Bauchi State Governor, Muhammed Abdulahi Abubakar, shares his experience in managing a state in an austere period with Tobi Soniyi, Godwin Omoigui and Adedayo Akinwale
Could you tell us the state of things in Bauchi?
Bauchi State, I must say so far so good. Management of human being is a tedious affair but despite the fact that we took over at a time when the economy is facing a lot of challenges, and coupled with the fact that we inherited quite a huge debt profile including salary arrears, gratuity arrears, etc., we have been able to keep the state afloat so far, and we have done this via a commitment to first and foremost block all loopholes for wastages, and then to try as much as possible to completely eradicate or to reduce to the barest minimum the scourge of corruption in the administration of the state.
I must say so far so good. We began by tackling the issue of outstanding salaries of workers. It was a kind of keg of gun-powder which was ready to explode at the slightest opportunity for the simple reason that Bauchi State is essentially a civil service state, everything depends on the well-being of the civil servants. If you pay salary you will notice that the effect will permeate all over, the markets and everywhere, you will notice it. For that reason I thought it was very important to reflate the economy via the payment of outstanding salaries. So, I initially started by paying one month less than two weeks after I took over, and then with the advent of the bail-out by the CBN, I was able to wipe out all the arrears. So this was the action we took which served to stabilise the polity in all respect, economically and socially.
How many months arrears did you inherit as a governor?
How is the state coping with the shortfall in revenue accruing to the state given the fact that oil price has crashed?
We have being doing that, like I said, via concerted efforts to block loopholes. When we took over, there were a lot of loopholes, a lot of wastages in running the affairs of government. So, we blocked all the loopholes. People may think that the immediate actions we took are superficial if they look at them in terms of naira and kobo, but if they look at them in terms of the effect, the kind of message they would send; I started by cutting my salary and that of the deputy governor by half and then I urged all the other office holders to cut their own by 30 per cent. It may not mean much in terms of naira and kobo, but it sent a message to everybody that it is not going to be business as usual. I then went on to cut the expenses of the Government House, the running of the Government House by half, 50 per cent. Other areas where you must spend necessarily – maintenance and sustenance of the security apparatus in the state. It is a sine qua non, you must do it, because everybody knows Bauchi State is one of the states of the North-east. We thank God that today we are the safest, the most peaceful of the North-eastern states.
This is like I said by the grace of Almighty God but also by the vigilance of the security agencies operating within the state, and this vigilance is engendered by the fact that the state government is assisting them regularly. Even in this area, we streamlined the expenditure, but the security apparatus is very happy, they are happy because what streamlining mean in our own case is that we have streamlined and we assist as at when due. Instead of the bogus amount that were being spent in the past and then we inherited about three months areas in respect of that. So, this is one of the ways we have succeeded in keeping the state afloat. It is not only the state government side that I have engendered this prudence in, all the local government areas also, because prior to December last year the local government areas were a bit buoyant, at least they received enough allocation to off-set their salaries and their pension, and then have little to take care of the running of government and may be do one or two things.
So, even in the local government I have ensured that no kobo is spent until I know what they are going to do, how they will spend it. It is their money but I supervise very closely. But from December to date the local government areas have not been able to pay salary. In December, I had to supplement the salary of the local government from the state coffers by close to 500 million. In January they came to me with a request for another 435 million, I told them that even if I have this money I am not going to pay. Let us all put our heads together and address the distortion that are prevalent in the payroll. So, as a result of that I witheld the salaries of the teachers of the local government, SUBEB, I allowed for the salaries of other staff of local government to be paid, I set up three committees, one each for the senatorial district to do a verification and as they were doing the physical verification. I now introduced another aspect, now I said every worker in Bauchi State from February this year will not be paid cash, no worker should be paid cash, every worker must go to the bank and everybody must produce a BVN number. So in the process of complying, we initially discovered 7,000 fake workers, later on it grew to 19,000 between the local government and the state.
