Even though politicians are already realigning preparatory to the 2019 general election, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwalâ€Ž has cautioned them not to get swept away by the distraction. He spoke with journalists in Sokoto. Mohammed Aminu was there and presents the excerpts:
What is your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari and the impact of his policies in Sokoto?
Buhari campaigned on three issues namely to fight against insurgency, corruption and boost the economy. Sokoto has benefited tremendously from the efforts of the president to bring peace. We know what the situation was before 2015. Boko Haram has been almost been defeated. What we have now are sporadic attacks and not the usual suicide bombing that we had before. It is now only confined to Borno State. The fight against corruption is still ongoing and it has impacted on the issue of governance here. If you are talking on infrastructural development, I think the Sokoto-Illela, Sokoto-Jega road and Sokoto-Gusau roads are all in good shape. Generally, we have no issue of road infrastructure in the state. I believe the government of Buhari has impacted on us positively. The economic downturn that has affected the country is improving and people of Sokoto are not left out. We are benefiting from various social intervention programmes of the federal government in all ramifications.
On the issue of Paris Club refunds, we have complied with the president’s directives by using the funds to address issues of workers’ welfare, salaries and gratuities. We also used the money to pay pensioners. In fact, we have substantially complied with the president’s directives from state to local government level. We have also applied some of them to capital projects in the state. Some of the projects have been completed and inaugurated while some are still ongoing.
People say you are planning for a second term in 2019. Is it true?
I donâ€™t know why you are asking me to comment about 2019 elections when we only just crossed the half way mark of the mandate entrusted to us in 2015. Talking about politics of 2019 in 2017 is a long journey and when we get to that bridge, we will cross it. This is what I can say for now. People clamouring for political activity at this stage are only distracting mandate holders. We have over a year plus and I wonder why people are trying to jump start political activities. Elective office holders need to discuss more about governance. By the time you raise issues about 2019 in 2017, you are distracting the entire polity. Discuss 2019 when the election season is upon us. But for now, let us discuss governance issues. We cannot move from governance to politics, it is a complete distraction because campaigns are full time. So, I don’t encourage anybody in the state to try to disengage us from governance mode to politics mode.We should wait for the appropriate time to do this.
What is your relationship with the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress?
My relationship with the state chapter of the APC is very smooth and cordial. The party and government are working closely. We consult the party leadership on most of the policy issues in the state and our relationship has been sound and healthy.
The state government is making efforts to establish a Heart and Kidney Centre. What is the situation with the project so far?
The Heart and Renal Centre is a project the state government conceived in collaboration with some Indians. It was supposed to be a public-private partnership arrangement. The Indians have procured their own resources for the project. We have started a process to get approval from the debt management office of the federal ministry of finance but the permanent secretary of the ministry of finance wrote to us that we are not on the borrowing plan. So, we have to go back to the drawing board that is actually what stalled the process. It is still in the works and we have not let go.
Secondly, a bill has been sent to the state’s house of assembly for the establishment of Murtala Muhammed Teaching Hospital in the state which is part of the requirement for the medical college. We are partnering with the Sultan Foundation for the establishment of Nana Asmau Medical College in the Sokoto State University. And we are expecting some provisions to be made in the 2018 budget for the construction of that particular college. We are going to approach the Education Trust Fund and other funding agencies to fund the project.So, it is on stream.
What is the government doing on the digitisation of Sokoto Media Corporation?
The process has commenced and we have advertised and identified the consultants. We have already started the process of digitisation. We have little provision in the 2017 budget but the main provisions will be reflected in the 2018 budget. Few weeks ago, we had engagements with Modibbo Kawu of the National Broadcasting Commission. We have already identified consultants for that and the project is ongoing.
Sokoto is one of the 11 frontline states facing the threat of desertification. What is your administration doing to curb the ugly trend?
We have not received any kobo from the Ecological Fund. Sokoto is one of the frontline states especially on the issue of desert encroachment. It is all about deforestation and the solution is afforestation. We will partner with the ecological office and see how we can deploy it on a large scale afforestation programme in the state. So, that fund is not with us.
What is the government doing to attract foreign investment in the state?
We are doing a lot to attract foreign investment. Of course you cannot do anything if you don’t have power. Luckily in Sokoto, we have five sources of power such as solar, wind energy, hydro particularly in Goronyo dam that has the capacity to generate 30 mega watts of electricity. We are talking with the federal ministry of water resources for the possibility of concessioning the Goronyo dam. We have discovered coal in large quantity in the state and we are discussing with the ministry of solid mineral resources to ensure that people that have the capacity to develop the coal are actually given the allocation of the accreage.
