Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed
Recently, upon his return from the Lesser Hajj in Saudi Arabia, the Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, addressed journalists in Ilorin, the state capital, in a chat that was, among other things, meant to clear the air over insinuations that made the rounds about a confrontation between him and his predecessor, Senator Bukola Saraki, the state’s urbanisation policy, and local government finance. HAMMED SHITTU was at the session and brings the following excerpts:
How would you react to the rumour making the rounds that relationship between you and your predecessor, Senator Bukola Saraki, has been strained by political disagreements?
You should know that this is purely a political gimmick by opponents. They are not happy that we are happy. And the simple reason is because they’ve failed to understand that what we have in Kwara State is God-ordained. We’ve had the responsibility of driving an eight-year government which had progressively moved Kwara State from where it was to the state we took it over in 2011. And they’ve forgotten the fact that by choice of providence, I was not only part of policy formulation in the last administration, I was part of implementation. It was only normal for me to continue to leverage on the goodies of the last administration and there’s no way I can do that and go to next level without taking cognisance of the last administration, which put the last progress together. I will tell you that we have a very cordial relationship and it is spanning beyond what people are seeing because we both have a true sense of purpose to move Kwara forward. That spirit that saw Kwara State being moved to a prominent state in agriculture, aviation, and a public private driven partnership had created a very strong platform between me, the leader and the members of the cabinet. We have a very robust relationship that will continue to blossom because we have the same goal to ensure that we give the best to Kwara. It is a self-chosen sacrifice which we both agreed that we will continue to do.
How would you describe the vision of your administration, as distinct from that of the previous government?
Apart from the fact that we have a very cordial relationship, we have the same vision of ensuring we move the state forward. This vision is defined by what had been carried on in the last administration which is being consolidated into progress in this administration. And I want to assure you that the leader will continue to be our leader because there’s no substitute for experience. He’s had the experience and we are proud of him. We are trying to draw from his wealth of experience both in politics and governance and I am very happy and lucky that he’s always by my side and that he will continue to be by my side. He’s been a strong stabilising factor for me, especially in areas I require to take certain decisions that I’m not properly informed upon. Don’t forget that you require to draw from the wealth of experience of those who have it so that they can add to yours to take you to a new platform to move forward. We will continue to strengthen the relationship for progress in Kwara and for the growth of our people.
How would you describe your party, the Peoples Democratic Party’s victory at the local government election petitions tribunal in Offa local government council, which had been controlled by Action Congress of Nigeria?
It is not a new thing. It’s a judicial matter. When there’s any election, the party who is aggrieved goes to court to challenge the election result. The governorship election result was taken by the ACN to court and went up to the Supreme Court. What’s happening in Offa is a normal thing. The stakeholders of Offa PDP saw the need to challenge the result of the election done at the appropriate court of law, which looked at the issues and nullified the election. We are expecting there would be either an appeal or we look at the constitutional provision to move on from there. For us at the PDP, we are seeing it as a very welcome development because we’ve always said Kwara is a strong PDP state and we are committed to the values and ideals of PDP, as exemplified by projects and the environment we’ve been able to create to ensure there’s growth, peace, and development. The incursion of ACN into Kwara is seen as an aberration. This has been proven by the just annulled election. We will continue to consolidate on the gains and leave no stone unturned to let the people enjoy the dividends of democracy.
What is the position of your administration on the opposition by some groups in the Ilorin emirate to the implementation of the urbanisation land policy of the state government?
Issues had been raised for quite a while on the urbanisation law, which was passed in 2009 and which has also been signed and remains effective. The first issues were raised by the Ilorin Emirate Development Progressive Union (IEDPU) on the justification of the law and so much had come to the fore that requires some levels of clarification.
