Vanguard awards

April 8, 2016

We defined standards for infrastructure in Gombe — DANKWAMBO



Adds: Money is a coward

SINCE 2011, when he first assumed office, Governor Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo has tried to reinvent his state, Gombe, in the  north-eastern geo-political zone of the country so it can truly live up to its sobriquet — Jewel in the Savannah. With its undulating, arable farmlands and equable climate even in the arid zone, a tour of the state will convince a first time visitor that Gombe has immense capacity and potentials, especially in the area of agriculture, while its sizable limestone topography can provide feedstock for as much as 100 cement plants. Sharing borders with Adamawa, Taraba, Bauchi, Yobe and Borno states, Gombe has a high connectivity index which can be a major advantage economically.

To actualize the dream of the state for development, the administration of Governor Dankwambo, on assuming office convened an 11-man committee to fashion a blueprint that can be used to develop the state, and ensure continuity of developmental initiatives. In the conversation below, Governor Dankwambo, a former Accountant-General of the Federation who said that his desire is to see the quality of the Gombe man appreciate, also spoke of the many good fruits growing from governance driven by that blueprint. Besides, he noted  that an investor uses money, but money is a coward as it doesn’t like to go to areas where there is fear. Excerpts:



By Adekunle Adekoya, General Editor & Soni Daniel

HOW has it been presiding over Gombe?

May 2011 when we came, the whole thing about governance then was continuity. People require continuity and the essence of maybe voting one party and another party, you know one candidate supported by a previous candidate was to ensure continuity. But what is this continuity? Is it about our political parties manifesto because it is just a document which nobody has gone out to develop into the nitty-gritty of human needs and requirements and implementable things.

Also, if we talk about patronage, is it that whatever the former person was doing, I will continue to also do, whether they are wrong or right? Or are there blueprints developed, specifying standards in each of the sectors to define, determine, and plan in a holistic way in terms of ranging it from immediate ones, to medium ones, and long term plans for what one will be doing? You will find that none of those things existed in the state. It took me time to form a cabinet because I wanted to have structures in place and I wanted to establish governance so that if I give you an assignment as commissioner for finance, I know exactly my expectations from you and know how to gauge you and when we are leaving, I know where we started, I know what milestone we achieved and where we are learning; the same thing in agriculture, health, other sectors.

When I came, just like the coming of Mr President, people expected a lot from me and the resources were not there. So I called an assembly of all Gombe people and said politics is over, now we have to meet as Gombe people and define our future, irrespective of religion, politics and profession; everybody will do what he/she can do and offer the best for the state. We had eleven sector committees mainly on agriculture, finance, women, works, health, all the sectors.

We gave them mandate and time-frame to develop a document that will serve as foundation for the development of Gombe state. And what we found in the document, if you take say infrastructure, we have infrastructure divided into maybe three for road infrastructure, we have rural road, we have semi urban roads and we have urban. So a rural road is defined, maybe just surface dressing road and we have areas that we define where you can do those kinds of roads; the same thing as urban, the same thing as semi urban.

In urban or in areas that are marshy, we say you must excavate up to certain depth, you replace the soil up to certain depth, do stone base, do another earth work, then start the stone and so asphalt. Asphalt varies from area to area; minimum of 4cm of asphalt is our standard. So by that we have defined standard for road infrastructure in Gombe. By the time I leave, continuity should mean anybody who’s coming in will not come to do less quality; we will know he is not serving us well.

The same thing in education, in education I said what are the variables that we can use to gauge if somebody is contributing to education or not? Because in the first place when I came, the pass rate was zero percent. In the year I came in, May, we submitted about 18,000 people for WASCE, only seven passed.

So there is a fundamental problem, maybe with the students, maybe with the teaching, maybe it could also be the facilities, or combination of all kinds of problems. They came also with a standard, all these that I have mentioned, the students had problems, the teachers had problems, the facilities had problems, everything combined together. Structurally we had to redefine how to cost and address these problems one after the other.

The standards are obvious with regards to roads, drainage, etc. What are you doing in agriculture?

In agriculture, what happened was that, there was a time that people cannot even go to farm here, that was what affected the agricultural programme, not only in Gombe but in the entire north east. Gombe has only one river and it is only along that river that we do dry season farming. For other areas we do rain-fed farming. So during raining season we plant commodities of crops, harvest and then market it.

