Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State has set for himself a high target that demands single-minded pursuit of excellence, with his dream to make the state Nigeria’s version of the much talked about Silicon Valley
A few months ago, it would have been right to describe Nasarawa as one of the states in the backwaters of Nigeria. Without bias to the pioneering efforts of her first governor at the return to civil rule in 1999, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, who is serving his third consecutive tenure, after serving out two terms as chief executive, the state is still struggling to emerge from the woods. Adamu tried to take advantage of the proximity of the state to the Federal Capital Territory by stimulating economic activities in places like Karu, but the necessary vigour to follow through with the initial plans was lacking. Even the attempt to draw attention to the tourism potentials of Farin Ruwa (the White Waterfalls), a natural attraction, was at best, half-hearted.
The current governor, Abdullahi Sule, an engineer, is looking in a different direction. He was a dark horse in the race for the Government House, which he won, first to represent his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and eventually in the general election. Only one strong factor recommended Sule when he ran for governor, the perception that he will manage the state well after being the helmsman at Dangote Group of Companies, Nigeria’s biggest indigenously owned enterprise. On the strength of that alone, people of Nasarawa and other Nigerians in distant lands were willing to place a bet on him. While it is too early to say whether the Nasarawa state governor will end well, early pointers indicate that he is heading in the right direction.
If there is one Nigerian governor who is likely to spring a pleasant surprise with a rounded course of development, it is Sule. His trump card being the massive deployment of ICT in every facet of operation in the state. His most urgent persuasion is to turn around the fortune of Nasarawa State for good with the help of technology. He believes this can be done. While many states and their governors are sleeping (or at best dealing tokenism on information technology), Sule is honest enough to admit that his is one of the disadvantaged states on the lower rungs of the Federal Revenue Allocation Ladder, with an inglorious reputation of producing many of the commercial motorcycle riders on Lagos roads. This is one of the uncomplimentary status that Sule is in a hurry to change and believes that the fastest way to the top of the ladder is through a groundbreaking engagement of ICT.
For Sule, these are the days of sowing in tears. His ICT recruits are bent over in deep studious sessions, acquiring diverse knowledge in various institutions of learning across the world. One glorious morning, the world may wake up to find that Nigeria’s version of the much talked about Silicon Valley is sitting pretty in Nasarawa State. But the governor knows this won’t be achieved with the N3.6 billion he gets monthly from the federal government. A high target such as he has set for himself demands a single-minded pursuit of excellence. Coming to the office of governor from the top echelon of the private sector, the onerous challenge is to change the prevalent civil service mentality of taking things slow and easy. It is not clear which of the 13 local government areas that constitutes the state will function as the hub of the state’s ICT revolution, but may be safe to say that the state capital, Lafia will not be lacking.
Priding herself as the ‘Home of Solid Minerals’, Nasarawa can boast of large deposits of Cassiterite, Gemstone, Amethyst, Berly, Chrysolite, Emerald, Garnet, Sapphire, Topaz, Barytes, Galena, Salt, Monazite, Zircon, Glass sand and Coal, which if gainfully mined can transform the state to a multi-trillion Naira economy.
“Nasarawa state is a little bit disadvantaged when it comes to idea of ICT because a lot of people were comfortable with what they were going through. I think some are still comfortable with the way they are going because they have not seen the opportunities of the digital world,” said Sule with an understanding of the reality on ground and what he must do to achieve the desired transformation.
“It’s part of my responsibility of serving the state to be able to bring the state to the level of digitalization that is happening around the world so people will understand the need for that.”
Only a few months in the saddle as governor of Nasarawa State, Sule’s bold investment in ICT has caught the attention of eagle eyed players in the sector like the Certified Institute of Cooperatives and Social Enterprise Management (CICOSEMA) that inducted him as a fellow of the institute at a very succinct event at Radisson Blu Hotel in Ikeja-Lagos presided by the President of CICOSEMA, Professor Kehinde Olusegun.
