By Abdallah el-Kurebe
Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Governor of Sokoto State and former Speaker of the House of Representatives in this interview reviews developments in the state even as he pooh-poohs talks about his stance on 2019.
What is your plan for 2019? Are you seeking re-election or thinking of contesting something else?
I don’t know why you are asking me to comment about 2019 elections when we only just crossed the half way mark of the mandate entrusted to us in 2015. Talking about politics of 2019 in 2017 is not helpful.
The journey to 2019 is still long. When we get to that bridge, we will cross it. This is what I can say for now. People clamouring for political activity at this stage are only distracting mandate holders. We have over a year plus and I wonder why people are trying to jump start political activities.
Elective office holders need to discuss more about governance. By the time you raise issues of 2019 in 2017, you are distracting the entire polity. Discuss 2019 when the election season is upon us. But for now, let us discuss governance issues. We cannot move from governance to politics, it is a complete distraction because campaigns are full time. So, I don’t encourage anybody in the state to try to disengage us from governance mode and take us into politics mode. We should wait for the appropriate time to do this.
What is your relationship with the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress?
My relationship with the state chapter of the APC is very smooth and cordial. The party and government are working closely. We consult the party leadership on most of the policy issues in the state and our relationship has been sound and healthy.
What is your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari and the impact of his policies in Sokoto?
President Muhammadu Buhari campaigned on three issues namely to fight against insurgency, corruption and boost the economy. Sokoto has benefited tremendously from the efforts of the president to bring peace. We know what the situation was before 2015 but today Boko Haram has almost been defeated, it has been brought to its knees.
What we have now are sporadic attacks and not the usual suicide bombing that we had before or capture of whole towns and LGAs like what was obtained in the past. It is now only confined to Borno State. The fight against corruption is still ongoing and it has impacted on the issue of governance here. If you are talking about infrastructural development, I think the Sokoto-Illela, Sokoto-Jega road and Sokoto-Gusau roads are all in good shape.
Generally, we have no issue of road infrastructure in the state. I believe the government of Buhari has impacted on us positively. The economic downturn that has affected the country is improving and people of Sokoto are not left out. We are benefiting from various social intervention programmes of the federal government in all ramifications.
What has Sokoto done with the Paris Club refund it received from the Federal Government?
We have complied with the President’s directives by using the funds to address issues of workers’ welfare, salaries and gratuities. We also used the money to pay pensioners. In fact, we have complied with the president’s directives from state to local government level. We have also applied some of them to capital projects in the state. Some of the projects have been completed and inaugurated while some are still ongoing.
The state government is making efforts to establish a Heart and Kidney Centre. What is the situation with the project so far?
The Heart and Renal Centre is a project the state government conceived in collaboration with some Indians. It was supposed to be a public-private partnership arrangement. The Indians have procured their own resources for the project. We have started a process to get approval from the Debt Management Office of the Federal Ministry of Finance but the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance wrote to us that we are not on the borrowing plan. So, we have to go back to the drawing board that is actually what stalled the process. It is still in the works and we have not let go.
Secondly, a bill has been sent to the state House of Assembly for the establishment of Murtala Muhammed Teaching Hospital in the state which is part of the requirement for the medical college. We are partnering with the Sultan Foundation for the establishment of Nana Asmau Medical College in the Sokoto State University. And we are expecting some provisions to be made in the 2018 budget for the construction of that particular college. We are going to approach the Education Trust Fund and other funding agencies to fund the project. So, it is on stream.
When will the State Independent Power Plant commence operation?
We have done more than 80 percent of the job on the IPP project. Only few days ago, a committee under a former minister of power Alhaji Bello Suleiman, reviewed the project and made recommendation which was approved by the state’s executive ccouncil. The timeline for the completion of the project is between six and eight months but the problem is funding.
We require about N1.7 billion to complete the project and we are talking to some of our bankers for us to get the money and release them on piecemeal to the contractors based on performance. But another main thing is that for us to even test- run it as a diesel- consuming machine, we will require N500 million worth of diesel to test- run it for a period of time.
This is the cost of diesel required and that is what the experts told us. So, we are thinking of converting it to LPG so that we can get cheaper means of running the IPP. We have been receiving interested investors into that and they are coming to Sokoto to inspect the plant. So, we are committed to that and I can tell you that there is no way we will allow the huge funds invested to be wasted.
Tell us the progress made so far since the declaration of state of emergency in the education sector in the state?
The declaration of state of emergency in the education sector is still on course. Take your time and go to the Shehu Shagari College of Education and Sultan Abdulrahman School of Health Technology, what you will see there is a state of decay of infrastructure. The general state of infrastructure like libraries, laboratories and classrooms are in state of dilapidation in a lot of schools and this is because these concerns were not addressed in the past.
If you remember, I recently received the report of the technical committee on the needs assessment of about 400 schools in Sokoto and we need about N47 billion to turn them around. I can tell you that we have no less than 2300 schools comprising primary and secondary in the state. This estimate is only covering about 400 schools. The funding gap is very high. We are approaching World Bank to see how we can get funding. We are aware of the level of dilapidation in the schools but we need a lot of resources to fix them.
The general infrastructure of these schools such as laboratories, libraries, teachers’ accommodation, hostels are in dire need of attention. But overall, the declaration has helped us in Sokoto to fully appreciate what is needed and the roadmap to take to fix them. Already we have received positive marks from international agencies like the UNICEF, ActionAid, World bank and others.We will continue with what we are doing until the desired objective is achieved.