‘We have not abandoned health, education for roads’
By Wale Akinola
Governor Badaru Abubakar of Jigawa State is displeased that some militants in the Niger Delta, under the guise of Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), are sabotaging the efforts of the Buhari administration to move Nigeria forward.
Abubakar, in this interview, speaks on the renewed militancy in the oil region which has robbed Nigeria of revenues in an austere period and the challenges of his one-year-old administration.
The state of the nation appears stormy, especially with the worsening economic situation. What is your perspective?
The APC governments at the federal level and Jigawa took over at the worst possible period and witnessed a combination of negative and interlinked trends from falling oil prices to currency devaluation and galloping inflation.
The fact that some unpatriotic elements who have lost the chance to continue their brigandage are sabotaging our efforts is no longer in doubt, after all, the question needs to be asked, ‘What are they avenging?’
While they were cheering at the loss in revenue from falling oil prices, they have started attacking facilities to cripple production at a time we were just rejoicing at the fact that prices were climbing again.
The situation calls for patience and understanding and we are doing everything in conjunction with the Federal Government to put all hands on deck to alleviate the plight of the people. Let me also talk about our modest attempt at complementing the palliatives being rolled out by the Federal Government to cushion the prevalent difficult situation. We have purchased 3,527 tonnes of assorted grains which will be evenly and equitably distributed on the basis of 1 ton, or 10
100kg bags to every one of the 3,527 polling units we have in the state.
We also solicit for Nigerians prayers as divine intervention is required to reverse the trend and put this country on the path of progress once more.
We are not in doubt that the last one year of your regime has been tough, going by the many hurdles militating against governane. Are we correct?
I feel relatively fulfilled coming after the shock and bewilderment that we were in after the swearing in, you know we made some discoveries during the transition period, but it was only after we took over that we realized the extent of the financial mess that we inherited, and we had to quickly revert to survival mode. Even the previous administration was counting the days till we crash-landed from the enormity of the financial burden, because they knew what they left behind, but we thank Allah for his mercies, we weathered the storm, we’ve put the state on a reasonable solid and sustainable expenditure framework relative to our present earnings and we are hoping for better days ahead.
How then have you been able to cope with these harsh economic realities as far as what accrued to your state is concerned?
Like I said earlier we switched to survival mode. In May 2015 we had less than N17 million in the treasury and I’m talking about the total amount of cash that was available to the state. We had salaries to pay,scholarship arrears and exam fees owed to WAEC and NECO, the Hajj operation preparations had started in earnest and the former government, after trying unsuccessfully to “borrow” from the contributory pension fund, simply achieved this through the back door by refusing to pay the state’s own contribution for almost 11 months.
To compound issues, contractors started demanding for payment of their liabilities which amounted to over N14 billion in vouchers awaiting cash backing in the treasury and close to N100 billion in ongoing projects. I had to call major stakeholders and lay bare the financial situation to them and told them I had the capacity to deal with this but it will not be easy or painless. I got the mandate I needed and immediately started a massive cost cutting exercise starting from the Government House.
You see if I say I’m cutting my salary and that of the deputy governor by half, it would translate to about N12 million annually and our deficit is in nine figures, so that won’t help our case. We had to look at holistically reducing the cost of doing government business and it was not difficult to find areas because the previous regime was living in a fool’s paradise, just increasing recurrent spending exponentially in direct proportion to the windfall coming in from the Federation Account.
So, how are you coping with the huge contractual liabilities? Is any work going on in the state at all?
As soon as we saw the results of our cost realignment strategy working, we decided that since we were able to meet our recurrent expenditure, we should prioritise the ongoing projects accordingly and this was very difficult politically because the penchant is for supporters to say, ‘let us abandon so and so work and do our own projects’, so I had to be very firm.
It hurts when I see people hiring buses at great expense to go and thank a governor they elected because he has built a road, or school or provided water. It is their money and their mandate and the least the governor can do; otherwise you have no business in Government House.
I had to explain to supporters that the previous government’s projects were started with Jigawa funds and it would be irresponsible to abandon them and waste public money in starting new ones, so a committee verified the projects and we prioritized them in order of public impact and stage reached. Some that were hurriedly and improperly awarded to friends and family we threw out. I then called the contractors personally and explained our situation to them. ‘The country is broke, there may not be jobs for any of you for some time, but I am wiling to assure you continuity and prompt payment if you will give Jigawa a discount’. It was very tough, and I had to assure them that they have my protection and I am not expecting a percentage from anyone and neither is any of my children, commissioner or government official, and if that happens they have my direct line. This was how we got an average of 17% discount amounting to almost N5 billion for projects awarded as far back as 2013 in some cases.
Considering the dire financial situation generally, are you not abandoning the other sectors when you focus on completing roads?
We are not abandoning any sector, our focus is human development in all ramifications with the ultimate aim of reducing the poverty level and that is why I told you that even the roads we are continuing were selected based on public impact, opening up communities, providing access to markets for their farm produce and linking major towns and communities. The other critical sectors in this chain are health and education. We must educate our people and as the saying goes health is wealth.
