*… as Gov Yahaya makes ‘Vanguard Governor of The Year’ Award
By Emeka Anaeto, Business Editor
After about 25 years of existence, Gombe State, the Jewel of Savannah, is now clearly set on the path of a new dawn under a transformational leadership of Governor Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya.
The current administration which ushered in the new era is barely two and half years old when the impact of transformational leadership began to gain traction while Vanguard Newspapers findings show strong foundation for a sustained growth across the socio-economic landscape of the state in the medium to long term.
Most governance analysts have often excused many governments’ failures on the premise of the impact of COVID-19 on the national and sub-national economies, but Gombe seems to have created a different narrative; that challenges berth creativity and ultimately superlative performance.
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The Vanguard Newspaper Governor of the Year awards go to few selected State Governors that managed to distinguish themselves in the circumstances of the operating environment.
For Gombe the environmental circumstances were even more daunting, judging from the obviously difficult financial and socio-political liabilities inherited by the Mohammad Yahaya administration.
Vanguard Newspaper findings show that upon assumption of office, the administration was confronted with a treasury in distress, burdened with about N124 billion in Loans/Bonds, Pension/Gratuity arrears and contractors’ liabilities.
The fiscal stress could be gleaned from the recurrent obligations amounting cumulatively to about N900.4million monthly to service the liabilities.
But the administration has gone ahead to demonstrate determination to achieve positive results.
It is the usual practice for new administrations in Nigeria’s governance space to abandon uncompleted projects inherited from previous administration, especially if the new administration was not an extension of the previous.
But Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya chose the road less traveled. Determining to salvage and possibly turn-around the tax payers’ money into viable assets the administration embarked on completing those projects.
Already, the Mega Motor Park is costing the state about N3billion to complete and when Vanguard Newspaper visited the location, extensive work were on ground ready for commissioning.
The project was one of the several of such that compelled the current administration to draw up a well thought out robust financial plan to deal with the fiscal implications.
Prior to the advent of the current administration, the 11 local government areas of the state had to borrow N1.3billion monthly to pay salaries.
Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya administration had, within the first three months of its coming into office, stabilized the LGAs financially and are now able to pay their salaries and pensions as at when due on their own.
At the backdrop of the foot-dragging that have marked the implementation of the minimum wage policy across the country, the Gombe State government has also been consistent in the monthly payment of the new minimum wage salary even as this has increased the state’s wage bill by additional N2.85billion annually.
Before the administration assumed office in 2019, Gombe metropolis and its environs were without effective portable water supply as some stakeholders point to the neglect of the water works and unpaid liabilities of over N5billion.
The Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya administration swiftly responded by settling the outstanding liabilities. This has guaranteed the restoration of adequate supply of water to Gombe metropolis and its environs with the pumping of about 50m litres of water daily.
This formed part of the wider spectrum of giant strides the current administration has been making in the provision of critical infrastructure especially the completion of the abandoned regional and township roads which funding had stalled before now.
Massive road projects
Some of the road projects include: the 25km Billiri-Gujba road, the 15KM Sabonlayi-Ayaba road, the 15km Ladongar–Fubawure road, the 17km Kumo–Kalshingi road, the 10km Kutare–Mona road, the 10km Kundulum–Mallam Inna–Kurba road and the 16km Marraraban-Jarkwami–Daniya roads as well as the Industrial Cluster road networks.
These projects, Vanguard learnt, have since been completed and are being enjoyed by the people.
Other road projects being completed by the present administration under the same funding arrangement include Dukku–Kalam–Dokoro, Dukku–Jamari, Bambam–Tula–Yiri, Kwanar-Rugaji– Kuka-Bakwai–Galgaldu and Bajoga township roads, among others.
The Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya administration also initiated and completed the 15.2km Jabba–Garin Wada, the 21km Degri–Talasse and 16km Malala–Dukkuyel regional roads with the same funding. These are aside the township road projects in Gombe metropolis.
Vanguard also learnt that over 340 classroom blocks have either been constructed or renovated and equipped with modern teaching and learning materials.
The $2million Nigeria State Health Investment Project (NSHIP) counterpart payment that facilitated the total overhaul of our 114 Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) across 114 wards in the state was also part of this facility. So also the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project/ World Bank (NEWMAP/WB) erosion control project for N2.9billion which is completed and has greatly assisted in reducing the menace of erosion and flooding in the state capital especially in the Gombe State University to Mallam Inna area.
