Sule: Our Target is to Ramp up Nassarawa’s IGR

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ABDULLAHI SULE

Nassarawa State Governor Mr. Abdullahi Sule, during an interactive session with journalists in Lagos, spoke on efforts by his administration to industrialise the state and make it self-sustaining as well as to increase its internally generated revenue generation. The former Managing Director of Dangote Dangote Sugar Refinery said his target is to position the state as one of the top 10 in terms of revenue generation by 2023. Peter Uzoho brings the excerpts:

You have been in the saddle as Nassarawa State Governor for 10 months now, tell us about the projects you are carrying out to industrialise the state?

Well, when I came into office I met a lot of ongoing projects. The moment I came in, the Chairman of Azman came to me and said it would be nice for his company to come to Nassarawa State and set up some kind of businesses in support of my person and office as governor. I said agriculture would be ideal. He agreed to invest in agriculture and I said rice would be perfect and we promised to offer him land. Of course he did. They have done their soil test, their topography test, water level test and the rest of that. Now, they are getting ready to mobilise and commence farming. They have paid the compensation for land to the people for 14,000 hectares of land and that project, the Azman Rice Farms is about to take off. So, they are just mobilising equipment to site.

So that is one project, I will say that we started from ground zero. However, we also met some other ones on ground like the Dangote project. We met that Dangote had acquired about 6,000 hectares of land in Tunga, which had already been cleared and roughly about 1500 hectares of land had already been planted with sugar cane. Since we came, we went massively to work with the Dangote project. Today, over 5, 000 hectares of land have been cleared and they are employing people massively into the farm. They have also mobilised lots of equipment to the site and they are getting ready to work on the construction of the factory itself. So, that is the second one, which we consolidated and ensured it is ongoing. We also met the another company, Olam, that had been working. And Olam, had roughly about 3,800 hectares of land for rice production and had employed roughly about 2,000 out-growers. So we came in and joined hands with them. They are now working on a larger scale with roughly about 10,000 hectares of land that has been cleared and they are in the process of planting in the whole area and employing more people. So that is on the agricultural side. There are a lot of other companies. For instance, in Keffi, there is a company called Newpal. The company came in with the intention of processing agricultural produce. So, we worked with them and encouraged them. I inaugurated the Newpal Automated Agri processing project in Keffi. And, today they are processing corn and they have employed many of our people. We are also working with the Flour Mills of Nigeria. They have come in.

They are going to take about 20,000 hectares of land for cassava. So they had already gone to the site, they have acquired most of the other areas, getting ready right now to do their final survey of the land, so they can identify which areas they would do road construction, which area will be what. I even met with the Flour Mills’ Group Managing Director, recently, to finalise issues about that area. So in a nutshell, those are the major ones we have worked on. But we are still attracting some other companies that will come in to invest in agriculture and other areas.

From the government side, we have worked very strongly where we are now lucky.

Nassarawa is one of the three states in the federation that have been selected and are going in for the National Livestock Transformation Project (NLTP). The National Economic Council has already approved it and we are now working on getting the National Executive Council to approve for the release of the funds, so that we can now start the project. Three sites have been identified in the state. There is a site in Wamba Local Government Area. There is a site in Awe Local Government Area, and there is a site in Nassarawa Local Government Area itself. There are additional sites both in Lafia, in Karu Local Government that we will be looking into. Right now the three are the ones we are working on. These are going to be huge sites. Each one will not be less than 7,000 to 8,000 hectares of land, that is going to address the issue of our own security in the state. Once we take care of the issue of security, because all the cattle will now be provided with grazing area. And in the grazing area there will be water, there will be special grass for grazing, there will be schools, security post, clinic for the people, so that we can now gather the Fulanis and the herders in those particular areas. So there will be no more open grazing routes. By the time you do that, that side is also going to be a site. There will also be no roaming all over the state of the various cattle. There will be an abattoir in the area. So, it will be a site where you can actually go and buy meat, buy milk, buy butter and the rest of them. There will be processing activities also within the same zone.

Those are the kind of things we are going to be doing in the different sites in Nassarawa State. That is also part of the industrialisation on the government side. And the extension of the agric again from the government side, we are working with the CBN and NIRSAL to empower our youths. We are working on a N1.5 billion loan that is going to come from the CBN at a single digit rate. Again, land has already been identified in Nassarawa State around Doma Local Government Area, and that land is going to be purely for the youths that will be operating more like an out-grower scheme. An area will be given to each group of the youth. Then they will carry out the farming and whatever they farm, they are selling to an off-taker. If it is rice, they have Olam that can buy, we have Dangote Rice that can buy. If it is sugar cane, we have Dangote that can buy. If it is cassava, we have Four Mills that can buy. Those are the kind of areas that we are working on now. That I think is mostly the concentration on the part of businesses and the agriculture and the rest of them.

How are you tackling power challenge in the state?

