By Peter Duru
George Alli representsÂ Otukpo/Akpa State Constituency at the Benue State House of Assembly. He is the House Committee Chairman on Commerce and Industry. In this interview with Vanguard in Makurdi, he laments the poor industrial base of Benue State suggesting that the state government privatize its ailing industries in the face of dwindling resources at its disposal; Hon Ali also spoke on other issues.
On the general state of the industrial sector of the state it is clear that no industry is functioning, starting from the cottage industries at the industrial layout, the Otukpo Burnt Bricks Ltd, Igumale Cement, the Tomato plant at Wannune and the recently re-commissioned fertilizer chemical company among others. What is your comment?
Well as regard to the newly commissioned fertilizer chemical company, I strongly believe that it would function well given the importance the present administration attaches to that project and its product and the fact that a reputable private firm has taken over the running of the place. But as for others, myself and other members of my committee have taken our time to visit most of the industries in the three senatorial zones of the state and we discovered that their state is nothing to write home about. Personally,
I was not happy when we went to Igumale cement factory because what I saw was not encouraging at all and the same view was expressed by Governor Gabriel Suswam when he paid a visit to the place; given the amount of money the state government has pumped into that place. We went to Otukpo Burnt Bricks the situation was not different and this is the same with all other companies scattered across the state. And the fact is that it will cost the state government a huge amount to make these industries functional given that they have been comatose for a long time. We strongly believe that if government cannot muster enough money to inject into these ailing industries and in some instances uncompleted projects that were started by the previous administration, I totally support that the industries be privatized so that private hands can come in to manage the affected industries. And I want to inform you that the assembly is presently working on a bill sent to us by the Executive on commercialization and privatisation. So I am hoping that very soon, we will finish work on the bill and thereafter the government would be better positioned to address the rot in the industrial sector of the state.
What is happening to Taraku Oil Mills Ltd. And the controversies that have trailed the management of the place?
Yes, on Taraku Mills, Yelwata Trading Company that actually took over the management of the industry are no longer there because they defaulted in the agreement with the State Government. Based on the contract arrangement, they were supposed to pay N60m every year for a period of five years but for over seven (7) months that they managed the place, no kobo was remitted to the State Government. So, when my Committee went into action, we discovered the defaults and we recommended to the State Government that the agreement be terminated. This is because there was no point using the state resources to run the factory and using part of the state materials to produce and sell products without anything coming into the state coffers. So, as I speak with you they are no longer there based on the house resolution on the matter.
On the Igumale Star Cement Factory,Â it is clear that the Chinese firm handling the project has been paid much money for the project but what is on ground is not commensurate to the amount they have collected. Is there no way the legislature can intervene in this matter?
We have asked the state government not to commit anymore funds to that plant. Remember the plant is being constructed on the basis of a Build Operate and Transfer, BOT agreement, which provides that upon completion the factory will be operated for about seven years before it is finally handed over to the state government. And as it is now the state government has been able to meet her own part of the bargain, so it is for the Chinese firm handling the project to fulfill its own side of the bargain and the plant would come on stream because that project is dear to the present administration and we closing monitoring developments in the place.
Honorable, you are the Chairman House Committee on Commerce and Industries; I would like to have an update on the wrangling at the multi billion Naira Makurdi Modern Market?
I would like to start with the Modern Market. For about three (3) years now, considering the amount of money that was put in to the building of the market, we have been unable to generate the revenue to repay the loans received from the bank during the Aper Aku administration which was used in building the market. Let me tell you that for three years now, we have not been able to get one naira from that place. But we recently had a meeting with the traders and they have agreed to pay the State Government the three years outstanding debts based on the reports of the House standing Committee on Commerce and Industry. That is about N32 million, and if they are able to effect the payment between now and December, that would be a very good one for the State.
And we have been able to settle the issue of rates in the Market. The traders have agreed to pay N1, 200.00 for a single shop while the executive shops and warehouses would go for between N3, 000. 00 to N6, 000.00 and they are prepared to pay an advance of one year. This I think is very good compared to what we used to have in the past.
But you will also agree with me that the facilities at the Modern Market are in the State of disrepair. What has your Committee done to address these problems?
I agree with you completely. Part of the agreement we have reached with the traders is that what we are going to generate from the back log of three years, we are going to advice the state government to plough same back into the market so that the issue of security of the market will be taken care of once and for all. The broken fence will be rebuilt while the abattoirs as well as roads in the market will be taken care of. But let me tell you that even if we put back as much as N32 million into the market it will still fall short of expectation. But weâ€™ll do it in such a way that the traders themselves would be involved in carrying out the renovation so that we will have a change for the better. In fact it was based on this arrangement that they agreed to pay that money.
As we all know this is the era of due process and here in Benue State , some are alleging that contracts are awarded without same going through the Tenders Board nor invitations on the pages of national dailies as required by Law. As a legislator, are you not worried about this?
As you have rightly pointed out, we are Legislators and any state is being run by three arms, the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary. We play different roles in governance. In as much as we are not in positions to award contracts, we keep a close tab on the executive and honestly I think that the present government in the state has been transparent enough in the award of its contracts and I want to believe that due process is always followed as well; so those making that allegations may not have their facts right.
Sir, the primary duty of the Legislature as an arm of government is law making and here in Benue State all the bills passed into law by the House emanates from the executive. What is happening to private bills?
Before we went on recess, we had about three private bills that had gone into second reading. So I am sure that by the time we make our four years we will be able to pass up to four to six private bills sponsored by members. I have one too. So, I can beat my chest that we are working in that direction. But I would also like you to know that to sponsor a private bill is so expensive. This is because, you have to involve a consultant and it takes time. But I want to let you know that the trend is not peculiar to Benue State alone, it is also the situation in other states in the country as well.
There is agitation for the creation of states across the nation and you happen to come from where there is strong agitation for the creation of Apa State . Do you support the call for state creation?
Yes, I support the creation of States especially the creation of Apa State . The movement for the creation of Apa state was started during the military era when General Ibrahim Babangida was the head of State. It was then amongst one of the states that was intended for creation but I can not categorically say what actually happened behind the scene that stopped it.
As it is now, creating state in the present dispensation is very difficult considering what is happening between the lower and the upper chambers of the National Assembly. However, it is my strong dream that Apa State be created considering the population and resources available in that area which is more than the population of states like Bayelsa. You will agree with me that the Benue south zone has large deposits of coal which will serve as the economic base of the state.
Sir, we understand that members of the Assembly are usually given constituency allowances how true is this, and to what extent have you contributed to the development of Otukpo/Akpa State Constituency which you represent at the Assembly?
Well, I am not aware if they give out constituency allowances to members. In fact I donâ€™t know about that and I am hearing it for the first time. What I know is that members try as much as possible to influence ministries to make sure they site projects in their areas. Like in my area, in Otukpo town I can beat my chest to say, we have good roads and this is because I was able to talk to some of my colleagues and provision for roads was made in the budget. As I am speaking to you electricity projects are ongoing same as educational, water and sanitation projects that I have influenced to my constituency; but for one to talk of cash to members, no it is not provided for in the budget.