Although Yobe State governor, Ibrahim Gaidam, still has about two years left of his tenure, his spokesman, Abdullahi Bego, says his legacy would outlast his administration. He spoke to Michael Olugbode who presents the excerpts:
What were the major objectives this administration set out to achieve two years ago?
This is the second term in the life of this administration. The objective of the administration is clearly to continue with the programmes and policies started during the first term of the administration. To make life better for the people of Yobe. To fulfill all the campaign promises the governor made to the people and to make sure that resources are utilised effectively, efficiently and transparently to transform the state. To improve water supply in the state, make healthcare delivery affordable and accessible to the people and improve the standard of education. The government also planned to make use of the abundant resources we have; land for agriculture and food production, to have an effective and efficient civil service that would support service delivery to the people and to ensure that the people of Yobe live in a secured environment, that is, their lives and property are secured and protected across the state.
How far have you gone in this regard?
Over the last two years we have seen significant progress compared to the situation before. Remember that Yobe was ravaged by insurgency from November 2011 until around October 2015. That was well after the beginning of the second term. So we have had a period of relative peace and security for a period of about 15 months now. That was when Boko Haram, as a fighting force, was significantly degraded by the armed forces. That was when some of the areas that were taken over by Boko Haram were reclaimed and freed, especially Gujba and Gulani local government areas. That was when projects that were stopped because of insecurity were restarted. One of such is the reconstruction of the vital Katarko bridge that was blown off by the insurgents along Damaturu-Gujba-Gulani axis. It is nearly reaching completion stage now. The Damaturu-Buniyadi and Maza road that we are building which is 70 kilometres long; that was when we were able to rebuild our healthcare facilities, educational facilities and other public infrastructures that were destroyed completely by Boko Haram.
Since peace returned, the state government has made significant impact in key areas of development. First, healthcare delivery, across the state. Over 112 health facilities were destroyed by Boko Haram and of course there are some that are yet to be rebuilt, but some of them have been rebuilt. Most significantly, Yobe State under Gaidam, has made a very significant move to improve our health infrastructure, retool and reorganise the entire health sector. We did this in several ways. We completed a brand new state-of-the-art teaching hospital, a project initiated by the Gaidam administration. It has started operation now. It has started rolling out services to the general public and that is a significant achievement. This was a hospital that was started years back and has been totally and fully completed and now serving the general public. We call it Yobe State University Teaching Hospital. The government recruited a number of medical personnel that were unprecedented in the history of the state. First, the governor approved the recruitment of 158 doctors, nurses, radiologists, medical consultants and other specialists and professionals in the health sector to make sure that all the 19 specialised areas of the hospital were fully staffed. Few days ago, the governor approved the recruitment of additional 238 medical doctors, consultants and personnel. We have 16 nurses, 17 medical doctors, dentists and we have specialists in all the specialised departments of the teaching hospital. With 158 and then 238, you can have an idea of the kind of specialists we have at the take off of a new hospital. This is a very strong take off.
In addition to that, the existing specialist hospital which had been before we built the teaching hospital has been retooled completely, rebuilt and expanded. The Gaidam administration built 13 new departmental buildings within the hospital. It is like building an entire new hospital. Up to 200 new beds were procured and installed and other equipment is being installed progressively to improve services for patients and their relations within the hospital. Also provided are new staff houses and other things needed to provide services.
Outside the state capital, the Gaidam administration completed a an overhaul and expansion of Damagum General Hospital and it is now rolling out service. Potiskum General Hospital, Gashua General Hospital and Geidam General Hospital have all been awarded for reconstruction and expansion. As I speak, work in all the three hospitals have reached advance stage of completion. The one in Geidam has even been completed while Gashua and Potiskum are ongoing. We expect them to be completed within the next four months. The governor has also promised that as soon as work is completed, new equipment would be installed, across the three hospitals. If you have three big general hospitals that have not been renovated since they were built in the early 1970s and they are now being expanded, renovated and equipped across the three senatorial zones, then you know healthcare is really getting a lot of attention, and that is at the secondary and tertiary healthcare levels. At the primary healthcare level, we continue to do things in conjunction with our partners, Dangote Foundation, Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation to provide healthcare especially polio. Now we have celebrated three years without polio in Yobe. Even when we had small reoccurrence in neighbouring state Yobe was insulated by the grace of God and this was due to all the efforts that were put in place.
As we speak, the primary healthcare sector is getting a lot of attention. There has been a lot of investment in the health sector so that at the primary level, people have access to healthcare. Our health centres, our clinics and child care centres offer good services to the people. We have a hospital in Damaturu exclusively to take care of pregnant women, women and children. We have a policy of giving free medical care to children and women, beginning with mother and children from age 0 to 5 years. This has been sustained. The healthcare sector has significantly improved from what we used to have in Yobe. This is the first time since the creation of Yobe that we have massive investment going on at once in one sector and this is very important to the life of the people of the state.
