● How I utilised Paris Club refund
Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, believes that discussions about the 2019 general elections more than one year to the polls are distractions to public office holders. He also speaks in this interview with journalists in Sokoto on challenges of governance. Umar Abdullahi reports
What is your plan for 2019? Are you seeking re-election or thinking of contesting for another position?
I don’t know why you are asking me to comment about 2019 elections, when we have just crossed the halfway 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 that.
What is your relationship with the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC)?
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 State?
President Muhammadu Buhari campaigned on three issues namely; fight against insurgency, anti-corruption war and to boost the economy. Sokoto State 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 been 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 local government areas 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 and Sokoto-Gusau roads are all in good shape. Generally, we have no issue of road infrastructure in the state. I believe that the Buhari administration has impacted on us positively.
The economic downturn that has affected the country is improving and the people of Sokoto State are not left out. We are benefiting from the various social intervention programmes of the Federal Government in all ramifications.
What has Sokoto State 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 the 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?
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 (PPP) 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 the 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 at 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 (ETF) and other funding agencies to fund the project. So, it is on stream.
What is the government doing on the digitisation of Sokoto Media Corporation?
The process has commenced and we have advertised and identified the consultants. We have already started the process of digitisation. We have little provision in the 2017 budget, but the main provisions will be reflected in the 2018 budget. Few weeks ago, we had engagements with Modibbo Kawu of the National Broadcasting Commission. We have already identified consultants for that and the project is ongoing.
Sokoto is one of the 11 frontline states facing the threat of desertification. Has the state benefitted from the Ecological Fund?
We have not received any kobo from the Ecological Fund office. We hope the situation changes. Sokoto is one of the frontline states, especially on the issue of desert encroachment. It is all about deforestation and the solution is afforestation. We will partner with the ecological office and see how we can deploy it on a large scale afforestation programme in the state. Other measures have also been put in place to tackle ecological and environmental issues in the state and these efforts have started yielding results.
What is the government doing to attract foreign investments to the state?
We are doing a lot to attract foreign investments, but I have repeatedly said that we are focusing on attracting investments from other parts of the country into Sokoto. Of course, you cannot do anything if you don’t have adequate power supply. Luckily in Sokoto, we have five sources of power such as solar, wind energy, hydro particularly in Goronyo Dam that has the capacity to generate 30 mega watts of electricity. We are talking with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources for the possibility of allowing us use the dam, or for them to concession it to us.
We have discovered coal in large quantity in the state and we are discussing with the Ministry of Solid Mineral Resources to ensure that people that have the capacity to develop the coal are actually given the allocation of the accreage.
You are also aware that we have large deposits of gas and petroleum in some parts of the Sokoto Basin. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has done some surveys in the state and we are organising a national conference soon in collaboration with the Usmanu Danfodiyo University and Petroleum Trust Development Fund to see to the possibility of actually harnessing gas and petroleum resources in the basin. All of these, we have available in Sokoto, but of course, they requires huge capital investment.
We have a lot of people, who have indicated interest in all of these and we are working with them, but it is a long term thing. There are lots of processes that are ongoing and it takes time. I believe we are doing our best and we are on the right track.
When will the State Independent Power Plant commence operation?
We have done more than 80 per cent 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 council.
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 Liquefied Petroleum Gas (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 2,300 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 the 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 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), ActionAid, World Bank and others. We will continue with what we are doing until the desired objective is achieved.
Many farmers in the state could not access funds from the Anchor Borrower programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), coupled with poor quality of wheat seeds. What is the government doing to support wheat farmers that incurred losses in the last farming season?
We had some challenges in the Anchor Borrower Programme, it is not a state government project, but a Federal Government programme. It is a partnership between banks and farmers. What the CBN does is to release funds to commercial banks for onward release to farmers. What the state government is supposed to do is to have a technical committee.
We have had challenges on release of funds by commercial banks. It seems commercial banks are not willing to fund agriculture in Nigeria for reasons best known to them and this is done deliberately. On the wheat seeds, we procured some of them and we are aware of the problems that our farmers encountered after harvest.
We will indemnify wheat farmers especially those that suffered loss. We are partnering with some banks to ensure that we get timely release of funds to our farmers. Sokoto’s investment in agriculture is the highest of any state government in the country.
We will continue on that trajectory. We are also making efforts to attract direct foreign investment in the agricultural sector. We are still working with quite a number of investors that have been coming. Like I earlier said, you cannot just do it alone as a state; there are certain things you require from the Federal Government.
Take for example, the issue of Sokoto Cattle Breeding programme, which we are doing with some experts from Argentina. For us to even get clearance to bring in the things we are going to use for the cattle breeding programme, we have had numerous challenges from the Customs and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.
This has been the reason for the delay of the programme. We have adequately provided all we need for the project in terms of funds, land and training of personnel that will manage the clusters, but we have challenges with federal regulatory agencies. We always have difficulty in attracting foreign investment because of regulatory bottlenecks from federal agencies. I want to appeal to the Federal Government to look into these challenges because they are an impediment to attracting foreign direct investment especially in the agricultural sector.