3 October 2007

Nigeria: Nasarawa - the Journey So Far


As political office holders mark their first one hundred days in office, many Nigerians are asking the question; 'what have they achieved within the few days that is worth celebrating?'

Of any course, the period is not long enough for any leader to make visible impact, especially in terms of infrastructural development. But the commemoration of a hundred days should not be dismissed as a worthless exercise. For, despite the shortness of time, it is sufficient to show the policy direction of an administration, just like the first few steps of a marathon runner are capable of reflecting what is to be expected in the long, rugged distance ahead. It is on this premise that this writer seeks to examine the administration of His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Nasarawa State , Aliyu Akwe Doma, (Garkuwan Doma).

In terms of the administrative and political know-how necessary for the running of the state, the 65-year-old governor could be said to be well equipped as he has over a dozen professional certificates, including a Masters in Public Administration and has held over twenty top positions in private as well as public sectors, reaching the peak of his career in the then Plateau State in 1983, as deputy governor. Even in retirement, the veteran civil servant and politician had been politically active, teaming up with fellow patriots to initiate laudable political developments, including the creation of Nasarawa State out of Plateau State in 1996. In recognition of the fact that, apart from unity and cooperation, the success of any administration depends, to a large extent, on the calibre of people at the helm of affairs, he began by making wide consultations with stakeholders with the view to appointing the best hands for the key positions in the administration. And at the end of the consultations, he came up with a team of technocrats and politicians as heads of the various organs of the service and as special advisers - a team that could be described as the best in terms of professional capability and political representation of all the ethnic and religious groups in the state.

While the administration continues consultations to appoint commissioners in line with the principle of integrity and political fairness, it is at the same time working tirelessly to put in place other administrative frameworks, such as restructuring the civil service to enhance efficiency and productivity. In this bid, it has pruned down the number of state ministries from nineteen to thirteen and the number of boards from fifteen to fourteen and reviewed upward the number of commissions and agencies from eight to nine and eight to twelve, respectively. In keeping with the administration's pledge to reposition the state civil service, it has also given an indication that it would increase civil servants' salaries by fifteen percent. Head of the civil service, Alhaji Usman Dubagari, who gave this hint, assured that as soon as necessary guidelines are received from the Civil Service of the Federation, a categorical statement would be issued on the matter. He said in addition to salary increase, efforts were also being intensified "to ensure that officers due for promotion in the second half of this year are promoted before the end of 2007".

Similar moves are also being made in the area of education which indicate a bright future for the state. Recently, the governor announced the release of 100 million Naira to settle outstanding payment of scholarship allowances to affected students of higher institutions of learning in the country and abroad. He added that students' scholarship allowances would be increased by 15 percent with effect from 2007/2008 academic session. In addition, automatic employment as well as in-service sponsorship for higher degrees await Nasarawa State indigenes who graduate with 2nd Class Upper and 1st Class degrees.

To further boost the literacy level in the state, the government has expanded its effort at educational development to include adult education and skills acquisition. The state's agency for adult and non-formal education has so far established 300 learning centres in the state with each of the three senatorial districts in the state having 100 learning centres to adequately cater for them.

In the area of skills acquisition, the Nasarawa State Vocational and Relevant Technology Agency has in the past 100 days, trained 1,000 persons in trades like electrical/electronic repairs, building, welding and carpentry. This programme will, no doubt, go a long way in solving the unemployment problem in the state, considering the fact that most of those trained would turn into employers of labour. With this youth empowerment programmes, the Doma administration may have made a solemn commitment to give each idle hand in the State an opportunity to earn a respectable living, rather than a situation in which young men and women too, were gradually accepting public begging and praise singing as worthy enterprise in the recent past.

In furtherance of its objective of poverty alleviation through employment creation, the Doma administration has embarked on sensitisation workshops for youths. Tagged "Sensitisation Workshop for Youth Empowerment in Nasarawa State ", the exercise is specifically aimed at making the youth economically self-reliant through self-employment. In the words of the governor, "The workshop is part of this administration's efforts to give our youths a head start in the development of viable business ventures". The programme, according to him, is just a part of the comprehensive programme on economic empowerment initiated by the state. Other aspects of the programme include re-organisation of cooperative societies at the grassroots level for meaningful economic activities, training of youths and women in business development practices, exposing various groups to skill acquisition capacities and accessing the youth to micro-finance agencies for small scale loans.

Due to the agrarian nature of the state's economy, the quest for economic empowerment cannot attain much success without developing and harnessing the huge agricultural potentials with which the state is endowed. In view of this reality, the Doma administration has taken concrete steps towards developing the sector. One of such steps is the introduction of a programme on boosting Sesame seed production for export. During the flag-off ceremony of the programme, the governor noted that the state is the leading producer of the crop in the country with an annual production capacity of over 32,000 metric tonnes out of a national output of 110,000 metric tonnes and stressed the need for a presidential initiative on the production of the crop as one of the profitable non-oil foreign exchange earners for the country.

Furthermore, the governor recently participated in the Royal Agricultural Show in the United Kingdom , with the aim of opening up new prospects for accelerated agricultural development in the state. And consequent upon this move, an arrangement has been concluded to commence the export of yams and potatoes from the state to the Kingdom. The governor has also expressed determination to, through various incentives to farmers, improve the production of other cash crops in the state to make them export commodities.

It could therefore, be surmised that all the policy pronouncements and actions taken so far by the administration within the past 100 days, are a pointer to the fact that there is no reason for anyone to doubt government's ability to actualise all the plans it has initiated. Indeed, for Nasarawa State, getting to the Promised Land is only a matter of time!

•Ohitoto, the Chief Press Secretary to the Executive Governor of Nasarawa State, sent in this piece from Lafia.

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