In areas where we do irrigation (I didn’t start it), ponds and other irrigational facilities have been installed in some of those areas and some of those areas that are along the rivers are the rivers that is separating us and Borno, the river that is separating us and Yobe and if I tell you about Borno and Yobe you will know exactly what I am saying. So these are areas that maybe they had set backs.

Peculiar reason and location

In 2013, 2014, we reached our peak. Output by Federal University of Agriculture, became almost 400 percent yield per hectare increase. The issue then became; we have produced these crops, how do we sell them?

The issue of market became a challenge because of our peculiar reason and our location. The people that used to come and buy these commodities in Gombe no longer come. When our people take these commodities outside Gombe, they are faced with oligopolists in those places.

For instance, when you carry tomatoes that you have in abundance from Gombe and take to Lagos, you cannot sell in the open market, but to somebody who will have to buy at Mile 12 market. So if you carry tomato from Gombe, maybe one trailer load of tomato and take it to Lagos, the chances that you will get about 50 – 60 percent value may be a little bit dicey. And if you are supposed to sell at maybe N10 here, by the time you reach Lagos, you will sell at N3, if you don’t sell then take it back.

So that discourages people from going to the farm. At a time I was the champion that was saying I have N5 billion worth of wheat, who is going to buy? We had N10 billion worth of cotton that the Arabs used to come and buy, now, no buyers. I had some kinds of billions of naira of hides and skin that the Lebanese come to buy to make shoes, no buyer.

So to the extent that security affected us a bit and also last year issues of rain, issue of fertilizers and uncertainties because of the change in government; we used to do 50,000 tons of fertilizers that the federal government took off their hands, the federal government because they do 30 and we do 20 which make up 50. They subsidize 50, we take 25 they take 25. Here I subsidize 50 percent, we take 25 the farmer takes 25.

So overall I subsidize 75 per cent for the farmer.  Last year because of the new government, these things didn’t happen, so no single fertilizer came from the federal government, but we hope this year it will come. But we are making arrangement for it to come; how we will buy it, we are still working to see because the exchange rate is very prohibitive and so many other variables that will work against this. But if I make a call all the time like I do, that ensure that the farmer has a guaranteed in time, then we will have solutions for this.

Commodity exchange

I brought a solution that time to the federal ministry of commerce, trade and investment, and I designed a commodity exchange platform; I drew it, designed it and I gave them a location where we will trade commodities like we are trading shares, where we will invest in commodities, today, tomorrow and next tomorrow and in the future; just like as we are buying oil in futures, that is how you will be advancing farmers money to buy and plant and harvest and store.

All sectors of our finances will work, minimum guaranteed price security will work, insurance guarantee will work, CBN guarantee will work, all sorts of financial institutions will come in and that not only helps the farmer, it grows the economy, it grows our sensibility, it grows also our sense of doing business and are conscious of the things we do. Not everybody need to go and farm, we only need very few farmers, if they farm well, insurance companies working well, insurance can guarantee one farm, one hundred insurance people will get business to do. In a farm that you are investing for three, four, five years, one hundred bankers can be gainfully employed in the bank that is investing and so many kind of multipliers that come out. It is the chain of activities around agriculture that grows the economy and brings the business. So when you see them on television today, they say everybody should go to the farm, why would they go to the farm?

Money is a coward

Where is the farm to go to? How many kind of farms will you require to cultivate, it is not the way and it must be changed.

What are you doing to process agricultural products? Why must they move to Lagos as full cows, why are they not butchered here and transported out? Gombe can feed the whole of Nigeria, you can feed Africa. So what are you doing in that area?

Well, I will not go the normal way other people are going of complaining about power, to say it is power, it is this one. An investor uses money and money is a coward; it doesn’t go to places where there is fear.

