Ibrahim Shehu Shema
Katsina State governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Shehu Shema, recently had a session with journalists where he spoke on various issues, including state police, onshore-offshore oil dichotomy, Nigeria at 52, as well as Katsina at 25. Omololu Ogunmade was there. Excerpts:
The nation is split down the ladder over state police and this does not leave out the Governors’ Forum. How are you looking at this?
Some of us in the Nigerian Governors Forum- Governors Rotimi Amaechi of River State, Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, Jonah Jang of Plateau State, Kashim Shettima of Borno State and myself – were in Germany recently. This question came up on how would they operate their own state police? They do operate state police, but states that are rich help the ones that are not rich. There is no tailor made arrangement in the world regarding issues relating to security or policing, but what is important to me is that police as an institution has been in existence for a long time in Nigeria and many committees have been set up by various governments.
These committees were set up to do a study on what needs to be done to enhance police services in Nigeria. Now, whether a state police will serve the purpose of peace, law and order and good governance of the country or federal police should be what we look into critically. There is no question of whether this person likes it or the other person doesn’t. What is critical to me as a person and a governor is which one will serve the purpose better for Nigerians in terms of securing their lives and property. Is it the state police? And if it is, what are the reasons and how do you intend to finance it? There is this fear in some quarters that if some of us in Government House have state police, we can use it to intimidate our opponents. So, to me, what is the status of security in Nigeria and what must we do as a nation? This has to be agreed on as a consensus.
There is also the issue of oil dichotomy; do you think the controversy is necessary?
Fortunately, I was part of the legal team as the then Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice that represented Katsina State in the court on the onshore/offshore dichotomy issue. Now, my question is this, is it just about onshore/offshore dichotomy or about development of Nigeria and Nigerians? In Nigeria, we love to blow big grammar on issues that may not have any bearing with poverty and the enormous challenges we are facing: unemployment, insecurity, etcetera. And I think we should start by asking ourselves this question: What are we doing with the little we are receiving? What difference will it make now even if we start giving more money to any state in the country?
In my mind, this thing about increase in derivation money from the federation should be tied to specific programmes. Even if we want an increase, what do you intend to do with the young men and women out there? How do you fight poverty? How do you encourage industrialisation? How do you create jobs? How do you improve power and water supply and other infrastructure that have decayed since independence?
Are we talking of onshore/offshore tied to certain programmes to change the lives of Nigerians or are we just talking because we love it as a political instrument to hurt each other and overheat the political system? Yes. I’m a lawyer and I believe in rule of law and laws can only be made in a nation like Nigeria if there is consensus and understanding but I want to ask all of us whether we are for or against dichotomy, to think deeply and hard so that we do nothing to undermine those institutions against the interest of Nigerians.
What are your thoughts about Nigeria at 52?
The problem of Nigeria did not start today, No! And Nigeria of today is not the Nigeria of yesterday in terms of population, social, economic and political challenges. Even, all over the world, there are also crises- economic, social or political. Just recently, Europe and America witnessed economic meltdown and even now, the world is witnessing insecurity and political instability more than ever before. If you look at all these and say Nigeria has not done well, you are wrong. Nigeria has done well. There is this problem with us in Nigeria; it is the issue of individuality. More individuals have personal feelings above national feelings. They also have state feeling than regional feeling. We should just try and live in peace and harmony irrespective of our tribes, religions or political affiliation and talk about Nigeria instead of individuality.
Katsina State is 25years old. As a government, is there basis for celebration?
I feel happy as a governor as my people are appreciating the good work of my government. That means our effort to improve the lives of our people is being appreciated. Upon coming to office, I was faced with three important challenges. Education was one. This gave me a lot of worries and the reason was simple - the level of poverty or the income of our parents was hindering most parents from taking their children to school. So, I decided to save about N100 million to fund our educational system. We started free education since 2007. Education has been absolutely free both at the primary and secondary education levels. While (West Africa Examinations Councils) WAEC and (National Examinations Council) NECO fees are paid yearly for final year students, we also have free feeding programme for pupils. We gave out scholarships to about 270 students being trained in Arabic education.
