Is Sokoto Really the Poorest State in Nigeria?

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Aminu Tambuwal

In response to the latest Nigerian Living Standards Survey report by the National Bureau of Statistics which ranks Sokoto as the poorest state in Nigeria, Chuks Okocha chronicles a steady stream of life-transforming programmes executed by Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State

The decision of Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State to go back home after his impactful tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives was not mere happenstance. It was a deliberate, well calculated and strategic move to assume the reins of power and tackle headlong the developmental challenges that have for long made his dear state the subject of negative reporting by the media. He felt the time for agonizing was over and that what was needed was well thought through plans and sustained actions to change the negative developmental indices.

On assuming office in 2015 he set up committees to look critically at different sectors. In no time they turned in their reports. Their findings were mind boggling. Virtually all the critical sectors were comatose. The economy was in a very bad shape. Due to paucity of funds and need to prioritize, he identified education, health and agriculture as critical sectors requiring immediate action. He also identified cross -cutting areas/concerns like poverty alleviation, youth and women empowerment for urgent and sustained attention and action.

Since the submission of the report of the committees and development of an implementation plan by the government, the charismatic, innovative and resourceful Governor has pursued his poverty alleviation policies and programmes with zeal. He has devised many strategies to tackle poverty headlong. No stone has been left unturned. The grassroots are feeling the impact. People are being systematically lifted out of poverty. It is ongoing and sustainable.

In 2017, the state government commenced the distribution of N250m to 25,000 women in the rural areas of Sokoto State. Each of the beneficiaries got a minimum of N10,000 to put into their small businesses.

In April 2017, 2000 women graduated from the specialised entrepreneurship training organised by the state government through the State Zakat and Empowerment Commission. The women, trained in 48 different small scale businesses, were presented with cash grants and other working tools to start their businesses.

Also in April 2017, 350 women and youths graduated from a skills acquisition program organised by the state government under its citizens empowerment initiative.

From 2015 to 2017, the Tambuwal administration created over 27,000 jobs in the agricultural sector. The government supported over 33,000 people through promotion of improved crop production techniques, para-veterinary clinics and women and youth off – farm activities. Similarly, through the community – based agric and rural development initiatives, the government created 27,166 jobs through different interventions on sustainable agriculture, community infrastructure, rural enterprise development, among others.

In June 2017, the Sokoto State Government established an Agency for Poultry Development to enable citizens of the state tap from the potential available in the sector. The agency has been equipping citizens with needed technical expertise to assist them in efforts to maximally benefit from the sector. The target is to engage about two million people in the sector in the next few years and increase production of poultry meat and eggs. This is a practical way of tackling poverty, especially among rural dwellers.

To boost commercial cultivation of select economic trees like Gum Arabic, Moringa, Dates and Shea Tree, the Sokoto State Government in 2017 allocated vast lands to farmers. Governor Tambuwal said this step was taken to encourage individuals to take the lead, make a success of the endeavour and ensure that the benefits gets to as many farmers as possible. “We’re opening up a new corridor in fighting poverty and unemployment. We will support our farmers with improved seeds and technical expertise to ensure the state derives maximum benefits from the venture.”

In February 2017, the state government released the sum of N1.2 billion for the payment of accumulated gratuity from the year 2010 for the staff of local government councils in Sokoto State.

In April 2017, Governor Tambuwal approved the release of six hundred and seventy seven million Naira (N677m) for the settlement of accumulated pensions of teachers and local government staff, as well as severance gratuity for former councillors in Sokoto State.

In 2017, the state government, in collaboration with the Nigeria Office of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) trained 100 former VVF patients in cosmetology with a view to empowering them economically. They were taught to take care of hair and skill, do makeup, and produce beauty products like soaps, perfumes/body spray, disinfectants and antiseptics. After their graduation, the women were given working tools and capital to enable them start their own businesses.

In 2017, 30 women graduated from the Women Skills Empowerment Program (WOSEP) organised by the Sokoto State Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and facilitated by the Industrial Training Fund (ITF). The women were taught modern methods of taking care of hair and skin, new techniques in makeup, and manufacture of beauty products like soaps, perfumes/body spray, disinfectants and antiseptics. At the end of their training, the women were given starter kits and capital to enable them start their own businesses in their various localities.