More Projects, funding needs
The Contractor Finance Facility (CFF), even though not a direct loan but a guarantee to the contractors, was secured to ensure the provision of ultra-modern solar powered street lights on all roads – both double and single lanes – totaling over 114km of roads, fund the biometric and attendance equipment contract for which hundreds of millions of naira has already been saved, and the guaranteed balance will be assessed by competent contractors to complement the N2billion FGN health facility designed to help states upgrade their health facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At present, a new N1.8billion General Hospital is under construction in Kumo, while three other hospitals are being renovated and upgraded. These include Bajoga hospital (N650million), Kaltungo (N1.2billion) and Kuri (N118million).
The desire of the Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya administration to bequeath a better and more economically viable State brought about the idea to raise N35billion Sukuk bond. A painstaking review and evaluation of the state’s finances was undertaken.
This revealed a funding gap that needed to be hedged in order to enable government deliver on its mandate.
Again, the time value of money and low rates of interest played major roles in taking the decision. This is aside the need to ensure the completion of abandoned projects of the past administration.
At present the debt-to-revenue ratio of Gombe State is one of the lowest in the country at about 22% far less than the 73% of the Federal Government.
The State’s debt-to-revenue ratio had breached the 20% maximum limit before the current administration and made it impossible for the present administration to adequately finance its projects.
However, the Federal Government’s review of the ratio to 40% now provided the window for the state to access funding through new bond of which proceeds will be utilized to fund Phase-1 of the Muhammadu Buhari Industrial Park.
It will also go into the funding of the Gombe Capital Special Development Zone, which will include a new state secretariat complex, a new state assembly complex and a new judiciary complex – a replica of the Three-arms Zone in Abuja.
Part of the proceeds will also be used for the expansion of the Gombe Regional Water Project for which the Federal Government is also making a 30% contribution in the over N7billion project. The bond is designed in a way that it will not have any negative effect on the state throughout its term.
Payment of gratuity backlog
The critical importance of the funding strategy and the actual application is already being demonstrated in many fronts where the administration is liquidating inherited liabilities. One of such is the payment of gratuity backlogs owed 2015 retirees from the state’s civil service.
Towards end of last month the government released the sum of N755 million in addition to the same amount earlier approved, making it a total of N1.5 billion for this purpose.
Speaking at a brief ceremony to mark the commencement of the issuance of cheques to the retirees, the Governor, vowed to ensure that the retired civil servants get what they deserve from the Government, stating that despite the meagre resources available to the State, his administration would continue to bring relief to the entire populace in the State and its senior citizens.
He reiterated his commitment towards off-setting backlog of inherited gratuity and continue to do so until all verified retired civil servants in the State get their entitlements.
The Governor said despite inheriting a humongous amount of liabilities in pensions and gratuities, his administration will continue to work out modalities within available resources to see to it that retired civil servants collect and enjoy the fruits of their labour.
He assured that government will continue to remain responsive to the yearnings of the senior citizens even as he emphasized that Governor Yahaya had put machinery in place to address the plight of local government retirees.
Housing for civil servants
The desire of the present administration to provide social and affordable housing for the states’ civil servants especially the low income earners as well as staff quarters in all health and educational institutions informed the present administration’s move to key into the Federal Governments’ Family homes fund initiative. Gombe, like all other states of the federation seeks to access N5billionn at very low concessional terms.
With the strides achieved by the Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya administration, Gombe state has attained national recognition from different credible rating agencies. These include; the best state in the Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria; the Number 10 (out of 36 states) on the Transparency and Accountability index and Number 7 (out of 36 states) on Fiscal Responsibility index among others.
The present administration has also succeeded in creating a clear development roadmap and has placed Gombe State on the trajectory of sustainable development through a 10 year plan known as Development Agenda for Gombe State (DEVAGOM).
Many governance observers have posited that the Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya administration’s performance is driven by its covenant with the people of Gombe state for a better experience in democratic governance, signifying that it is a citizen-driven government.
Perhaps most interesting is the relative peace and stability enjoyed in the state amidst turbulence and insecurity in the diverse parts of the country, especially in some states bordering Gombe, a feat attributed to the inclusive and grass-root oriented leadership in the state.
For these and even some more landmark achievements, Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya of Gombe State has been adjudged worthy of the Vanguard Governor of the Year Award, 2021, by Vanguard Newspaper Board of Editors.