In the area of road construction, in total, the Gaidam administration has built 1,048 kilometres of roads across the state with 3,034 kilometres of drainage lines in towns and cities. One of the significant things we did in the road sector in the last two years is the completion of the Damaturu-Buniyadi-Maza road. It is a federal government road that we undertook because it is being used by our people. We did not receive a penny from the federal government. That road leads to the border with Borno State and it is the area that was hardest hit by Boko Haram and because of return of peace we were able to continue with that project. It is a very important project because it links the state with Borno and Gombe and other parts of the country. The 300-kilometre-trans-Sahel road which begins from Kannama to Machina in the northern part of the state is on going in the last two years. We have begun a significant renewal of the state capital where all the major roundabouts and roads are being rebuilt and expanded. Most of the major roads are being dualised and asphalted. If you come to Damaturu at night you will see how well lit it is because of the solar powered streetlights that have been installed. We are also building new roads within the Damaturu metropolis. The project is called Damaturu Urban Renewal.
In education, which is an important sector, the Gaidam administration, in the last two years has awarded contracts for the construction and expansion of five secondary schools. They are: Government Secondary School (GSS) Yunusari, GSS Guyokura, GSS Fika, GSS Nangere and Government Girls Secondary School Nguru. The first three are almost completed and we are thinking of renovating and building new dormitories and building additional laboratories, staff housing which are very important for rural schools if you want the teachers to go and teach the students on time. GSS Yunusari, GSS Fika and GSS Guyokara have almost been completed while government has already received tenders for beddings and laboratory equipment the schools need right now. For GSS Nangere and GGSS Nguru, contact was recently awarded and work has already started.
Also in the educational sector, we have rebuilt a lot of classrooms destroyed by Boko Haram and have fenced many of the schools to ensure security. In tertiary education, you will see that our state university is the fastest growing in northern Nigeria. The state government, in the last one year, has established the College of Medicine within the state university. This is very important because as we give priority to healthcare, we must have our home grown doctors and medical workers. A brand new complex comprising of biochemistry, anatomy and physiology departments are currently being built within the university. The governor is very excited about that project because he believes with a faculty of medicine, we can now enroll and train medical students and in the next few years we will have doctors who will continue to take care of our people and we are going to send them across the state. Right now, the state government is sponsoring over 400 medical students in institutions of learning both within and outside the country. The governor recently approved scholarships for fifteen additional medical students for training within and outside the country.
In agriculture the state government has done well. As we go into the raining season, the state executive council has approved millions of naira for the purchase of fertilisers that would be sold at subsidised rates to farmers.
On the whole if you compare what happened in Yobe in the five years and what happened in the last 15 months, you will see that even though we have made progress in the five years, that progress was halted because of insecurity but in the last 15 months when relative peace returned to the state, we have made significant progress and covered a lot of ground. The governor has a great commitment to leave behind a legacy that will last for a great number of years.
How devastating was the havoc caused by Boko Haram in Yobe?
Over the course of five years, November 2011 to October 2015, Boko Haram wrecked havoc, not just in Yobe State but Nigeria as a whole. There were projects that were stopped because Boko Haram threatened the workers. We had students that were killed in their dormitories in cold blood. We have people that were displaced, we lost many lives. You cannot begin to quantify how callous and senseless the insurgency was and the kind of negative effect it had. But our people are very resilient across Yobe State because all of us are believers in God and that after every hardship there will be calmness. People are rebuilding their lives again, going back to their farm and businesses and the government is doing what it could to help them.
Can you give a rough estimate of what Yobe government has spent to ease the pain caused by Boko Haram?
Yobe State government spent a lot of money paying allowances, like procuring patrol vehicles to soldiers and others but that is not happening anymore because the federal government has taken over that responsibility. But over the course of time Yobe State government has spent a lot of money. The governor said the state had spent between N10 and N15 billion out of its own resources because of Boko Haram; procuring vehicles, providing diesel and paying allowances among others. But let me say that importantly, it is not about the money we spent but what we have gone through. You cannot quantify it. It is far beyond that. When lives were lost, people were incapacitated; some for lives, means of livelihood were destroyed, infrastructure which were always at the service of the people were destroyed, you can definitely not put quantify all these in monetary term. What is significant is that we continue to rebuild, our people are resilient and we continue to move ahead and see that our lives are back on track.
Is the state seeking assistance in the rehabilitation and reconstruction plan, or do you not need any assistance?
No. We have been getting assistance and we still await further assistance from the federal government through the Presidential Committee on the North-east Initiative. We have partners who have been with us every step of the way; the federal government through NEMA at that time and through the Victims Support Fund and through the Presidential Initiative on the North-east before it became the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative, all have been assisting but we still await more assistance from the federal government to rebuild destroyed infrastructures.
How is the state coping with the economic recession?
The economic recession is biting in every part of the country and not just in Yobe. Not just in one sector but all. I must add that in areas where the economic management is sound, the impact of the economic recession is not as severe as areas where there is problem with economic management. Here in Yobe we are blessed with sound economic managers in Gaidam and his team. The governor is very effective in term of economic management, making sure that available resources are deployed to areas they are needed most. That explains why we were able to pay salaries of our workers as well as pensions and gratuities of retirees unfailingly.
What has been the greatest challenge of this administration?
Our greatest challenge is that we have a lot of projects that we would have loved to execute but the resources available are inadequate. If we have ten times the resources we are having, we have projects to execute with them. It is a challenge because of the recession and the falling in the prices of petroleum which had resulted in a reduction in the allocation accruing to the state.
I hope it is not going to be too early to ask what legacy this administration would like to leave behind?
The legacy is already there. Take the investment and commitment he gave to the health sector alone not to mention the development in other sears.
Our greatest challenge is that we have a lot of projects that we would have loved to execute but the resources available are inadequate.