In 2018 the government procured thousands of units of sewing machines, grinding machines and additional 400 tricycles, known as KEKE NAPEP and distributed them across the state.

Also in 2018, the government distributed 3,500 motorised pasta – making machines for the use of women across the state.

The state government awarded contract for the construction of 250 solar powered water schemes which were sited in rural areas across the 23 local government councils of the state in 2018. The project which was completed in three months is part of government’s policy of opening up the rural areas and improving the standard of living of the people. The project consists of solar pumping system, control room, distribution system, borehole, 10,000 – litre capacity tank and security fence.

The same year, the state government entered into a partnership with the World Bank for the construction of 500km rural roads across the state. The state government promtly released its counterpart funding. The government keyed into the World Bank’s Rural Access Mobility Project (RAMP) do as to open up rural areas and enhance economic opportunities for rural dwellers.

The year 2018 has been very critical in Tambuwal’s life-changing policies, as it witnessed when the state government provided N500m as counterpart funding to UNICEF for the execution of its projects comprising the cash transfer scheme and other interventions.

In January 2018, Mallam Musa Lumu, Chairman, Gwadabawa Micro Finance Bank, Sokoto disclosed that more than 10,120 families had received government’s N15,000 monthly stipend aimed at enhancing girl-child education. The stipend supports the families’ economies so as to discourage parents from sending their children to hawk. It assists parents to provide kits and other minor demands that would enhance educational pursuit.

The state government collaborated with the Bank of Industry (BOI) to disburse the sum of N2 billion to support small scale businesses in the state. The government did not waste time in releasing its counterpart funding of N1 billion to BOI.

In 2018, the state government introduced additional incentives to Sokoto State farmers in a bid to boost the cultivation of wheat, sesame, garlic and onion in the state. These additional supports are in the form of loans and grants, training of farmers and extension workers in modern farming techniques, provision of free and improved seedlings, provision of fertilizer and pesticides and lease of equipment to boost production.

The state government has spent billions of Naira to subsidize fertilizer for its farmers. This is been done to give agriculture a major lift. Agriculture is the largest employer of labour and holds the key to taking majority of the citizens out of poverty.

The state government has attracted many investors to Sokoto State. Some have invested in the agricultural sector. The Aliko Dangote conglomerate is in the process of completing a Dangote Rice Factory in Sokoto, a world class rice milling factory sited at Runji village of Kware LGA that will produce 250,000 metric tones of rice. The vast land where the project is sited was allocated by the government.

The state government established the Contributory Healthcare Scheme aimed at putting ownership of healthcare in the hands of the people, especially low income earners.

Since the inception of his administration in 2015, Governor Tambuwal has prioritized and fully funded the Ramadan Feeding Programme. Under the programme, the poor are guaranteed meals during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Different strategies are normally adopted to ensure the success of the programme. The Ramadan Feeding was however taken a notch higher in 2020. The Committee headed by the Secretary to the Sokoto State Government, Alhaji Saidu Umar (Mallam Ubandoma Sokoto) adopted a different strategy and implemented the program with uncommon zeal. The committee massively distributed raw foodstuff, including rice and millet, to needy people in 155 feeding centres. This was a departure from the past when cooked food was distributed to the needy in each of the centres. The needy have been effusive in their praise of the committee’s efforts. In recognition of the excellent work of the committee, Governor Tambuwal mandated it to handle the 2021 Ramadan Feeding Programme.

In 2019, the state government, under its Zakkat and Waqf Scheme, spent N237.9 million to procure and distribute 9,100 bags of rice, bales of clothes and cash to 18,882 orphans and the needy.

In 2020, the government has so far distributed items worth N258.8 million to orphans and the needy under the Zakkat and Waqf Scheme aimed at fulfilling the obligations of one of the key pillars of Islam. The state government allocated the funds to the Zakkat Comission in order to enable it discharge its statutory role of assisting orphans, the indigent and the elderly in all the 23 local governments of the state.

The Tambuwal administration has commenced the distribution of N20,000 each to 1000 citizens (male and female) in every local government of the state. The government set aside the sum of N4 billion for the program. The program was initiated to assist needy people with capital to enhance their businesses and improve their living conditions.