By our location there is fear, there are a lot of temptations on people not to invest. Going forward, not only Gombe, Nigeria itself, nobody will come because there are a lot of uncertainties in the decisions and business plans that we make for investors. If I invest money I should be able to take back two, three times of my money. I don’t think we have this kind of template now, not only in Gombe but in Nigeria. Back to processing, Vegfru is in Borno state, but the farmlands are in Gombe. The Vegfru factory at Dadin Kowa is incapable of absorbing fresh tomato produced during the dry season through irrigation

Vegfru was designed to produce tomatoes in tubes. The cost of producing tomatoes in tubes is four times the cost of tomato because there is nowhere in the world again where tomato is produced in tubes. So a whole line of operations has to be dismantled to get that and while that was going on, then there is the issue of security. Where Manto is now, from that place to Sambisa forest is not more than 30 minutes. So any kind of decision they take, they will want to talk about Sambisa. For a long time, Manto never started up. Manto was also that kind of bogus tomato factory with the same packaging by tin which is very expensive too; so the whole line is not worth it.

We tried to look for other investors; I found one and he became my friend, he went to Morocco and agreed he was coming the following week. That night there was bomb blast in Gombe and it was reported to him. Till today I have not heard from him. We also said that not only tomato, we have rice market, that we have small millers, a lot of small millers were packaging local rice. They did very well, they are employing a lot of people, they are solving a lot of household problems but they require a bigger one.

We were working on that one, because of the quantum of resources that was required, the federal ministry of agriculture took it as an initiative at that time and they said they will give me two; I will locate one in Bamaga and one in Kuntu. I cleared the places and as all other government policies are, till today, we are still waiting for those kind of initiative.

How have you coped with insecurity challenges posed by insurgency? What is the magic wand that you have used?

We have invested so much on security here and I always tell my people that the girls that were taken from Chibok would have been Gombe girls because in those days when Boko Haram was operating, they will write a letter to you, they won’t take you by surprise. Anybody who says he is attacked by Boko Haram by surprise is not true. They write a letter to you, that they are coming to attack you, or that they are coming to attack this facility, or they are coming to kill this man or woman, they wrote a letter to us that they are coming to kidnap the girls. I got the information at 9a.m., by 12 noon I had evacuated the school. One week after that, they took girls from Chibok. Any other thing is a story for another day.

We have invested a lot on informants, in all these bushes we have growing around. I have hunters, they help the security agencies; these are mainly security information’s anyway which may not be useful, but we have invested so much in security. From the time you enter Gombe and until you leave, I can monitor you. All my local governments are networked on a simple facility here, I sit down and monitor the state. So we have invested so much in security. And anywhere they go, they come to Gombe we arrest them, go anywhere and come inside Gombe we will know you and we will arrest you and that was why the prevalence was very low.

What we need is the wide opening of the state through provision of roads. To a larger extent all our local governments are connected through road network. In some local governments, in all the wards, we have about 114 wards, all of them are connected through road networks. We have opened up Gombe so clear, the attractiveness in Gombe in terms of road infrastructure is fully provided.

What I am saying is that the investible amount of resources that we will require in Gombe going forward will be reducing as we attract people to come and spend their own money, it is not government now; government cannot be spending money to do tomato factory because it is not the business of government.

I should be able to provide a land, to designate an area where I can give you land to do this one and to ensure that your security is safe and also the return on your investment is guaranteed. If you are sure about that one then you will come with your money.

Engine of growth

Just like the groundnut millers, I have an area where I designated for them; they have groundnut oil that they are now are exporting. The same thing for the corn millers, they have an area where they mill it and they are exporting it and they are also selling to some part of the country. The same thing for bakery, bakery makers, we group them in bulk, we gave their association, they guaranteed themselves and they are turning around. So to that extent it is a revolving farm with them.

For the small scale industrialists, we have a facility of N2 billion, they are managing it themselves through back-to-back guarantee, this shop guaranteeing this shop and that one, and from their own statistics it is one of the finest investments they have done in Nigeria according to the BoI.

So essentially what government is going to cater for in going forward is recurrent cost. So for any careful government going forward is to be mindful of recurrent cost, while taking into cognizance the growth of other revenues that will help you. So I think it is not good but it is manageable

So it is not easy but it requires very complex planning and monitoring because you are not working alone, you are working with some people with other kinds of mindsets. So with good monitoring it is achievable. But in going forward, all governments at all levels must be careful in the growth of recurrent cost. Move that expenditure mainly in terms of opportunities to the private sector, create more opportunities for the private sector because they are the engine of growth of any economy.