In the health sector we are focusing on primary health care delivery to devolve smaller facilities spread out at the grassroots level as opposed to mega hospitals that are costly and very inefficient since all cases irrespective of severity are handled at that level. Typically, close to 80% of patients can be handled at the primary level for malaria, antenatal, etc with only serious cases referred to the hospitals. Most importantly, we can now achieve eligibility in accessing funds from the National Health Fund to augment our efforts at the state level. To strengthen this basic level, we have commenced the construction of 27 basic health clinics in each local government at the cost of N424,980,000.00 and 27 units of midwives’ quarters in hard- to-reach primary and basic healthcare centers at the cost of N203,257,692.00. We have also embarked on renovation and improvement of hospitals in Gwaram and Birniwa with the provision of an operating theatre at the total cost of N194,918,946 as well as several smaller facility interventions in Sarawa, Majeri, Kununu and Katsinawa and renovation of 25 health facilities worth N25 million in Birnin Kudu, Garki, Gwaram, Jahun and Maigatari local government areas.
You mentioned health and education as priorities…
Education was a sector I believe was also neglected perhaps because of the adage ‘you can’t value what you don’t have’. Immediately after we were sworn-in, I was amazed to find that counterpart funding for SUBEB and UBE were unpaid for two years, which meant the last time primary school structures received any decent attention was in early 2013. This government had to retroactively pay up counterpart funding for the 3rd and 4th quarter of 2013, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarters of 2014 resulting in the injection of N3.1 billion into the basic education sector within 11 months. This translated into the provision of 16,599 sets of classroom furniture and the construction and renovation of 1,793 classrooms. We had to also clear a backlog of scholarship payments from the 2014/2015 academic year totalling N500,478,356. We spent money on data acquisition relating to the quality and number of students , teachers and facilities in conjunction with the DFID ESSPIN program to enable us address problems in the sector in a targeted and specific approach instead of ploughing money in an uncoordinated and erratic manner with no results. To ensure students welfare, we paid out N882,425,839 within the last 11 months in scholarship funds, and introduced an e-platform to eliminate delays in future payments. We are also testing and deploying various e-learning initiatives to address the issue of the very serious deficit in quality teaching at the basic level. Jigawa like most other states is in serious need of qualified teachers that are simply not available due to the systemic collapse of teacher-education and training nationwide and the simultaneous demand by private schools that continue to grow at an exponential level to fill the educational void.
I believe technology holds the key to maximizing teaching resource availability through distance leaning, visual and electronic teaching aids as well as networking of schools to avail them concurrent use of electronic educational material to augment conventional methods. To support these and other tech dependent initiatives, we have reinvested in resurrecting Galaxy ITT, the state owned internet provision and IT services firm.
The company is currently testing a city wide wireless network covering the whole of Dutse, and with the renewal of their national ISP license will begin to provide quality internet service provision to all our major towns and indeed beyond the State’s boundaries on a commercial basis.
So as you can see we haven’t abandoned education for roads!
In your inaugural speech, you mentioned that agriculture was going to be used to build a sustainable local economy. Is that process on course?
Very much so, we have no option because it is the only sector where we have comparative advantage at the moment. I said I will focus on attracting large scale agricultural investment because we must leapfrog and catch up with global best practices.
If you have a look at our statistics, we are at the bottom of almost every yield table for our major crops despite years of government and development partner intervention. The only game changer I can see is private sector involvement. if we don’t begin to look at agriculture from a business perspective, we cannot be competitive and no amount of government control or protection can help a farmer producing 2.5 tons a hectare against his counterpart in Thailand or Brazil producing 10 tons per hectare twice a year.
In pursuit of this, we have adopted the international principles of large scale agricultural investment (RAI) and developed a State Land Acquisition and Resettlement Framework (LARF) to achieve a balance between the investors need for large scale land and the citizens right to minimal disruption of lifestyle and livelihood.
This has resulted in the adoption of out-grower scheme models
involving small holder farmers in all our major large scale agricultural partnerships which include the Dangote Rice Project that will eventually cover about 30,000 hectares and The Lee Group sugar project covering about 12,000 hectares.
During the recent fuel shortage which saw many individual farmers abandoning their cultivation due to lack of fuel for irrigation, the members of the out-grower cooperatives had the protection of group logistic dynamics that guaranteed all inputs including fuel as part of the agreement.
We have adopted the same approach for other farmers outside the out-grower framework by clustering small holder farmers in all 287 wards into 50-hectare clusters per ward with a maximum of three groups per cluster to accord them the same benefits and advantages of the out grower program under a state organized initiative. For effective and uninterrupted supply of inputs, we are recapitalizing JASCO to the tune of N200 million to strengthen its capacity to provide quality consumables at affordable prices to the cluster groups, and 450 motorcycles have been provided to extension workers that are currently undergoing training by NIRSAL to improve their mobility and capacity to provide extension services. Over N100 million is being spent to rehabilitate about 87 tractors spread over 27 local governments to provide mechanisation. We are also expanding the SLTR program which will simplify acquisition of title to land and focus on small holder farmers to enable them unlock the capital potential of their landholding at an affordable price.
So this is part of the general GIS mapping that we hear is going to cover the whole state?
Definitely. We have already started GPS plotting of farmland under the dry season fertilizer distribution where 4,000 tons of fertiliser valued at N400 million was allocated in an equitable manner with each farmer getting fertilizer based on his measured and plotted land holding. This will be embedded in the full GIS project state wide.
But when we came in sometimes last year, we saw residents pushing carts in search of water, has anything effort been done to solve this perennial water shortage in the state?
Water and sanitation is another key area in our list of prioritized intervention sectors. What we found out is that no maintenance had been carried out on our water facilities in three years. The rapid water intervention scheme was therefore our first major infrastructure rehabilitation effort, and we expended N1.9 billion of which N636 million is recurrent because of the motorized nature of most of our water facilities.