Compared to other states created along with it, Nasarawa still remains largely undeveloped. Why?
It is a great pity that since the state was created the people that handled the affairs lost sight of the kind of vision citizens of the state had in the agitation for it to be created. That loss of vision has denied us the benefit of achievements that ought to have been realised by now. Nasarawa state has a peculiarity that distinguishes it even from its peers which were created at the same time.
Of all the five states created along with it, Nasarawa was the most rural in the sense that it did not benefit from any effect of urbanisation. Gombe, Zamfara, Ekiti and others had things going for them. They had the basic infrastructure that is the basis of any kind of development.
So, my predecessors were busy making glittering projects that do not add value to the quality of lives of the people. Social services are very necessary but basic infrastructure is what makes those social services effective or functional. The reason why the state has stagnated is because there was no basic foundation from which it could spring. This springboard are the three basic infrastructures which I think if my predecessors had invested in, we would not be at the level we are now.
These foundations are roads, power and water.. Before I came in there was no single kilometre of asphalt road that was constructed by the state government.
Since the state was created, any asphalt road you find in the state was constructed by the federal government. And there is just this major trunk A road which is a federal road.
That is saying a lot. Are you saying that previous administrations never constructed roads in the state? That is unbelievable.
Not a single kilometre of road. I am saying that on my honour. If there is, let anybody challenge me. Any asphalt road you see is constructed by the federal government or certain interventions by development partners.
I am the one who started building roads and in Lafia alone we have constructed at least 25 kilometres of roads to unbundle the gridlock in the capital.
The second important infrastructure is power. The state requires about 40 megawatts to power its economic and social activities. But before I came in we had less than 12 megawatts. We were virtually being illuminated by the national grid but what got to the people was not more than candle night.
In my first 100 days in office, we embarked on the “Power In 100 Days Initiative” and we bought more than 100 transformers. We have installed them in many places. At this point in time we have been able to increase power supply to about 20 megawatts and we are still continuing, especially with our collaborations with NIPP and PHCN.
We are even planning for a more robust power infrastructure by constructing a 30 MVA substation which will carry new lines to come from Enugu and pass through Jos. If we are able to get that substation, then we will be able to meet our required needs in terms of power.
As for water, the state is not too dry so people manage with boreholes, wells and streams. But as a responsible administration, we feel our people should have the benefit of modern facilities to improve on the quality of life they enjoy. We looked at urban areas with a high population density where water supply has become an emergency. These are places like Keffi, Nasarawa, Nasarawa Eggon.
In Nasarawa Eggon, since 1985 there was a plan to build a waterworks in the town. Two years later the waterworks was built. But to do the connection and make it work … that has never happened until just two months ago. When I came in, I committed myself to making the water works to function and, as we speak, it is supplying pipe borne water to the people of the town.
The same goes for Nasarawa town where contracts have already been awarded. Of all the local government headquarters in the state, Nasarawa town has the most critical need for water. There is a N2 billion water contract which was not financed but I took it up and it is now on the verge of completion.
But in order to meet immediate needs, as a stopgap, we had to reactivate the small, old analogue waterworks in the town which is now supplying the people with water while the main waterworks is being constructed.
By the end of the year the new waterworks should be completed to provide water to the entire metropolis of Nasarawa.
Nasarawa earns very paltry sums from the federation accounts. Could that not also have accounted for the low level of development and what are you doing in terms of growing internally generated revenue?
Yes. It is true that paucity of funds has affected our development because Nasarawa and Ekiti states jostle for the last position in revenue allocated from the federation account. So that might be one reason for the slow pace of development.
How much does the state get from federal purse?
It is about N2.7billion every month on the average. Regarding internally generated revenue, so much had been said about the state’s inability to access revenue especially with our closeness to the federal capital. But it does not work like magic like that. You have to have the platform by which you can access the revenue.
Yes it is true that because of our proximity to the FCT, we are sitting on a gold mine but we cannot tap it because we do not have the needed equipment. Two things are very important here. First, our land value is close to the FCT’s and we can earn a lot from land administration and fees.
Second, the number of people working in the FCT and are residing in Nasarawa is another hefty source of internally generated revenue. But we do not benefit because we do not have the platform.
When I came into office, I got my people to sit down so that we could see what needed to be done to earn us revenue from that advantage we have. We realised that we could not get the real value for land without changing the system of land administration so we embarked on a complete overhaul of the system to a computerised, digital one.
That is why we set up the Nasarawa State Geographical Information System, NAGIS. Any state that wants to get maximum revenue from land cannot but computerise its system so that it is automatic.
It took N2.7 billion to set up NAGIS. Every land within the urban centres of the state is computerised. It is just like what you have in Abuja. In fact the surveyor general of the federation recently commended Nasarawa for having the most sophisticated land system in the whole of the country.
