Many States in Financial Crises… While North is Searching for Oil – Gov. Babangida Aliyu

Gov. Babangida Aliyu of Niger State
In spite of his tight official schedules as Governor of Niger State as well as Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum, Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu granted the Economic Confidential an exclusive interview on various economic issues.

Born on November 12, 1955, Aliyu who is in his second tenure as Governor is an alumnus of the Bayero University Kano as well as the University of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, USA where he got a PhD in Public Policy and Strategic Studies at the age of 35 in 1989.

Formerly a teacher and a career civil servant, he rose to become a Federal Permanent Secretary in 1999 at the age 44. He had worked in various Ministries including Youth and Sports; Cabinet Secretariat, FCDA, National Planning, Transport, Establishment and Pension Matters. He had also served as served chairman and member of Federal Parastatals and agencies, while in the public service. In this interview granted to the Economic Confidential this brilliant, intelligent and workaholic governor, popularly referred to as Chief Servant Leader, talks on various political and economic issues affecting his state, the North and Nigeria as a whole. Excerpt:

EC: How is the journey so far as the Executive of Niger State in the last five years?
It has been very  very challenging especially when you realise where we are coming from. A state created in 1976 but still crawling so we have to provide the necessary antidote to ensure the state not only walks but run as fast as possible to be able to meet up with others in the country. We have to put a lot of infrastructure in place for the state, we have to reposition the civil service to enable it play its role as the engine that will move the state forward. Financially the state depends almost 100% on funds from the federation account, this has been our major headache because the money from Abuja is not enough to meet the huge salary bills the government has to contend with every month, so we have to seek alternative sources of funding our programmes and projects in order to fulfil our promises to the electorate.

EC: What are the other challenges you have?
Another major challenge we have to face is the huge number of unemployed graduates. When we ask parents to send their wards to school and they responded only for these children not to get job after graduating it is not a fair deal so government has to find a way to solve the unemployment problem. So far we have engaged over 8000 graduates of Polytechnics, Colleges of Education and Universities some into mainstream civil service some as teachers while we assist others to get job placement in federal institutions and in the private sector. To accelerate the development of the state we have to introduce the Ward Development Programme. This is a scheme through which we give a minimum of N1m to each of the 274 wards in the state on monthly basis for the execution of projects that is dear to the people. Through this novel idea we have been able to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the people all over the state. Let me confess that it has not been easy but we are determined to forge ahead because this is why people gave us their votes in the first place.     
 
EC: What are the major economic and socio-political developments that you could attribute to success of your administration in the state?
If we have succeeded it is the people that will judge. Ours it to try our best and allow posterity to judge us. To answer your question one of the ways we have been able to do what we are doing is to plug all areas of wastages especially in the collection of revenue, we have mounted a vigorous campaign to make people to pay their taxes and they are responding. We have pruned down the number of political appointees as a way of saving cost. We have continued to screen the state workforce to ensure that only genuine workers earn salaries in the state. We have been able to discover a lot of ghost workers and expunged them from the payroll we still believe that there are more and we will continue to carry out staff verifications until the civil service is sanitized. You will be surprised that when we started the biometric exercise not less than 6000 ghost workers were discovered on the payroll in the state civil service, the same number has been discovered in the 25 local government areas. This is not good enough for a poor state like ours. We also introduced the Due Process office which vets all contracts before they are awarded to ensure contract sums conforms with prevailing market prices, We have passed the fiscal responsibility law. We have a good working relationship with arms of government especially the State House of Assembly, our legislators have been very cooperative which I believe is responsible for whatever achievement we have recorded. This government is people centred, we allow people to contribute to governance. Through the Jamaa forum which we introduced government reach out to the people and the people contribute to governance I must also confess that some of our state and federal legislators have been contributing to the socio economic development of the state through the execution of constituency projects.

EC: What is happening to the establishment of HYPPADEC?
The issue of HYPPADEC is a long one dating back to the Presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. HYPPADEC was conceived to serve a solution to the problems of people in the riverine areas in Niger, Kebbi Kogi and Kwara state. People in these areas are always subjected to flooding year in year out as a result of the opening of the spill way gates of the Hydroelectric dams in Jebba Kainji and Shiroro. The House of Representatives first passed the bill waiting for the Senate to concur. However until President Obasanjo left the stage the bill passed was not assented to. President Goodluck Jonathan later assented to this bill but that is as far has the bill has gone. What we hear is that it has not been gazetted because the President assented to it after the 2012 appropriation bill was submitted to the national assembly for passage. We hope that the 2013 appropriation bill will accommodate HYPPADEC. However I must inform you that implementation of HYPPADEC is one of the campaign promises of President  Goodluck Jonathan to the people of Niger state. I strongly believe that he will fulfil this promise. 

EC: As the Chairman of Northern Governor Forum, how true is it that states are financially broke and cannot meet their statutory functions?
It is not only states in the Northern part of the country that are not in position to meet all their financial obligations virtually all states in the Federation apart from probably Lagos and states in the Niger Delta areas are in the same boat. The situation has been compounded by the introduction of a new minimum wage for workers in all the states of the country irrespective of the fact that we are in a federation and the poor internally generated revenue base of most states after the payment of salaries. Most states have little or nothing to use for other projects. States have been looking for other sources of funds to enable them meet their obligations. Some states have gone to the capital market to get money to finance capital projects dear to the people while others recourse to loans from commercial banks. This is why we have been asking that the Revenue Allocation Formula should be reviewed. As the case is now there is too much money at the centre so we need to change the position because it is in the states and local government areas that we have the people .I will still want the revenue allocation formula to be reviewed if for nothing it has outstayed its usefulness especially when it is the law that it should be reviewed every 10 years.

