Following his overwhelming victory in the 2015 governorship election, Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello knew that the cumulative essence of governance is the welfare of the people. Five years down the line, the governor in this interview says that his administration has impacted positively on the wellbeing of the people, even as he admits that a lot still needs to done. BIYI ADEGOROYE reports
We have just marked the end of the first year in your second term in office. How will you assess your government in the first year?
Most of the road projects you have seen are the ones we started from last term that have suffered some setbacks due to one reason or the other. Basically, what I have done is to insist that the roads are completed. Unfortunately, I have been forced to revoke some of the contracts because I was not comfortable with the level of work and the contractors did not display the type of competence I wanted.
In some cases, sites have been abandoned for probably one year, in some other cases, contractors have received money but have not executed work commiserate with the amount of money released, so those ones we have to revoke. It shows clearly some kind of incompetence.
However, we are reviewing our budget. We are going to do a lot of maintenances this year. Take for example, the City Gate Minna to Chanchaga Road which is a Federal Road actually, but the road is extremely in a bad shape, and with the raining season now, it makes life very difficult. So even though is a Federal Road, we have to look for money to see that we at least make it motorable. Even the same thing is applicable to the road between Minna to Suleja. So we will do maintenance work and try to complete the ones we have started.
Zungeru, no doubt is one of the most strategic and historical towns in Nigeria’s history that has been abandoned for so long. What attracted your attention to the Zungeru township road through the bypass?
In one of my trips to Zungeru during my campaign and even after campaign, I passed through the road to the heart of Zungeru. I realised the difficulties people go through and how bad the road was right in the heart of Zungeru.
Zungeru is an old town and I felt we should fix the road. It connects you to Wushishi, and Zungeru being one of the important towns in Nigeria, it should not be left behind. So we needed to make a commitment to fix the road and am glad it has been completed now. It is a little over six kilometres. I am happy, and the people of Zungeru are happy, I am happy they are happy.
What is left for Zungeru is their power supply. The town is faced with the challenge of epileptic power supply and we are working on it, hopefully it would be completed in the next few weeks.
Your administration is committing about N6billion to selected roads’ rehabilitated by RAMP-2, what informed the decision?
We have paid N6billion as counterpart fund to SUBEB, RAMP and others because we take every funding partner as a major stakeholder towards the progress and development of our communities.
RAMP for example, has done well. We paid counterpart fund, and with that we did 435 kilometres of roads and now, we have gone further to resurface some of the roads, we are resurfacing about 200-300 kilometres.
So, I find this development partners very useful especially because their activities are mostly rural areas based and are able to touch the lives of people in the rural areas. And those areas have great Agricultural potentials, so it eases movements of agricultural produce from rural areas to markets. We are going to be doing more of it because we acknowledge and realized that the more we provide access roads to our rural communities, the more activities in our markets and that will also increase our GDP.
We also did in UBEC. When we came in 2015, a lot of our primary schools were out of shape and we are thankful for the programme because we provided counterpart funds. We were able to fix a lot of schools. I am sure we have fixed over 2,500 schools and built some, now we are talking to UBEC to allow us use part of the money to provide furniture in the schools.
When we came in 2015, there were backlogs of 2012-2015, which were not accessed. So, when we came in, I accessed 2012-2018. Right now, we have accessed up to 2018, what is left is 2019, hopefully we will pay more attention to schools but in some cases, there are no furniture yet, so we are going to invest quite a reasonable sum of money towards providing furniture for schools.
One of the challenges parents have to contend with is the payment of terminal examination fees of their wards. What has been the feedback, since your government started paying NECO and WAEC fees for students?
First of all, we had difficulties in payments but most importantly, we are paying. However, it is worrisome that we are paying huge sums of money but it is often not reflecting in the results. That’s is why I decided to start the Teachers Professional Institute so that with time, we will be able to train teachers that will teach our pupils very well so that by the time they get to Secondary School, they will be able to do well or better.
The performance of students in NECO and WAEC is not encouraging for now, so we may have to review it. I realised that some parents do not pay keen attention to how their children perform and government is paying heavily for that. I strongly believe if parents are made to pay part of it that would make them show some interest on how their kids perform.
So we are at the moment reviewing that policy. We have some outstanding debts but we have repayment plan with NECO and WAEC. I have been able to pay some of the outstanding amounts but we still have a long way to go which I hope we are able to clear within this year.
One of the cardinal policies and desires of your administration is to bring healthcare facility to the doorstep of the citizens. How do you intend to achieve this?
Well, the best way to achieve this is to ensure we have functional primary health care facilities. We came in 2015 with the promise to deliver one primary health care facility per ward and we have 274 wards. The hope of achieving it is still alive. We are getting support from Bill and Melinda Gates, the Dangote Foundation and others.