Sule, again, brought to the fore his passion for ICT as a tool for development. He said, “What we need in Nasarawa state is actually partnership in area of training our people and partnership in area of support so we can take it to the next level. With the direction we are going, I strongly believe we will get support. I have had a meeting with Microsoft at its headquarters in Washington. I also met with the leadership of Bill Gates Foundation purely on help and other issues that have to do with education and agriculture. I believe that those are the experiences we should bring to our people. I believe in Nigeria and I believe in every aspect of Nigeria and I believe even the disabled should be given the same opportunity.”
Expressing willingness of CICOSEMA to work with the Nasarawa governor, the CICOSEMA President stated his commitment. “You have confirmed that you want to go the ICT way. We are resolute to follow you in that direction. What we have proposed to do is to see a situation where you can see the entire state right from your table. The asset of the state will be captured in such manner that informed decisions can be taken, security wise, also we intend to have a completely integrated system. I know it will work in Nasarawa state. This project has been tagged ‘Much Smarter Nasarawa State’, because we know that with you, we will have a much smarter Nasarawa state, with this partnership. It’s instructive to quickly bring to this table, our extant laws are clear that you pay taxes not where you work but where you reside, but today people are in Mararaba, Nyanya then they go and pay taxes in Abuja and then return to be a liability on Nasarawa state and it’s our view that it should not continue.”
Justifying the working relationship between CICOSEMA and Nasarawa, Olusegun stated, “Nobody is going to hand it over to you on a platter of gold. We need to put a structure in place that ensures that the system itself makes the demand. Now is the time, especially when you have someone in the saddle who understands the business. The challenge of any state today is finance. Good intentions don’t just happen like that, they happen when actions are taken. Therefore it is our view that actions should be taken and we are determined to give all the support. We need to look inwards, those funds are there but they are in the hands of the wrong people.
We must create a system that makes the official demand to ensure that these things are done. You do not require fresh legislation. The legislation are there. We have looked at the laws in the state and the laws at national level and we can see a Nasarawa state that can do better than it’s doing today and all you require is to bring in more people to give you the support that you require while you provide the required leadership.”
Explaining the ICT thrust of his adminstration, Sule noted, “This government is focused on improving our data and information. We have invited a couple of consultants, what is lacking in Nasarawa state you have captured it, it’s not the law, the law is there to guide us and protect us but what we are missing completely in Nasarawa state is implementation of that law and more importantly actual enforcement of that law. We are missing the two. Therefore, we are missing the most important aspects of accountability.
Some of these revenues are being generated but they go into individual pockets, so now we try to ensure that we consolidate all the revenue generation and you know those who are benefiting will resist. Just like the president will say, as you’re fighting corruption, corruption will fight you back. I will tell you straight away that we are ready to partner with you. Before I came, the past administration had made huge investments in area of land management. Over N6 billion was invested in management of lands. If you go and see the kind of software we have, the first day I saw it, the entire Dangote doesn’t have anything close to that-the hardware support, the power standby are just enormous . It’s somebody who has the concept that decided to do that. So when I came in, I tried to ensure that all the investments made using the resources of Nasarawa state should not be wasted.”
Governor Sule has also been honoured as ‘the Most Outstanding Award for Digital Capacity Initiative for Economic Transformation’ on the platform of the award, tagged ‘Africa Digital Heroes Award’ now in its 20th year. The award is designed to celebrate and recognise individuals, organisations, institutions and initiatives that have advanced the Nigerian/African digital space in the past 20 years and a new initiative that is considered iconic in the ICT ecosystem within this period.
Receiving the award, the governor reiterated his promise to establish systems, processes and institutions that will enhance transparency, probity and accountability in the management of state resources in line with international best practices. His dream is that by the time he is rounding up his first tenure, Nasarawa State will be among the top three competitive states in the country by 2023 in terms of sustained accelerated growth, increased economic opportunities and prosperity, social inclusion and improved quality of live of the citizenry.”
Nasarawa state is a little bit disadvantaged when it comes to idea of ICT because a lot of people were comfortable with what they were going through. I think some are still comfortable with the way they are going because they have not seen the opportunities of the digital world,” said Sule with an understanding of the reality on ground and what he must do to achieve the desired transformation