EC: What can you say about the oil sector of the economy?
We also want the federal government to closely monitor revenue from oil since this is what most of us depend on. Nobody today can tell you the exact amount of money accruing to the country from oil nobody knows the barrel of oil we exporting and at what cost. The revelation from the House of Representatives probe into the fuel subsidy matter is an eye opener. I want the Federal Government to immediately begin the prosecution of those indicted and ensure that amount illegally got is retrieved and given to all arms of government. In a nut shell I can say categorically that we don’t have enough resources to meet all our obligations to the people that voted us into office.

EC: How do you view the political crises, especially communal clashes and attacks in some parts of the North?
It is unfortunate that this problem has persisted for this long. At first we believe that it was religion but with the dimension it has taken we need to carry out a thorough investigation into those behind these frequent attacks which has not only turned the North Eastern part of the country to ghost states and towns. One thing I know is that the communal clashes and frequent bomb blasts portends great danger for Nigeria as a country. Now you can see people moving in large numbers from one part of the country to the other this is not the type of country we want. We want a country where people will live in peace with one another irrespective of their place of birth or religious beliefs.

EC: How do you think those issues could address?
We have tried force it has not shown that it will work so the only other option left is dialogue. The authorities should open serious avenue for dialogue with the leaders of those behind this act. In the Niger Delta the country initially tried force, it never worked but when the option of dialogue was employed we are able to secure peace in the region and by inference in the entire country. So if we embark on genuine discussion with the leaders I believe all this problem will be solved permanently.

EC: As an intellectual and one of the most respected governors coming from the civil service with background in the academia, what are your blueprint for economic development of the Northern states and the nation as a whole?
When I assumed office in 2007,we quickly put together a document called the Developmental Action Plan(DAP).The DAP document metamorphosed into what is now called the Vision 3:2020 document, our blueprint for developing Niger State. It simply spells out our challenges, opportunities and how we can leverage on our resources to become one of the top three most developed state economies in Nigeria by the year 2020. As for the entire region, our forum is now more focused to facilitate development process. We have organized various fora aimed at attracting investments to the region and achieving functional development process through integration. We commenced the process with an initiative that is aimed at bridging the educational gap between the North and South through the resolve by the State Governors to implement outcomes of the Northern Education Summit convened in 2010. The forum has organized several other summits as a roadmap towards revitalizing key sectors of the region’s economy.

EC: You are once quoted to have stated that the North has enormous resources for self-sustenance and contribution to the National Economy, what are those resources and how could they be harnessed?
Yes the North is blessed with a lot of human and material resources which if well harnessed will boost the economy of the region and contribute to the growth of the National economy too. For instance it is no longer a hidden fact that we have oil in the Chad basin we also have oil in the Bida basin in Niger state. We have not made any serious effort to tap this resources. We in Niger state have commissioned the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida university at Lapai to carry out a survey of the Bida basin for the presence of oil and so far the report we are getting is cheering. We have other mineral resources all over the place but you know to tap them is capital intensive .This is why we need peace in the North and Nigeria as a whole for foreign investors to come in and assist in tapping these hidden mineral resources. I think states should collaborate for the exploitation of these resources. Where one state cannot succeed I believe a conglomerate of two or more states will have the financial strength to embark on this type of capital intensive projects.

EC: Before the discovery of oil, the North was known to have a strong agricultural base which was used to sustain the nation and even have allied products exported, what went wrong and how can that be redeemed?
ANS-This is something that everyone knows, the discovery of oil made all of us to go for the oil money leaving the farmlands that have provided the resources for the development of this country. Consequently the groundnut pyramids disappeared and the cotton fields that fed the textile factories no longer exist because most of our people moved to the southern part of the country in search of oil money. Those that remained behind refuse to go to the farms they become emergency oil contractors and owners of petrol filling stations. Presently farming is no longer attractive and financially rewarding this why most of our youths have refused to go back to the farm. The only way out is for more emphasis to be placed on farming by governments. Mechanization of agriculture is the solution because more hectares of land will be cultivated and in the long run farms will reap bumper harvest and record beautiful returns for their investments.

EC: You may recall some of the legacies of Sardauna? What are you and your colleague Northern governors’ forum doing to resuscitate them, especially those that have economic potentials and empowerment?
The Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF) under my leadership has taken deliberate steps aimed at resuscitating ailing industries in the North. We have embarked on initiatives that will lead to restoration of agriculture as the main stay of the region’s economy through a comprehensive agricultural policy that aims at full mechanization of agricultural production processes, provision of irrigation facilities, creating access to finance and markets, land reforms, and agro input subsidy mechanism. These efforts are to empower the local farmers across the states of the region. Additionally, on another front, we are rescuing the Northern Nigeria Development Company (NNDC), through facilitating access of private placement financing from Northern investors and the capital market to fund the company’s development projects. Concerted effort is also being made to resuscitate the New Nigerian Newspapers to enable it compete favourably in the changing media world. The establishment of the Sardauna Memorial Foundation is therefore at the heart of the efforts to revamp the economy of the region by repositioning it to compete favourably in a federation that has made a slothful drift towards a mono-product economy. We have been working assiduously in fashioning out ways of arresting the high incidence of poverty, unemployment and other forms of anti-social activities such as ethno-religious conflicts, thuggery and hopelessness.

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