First, as a government, we have to recognise the fact that we have the responsibility of delivering service to the people because we are only custodians of public resources and part of our responsibility takes us to ensuring that we harness all the resources available. You are not unaware that generating resources and running of government resources come in majorly from revenue allocation, centrally allocated by the federal government and also being augmented by the IGR in the state. Having had the opportunity of running the Ministry of Finance for over seven and half years, I am quite conversant with the fact that the resources of the state require to be augmented. And augmentation allows us to look at largely Internally Generated Revenues. And that takes us to options available to drive revenue. The first option is the issue of ensuring a proper collection process. Second is the issue of areas that had not been touched in IGR. We went ahead on enumeration to see how to improve on direct assessment and collection of taxes.
But Ilorin is largely a civil service city, which makes taxes a difficult source of revenue for the government.
Ilorin is largely a civil service environment. We are just trying to move on gradually into a commercial environment. We see that by choice of providence, Ilorin is growing at an exceptional rate. For those who are familiar with what the city was about six, seven years ago, we’ll see the kind of pressure to which infrastructure is being put today. There is pressure on our water, energy, and road. Not due to anything else, but there are lots of influx of people into Ilorin and we thank God for that. This is not due to any other facts than because the environment remains quite and enabling for new entrants and current occupants of the town and by and large, Ilorin is becoming bigger for peace, commerce and togetherness. Most importantly, we have a strong level of religious tolerance, which has seen a lot of inter-religious activities without any problem.
So the land law was basically to drive revenue?
It’s out of the need to drive revenue that we looked into the issue of land. One thing that quickly came to mind was that government must be a little bit proactive in the use of land because you cannot drive revenue by taxing people, thus we looked at the option of land. It was on this basis that the urbanisation law was put together in 2009 as a bill and signed into law. The law simply gives the state government power to use land in parts of some local governments for public use. However, this has been misconstrued in some few quarters. And the areas that had been of concern had been isolated. Before now, a good interpretation of the law was not made and lots of insinuations were made. Some people said government was collecting all the lands in Kwara State. That we had gone ahead to collect all the lands, including Yidi (EID praying ground Ilorin) Emirs palace, Taiwo road, everywhere. People said a lot of things.
How have you tried to set the record straight on the land matter?
I want to use this opportunity to let people know that all they said is not correct. Government is only taking some portions of land in some areas so that it can put it into optimal use for the public and to see how we can generate revenue for public use. Don’t forget the fact that whatever revenue we generate is going to go back to the public. However, there are areas of concern which had been highlighted by the members of IEDPU. The major gap that happened between the association and the state government was largely an information gap.
Unfortunately, we could no create the platform to review the issue before some of us had to go for lesser hajj. By Gods grace and providence, we were able to have a very good meeting and at the meeting we highlighted areas of interest. We looked at what the law on urbanisation is saying, which area is it covering, which is the area of concern? They told us that they were happy with the law to the extent that it gives leverage to certain areas of the town and we said these areas are such that can be looked into.
Would your government abandon the land law or make far-reaching adjustments to it if it is seriously resisted by the people?
Don’t forget that the law is meant for the people and not that the people are made for the law. So, if there are areas of concern, we should be able to channel these concerns to the right quarters and that is through the House of Assembly that is charged with the responsibility of making laws. Also remember that every constituency in this state is represented in the House of Assembly. So, it is very easy for us to channel our concerns through our various members of the House of Assembly for review of the portion of the law that affects our concerns. And this was what we both agreed on. And they were happy with the approach and they said it was largely because of this gap in information that they had issue with the law. However, we were able to put all that behind us and we both agreed that the law is desirable and that the law has to address specific areas of concern as it affects those people that feel concerned.
It is a genuine demand to raise concern whenever a law is enacted. Don’t forget that it is only Allah (SWT) that has the monopoly of wisdom. Nobody has it in terms of knowledge or application. So we must continue to consolidate and consult with our people so that they keep telling us whether they are happy or not with what we are doing. As I said earlier, we are custodians and we want to be seen to be custodians. So when we are going to make laws that affect the people, people should be happy with the law. They will tell us if there are areas of concern and which they have told us now. And this law will now require going back to the legislative arm of government and it will be reviewed to satisfy the interest of all concerned to the extent that it suits the purpose for which the government is also trying to enact the law. Now it was a very happy parley for us and members of the Ilorin Emirate Descendant’s Progressive Union and also for government largely because we were able to understand that we have better ways of discussing the issue as against allowing us to go to the pages of newspapers.
