The Governor of Sokoto, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, is clear-headed about the direction he wants to take his state with agriculture and education as major pivots. Olusegun Adeniyi, who recently visited Sokoto and spoke extensively with the governor, reports on how the state is embarking on an agricultural revolution both for the empowerment of the people and for revenue generation
Cracking jokes as he shook hands with each of the men numbering more than a hundred who had gathered to observe the ‘Iftah’ (the breaking of fast) with him last week Friday, there was no doubt that Aminu Waziri Tambuwal was at home with his people. But the Governor of Sokoto is also realistic enough to understand that leaving a lasting legacy will require touching the lives of about eighty percent of the population of the state who reside in the rural areas.
That perhaps explains why Tambuwal has been passionate about the agricultural sector, through which he intends to tackle unemployment, engender food sufficiency and enhance the economy and general wellbeing of the people of Sokoto State. In the last one year, the governor has, for instance, gone into collaboration with a Port Harcourt-based company, Prime Gold Fertilizers, for the establishment of a plant in Sokoto with a capacity to produce 100,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer aside creating about 5000 job opportunities.
In the area of agriculture, there is no doubt that Tambuwal has made tremendous impact. “We have purchased about 20,000 metric tonnes of assorted fertilizers worth over N1.2 billion for this year’s cropping season. The state government has also intervened in the provision of water pumps, seedlings, drilling tube wells and machineries at the cost of N1.66 billion. Similarly, we have procured 1000 units of Tiller Machines for distribution to farmers”, said the governor as he highlighted what he has done within the agricultural sector in the last one year.
In addition, a new tomato processing factory is about to be built in the state courtesy of a partnership between the government and ERISCO Foods. According to Tambuwal, he learnt a very good lesson from the “tomato crisis” when the price of the farm produce shot up astronomically. “I know many reasons have been adduced, including the one about pest, but the truth really, and I can speak for Sokoto, is that, having taken a serious beating last year from the crash in the price of onions, our farmers didn’t cultivate much tomatoes in the last season”.
The governor explained that from a price of N25,000 for a 100kg sack, the price of onions crashed to as low as N1,700 because of a glut in the market. “Given that we are talking about a perishable produce, you can then imagine the loss incurred by our farmers”, said Tambuwal whose way of dealing with the problem is to establish a Commodity Board for which he has already sent a Bill to the House of Assembly. “The establishment of the commodity board will reduce excesses and wastages being suffered by farmers which ultimately affects their overall income. This is to enable them get value for their investments and to encourage more people to engage in farming to produce food for local consumption and for export,” the governor said.
With that, Tambuwal believes he can achieve his aim to make agriculture commercial in his state since that is the direction he is looking not only for empowerment of the people but also for revenue generation. In pursuit of that goal, measures are being put in place for introduction of the Tractor Hiring Scheme in partnership with some agricultural firms. The governor is also working on access to funds for the local farmers but that, he said, is part of his legislative agenda for the reform of land administration in Sokoto State which is on the way.
Currently, the state is enjoying a funding pool for its leather industry, outcome of a joint collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The expectation from this, as the governor explained, would be the creation of leather clusters to enhance export of the products. To underscore its seriousness to promote small and medium scale industries, the state, apart from setting aside N2billion for that purpose, recently donated an office for the Bank of Industries (BOI) with which it has entered into a joint collaboration.
However, as laudable as these initiatives are, Tambuwal believes that generating the requisite data is a critical step towards realising his dream of an agricultural revolution hence the idea of a Data Base Census of farmers in Sokoto State for long-term planning. “Today we lack data to identify our farmers across the state. If government, at the moment, sourced the required funds and implements for farmers, there is no any data to tell who is producing what and where and at what capacity. We will do the survey in order to know our farmers, their locations, what they produce and at what capacity. The information to be generated will guide the government as to what support and assistance individual farmer will need to be productive,” the governor added.
On pastoralism that has been a burning national issue, Tambuwal reiterated what he said recently at the National Retreat on Livestock and Dairy Development organised by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Abuja that his administration was also ready to provide land for commercial agriculture to any private investor willing to carry out mechanised farming in the state. His argument: “A properly-structured and well-managed grazing reserve will improve the well-being of our cattle. With it, we can monitor what they eat, and correctly estimate outputs we are likely to get from the animals. My thinking is that instead of herdsmen moving about in search of greener pasture, if we bring the green pasture to their doorsteps, I am sure they will be willing to settle down.”
Tambuwal, however, believes that for the states to maximize their potentials in agriculture, the Federal government may have to allow them manage the dams in their areas. “Almost all the citizens who use the dams for irrigation and other purposes are under the care of the state governments, so it will be economically wise if FG can concession the dams and allow us to manage it,” said Tambuwal who is exploiting the irrigation works at the Goronyo Dam in Sokoto for a tomato processing factory so that farmers would have their products processed in their localities. He has also subscribed to the CBN Anchor programme on rice and wheat production for which free seedlings and water pumping machines are being subsidized for farmers in the state.