Better than the one in Abuja?
More than even AGIS in Abuja. And so we are getting better revenue from land administration now. Before, we were getting only about N5 million per month in the axis close to Abuja but even though our NAGIS is only 80 % complete; revenue from there has improved to between N60 million and N70 million per month. Before the end of the year we are sure that axis should be able to bring us something quite substantial.
The other way we lose substantial revenue is PAYE tax that should accrue to us from people working in the FCT but living in Nasarawa. About 30% to 40% of the people who work in Abuja live in Nasarawa but their PAYE never gets remitted to us.
So what have you done to redress the situation?
When I came into office I did not only insist that the PAYE of those working in Abuja but living in Nasarawa must be paid to us, I went beyond that. The people working in the FCT and living here are so many and causing so much dislocation and stress on our social services and facilities and we do not get any money in terms of tax to help sustain these utilities.
So I have even insisted that the 1% paid to the FCT from the federation account to help contain the stress of influx of people to the federal capital, we should also partake in the sharing of that allocation because a substantial percentage of those flooding into or working in the FCT live in Nasarawa and Niger states.
How much really is your internally generated revenue? AndNasarawa is blessed with mineral resources and a fertile land. Why is government not investing in these two key areas to improve on IGR?
Nasarawa state is one of the most fertile states in the country. We have the same soil and topography with Benue State which is called the food basket of the nation. But, to get the maximum benefit from agriculture you have to open yourself to investors. The traditional farming can only sustain food security. In terms of making it a real business you need to commercialise agriculture which entails attracting investors who have the money and know how.
When we came we had only one or two foreign investors. But we have been able to attract foreign investment into that field. We have a Singaporean company that is now cultivating one of the largest rice farms not only in Nigeria but in Africa.
We have given them 4,000 hectares and they have already cultivated 1,000 hectares. And if the farm gets to full capacity Nasarawa will become one the biggest rice producers in the country and beyond. We intend to get more investors interested in commercial agriculture and we are giving incentives such as tax holidays and so on.
In the area of mineral resources, it is a sector that is misunderstood because it is in the exclusive legislative list. So there is very little we can do in terms of developing the mineral resources here except if we want to go commercial. However, our experience shows that the state as an institution is not the best to handle commercial ventures because of bureaucracy bottlenecks that go with government work. We are walking away from involvement in commercial activities that will not work.
However, we have a mineral development company in the state and its job is to scout around for entrepreneurs and investors that might want to come and do business in Nasarawa. If we do not directly collaborate with them we can give them sites and provide the enabling environment to so that they can bring employment to our youths.
Bloated workforce is a major constraint of the resources of many states. Nasarawa too appears to have a problem with the civil service gulping most of the revenue from the federation account.
I would say it is a paradox. We want to be part of the international community by keying into the rave of the world which is democracy. But our democracy comes at a huge cost if you look at the arms of government and the amount they get viz what goes to the populace. And you may wonder if the democracy is worth it. Take my state for instance, where 1% takes more than 90% of the revenue accruing to the state.
How do you mean?
If you look at the salaries, emoluments and allowances of officials of the executive, legislature, judiciary, civil service and so on and put the cost together and compare it with what is left for development you will discover that it is 5 % or less. And all the people benefitting from this are less than 1% of the population.
Of the N2.7 billion monthly allocations we get, our wage bill first charge is about N2.4 billion. So we have only N300 million to spend on everything else, including building infrastructure and taking care of security challenges. In fact, at the end I have only about N100million left for capital projects if not for internally generated revenue that has improved.
When I came there were even months when I had less than N100million for capital projects. I realised that I was just a paymaster. Once the end of the month comes, all we do is give out monies because these are statutory payment. How can we then develop? And I cannot overnight change statutory allocations to any arm of government.
Our case was even worse before. More than a year before I came into office, the state could not pay salaries unless it took loan of about N850 million to augment the federal allocation. When I came I said this must stop and refused to take the N850 million facility.
Not only that, two months into my coming into office, we were faced with the issue of paying the minimum wage of N18,000 which doubled our overhead. So, the first thing I did was to set up an audit and biometric analysis of the workforce. When we did that we discovered a bloated workforce with ghost workers and leakages which we blocked. We identified moribund agencies and departments that had continued to draw salaries from the allocation.
In my first year in office, I commissioned four audits – the civil service, the local government, pension and the State Universal Basic Education board, NUBEB.
So you are not looking at taking loans to pursue development programmes?
We have already gotten our fingers burnt before. When I came in we discovered that the state was indebted to the tune of aboutN29 billion or N30 billion. But before the end of my first year in office some hidden debts started coming up and by the end of 2011 we saw that we were indebted to about N35 billion to N40billion. That has become a deterrent for me to borrow.