How did you get to know about the Ilorin people’s concern?
I told them that I got to hear about their concern on the pages of newspapers, which should not have been. Apart from being a responsive government we are also a responsible government. And our doors are quite open. If there are any areas that require that we look at things, we look at it. Don’t forget that you voted us in. We have the responsibility to ensure that we do things to suit your interest and the overall interest of everybody. This was gladly accepted and we also agreed that we will not only review the law before it finally gets into application but we will also use the medium to continue to look at other issues that may come up in future so that we will always have a platform for dialogue. We should recognise the fact that whenever we have issues with law they should channel it through members of the House of Assembly whose responsibility it is to represent our interest at the floor of the House to enable the interest of all who they are representing be carried on in areas of discussing what laws should come into play. By and large, the issue of land urbanisation law is clearly spelt out to suit the fact that the law will be reviewed to check concerns of all those who had made issues about it and to finally come out in such a way that it will suit the interest of everybody and the government to help us drive revenue to support growth and development in the state.
What is really responsible for the late payment of salaries of local government workers in the state?
On the issue of the delay in payment of salaries of workers, I am sure we are all aware of how much allocation has been coming to the state since the inception of the administration because they are publicly published. And we have seen the drop in the allocation from the month of March, April, but we began to feel the impact in May till date. This drop has been affecting not only the volume of what is supposed to come into the state or local governments, but it has also been delayed. For us at the Governors Forum, we’ve reported to the minister of finance to work on the issue of delaying allocation meetings. I remember in those days when In was commissioner for finance, allocation meetings were usually held between 13 and 14 of the month. It gives ample time for CBN, which is in charge of allocating the funds to states and local governments through the Ministry of Finance, to do that. But lately you find out that allocation meetings are usually held much later, and the later the meetings are held, the later the distribution and allocation of money. And before it gets to the state, the state has its own process of ensuring distribution and allocation. That is the first leg in the delay.
What are the other sources of delay?
The second leg is in the shortfall. Shortfalls were recorded in May, June and July. And this short fall had not been very helpful in meeting both the recurrent and the capital expenditure of not only the local government but also the state government. The only difference is that at the state level, we have exhibited a very strong sense of financial management which has allowed us to be able to put our resources together and look at other funding windows that could support our funding gaps. Don’t forget that local government has limited funding windows from which they can source fund, unlike the state government. Of course, they too have been charged with the responsibility of looking inward at their IGR. But most importantly they should control their expenditure because in any system of cost management, there is a very basic grand rule that if you cannot increase your revenue, you must cut your cost. It is that simple. Don’t forget that the local government had been saddled with a very huge recurrent cost and that was what prompted the need for us to demand a biometric exercise for them, where we wanted to see the true number of workers we have. It was all designed to help them bring down the number of workers to the real number so that they can manage their overhead and personnel cost and most importantly to create a platform for future planning. When you have the proper number of workforce, it could be easy for you to recruit subsequently the number you want.
Do you have a way of monitoring the things the local councils spend their money on?
We have been looking at how we can be supportive of the local government by ensuring that the crude oil subsidy part of their money are not used for recurrent expenditure, except it becomes absolutely necessary. We want to ensure that they do capital projects with them. You recall when the deputy governor had to go to some parts of the Northern, Southern and Central senatorial districts to commission projects that had been financed under the excess crude funding window of the local government. This is designed to encourage them so that money would not necessarily have to go only for recurrent expenditure. They must have a capital leg because that’s the only way to reach the people.
