them while we are still on some of them. We have also given out new ones. We listed about 14 areas of interest that we strongly believe we are going to focus on and one of them is to ensure that we promote our agricultural sector. We are already working with the Federal Government to give us a facility of N1.5bn to empower the youth. Right now, they are undergoing training before they are given the funds, and we have identified land areas where those farms would be situated.

Following the directive of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit that states should no longer tamper with local government funds, what is the response of your government to the directive?

Speaking about the autonomy of the local governments, Nasarawa is one of the first states that decided to embrace the autonomy wholeheartedly. When it started in June, we allowed the local government areas to set up their own committees and distribute their funds. We worked with them to do that and we did not touch, not even N1 of their money. So far, they have been able to pay their salaries for June, July and now August. Not only salaries, but they are also paying their pensions 100 per cent as against the percentages they were doing in the past because of their own fault. Right now, I believe most of the local government areas are autonomous and they are now screening their beneficiaries, not only for salaries but also pension. They also discovered a lot of people who were drawing from these two sources and were not entitled to them. So, they are able to take out what they call ghost workers. So, we welcome the autonomy of 100 per cent.

Given the dwindling revenue to states and the enormous things to be done, are you considering raising another bond to be able to fund your projects?

We are definitely looking at that since the last one has already been paid off. So, we are trying to look at the possibility of taking a new one to tackle infrastructure that has the viability of paying back, like market development, bus terminals and roads.

Farming is a major trade in Nasarawa State, what specific things are you doing to assist farmers and boost production?

Yes, we are a state with interest in agriculture, so we are selling fertilisers to our farmers at a subsidised rate that is lower than anywhere else. We buy from the cheapest source and sell to them at 50 per cent of the cost. We support them so they could have a bumper harvest, whilst attracting major commercial farmers to the state. Another exciting thing we did for our economic advancement was to set up an Investment and Economic Advisory Council, with Prof Konyinsola Ajayi as the chairman. The committee has so many prominent Nigerians that are known in the area of economy, including the Special Adviser to the President on Economy. The former Managing Director of NEXIM Bank is also a member. We brought people from various fields. The President of GE in Nigeria, Lazarus Angbazo, is also a member. We have former generals, former governors, former deputy governors and others in the committee. They have agreed to come and serve in the committee because they believe in the economic potential of our state. We have developed an economic strategy for the state and it is named Nasarawa Economic and Development Strategy. That is what we are promoting and that was part of what we went to sell to the Nigerian Bar Association conference.

Your deputy was attacked recently, which testified to the prevalence of insecurity across the country, what will your government do about it?

In terms of security, we have always taken a very bold step. As governors, the first meeting we had with the President was on security. The second meeting we had, which was the National Economic Council, we discussed security and not even the economy, so security is a big concern. The fact of the attack that you mentioned was actually not directly on our deputy governor as was reported. What happened was that there was armed robbery attempt on the highway and the deputy governor’s convoy was on the way. So many vehicles had pulled over, but, his pilot vehicle, not realising the number of armed robbers on the way, thought it was about three or four persons to one gun, and that was how they ran into them. Unknown to them, there were about 50 of them on top of the hill and nearly every one of them shooting from different directions. That was how they ambushed the three policemen there. It was unfortunate. But with the exception of that major issue, Nasarawa has seen some level of stability in the area of security. For instance, during the last Sallah break, there was no single report of insecurity in the state, until that particular one happened.

There has been a robust discourse about state police, what is your take on it?

It’s an issue at the level of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum. We discuss it a lot and we discuss it at the federal level too. So, it’s a matter of great interest to us, but we have started something at a lower level. For instance, most of us engage one form of security unit or the other, like vigilance groups. But, in Nasarawa, we have NAYES. Also, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps is very aggressive in Nasarawa State. Majority of the officers in the NSCDC are citizens of our state and so they go to the communities to engage the youth and in some cases, they ask them to ensure the security of that community. That has worked a lot, and the Commandant of the NSCDC told me that the most active command they have in the North Central is in Nasarawa State because of this kind of approach that has been there. So, once the idea of state police is concluded and agreed, I think it will be adopted by the Federal Government, but I don’t know whether that would solve all our problems because if the different agencies we have not solved the problem, I don’t know whether state police will solve that problem.

Nasarawa