Alhaji Muhammad Badaru Abubakar took over from Alhaji Sule Lamido as governor of Jigawa State on May 29, 2015. In this interview, the businessman-turned-politician speaks on the challenges he met in Jigawa, why he’s yet to prosecute his predecessor and other issues. Excerpts:
You’ve been on the saddle for over nine months. What would you say you’ve focused on so far?
My main agenda is to change the economic dynamics of Jigawa State. This’s why I pledged to continue with the projects I inherited from my predecessor. I also wouldn’t mind working for somebody to come and take the credit. All I want is the development of Jigawa in particular and Nigeria in general. I want to empower my people to graduate from subsistence farming to using modern tools for agriculture; and find market for them to sell their produce outside the state and beyond.
How do you intend to achieve these, considering your dwindling revenue?
Since we came into office, we have managed to shrink spending. The budget for Government House has shrunk by 70 per cent. Hospitability spending and virtually all other expenditures of the state have shrunk. Contrary to what used to happen in the state, when some people used to charter flight amounting up to N20m every month, we do not charter today. We do not spend close to one quarter of that amount. I came from the private sector. I know for us to change the situation of our people, you have to change the economic dynamics of the state. If you check our internally generated revenue (IGR) profile, we are generating little or nothing. It is nothing to write home about.
Therefore, we’re making effort to change the unfortunate situation. We’re trying to change the economic dynamics of Jigawa State by creating a sustainable environment for businesses. We believe the only way to do this is through agriculture where we have comparative advantage. We have invited Alhaji Aliko Dangote who is doing massive rice production in a part of the state. There are others, who are into tomato production.
Many people think of getting investors from far places when they have people close to them. That’s why I’m collaborating with Dangote. He has invested in many African countries and I’m happy that he is investing in Jigawa. Indigenes of Jigawa should seize this opportunity of investing in this investor friendly state which has land mass, airport and potential for growth. We also want to develop massive sugarcane production. Analysis has shown that we have to access how to improve our yield from 2.5 tons per hectare while the world average is between 7 to over 8 tons per hectare.
You’ve spoken of major investors, what about the local farmers?
We also believe in empowering people, but the structure we inherited is not sustainable. Our major focus is to create local economy that’ll in the near future support the state. Oil has no future; prices will continue to fall. New technologies are coming up and will always ensure that oil is not sustainable. We’re also looking at enhancing our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) through taxation. We must ensure that necessary taxes are collected and properly remitted to government coffers. Before now, many people defrauded the state.
We have cases of serious misunderstanding between governors and their predecessor and this has affected governance. How did you manage your situation, considering the fact that you took over from a PDP governor?
Well, it’ll interest you to know that I’m the only governor who after taking over, under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) left the PDP chairmen of local governments in their positions; about 25 of them, and two caretaker committee chairmen that we inherited from the past administration. When I came in, I told them to continue with their work, contrary to the expectation of even members of the opposition.
Does that mean you had positive relationship with your predecessor?
I’m the only governor that has not accused my predecessor of embezzlement.
Does that mean all was well during his tenure?
There may be allegations here and there, but you cannot say somebody stole when there is no proof of the allegation. Unless the law court declares someone guilty, you cannot do so on the basis of hear-say.
How was the government when you took over?
I inherited N16m only from my predecessor. We met huge liabilities, with too many works in progress in a shrinking economy. I have continued with the projects on ground. I am not the kind of person who believes in initiating new projects and abandoning the ones that were started by my predecessor. We are working for the good of our state and our people. I rather complete the projects and let somebody take the credit rather than lose the people’s money or allow the resources to waste.
How’ve you been driving the economy?
Jigawa is a Civil Service state and once salaries are not paid, the groundnut seller in town will quickly feel it. We have continued to pay salaries despite the shrinking resources. What we did as soon as we came into office was to plug some holes through which people were siphoning money from government. Through the biometric exercise we conducted, a lot of ghost workers were discovered.
It means that some people were making themselves rich every month by collecting salaries of workers that did not exist. We have been able to block that. The state government supported some local governments last month to the tune of N226m for them to pay salaries; that’s to show you how bad the situation is. A lot of my colleagues can’t even pay salaries, so we still consider ourselves lucky to be able to do so.
What of the notion that government salary is the driving force of the economy in Jigawa State?
Yes of course. I’m a civil servant and lately a business man. The truth is government salary is the economic base of my state. This’s why I told you that my agenda is not a smokescreen but a real one, which is to turn-around the economic base of the state through diversifying from one to many means of income generation for the people to produce.
Most of your people, including businessmen and politicians, hardly live in Dutse, the state capital. What are you doing to make them stay?
We want everybody to have a sense of belonging as this will enhance more productivity from the low and middle income earners. This made us to design a housing scheme and we engaged the workers’ union and they’re very happy with it. We’ve talked to the Federal Mortgage Bank (FMB) for the houses to be built in all the local governments of the state and not just the state capital. The occupants will pay in the duration of fifteen to twenty years respectively.
Jigawa is seen as a rural state where urban drift is on the increase. What’re you doing to encourage services at the grassroots?
Apathy by doctors and medical personnel to work in the rural areas is a big problem. I believe that health is wealth but sadly, our hospitals are not professionally staffed because most doctors and medical personnel like living and working in the cities. The state spends huge amount of money to train doctors but they always run away to work elsewhere. To address the menace, we have one school of nursing and we’re planning to establish another one so that we can enroll and train hundreds of nurses simultaneously. We’re also planning to train others abroad because it is cheaper. The school is famous as it trains nurses that work in Arab countries. They’ll be sent in batches and we will sign a bond with them to work in rural areas. Similarly, two students will be chosen from each constituency and will be trained to be doctors in China. We’ll also sign a bond with them to work with the state government for a certain period.
That’s why we want to start a specialist hospital which will later be upgraded to a teaching hospital for the Sule Lamido University in Kafin Hausa. We also want to mentor pupils from rural areas for science courses.
Women are mostly disadvantaged in northern Nigeria. How are you empowering them?
I’m adopting the theory that was put in practice in other countries like Bangladesh among others. Widows have been empowered with goats in the 287 wards of the state and the goats give birth to two or more kids in a year, while the dung, milk, skin and meat are all in high demand. Similarly, youth are being trained in different businesses on demand locally. We encourage the youth to develop business plans and we analyze and support them if it’s sustainable.