For us at the state, we have no business with local government money. We have enough money we have been using because we’ve been able to cut our coat according to our cloth. At any point in time, the state has been able to manage its own finance. The local governments that have been having challenges, we have been bringing them to discuss with us on areas they have been having challenges and we’ve been trying to see how to create windows to support them. Don’t forget that the only thing that joins us with the local government is the joint project account and till date it has close to N800 million which has been channelled into rural road construction. This is mainly to support the N2.5 billion that the state government is expending on the same project.
In terms of road construction, how has your administration assisted the councils?
Rural roads are largely local government roads. State roads are different. In order to make the local governments also take home, as it were, some level of projects in road construction, knowing fully well that their resources cannot support them in road construction, we decided to invest about N2.5 billion in rural roads and we use that to augment what they have. Because the agreement on joint project concept is that whoever initiates the project drops 60 per cent, to be supported with 40 per cent as counterpart funding. Apart from putting down the N2.5 billion we are only asking the local governments to put down N800 million. They take ownership of the roads and maintain it subsequently and to ensure that other projects, i.e. MDGs that are now being carried to the local government are also supported under the joint project funding. They only contribute not more than N5 million each and the gaps in their funding windows are so wide.
How do you think the councils in the state can overcome their financial challenges?
What they have to do with their current challenges is to look back at their recurrent and capital expenditure, except recurrent overhead and personnel. That’s where the problems are. We have decided to sit down with them and help them look at what their books are reflecting in terms of their expenditure lines to allow them see how they can begin to reduce on some of these expenditure lines to accommodate room for capital projects. And where we see there’s a gap, we augment them. Ask any local government the road they have constructed till date. None. The only roads they can showcase are the roads existing or undergoing construction today, the same rural roads the state government is doing. These are the roads we had constructed largely from money we are putting into the system which is over N2 billion. So, their own contribution is much less than what they are going to enjoy because they would take ownership of the road. And I wish this synergy is put between the state and federal governments so that we too would be happy. You can imagine the federal government coming to us to say, “Jebba-Eyenkorin, Kaiama-Kishi road, you Kwara State government put something on ground,” and they construct the road for us. We will be happy and we take ownership. So the local government should be very happy with what we are doing because we are helping them to execute some capital projects which ordinarily they would not have been able to do. For us, we expect they should give us big kudos.
Various stakeholders nationwide have been making comments on the creation of state police in Nigeria. What is your opinion on this?
My view is not the view of any other governor, except my own. As a pragmatic person, I will continue to look at governance from the perceptive of marching vision with pragmatism. State police is desirable to the extent of advancing society especially, when you look at Nigeria that has a population of over 150 million people; when you look at the current level of policing, as we have it today, vis-à-vis the level of crime, the challenges of insecurity and other areas. But at the same time, the current political situation we have found ourselves, the current financial situation and the current social situation will require being put into serious cognisance before taking that big step of moving towards creating different levels of police.
My own biggest grouse on the issue of the police is at the angle of the current inability of federal government to fund the police adequately to the extent that state police is desirable. How do we fund it? States are currently under severe pressure of not being able to meet their various expenditure needs. So, you can imagine if we are to create a new expenditure line to join the current expenditure pressure. So no matter the desirability, it’s not financially feasible, the way I’m looking at it. What we require today is to come out with a platform to see on how to create strong a Nigeria Police, properly funded to meet with the challenges in our various security levels. We must be able to come up with a very strategically developed police force. For some close observers, what the police used to be and what it is today, we see a huge gap in the areas of support for the Nigeria police to enable them do their duties well.
What is your take on the question of restructuring of the Nigerian Police?
The Nigerian Police needs to be completely restructured. They need to be transformed. The process requires change and a new technology must be developed to drive the Nigeria Police process. It’s a tripod thing that should be looked at. It requires proper funding not on transitional basis but continuous basis. The man who is putting his life down to protect you, your goods and property must be adequately supported. In my own understanding, we require a strong funding window to support the Nigeria police force. After then, we can begin to look at additional needs, if there is, to create other levels of police. But we must begin by reviewing the Nigeria police force as it were. We’ve not given them the required funding to protect the people.