In this interview with OLALEKAN ADETAYO and JOHN ALECHENU, the Governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Sule, speaks about efforts being made to improve security in the North-Central as well as his plans for the people of the state. Excerpts:
Your state, like most in northern Nigeria, is faced with the challenge of lack of industrialisation. We would like to know what your administration intends to do in this area?
I just came back from the biggest mining conference that is usually held annually in Cape Town, South Africa. I left after the Nigerian Day, where I participated and talked about solid minerals which we discovered in the state and the number of mining activities that are going on. Coincidentally, the only solid mineral mining company that is quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange is called Multivite and that company is operating only in Nasarawa State at the moment. Anywhere you have mining of solid minerals, you are going to have security challenges because of the economic activities. You are going to have a lot of illegalities because most people who don’t want to follow the due process. Somebody will be have a prospecting licence for solid minerals, he goes straight into mining. Mining also comes with a lot of environmental devastation just like you find in oil and gas. What we are doing on our own part is that we are monitoring what is going on. And anywhere we see a violation, we try to stop them from operating. We have done that twice already in Nasarawa State. A company is operating in Odege and we told them that we’ve not seen their reclamation plan which means, what they intend to do after drilling all these areas; how do they intend to reclaim these areas? What are they doing to prevent pollution? People can’t just begin to destroy our land. Minerals belong to the Federal Government. All the states do is to monitor and make sure that everything going on is in line with protecting the environment and ensuring that there is a reclamation plan. If you look at our NEDs document which is the Nasarawa Economic Development Strategy, it has clearly indicated most of those areas because that is a document we actually sat down and wrote.
You hinted about industrialisation. Can you give us an insight into why this is important to your administration?
There used to be so many industries in the North, especially in places like Kano, Gombe, Bauchi, Jos, Zaria, Kaduna, Gusau and the rest of them. But today, we don’t have any of those industries, somebody must ask the question, why?
The number one issue is the issue of raw materials. Anytime you have industries; where you have to import raw materials required for production, anytime there is a variation in the foreign exchange those industries are usually hit. In our own case, we are trying to avoid industries that we have to go and import raw materials because of the variation in foreign exchange. Most of the industries we are focusing our intervention on are agro-allied industries. These are industries where we will grow the raw materials locally. An example of that is the sugar plantation that Dangote has, which will be the biggest sugar plantation in the entire Africa because it is covering about 68,000 hectres of land. Not even Kenana or White Nile in Sudan has that size of land. Everything that will be used as the raw material for that facility is going to be sourced locally from the farm. The only importation will be mostly the equipment that will be used in the construction and installation of the factory. After that, we will have local people that will be running and maintaining the facility.
The next issue that affected some of the industries in the North was the issue of power. Most of these industries have to generate their own power. A lot of them used diesel generators, maybe coal powered generators, a lot of them used petrol generators. It is so expensive to generate power this way, but because our national power company couldn’t supply them power, a lot of them had to go comatose. Lastly, the cost of production was so high that they couldn’t compete with some of the products that are coming from outside the country, especially from the far East.
You recently commenced the construction of a mega bus terminal in Karu which will involve the collapse of 22 existing motor parks into one. What informed this decision?
Anybody, who is familiar with Nasarawa will realise that a lot of the middle and low class workers that you have working in Abuja actually live in Nasarawa. That is the reason there is major highway linking Nasarawa to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The same highway is also the major road linking the South- East to the federal capital; the same with most of the north- eastern and south-eastern part of the country. As a result of that, we usually have a lot of congestion on that high way. Somebody can be on that highway for three or four hours just trying to move. One of the reasons for the congestion is also the number of motor parks where most of the buses are loading passengers. When we counted, we had 22 of them in a stretch of not more than ten kilometres. So, we decided we are going to consolidate them. That is the whole essence of building the terminal. It is to take all those bus parks and concentrate them in one area after we build a modern bus terminal. The terminal is going to one, reduce the congestion in the area; two, it’s going to be a source of revenue for the state government because now we will have ways of monitoring; three, it’s going to improve security because right now, it is very difficult for security agencies to monitor 22 motor parks within a stretch of 10 kilometres. Now they are going to be concentrating and focusing on only a particular area that is going to be well protected and well lit. Most of the modern facilities that you can find will be in that area. There will be banks, there will be restaurants, there will be places were people can ease themselves and take their baths. That’s the essence of the bus terminal. The biggest motor park is going to be in Karu. We are also going to do the same thing in Lafia and other smaller bus terminals will also be in Lafia. The design has been completed we are in the process of putting up a tender and finally we will select a contractor and award the contract and the job will start.
Nasarawa has also had to grapple or is still grappling with the challenge of security. How is your administration handling it?