The Sokoto State Government’s management of the palliatives programme in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic remains a model in Nigeria. It was implemented with a high sense of responsibility, compassion and accountability. There was a design. People of integrity were identified and placed in committees. Sokoto State election polling units were made the distribution centres. Every polling unit had a minimum of 300 beneficiaries. The committees carried out the distribution of the palliatives in a fair, just and equitable manner. It is an ongoing process/exercise. The people are delighted and have been heaping praises on their people friendly Governor.

The Tambuwal administration has consciously and deliberately been implementing key poverty reduction measures in Sokoto State. While pursuing economic growth and development it has adopted policies that provide incentives for using labour – intensive techniques. This is with a view to generating more employment opportunities and increasing productivity of labour. The administration has and continues to invest heavily in agriculture which is the biggest employer and the key to food security.

The administration has also been investing massively in infrastructure development which generates employment opportunities for the poor. Human resource development is one of the key priorities of the administration. Skill acquisition is been aggressively carried out to empower women and the youths. The trained women and youths either get self – employed or easily get wage employment. The government has also identified non – farm employment as one of the key ways of reducing poverty in the rural areas. It has created opportunities for indigent women and men to go into petty trading and making of handicrafts. For those involved in small scale farming and small scale businesses, the state government not only provides small capital and working tools to them, it also creates access to credit for them.

It is therefore in the context of these life uplifting measures which have been consistently pursued by the Sokoto State Government that we can properly situate Governor Tambuwal’s response to the April 2020 Nigerian Living Standards Survey (NLSS) report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) covering the year 2019, which listed Sokoto State as the poorest state in Nigeria.

His response was pointed and thought provoking: “I do not intend to join issues with the NBS, but I appeal to them to come clear on their variable(s) and how they do their assessments of poor states in Nigeria; and then how they arrived at Sokoto being the poorest.”

“We know that, as a matter of fact, that something must be fundamentally defective and wrong with their processes and the outcome of those processes,” Tambuwal emphasized.

“When you look at the programmes we are implementing in Sokoto state, they are people-friendly. They are promoting and supporting the vulnerable, the poorest of the poor.”

The question is, has the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) been rehashing old figures? Have they been unable to go into the field to update their knowledge of the issues, dynamics and realities? Are their findings based on perception instead of collected data? Or is NBS playing politics with figures? Has it turned a purely scientific endeavour into a political tool in furtherance of interests alien to progress and development?

There is a legitimate demand the Sokoto State Government may want to make in relation to the NBS Survey Result. The state can request for a revalidation of the process to remove all suspicions of manipulation. There must be avenues and mechanisms through which people or states can ventilate their dissatisfaction with a survey result or report. In respect of National Census, there is a Census Tribunal. The National Bureau of Statistics may do well to make known its institutional mechanism for revalidation of survey findings. Since the variables used are shrouded in secrecy, its findings will continue to be trailed by controversy.

Whatever the interest of NBS is, the facts and figures on ground indicates that Governor Tambuwal has been making steady progress in lifting the citizens of Sokoto State out of poverty. He is empowering them economically, equipping them with skills and techniques, and growing the local economy in a way never done before. Development partners attest to his strong political will and drive. The people are in love with him and have been thanking the Almighty God for the gift of this Economic Emancipator. The People’s Governor is determined to expand the frontiers of his achievements. He wants to set a standard that no future Sokoto State Governor will attempt to lower, except he/she wants to incur the wrath of the citizens.

Governor Tambuwal is a man of destiny. His people friendly policies and programmes are daily touching the lives of the underprivileged, the vulnerable and the underserved. For him, the people are the centre of development. His efforts are bearing fruits. Smiles are returning to the faces of Sokoto citizens. That’s what matters to the Chief Servant of the people, not NBS’s misleading and exaggerated statistics.

QUOTE

Governor Tambuwal’s response to the April 2020 Nigerian Living Standards Survey (NLSS) report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) covering the year 2019, which listed Sokoto State as the poorest state in Nigeria was pointed and thought provoking: “I do not intend to join issues with the NBS, but I appeal to them to come clear on their variable(s) and how they do their assessments of poor states in Nigeria; and then how they arrived at Sokoto being the poorest. We know that, as a matter of fact, that something must be fundamentally defective and wrong with their processes and the outcome of those processes,” Tambuwal emphasized