Power is one of the areas that we have worked very strongly with the federal government. There is the major 390KVA power substation that we also came and met. Now they are working with the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC). The project itself is almost 95 per cent completed. Once completed it will have six lines. Two of them will be dedicated to Lafia itself, one is going to Akwanga, one is going to Doma, one is going to Asakin area, and one is going to Kana-Awe axis. Right now, they are doing what they call line-in-Line-out. When the main line comes, we have to drop the line and then we have to also u bundle the line, so that it will drop and then take off. That is the only aspect of the contract that has not yet been completed. But the main project itself has been completed. Once that is done then there will be regular power supply in Lafia. But some of these projects that we have mentioned don’t even require national grid. Take the sugar project of Dangote for instance, that project is going to now generate its one power. You know, sugar cane, once you take the cane itself and extract the watery part, then the solid part of it becomes fuel that you can actually use to generate power. Dangote project, once completed will generate about 98 megawatts of power on its own. They don’t need 98MW, so what they will do is that they will use about half of that, the remaining half they will have to send it to the national grid, or they now draw lines that will go around the area. But there are no major projects around the area to take another 40MW of power. So it has to go the national grid, because for most of the villages, 2MW will be more than enough for them.

Are you into any partnership with the Rural Electrification Agency, to enhance access to electricity in Nasarawa State through renewable energy?

Yes, we have established the rural and renewable energy partnership with them. We have registered as one of the states. However, we are also doing two kilometres solar power in every Local Government Area and we have already completed that. So now in every LGA we have two kilometres and we are using the new system that doesn’t have battery and coil alone and the rest of that. It is a single unit.

Nassarawa State is blessed with a lot of solid minerals, are you tapping into that to grow your revenue?

Definitely. We have started tapping into that. There are some companies that are doing solid minerals operations in Nassarawa State that had not paid any taxes, any tenement rate, any dine up till. In fact, the biggest solid minerals conference that takes place in Africa, that is, Mining Indaba, which takes place in Cape Town, I was the only governor that went. That will tell you how I am interested in solid minerals. So I went, the Minister of Solid Minerals was there, so many miners from Nigeria were there. So many financiers around the world were there. So we were there. That is one. Two, we took the case of solid minerals to NEC in the last meeting. Because, you see, the solid minerals themselves belong to the federal government, but the land belongs to the state. So, what the companies had done in order to exploit people, what the ministry requires is nothing but what they call Consent Letter. So, they just go ahead and then obtain the consent letter. They go to one community, divide the community into two, give this one N500,000, this one N2 million, and then they will give them the consent letter, and then they will show it to the ministry and obtain their letter and then they will come and start mining. The state will not even be aware of what is happening. So we took this matter to NEC and our Chairman at NEC, Mr. Vice President, a very intelligent guy who understands all these legal issues and very fair person also. He said no, it is not right. So, he set up a committee and I am a member of that committee, to review how licences will be given to people henceforth. So we are working on that. One of the things we achieved was that no licence will be given and if one was given in the past that licence becomes null and void.

The reason is, no licence will be given until the original land owner gives a consent. So, by extension, no mining licence will be given unless the state government is in the picture. And also we have been going round most of the mining activities. I have a very strong commissioner for environment, who is responsible for that. So he is going there. In fact, we have N15 million for tenement rate that we have not paid for the past seven years. So we are going to pay now’, this and that. He is a man, and I want to even see what is there. Some people when they hear he is coming, they will come and pay. So that is what we have been going through. I’m not just looking at the revenue that is coming to the state, I am trying to see the entire business plan. How do you want to reclaim the area after the mining activity is done? How many people have you employed? What is your development plan? How much CSR are you going to do for the local communities? What are you building? A school, a clinic, are you giving them scholarships? Are you providing boreholes for them for water because you are already contaminating their environment? What are you doing to protect the environment in case of any environmental hazards? What is the protection against some diseases that may come 15, 20 years from now and this and that? So that is what we are checking properly, rather than just taking tenement rent and all that from them.

With the impact of COVID-19 on the crude oil market and other economic activities, and considering how challenging Nassarawa State’s FAAC allocation is, especially in terms of paying salaries and all that, what other areas are you looking at to generate more revenue to run the state?

In fact, the civil servants in the state call me a revenue governor. Because they strongly believe I spend so much time trying to make the state independent by generating revenue. Nassarawa State is so lucky that if you have revenue income of anywhere between N3 billion to N4 billion a month, the state is self-sustaining, it can survive on its own. That is how lucky we are. So, I kept telling them that my aim now is to see how we can be generating that. So, we started by consolidating all our revenues. And like you mentioned, every area you find in that place, from Masaka, all the way to Nyanya at the border, you will see businesses upon businesses. Somebody is generating revenue from them and pocketing it. It is not that revenue is not being generated. There are markets there that you can generate anywhere between N15 million and N20 million a day from them. People are generating that and pocketing it. So, the first thing we did on assumption was to ensure that we consolidate all our revenue sources. We appointed a commissioner responsible for revenue. His own focus is to do revenue. We constituted a committee also that is being chaired by that commissioner.

The aim is to ensure that we generate revenue. We went around and identified the major buildings that were not being tenanted. We tried to find out why they were not being tenanted, they said they had not got their documents, they had outstanding, they had their C of Os, and all that. We asked our geographical information agency to go ahead and process the documents. We processed and signed and gave to them. So, today, we have actually grown past five states in revenue generation, because our revenue generation has grown almost twice what we used to generate, and that’s not my target. My target actually is to see that we are one of the top 10 states in the country, then I will be comfortable that we are now generating revenue. We used to be number 33, 34, but today, we are around 27, 28, that’s where we are. As I said, by the next two, three years, our target is to be among the top 10. Once we are there, and the moment you begin to generate about N3 billion to N4 billion, we will be one of the top 10. So that is actually the direction that we are going and we have different areas to do that.