I also provide buses for students for as low as N10 per drop. We also increased the number of classrooms and teachers just as we improved on the salary structure of our teachers both in secondary and primary schools alongside other welfare packages even before the introduction of the national minimum wage. We also worked on the issue of the girl-child education by constructing additional 165 schools and also encouraging local government councils to create a department for the girl-child education. We completed the state-owned university which we met on ground in 2007. I mean the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua University has been furnished with equipment.
What are your thoughts on the anticipated food security crisis that may ravage the nation?
Our second area of focus is agriculture. About 85 per cent of our people are engaged in farming and rearing of livestock and this in turn contributes not just to the economy of Katsina State, but also the economy of Nigeria. We try to improve on our agriculture by setting up a special committee that gathered data from research and agricultural institute at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, through which we now set up a special task force under my office to look at ways of encouraging the development of agriculture.
We provided subsidised fertilizer at the rate of N1,500 per bag which costs us around 900 million per annum. We also imported improved rice seedlings, conducted training and workshop for farmers and provided them N25 million interest free loans. We are in partnership with the Songhai Farm in Benin Republic on what we call the Songhai/Katsina initiative which is to train our youths in different areas of agriculture. We’ve supplied 340 tractors- 10 to each of the local governments at 40 per cent discount. We encourage farmer’s cooperative groups with the aim of empowering them. We also focus on irrigation. By the time we came into office, one of the dams in Katsina State, was barely existing. But we turned it around, channelled it, fixed the generators and other equipment. We also worked on the road, provided fertilizers and improved seedlings.
By the first year of harvest, the farmers contributed tonnes of food and cash crops. Katsina is a state with fertile land that can produce food and cash crops all the year round. That was why I said if we handled the issue of irrigation properly, Nigeria would be self-sufficient in terms of food production. We encouraged our farmers to irrigate for cultivation purposes. We are also in talks with some people from Spain by trying to see if we can go into flour production and we are working on Benniseed production which is a good product in international market. We are also working on Jatropha seed production for bio-fuel production.
We are really encouraging agro-allied industry. We are the first state in Nigeria to embark on the establishment of a mini-fertilizer processing plant. We started it with the Nigerian Institute of Agricultural Science Students with the collaboration of the Federal Government to produce green fertilizer made from Dogonyaro tree and also pesticide. We mandated four other local government areas to set up four local fertilizer blending plants and we trained 25 young boys and girls in each local government to produce organic fertilizer. During the first year of operation, we bought fertilizer worth N300 million from each plant, having about ten thousand production capacity that can do blending of urea and turn it into N.P.K 15:15: 15.
Cotton is abundant here. Is there plan to make it an income earner?
Cotton has a special programme under the Federal Government and we are currently looking at ways of working with the Federal Government on how to improve cotton production and as well, export it. So, all hands are on deck to see that this happens. Even as we speak, I received a request from my brother and friend, the governor of Lagos State, Fashola, in that regard. Argentina and Bangkok are in talks with us. But you know the problem with agriculture is that the gestation period takes time before you can make a formidable and viable economic production.
Another area of focus is mineral production with about 18 different types of mineral deposits - both metallic and non-metallic. There is investment profile listing the various mineral deposits which I set up as a department, now a Ministry of Resources Development and the first thing we did was to identify the largest mineral deposit. And kaolin happened to be in abundance. Incidentally, Kaolin is a major ingredient in the production of chalk and paint. So, rather than going out to buy them, we can as well produce them since we have the ingredients here. We thought we could give it a try by getting our youths trained in its production and we indeed gave it a try with about 25 persons from each local government who were trained on how to produce paint and chalk. The production actually started in 2008 and the paint you are seeing on the wall of Government House building was manufactured by these boys. I deliberately did not repaint it since then as I wanted to know its quality. You can see for yourself the quality.