You are also aware that we have large deposits of gas and petroleum in some parts of the state. The NNPC has done some surveys in the state and we are organising a big conference in January in collaboration with the Usmanu Danfodiyo University and Petroleum Trust Development Fund to see to the possibility of actually harnessing gas and petroleum resources. All of these we have available in Sokoto but of course this requires huge capital investment.We have a lot of people that indicated huge interest in all of these and we are working with them, it is a long term thing. There are lot of processes that are ongoing and it takes time. I believe we are doing our best.
When will the State Independent Power Plant commence operation?
We have done more than 80 percent of the job on the IPP project. Only few days ago, a committee under a former minister of power Alhaji Bello Suleiman, reviewed the project and made recommendation which was approved by the state’s executive ccouncil. The timeline for the completion of the project is between six and eight months but the problem is funding. We require about N1.7 billion to complete the project and we are talking to some of our bankers for us to get the money and release them on piecemeal to the contractors based on performance. But another main thing is that for us to even test- run it as a diesel- consuming machine, we will require N500 million worth of diesel to test- run it for a period of time. This is the cost of diesel required and that is what the experts told us. So, we are thinking of converting it to LPG so that we can get cheaper means of running the IPP. We have been receiving interested investors into that and they are coming to Sokoto to inspect the plant. So, we are committed to that and I can tell you that there is no way we will allow the huge funds invested to be wasted.
Tell us the progress made so far since the declaration of state of emergency in the education sector in the state?
The declaration of state of emergency in the education sector is still on course. Take your time and go to the Shehu Shagari College of Education and Sultan Abdulrahman School of Health Technology, what you will see there is a state of decay of infrastructure. The general state of infrastructure like libraries, laboratories and classrooms are in state of dilapidation in a lot of schools and this is because these concerns were not addressed in the past. If you remember that I recently received the report of the technical committee on the needs assessment of about 400 schools in Sokoto and we need about N47 billion to turn them around. I can tell you that we have no less than 2300 schools comprising primary and secondary in the state. This estimate is only covering about 400 schools. The funding gap is very high. We are approaching World Bank to see how we can get funding. We are aware of the level of dilapidation in the schools but we need a lot of resources to fix them. The general infrastructure of these schools such as laboratories, libraries, teachers accommodation, hostels are in dire need of attention.
Many farmers in the state could not access funds of the Anchor Borrower programme of the CBN, coupled with poor quality of wheat seeds. What is the government doing to support wheat farmers that incurred losses in the last farming season?
We had some challenges in the Anchor Borrower Programme, it is not a state government project but a federal government programme. It is a partnership between the bank and farmers. What the CBN does is to release funds to commercial banks for onward release to farmers. What the state government is supposed to do is to have a technical committee. We have been having challenges on release of funds by commercial banks. It seems commercial banks are not willing to fund agriculture in Nigeria for reasons best known to them and this is done deliberately. On the wheat seeds, we procured some of them and we are aware of the problems that our farmers encountered after harvest. We will indemnify wheat farmers especially those that suffered loss. We are partnering with some banks to ensure that we get timely release of funds to our farmers. Sokoto’s investment in agriculture is the highest in the country. We are working with our farmers.
We are also making efforts to attract direct foreign investment in the agricultural sector. We are still working with quite a number of investors that have been coming. Like I earlier said, you cannot just do it alone as a state, there are certain things you require from the federal government. Take for example, the issue of Sokoto Cattle Breeding programme which we are doing with some experts from Argentina.
For us to even get clearance to bring in the things we are going to use for the cattle breeding programme from the customs and the federal ministry of agriculturee has been difficult and it has taken a long time. We have adequately provided all we need for the project in terms of providing the fund, the land and training and retraining people that will manage the clusters but we have challenge with federal regulatory agencies. We always have difficulty in attracting foreign investment because of regulatory bottlenecks from federal agencies. I want to appeal to the federal government to look into these challenges because they are an impediment to attracting foreign direct investment especially in the agricultural sector.
The plan by Erisco Foods to establish Tomatoes factory in the state is still in progress. I think we gave Erisco Foods all the necessary incentive and support especially land. Erisco Foods has a serious challenge with getting funding and that is why we have not heard from the company. But we are still waiting for it to commence operations here. We gave land and other incentives but the company is having a challenge of raising funds to embark on the project.
We always have difficulty in attracting foreign investments because of regulatory bottlenecks from federal agencies.