So we have been saddled with the responsibility of paying off this debt instead of meeting our promises to the people. As I speak to you now, we have paid off about N30 billion of our debt.
As we have fulfilled those obligations, it is now time to look at what enduring legacies we can give our people which we do not have the money to execute. So we are now looking at the option of seeking loans and bonds. But I insist that the loans will be strictly used for the purpose for which they were taken not form political activities.
We are looking at taking loans amounting to about N30 billion. We have identified projects of critical needs and are looking for finance. We are likely to access the financing any moment from now.
You said N30 billion?
Yes. N20 billion in bonds and N10 billion in loans.
What are they for?
We intend to build a network of roads across the state. We intend to improve on water supply projects in all the largely populated towns in the state and we are also considering expanding our source of power by providing hydroelectricity in two of our rivers that are potential sources of power.
We also want to build a state secretariat that will house all ministries. We are also thinking of driving the process of effective youth empowerment through equipping technology and skills acquisition centres.
That informed our trip to Singapore to study their system at the Institute of Technical Education. We intend to replicate the system here so that all our youths who cannot have the benefit of universities can have access to technical vocational skills.
Also as part of plans to keep the youth engaged, we want to encourage those who have the potential to excel In sports … sports is going to take a chunk of the loan we are taking because we plan to build two stadia.
In a recent report, the PDP in Nasarawa challenged you to name the people you paid the monies to.
You must understand why the PDP would react like that because for 12 years they swept all the sensitive issues under the carpet. It is not a secret that we owe so much. They borrowed from the banks – and I don’t want to mention their names – and it is the banks that we paid to. There is nothing to show for all the loans they took.
Let me tell you what happened to the loans they took. Some of the loans they took, say N2 billion or N3 billion for a job to be completed in a year or two. And in the first three months more than half of the contract sum will be taken because they were reviewing contracts just like that. There was one contract that was reviewed three times within one month – a contract of N2billion was reviewed and the sum went up to more than N4 billion.
There was this loan they took for farmers in the name of Badukos. They took loans and bought tractors and gave them to political supporters with conditions for payment fraudulently handled so that the farmers knew they were not going to repay. Now, the supplier’s business has collapsed because it was a project that was made the supply made to fail.
When we came we tried to recoup the debt from the farmers but it was not possible because the framework for repayment was not properly articulated. These were the kinds of indebtedness that previous administrations incurred that did not benefit anybody. All they did was to be giving their political touts N5,000 to placate them not to create problem. But these boys later became a problem because they insisted the money must be given to them.
Nasarawa state has a peculiar political configuration with thePDP having majority in the House and the CPC controlling the executive. It has been alleged that you have sustained your relationship with legislators by giving them bumper salaries and allowances
First, let me clarify one thing. It is true that the PDP has 19 members in the House while the CPC has five. But at the national level, of the eight members of the National Assembly, the CPC has five while PDP has three. So Nasarawa State is no longer a PDPstate like before.
As to the salary of legislators, first, everything that I am implementing is what I inherited. Whatever package they receive is what I inherited so the question should be thrown to them. I am a person who obeys the rule of law and every commitment that I have inherited. What members of the state House of Assembly earn now is what they have always earned and I cannot come and simply because I am CPC change things.
It is also alleged that members of the House put a lot of pressure on appointees of government in exercising their oversight functions, making demands that impinge on the performance of agencies of the state. How do you react to that?
The issue of oversight function is constitutional although the way and manner it is exercised may vary. But it is the constitutional right of the members to use their oversight functions as a check and balance to the operations of the executive.
The issue of complaints here and there is natural but it is not something I can talk about. If you heard of complaints from any agency about the exercise of functions of members of the House you can find out from those agencies and the members.
I know that even at the federal level, there is always friction on the issue of oversight functions not necessarily because of the statutory role but because of the manner such oversight functions are carried out.
Still on legislators, it is also said that one of the ways you appease them in order to maintain a cordial relationship is by giving them directly N10 million every quarter for constituency projects. In a poor state like Nasarawa?
I do not want to talk about details. I do not think it is me that should provide details. Like I said, I came and found conventions on ground. Some are statutory, some are as a result of the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission allocation, some by resolution of the House which had been in operation before I came all of which I inherited. It is not for me to question any of them.
You will do me well… the members are there you can go and ask them. On our own part, we have been doing our own responsibility which we inherited. Having come from different political parties, I do not want to heat up the polity or inflame issues that will bring friction between the executive and the legislature. We have had frictions many times on matters of principle but we manage our differences in the interest of the people.
First published by International Centre for Investigative Reporting.