Aside agriculture, education is another area where Tambuwal’s interventions have been impactful. In the 2016 budget, the governor earmarked the sum of N34.458billion, representing about 30 per cent of the entire N174.391billion budget, for the education sector. The estimate is above the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommendation of 26 percent. And he has a clear roadmap for the sector.
Based on the findings of a committee he established upon assuming office last year, Tambuwal said the state requires additional 9,000 teachers to meet the global standard of 1:40 teacher-pupil ratio in its classrooms at the primary school level while he would need to build 11,863 more primary school classrooms to decongest the existing ones in the efforts to create a conducive atmosphere for learning.
With a total number of 1,193,760 pupils currently enrolled at basic education level for the 2015/2016 academic session, Tambuwal said the teacher-pupil/student ratio in Sokoto State presently stands at 1:66. He added that even with a large percentage of teachers with high qualifications in primary schools, over 60 per cent of them do not possess the required certification to teach at basic education level while about the same number of teachers in junior secondary schools were teaching in urban areas thus leaving rural areas understaffed.
Apart from signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the National Teachers Institute (NTI) to train teachers in the state, one per cent levy of every contract awarded in Sokoto is now also set aside for funding education. And by way of motivating the teachers, early this year, the state commenced the building of a teacher’s village while introducing a package of special incentives for those who go to the rural areas, as well as ensuring prompt payment of the school fees of indigenes of the state studying in various institutions in Nigeria and abroad.
Of course, what this means is that there are many more grounds to cover, in the governor’s quite ambitious education project. However, Tambuwal is unhappy that the Federal Government did not select Sokoto as part of the states for the school feeding system. “I am going to see the Vice President on the issue. I don’t understand the basis for excluding Sokoto while states like Kano, Kaduna and Zamfara are included”, said the governor.
However, even with his devotion to the development of education, Tambuwal has also gone ahead to tackle the issues in the other sectors of the state. For instance, Sokoto is giving the sum of N6,500 to extremely poor citizens monthly. In addition to this, less privileged members of the society do not have to pay for drugs in hospitals because the government sets aside N10 million monthly for provision of free prescribed drugs to indigent patients. The funds are kept in selected hospitals and pharmaceutical stores in different parts of the state for easy access.
In addition to the provision of free drugs, government has passed legislation that has totally transformed the delivery of service in the primary healthcare sub-sector. In terms of immunization, after certifying the state polio, lassa and guinea worm free, one million children were immunized against measles in February this year alone. In the fight against malaria, Sokoto has in the last one year provided more than six million doses of anti-malaria drugs to the people. Similarly, 44,808 Artesunate injection vials were administered to patients while more than 3.3 million rapid diagnostic kits were purchased for use in hospitals and other health facilities.
Another innovation of Tambuwal is the Community Contributory Health Scheme that is designed to expand access to heathcare delivery, reduce the number of those uninsured and importantly reduce medical costs at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels when it comes on stream before the end of the year. The governor has also approved the upgrade of six hospitals to premier health facilities in various parts of the state.
In the area of environment, Tambuwal has signed into law a legislation which forbids the felling of trees across Sokoto State to check the menace of the peculiar winds from the nearby Sahara Desert. In fact, as part of the measures to check desert encroachment, it is now mandatory for each new building within the state to be accompanied with planting of trees around it.
Perhaps because of the special relationship between him and his predecessor, not only is Sokoto State calm, Tambuwal has decided to complete all projects inherited from the last administration. I understand there are 22 of such major projects in different sectors like housing, energy and power (State IPP), roads, health, rural and community development, agriculture, water resources etc. now at the various stages of completion. The civil service is also not left out in the state. Apart from regular payment of salaries to workers and pensions to senior citizens, 300 Civil Servants have benefitted from home renovation loan guaranteed by the government and expended through the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN).
There is no doubt that Tambuwal is a hands-on governor whose attention to details has led to many innovative ideas on how to reposition the fortunes of the people of Sokoto State. For instance, he believes that when the people are empowered to be productive, especially using agriculture as a catalyst, it is then that they would be positioned to pay taxes for the running of the government. “We will not overburden the people but we know that once we have provided the enabling environment for them to prosper and thrive then they would also have no choice but to perform their own obligations to the state”, said Tambuwal.
It is perhaps in that direction that the tariffs and rates in the state are being reviewed, hundreds of extension workers are being employed and trained with a system being put in place for cashless collection of revenues while Sokoto Geographic Information System is already doing its mappings for the land administration reforms. In all, it is evident that Tambuwal knows what he is doing and where he is going. And if he keeps his eyes on the ball, Sokoto State will be the better for it by the time his tenure was done.