The issue of security is a concern for the entire federation. It’s a concern for the federal, state and local governments. It is also a concern for individuals -Nasarawa is no exception. We have had our own challenges from around 2013, that is when we had ethnic clashes but one thing that we’ve been lucky to do is to understand where these challenges are coming from, then to concentrate our efforts mostly on some of those areas while not leaving some of the other areas. We have been able to let people know that if they live in peace that is when benefits will come. We have been able to do a lot of sensitization. We also spend a lot; we’ve been funding most of the security agencies in order to make sure we provide proper security in the state. We have seen a great improvement in security. And we are not taking issues of security lightly. In fact, we have had more security council meetings than we have had our state executive council meetings. Once we hear anything, we sit with the security agencies and we try to address them. We are taking security very seriously. One of the reasons we are doing that is because this industralisation effort we are making will not succeed if there is no security. We are also very lucky that the Nigeria Police has been very supportive of us. They are going to set up the Mobile Police Training School, the third one in the nation here in Nasarawa State. And we located in an area where we had the greatest challenge of security because it is a hill where a lot the Boko Haram people and kidnappers, some of the bandits that were dislodged in some other places find the place as a safe haven, now that the school is coming it will help greatly in ensuring that the area is safe. Another way we are approaching it is in the area of employment. We are empowering the youths; we are empowering the women we are ensuring they are independent; we are promoting technical education so that people can have education that they will be independent. Not everybody must go to the university, there are people who will just go to technical schools, acquire skills, have little capital and set up their small businesses as tailors, welders, electricians, motor mechanics, air condition and refrigerator repairers, things like that.
In the area of health. We recently launched our health insurance scheme because Nasarawa is not a very rich state. For that reason, we take the national health insurance very seriously. We funded it so that everyone will have access to good health. We also got competent people to man it. In addition to that, we are also ensuring that we take advantage of most of our development partners such as the Bill Gates Foundation and the Dangote Foundation, the World Bank and the Save one Million Lives which is also being driven by the World Bank. We also took the universal primary health care under one roof seriously. We are just awarding contracts to repair roughly 100 clinics. One of the things we are doing also is to ensure that most of the medications they require at the primary health care clinics are also there. Coincidentally, my deputy governor is a medial doctor, a very competent one for that matter, he is also assisting in driving our ministry of health and he is doing so very skillfully.
You visited Benue State on a peace mission, which the state Governor Ortom reciprocated after 6 months why?
You know that Plateau Benue and Nasarawa states used to be one state and to a certain extent, we have a lot in common. Most of our people are actually in neighbouring states. We have a lot of Tiv people who are natives of Nasarawa, and Tiv who are natives of Benue State. We needed to go and re-establish that relationship for us to understand that we need to protect our people together without necessarily looking as if we are 200 miles apart. That was one of the reasons I did that. When I visited, he was also kind enough to return the visit and that helped because the two states were being administered by two different political parties but when it comes to security we go beyond political parties we have to look for what is best for our people we belong to the same platform.
Your counterparts in the South- West recently inaugurated a security outfit Amotekun. Are those of you in the North -Central considering such a move?
We had our own security summit where we invited all the six governors to Lafia and they all came. We had a very big discussion about security concerns common to the zone. At that forum we decided community policing is the best option for us in this zone and the community policing we are talking about begins from the ward level up to the state. We will involve youths, the women and some of the vigilante groups that we have. We invited traditional rulers and all the major stakeholders to come together and identify their security risks and challenges and how do we address them. We will provide the resources to help them to make sure that communities are protected. So, that is why in the north- central states we adopted community policing as our best option for all the six states including Abuja. About the South West, I don’t know the structure and I don’t know how it will operate .I am from Nasarawa, my worry is Nasarawa that is where I am concerned about.
Do you have a strategy on handling the issue of the use of motorcycles as a commercial transport considering the growing concerns about security?
In Nigeria, we want to just solve a problem without looking at all the other items. Who are actually the riders of these motorcycles? Where do they go to? You see, places like Lagos, they have a little advantage over a lot of these places like us. If you ban the use of motorcycles in a place like Nasarawa, where there are a lot of streets are not motorable, how do you expect the people to move? The tricycles you mentioned, most of these places tricycles cannot even go there. As close as Karu, I have flown over Mararaba, Nyanya, Ado and Masaka areas. That stretch is now bigger than Lafia. It’s a huge city. Nasarawa doesn’t have the resources to go and develop most of these places right now. Until we are able to do that, I think it may be unwise for us to say we are banning the use of motorcycles. We can say we can ban the use of motorcycles on the highway to avoid some of these conflicts. Yes, we can say that we don’t agree with some of the tricycles going on the highways. They are becoming risky by causing accidents. We may not ban motorcycles and tricycles outright. We may ban in certain places where there may be a risk or conflict to the people. But in other places where people cannot use any other thing but the motorcycle, we will allow. Where the people become a security risk because they don’t have anything else to do, that is another problem we have in the country and I think some of the places they are banned the people don’t have anything to do they go into anti-social behaviour.
How is the school feeding programme in your state?
The programme works in Nasarawa very well. I inherited it, the ministry of education drives it and in most of the schools the contracts are given to the people. There are one or two places where I said I was not happy with it and people have made improvements. A certain amount is given to a contractor and it is expected that the contractor will feed the child with that amount so that the child will also go to school. Some of these children don’t feed well at home, the parents cannot afford to give them proper feeding. I think it is an excellent campaign tool, it is an excellent programme that the Federal Government has adopted but we have to monitor it and ensure that it is working very well. In Nasarawa State it is working very well, so far, I don’t hear many complaints about it. Sometimes I am the one complaining that I don’t see improvements and I want to see better food being served.