Interview By: Femi Ajasa Sunday, March 13, 2016
By Wale Akinola
Top on the agenda of Governor Badaru Abubakar is to create a sustainable economy for Jigawa State. To achieve this, he needs resources. That is one of the reasons he is collaborating with fellow governors from across the North to negotiate a loan facility from the Islamic Bank. Abubakar speaks on the loan issue in this interview and what he has been doing in the last 10 months of his administration to turn the economy of what he called “a civil service state” around.
What is your government doing differently from the previous administrations in the state?
Since we came into office, we have managed to shrink spending. The budget for Government House has shrunk by 70 percent. Hospitability spending and virtually all other expenditures of the state have shrunk. Contrary to what used to happen in the state when some people would charter flights amounting up to N20million every month, we do not charter today. We do not spend close to one quarter of that amount. I came from the private sector. I know for us to change the situation of our people, you have to change the economic dynamics of the state. If you check our internally generated revenue (IGR) profile, we are generating little or nothing.
It is nothing to write home about. Hence we are making efforts to change the unfortunate situation. We are trying to change the economic dynamics of Jigawa State by creating a sustainable environment for businesses. We believe the only way to do this is through agriculture where we have comparative advantage. We have invited Aliko Dangote who is doing massive rice production in a part of the state. There are others, who are into tomato production.
We also believe in empowering the people, but the structure we inherited is not sustainable. Our major focus is to create a local economy that will, in the near future, support the state. Oil has no future; prices will continue to fall. New technologies are coming up and will always ensure that oil is not sustainable. We are also looking at enhancing our IGR through taxation. We must ensure that necessary taxes are collected and properly remitted to government coffers. Before now, many people defrauded the state.
Since you assumed office, how have opposition parties been cooperating with your administration?
Well, it will interest you to know that I am the only governor, who still left the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chairmen of local governments in their positions. About 25 of them, chairmen and two caretaker committee chairmen, we inherited from the past administration.
When I came in, I told them to continue with their work contrary to the expectation of even members of the opposition. Again, I am the only governor who has not accused my predecessor of embezzlement. There may be allegations here and there, but you cannot say somebody stole when there is no proof of the allegation. Unless the law court declares someone guilty, you cannot do so on the basis of hear-say. Also, I inherited N16million only from my predecessor. We met huge liabilities. I inherited N16million from my predecessor with many works in progress in a shrinking economy and shrinking oil prices. I have continued with the projects on ground. I am not the kind of person who believes in initiating new projects and abandoning the ones that were started with my predecessor. We are working for the good of our state and our people. I will rather complete the projects and let somebody take the credit rather than lose the people’s money or allow the resources to waste.
You said you inherited almost an empty treasury. With the sharp drop in monthly allocation from the Federation Account, how have you been meeting up with payment of workers’ salaries?
Jigawa is a civil service state; once salaries are not paid, the groundnut seller in town will quickly feel it. We have continued to pay salaries despite the shrinking resources. What we did as soon as we came into office was to plug some holes through which people were siphoning money from government. Through the biometric exercise we conducted, a lot of ghost workers were discovered. It means that some people were making themselves rich every month by collecting salaries of workers that did not exist. We have been able to block that. The state government supported some local governments last month to the tune of N226 million for them to pay salaries; that’s to show you how bad the situation is. A lot of my colleagues can’t even pay salaries, so we still consider ourselves lucky to be able to do so.
Before we arrived here, people said the only place where life exists in Jigawa State was Dutse. How do you intend to extend this life to other part of the state?
That is not true. In 27 headquarters of local councils, we have streets. We have roads. We have businesses. In fact, there are more businesses in Hadeija than Dutse. It is not true because we are not blowing our trumpet. There is a lot of misinformation. Some people said I never stay in the state. Contrary to that claim, I am the only one that come to the office at about 9:05 a.m. except I am not in the state. Whenever I am in the state, I come to the office around 9:05 a.m. daily.
There have been issues around the GOAT programme this administration put in place for widows in the state. Critics have attacked the programme and described it as a misplaced priority. What actually informed this initiative?
It is because people do not understand how to solve problems. This has been done in other climes. Personally, I have tried it in other vocations. But it is a kind of prestige to give our people loan. For people who are into sewing, you give them sewing machine. That is a perfect model. But if you give out 20 or more sewing machines, nobody will be able to make N100 from it. But the GOAT programme is good. In many countries, it has proved very successful. We recorded 70 percent success in the GOAT programme we did. We put monitoring and evaluation mechanism in place to measure the impact. If you evaluate all empowerment programmes in this country, you discover that the success rate is less than 20 percent. Some beneficiaries sell the empowerment materials given to them the same day they collected them because they cannot sustain them.
Critics have raised another issue that you have abandoned all the programmes and projects of the last administration. In this light, what is the status of the Dutse airport?
That is not true. I am the only governor in this political dispensation that met the chairmen of local government areas elected on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in office and worked with them until the expiration of their term. I am also the only governor that continued totally the projects that the previous administration started. But what I do not subscribe to is a situation whereby the state government will pay for a plane carrying 60 passengers three days a week. The last administration was paying N27, 000 per passenger. And it paid for 60 passengers for three days a week to support traffic development. And this traffic development has been in existence for over one year. How can you develop a route for over one year and cannot sustain the route? Despite this, you continued taking public funds to sustain the airline so that people will say aircraft is landing in Dutse. All the projects in the airport are going on. The lighting is going on. Other projects are being executed in the airport. Sincerely, work is going on in the airport.