We have not reached the target of 274 primary health care facilities yet, but we are making steady progress. We are also investing in staff to run the healthcare facilities. We have procured some equipment. We have taken delivery of some hospital beds. We have done some jobs in fixing quite a reasonable number of those primary healthcare facilities.
The present Medical Director of Niger State Primary Health Development Agency is good, very experienced, very motivated, and dedicated. He has told me his plans and I am quite comfortable with his plans and we have received a lot of items too from NGOs to support our healthcare facilities.
With the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, we have a bit of delay. We are being extremely careful with the inflow and outflow of people in the facilities, hopefully, once this pandemic is over, the speed will increase. So we are taking primary healthcare very seriously because it addresses minor ailments at ward level that you do not need to go to secondary facilities.
What is your take on the IBB Hospital, now that it has been properly re-positioned by your administration?
What we have done is to improve on the facility that has been neglected for many years, to provide for conducive environment, and also to maintain the facility and clean up the environment. We decided to engage a facility management company and that has so far been more effective. I noticed maintenance culture is extremely bad when it comes to government properties. So going forward, we are going to release most of our facilities to facility managers, so we take that off government and face administrative work.
You actually have not left out some moribund sectors like transport, recently you invested a lot in the sector, what future do you see especially for the Niger State Transport Authority (NSTA)?
We have done our part by supporting the transport company of the state and it is my hope and wish that they will maintain those vehicles properly. The whole idea of this is to ease movements, especially to the low income people, so that they are able to move from one place to another without paying too much money.
So we have provided over 60 buses of different grades and we still have 26 more coming hopefully they should be in no distant time. I had a discussion with the commissioner transport, I met with the General Manager, NSTA and I drew their attention to the fact that it is very important they maintain those vehicles properly so that we get the benefits of buying them. And most of the vehicles were jointly financed. They have to be prudent in their spending and raise resources so that they will pay up the finance. So we wait and see what happens unfortunately again, with the Covid- 19 pandemic this has slowed down the activities of NSTA and at the moment they are not making any revenue and the state government has to augment towards payment of the finance on their behalf hopefully when they resume, we will be able to determine how they perform.
What do you consider your most spectacular challenge in the last one year?
Well, in the last one year there are two challenges – one is “banditry”. I am very disturbed by banditry in the state. My worry is that it appears that the activities of the bandits would stop farmers from going to their farms, and if farmers don’t go to farms, there is a looming danger of outbreak of famine. So, we have been fighting bandits for one year, we are making progress. Unfortunately, this is a war that has to be fought jointly with neighbouring states, because the bandits operate from the neighbouring states.
They have made life very uncomfortable for our people over here. On several occasions we have to take care of IDPs, that is quite a lot of resources which we don’t have. It has cost us a lot of money that we should use for other areas, instead it is used to address security challenges.
Addressing insecurity is extremely expensive, especially financing security operations, considering the size of the state. We find ourselves moving from one part of the state to the other on a daily basis and that requires a lot of resources, from movement of equipment and personnel. Also, you have to provide allowances for the personnel because most of the times they are in the forests and a lot of logistics are needed. So, it requires a lot of money which ordinarily we would have used in education, infrastructure, water and so on. So that has been giving us a lot of sleepless nights.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic that came in suddenly also made life extremely difficult because we have to divert again substantial parts of our resources towards addressing issues on COVID-19. So far, the main challenges we have is banditry activities and coronavirus pandemic. Every other thing with time will take place.
People have to be patient. I know there a lot of things that still need to be done in education, roads, water resources, agriculture and so on but we have to prioritize and as at the moment our priority is security and Coronavirus pandemic.
Going forward, we need to pay a lot of attention to agriculture, especially youth empowerment. We are trying to engage a lot of our youths into Agriculture, we have many graduates seeking for jobs, unfortunately, the size of the government is already too big, the alternative is to encourage our youths to embark on agriculture or anything that has to do with skills.
We have to work closely with our youths to understand that even though you have a degree there is the need to engage them more and see how government can support them. We are ready to support them if only we can understand how they need our support.
In some cases we had cause to train the youths and provide them with what we call starter packs. We trained them in tailoring and so many things. So I hope now since this COVID-19 has changed the dynamics of everything in Nigeria at the moment and this is a very good opportunity to bounce back from being a consumer nation to a productive nation and also increase our skills capacity. Forget your university degree and get skills as skill is the key and you will do well.
Agriculture is very good; people make a lot of money out of it but of course, government has to set up the enabling environment to support the youths because even clearing of farm is an issue to them. So government will work with the ministry of youths to see how it can support this effort.