At the end of the day we got a figure of 22,000. I am not saying all the 22,000 are ghost workers, but a very large percentage of that, probably between 70 and 80 per cent of that are fake workers. I am giving the benefit of doubt because, for example, some breaches were discovered, if for example when I went to do my BVN which I did in Abuja, I had given my name as M.A Abubakar, now as far as Bauchi state is concerned from the time I became a governor, My name is Muhammed Abdulahi Abubakar, I am the one and the same person, but if you now take this thing to interswitch, they will reject it. I am giving the benefit of doubt for such kind of cases. For now, we have saved N1.7 billion between the state and the local government. So at most, this thing may reduce by another half a billion, let say 500 million, we would still have made the savings of N1.2 billion, so this is where we are.
You said the state is civil service in nature, what are your plans to diversify so that people can earn a living through other means apart from working for government?
Actually, from the time I was elected, even before I was sworn in, I had a determination to hit the ground running so to speak. What I did was, first, I dispatched a man to Lagos to go into internal Revenue Service of Lagos state, understudy their system and obtain whatever documents they have in terms of the way they run their business because they are the most successful in Nigeria. I now sent the same man to Kano to understudy Kano, so they brought back everything from Lagos and Kano. I said okay, let’s sit down and study them, because our state is a total different ball game from Lagos and Kano, what may apply in Lagos may not apply in Bauchi, or what is applicable in Kano may not be applicable in Bauchi. So, I streamlined, I picked out all the areas that I thought will work in Bauchi, put them together in a bill, which I have tabled before the House of Assembly of the state. That is in respect of broadening the scope of my Internally Generated Revenue, IGR. Apart from that, I have drafted a Public Private Patnership (PPP) Bill tailored along the line of the PPP Act of the federal government, and this is with a view to attracting investors to come into Bauchi.
Our plan is to use agriculture, solid minerals and tourism to broaden our internally generated revenue base. Agriculture, because 85 per cent or more of our people practice one form of agriculture or the other. So, you can use agriculture to both enhance the economy and deliver social services in terms of employment and empowerment to your people. Solid minerals because we are endowed with a lot of solid minerals in Bauchi State and one of the cardinal principles of President Muhammadu Buhari is that he is going to encourage diversification into solid minerals, so we want to be ahead of the game because we have a lot of the mineral prevalent in Bauchi. Tourism, we are lucky to have the famous Yankari Game Reserve located in Bauchi State. Luckily, in my formative years in the civil service of Bauchi State, I had a stint in Yankari Game Reserve, I was company’s secretary/legal adviser between 1984 and 1986, so I know Yankari, I know the potential of Yankari. If I am able to attract investors to add a little value to Yankari Game Reserve, for example, if we are able to build a standard Golf Course in Yankari game reserve, I am sure we will be in business. Because internationally there are people who are willing, particularly, if you can offer them attractions that the Yankari game reserve can offer, and then in addition to that you give them a standard 18 hole golf course, we will be in business definitely.
What is your advice to other state governors because the challenges are almost the same everywhere?
The advice is diversify, the advice is reduce your dependence on the federation revenue for the simple reason that the federation revenue is dwindling by the day. The mainstay of that revenue is oil, we know how oil is faring in the world market, let us not be deceived by the fact that it has picked up a bit. A very long time ago we should have realised that we should have used the revenue accruing from oil to now diversify our economy, we did not do that unfortunately. Now that the revenue in that sector is dwindling, we are suddenly waking up to that reality. Therefore, it is incumbent on every state government to broaden the internally generated revenue base of the state.
I have often observed that sometimes governors are working very hard but they don’t take time to explain to their followers, there is this gap that when you are working for them, they tend to do the opposite because they don’t understand, so, how do you make sure that the message goes down?
Initially, when we started to be honest with you we faltered in that respect. We were not reaching the people as much as we should have done.
But when I realised that, I had a crop of people whose loyalty was not 100 per cent, I needed to rejig that sector, I did it by appointing a seasoned journalist who rose to the rank of an executive director in NTA to appoint him as Special Adviser, Media and Communications, and the aim is for him to use his vast knowledge to now orgnise a team of young men who are vast in both traditional media and social media, and today we have a good team that is taking root and the communication with the people has improved a great deal. We are filling the gap, I am not satisfied, I am not saying we have attained the optimum level. We have not, I am utilising every opportunity I have to improve on that, the part of communicating with the good people of Bauchi State and Nigerians generally on all the things we are doing in the state.