How are you addressing the issue of youth restiveness?
Nigeria needs to pay attention to youth restiveness and there are many men and women with untapped potentials for the benefit of the nation. Tapping these resources can help to move our youths away from drug abuse and political thuggery. I personally oversee the establishment of youth training centres here where they are being trained in carpentary, furniture making and wood work; metal work, tie and dye, sound proof generator, telephone handset repairs, computer training, baking of cake and catering services; hairdressing, web design and publication, fashion designing, etcetera. Everything is possible with will and determination. We have where we teach young farmers on modern techniques of farming. I set up a special department for bee keeping, fish farming, poultry farming etcetera to train young people in these areas.
We equally created young entrepreneurs and we give them interest free-loans to the tune of about N250 million for GSM repairs, block making machine, weldering, car washing, hairdressing. In the same manner, we also trained people from Borno State and other parts of Nigeria and also Niger Republic. Even the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) has approached us to train some of their staff members. Youth empowerment is very critical. That was why we directed all our local government councils to get 200 young boys and girls who have finished schooling and are at home to go and teach as casual workers in schools and those of them who did community health should be hired to assist in clinics and maternity centres.
We didn’t stop there; we have not overlooked other critical infrastructure and amenities. We’ve developed over 30 new road projects and we have dualised roads across all the local government areas. We built about 2000 houses with about 35 housing units in each local government and about 752 in the state capital. The way we did it is that each person that works in the government establishment here will get an automatic discount of about 40 per cent. For example a three-bedroom flat will cost N3 million plus but you don’t have to pay all. All you pay is just 10 per cent and you will get the key to your house while the remaining balance you will pay in 15 years without interest. This is just about N310,000.
On transportation, we received an award as the fastest growing state-owned public transport company and we have well over 100 brand new vehicles. The health sector is not left behind. We have a policy of free ante natal and post natal care; free Medicare for children between ages zero and five years and also for special conditions like accident victims. We also subsidise our drugs and hired more doctors because quite a number of them have left as a result of insecurity in some parts of the country. We built over 68 new primary health care centres and expanded some facilities in the main hospital and bought other new equipment.
We have a 250-bed orthopaedic hospital under construction; this is the first of its kind; we are in talks with some foreign firms to see how we can partner in this regard in a public/private partnership. The Katsina airport runway has been expanded and this is the sixth year we are running hajj operations since we completed the runway expansion in the airport now named Umar Musa Yar’Adua International Airport. We are also building a new Government House. The interesting part is that all the monies we are spending on all these projects were not borrowed. We did not borrow money from anybody, institution within or outside of the country. We are also working on the abandoned 35,000 capacity stadium and by December, we hope to complete it.
So, how do you drive development with an allocation that is less than N4 billion from the federation account and without borrowing? Also, what are you doing to improve your IGR?
You see, our IGR was very small. It was about 130 million per month when we came into office. And the only way of raising money is to pay contractors about 40 per cent of the total contract sum and lodge the remaining balance. So, if I have N100 million project, I will only pay N40 million and I will be left with N60 million and we won’t pay the remaining balance until you finish the project. While we are waiting to pay the balance of N60 million, we generate interest on the money we have in bank and the money we have in the bank is not a free money because it will be irresponsible for any leader not to pay for a contract well done.
By so doing, we save close to N700 million as interest. But we have also improved on our IGR. We hired tax consultants and tightened up financial loopholes. But we were also faced with the challenge of minimum wage issue. We told our workers that we were more interested in doing the right thing by making sure we get accurate data account of all the workers in the state. At the end of the exercise, between seven and nine thousand ghost workers were identified and in a manner most transparent to everyone. Since January, we’ve been paying N18, 000 minimum wage and this applies to all sectors of our workers. We even tried and settled our wage arrears with about N2.4 billion. So, we do not owe anybody till date.