If the planes are no longer landing, what are you going to do with the airport?
Planes are landing. But my administration will not support the idea of using taxpayers’ money to subsidise flights. The route has been there for more than one year. And the route is not developing. Sometimes, the plane will bring only one passenger and the state government had to pay for 60 passengers three times a week. That is what has been happening. All the shout is about subsidy. I did not stop any plane from taking off from the airport or landing. The airport is active. Even last week, Alhaji Aliko Dangote landed there. A lot of people are coming and going through the airport. We do all our airlifting from the airport. We intend to airlift all our pilgrims this year through the airport. But when there is no traffic, I cannot create one. I do not see the magic that will lead to traffic by subsidizing an airline just for it to come to Dutse and go. But, first, we have to develop the economic activities that warrant the movement of people? When we create businesses or develop some tourist attractions that create air traffic, then we can go back and start developing air traffic. I will not allow the airport to deteriorate. It has been built already. I will not allow it to waste away. But, certainly, I cannot spend public funds to support an airline that bring only one or two passengers into Dutse. Even in Hadeija, they have choice either to come here or go to Kano. But most of us are already married to Kano. We have one or two brothers or sisters there. What we intend to do with the airport is to create economic activities that will develop air traffic. If that happens, there is the possibility to continue, even if it will require another six months to pursue traffic development programme. Second, we are discussing cargo export with DHL. We have already sent people to Kenya to find out how best we can achieve this. Third, there is already a proposal on aviation school. We are also looking into it.
Beyond the issues you raised, what is the plan of your administration to industrialise Jigawa State considering the potential of the state to produce tomato, rice or sorghum in large quantities?
After Kano, the second factory of Aliko Dangote will be in Jigawa for tomato processing. We have decided to allocate 500 hectares for tomato production. But, right now, we have 200 hectares for this purpose.
We also have farmers, who have started cultivation on the 200 hectares. Already, the state government is subsidising the transportation of tomato to Dangote’s tomato processing factory in Kano. This will enable us to learn how to produce and understudy the best practice. At this initial stage, it will not be difficult for farmers to transport what they produce to the Dangote tomato processing factory because the state government has subsidised the transport. Already, the farmers have collected the seeds. Besides, they have attended training and are now working hand-in-hand with Dangote Tomato Processing Factory. We have put in a request for a portion of land for tomato production. Finally, we are doing that with sorghum and others. Even sorghum, we are discussing with Cadbury to see how we can package the whole value chain. We will bring in extension workers and provide them with certified seeds, farm implement, fertilizers and training on credit. That is why I said we are trying to do what will move our administration forward…
For all the programmes you have outlined, security is central. But you have not discussed your security agenda. Considering the spate of terrorist attacks in the North, how do you intend to ensure security of life and property?
The issue of security is basically federal. What the state can do is to support the security agencies. We have been supporting them. We have good relationship with traditional rulers. And our information system with the traditional rulers is superb. The traditional rulers report to security agencies any new person that comes into their territories. You should have asked whether it is by miracle or chance that Jigawa is surrounded by Yobe on one side, Bauchi on other side and Niger Republic at the top and we remain peaceful. I do not know what to say really. We are doing so well in security. We are also investing so much in security.
In your remark, you said you never accused your predecessor of corruption and stealing. Are you saying there was no incident of stealing and corruption under the previous administration?
I said I have not accused my predecessor of stealing. I have to establish the facts before I can make allegations. I have not accused him because there is no proof, though there are allegations. But the court has to prove that he was involved in acts of corruption and stealing. Actually, there are allegations, but the court has to rule that they are complicit. All these people say they are thieves. It is not the gutter language that we should use. Even though they are thieves, the court has to prove it. That is why I have not accused him.
The Northern State Governors’ Forum decided to borrow from the Islamic Bank. When eventually accessed, what specific areas do the northern states plan to inject the loan facility?
As of today, every state in the North decided what area it would want to use the loan for. In Jigawa, I inherited a discussion from the Islamic Development Bank with respect to a facility of $232 million. It is meant for infrastructure development. For us to really grow our agricultural sector, we need to develop out infrastructure and the road networks that will help the farmers. That is what I inherited. First of all, we are not in a hurry to collect money. We have to evaluate our situation first. After due evaluation, we can then arrange our loan based on what is coming in so that we can service easily. We are all rushing for the loan because it is almost interest-free. I know different states want to use the loan for income-generation activities. For instance, we discuss about the development of solar power generation. It is a highly capital-intensive project. But in the long run, it will pay back. A lot of us have seen opportunities in solar energy. A lot of us are talking about the initiative. We will go to analyse our position…
Early marriage of the girl-child is still a critical issue in the North at large. It is indeed prevalent in all parts of the northern states. What is your administration doing to promote the education of the girl-child?
The education of the girl-child is completely free in Jigawa State. It is completely free from nursery to the university. In addition, we have some classes, where we bring every girl-child and train her. We set up these classes to enable us access the parents of these students. Sometimes, the parents have some economic challenges and, as a result, children are given out at early age. We are training them as a strategy to access these families gradually so that their daughters will go to school. Most of them do not even go to school because of tuition. But we have taken it off.