‘We support state police to curb crimes’
Abdullahi Sule, an engineer with over three decades experience in the organised private sector is the Governor of Nasarawa State, the acclaimed Home of Solid Minerals. The Prince of Gudu town in Akwanga-West Development Area of Nasarawa State, says he is determined to turn the fortunes of the 23-year-old state around as the industrial and economic hub of the North-Central zone in Nigeria, in this encounter with Deputy Editor, Olayinka Oyegbile and Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf.
WHAT can you easily point as a major achievement in your first 100 days in office?
I think the first thing is the issue of peace and stability that we have been able to find in the State and the level of unity and cohesion going on in the State. I strongly believe starting from our primaries before the election and the level of unity and stability we have been able to find, it is only in Nasarawa State that the 11 aspirants that stood for primaries, the 10 who lost decided to be members of the campaign council for the candidate that won. In fact, the second person in the primary election, decided to be the chairman of the council. So, we have seen some level of unity and stability in the State.
In the area of education we have seen the completion of most of the projects, especially the skills acquisition centres, special education, technical education and most of the primary and secondary schools that were initiated by the former administration, we have completed while some are near completion. On the road network, most of the projects started by the former administration, we have been able to complete them, while some are still under construction. But we have new ones that we have started, this is one big achievement that we have achieved.
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.
Another of our achievement so far is the completion of special education schools for the disable started by the former administration and there is none like it in the entire nation. The real achievement is that even the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) is so excited about it that it wants to replicate what we have been able to achieve in that space. SUBEB wants to build model schools like the ones we have to cater for persons with disability. 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.
For the agriculture that I mention earlier, Nasarawa State is selling fertiliser at lower than any other State in the country. 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.
Then we have set up a 15-man Investment and Economic Advisory Council to chart the way forward for the economic development of the state headed by Prof. Konyisola Ajayi, as Chairman, Ibrahim Magaji as Secretary. 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.
In the area of power, we have already identified three major areas. Starting with solar power, today, all the new street lights that we are installing are the brand new technology of solar power with one unit solar system and most of the boreholes built in the various schools are also solar-powered energised for the system. The major problem of power has been identified and we have started working in ensuring that the coal deposit we have in Nasarawa State will be converted to be the source of power for the coal-fired turbines.
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 electioneering campaign, you hinted of plans to establish small and medium scale enterprise to empower 3,000 women, youths and physically challenged persons annually. How far are you towards achieving that target?
Yes 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. The Central Bank of Nigeria (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 a recurrent decimal ever since these new class of governors came on board. Can you tell us what the volume of debt you inherited from the former administration? Secondly, how is the executive arm of government treating FAAC allocation to local government?
Nasarawa State is one of the least indebted States in the whole nation. We are very lucky. The past administration since they came took one major debt through a bond and before we came in they paid off. 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.
One issue that has remained a subject of controversy is the issue of disbursement to local government area. How is the executive arm of government treating the disbursement of FAAC allocation to local government based on directive of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit that states should no longer tamper with local government funds?
Let me start from the second part you mention about the autonomy of the local government area you have mentioned. Nasarawa State is one of the first few States that decided to embrace to autonomy of the local government whole heartily.
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.
Is Nasarawa State looking at sourcing for funds through the bond market?
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.
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 the one called Nasarawa State Agency For Youth Empowerment Scheme (NAYES), it is actually the equivalent of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) in Lagos but the difference is security are more of their concern than roads or traffic. What we did also Civic Defence is very aggressive in Nasarawa State and luckily for us the majority of the officials in the Civic Defence are indigene of the State, they go to the local communities and engage the youths from the areas, and this had worked in the State. 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. State Police, when it is completed and agreed upon, I think it will be adopted.