Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema of Katsina State is not impressed that we tend to emphasise our individuality and regional affiliation rather than nationality. This, he says, is slowing down Nigeria, 52 years after independence. Shema spoke as his state turned 25. The silver jubilee was witnessed by some former military administrators of Katsina and eminent indigenes of the state. The governor also spoke on how he is building on the foundation laid by his predecessors.
The nation is split down the ladder over the creation of state police. Even the Governors Forum to which you belong are not together on the issue. The governors are separated along regional lines. Where do you stand?
This argument about state police of federal police, some of us in the Nigerian Governors Forum- Governors Rotimi Amaechi of River State, Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, Jonah Jang of Plateau State, Kashim Shettima of Borno State, and myself - were in Germany recently. This question came up on how do they operate their own state police. They do operate state police, but states that are rich help the ones that are not rich .
There is no tailor made arrangement in the world regarding issues relating to security or policing, but what is important to me, police as an institution has been in existence for a long time in Nigeria and many committees have been set up by various governments. These committees were set up to do a study on what needs to be done to enhance police services in Nigeria.
Now, whether a state police will serve the purpose of peace, law and order and good governance of the country or federal police should be, we can look at it critically. There is no need whether this person likes it or the other person doesn't, what is critical to me as a person and a governor is which one will serve the purpose better for Nigerians in term of securing their lives and property?
Is it the state police and, if it is, what are the reasons and how do you intend to finance it?. And there is this fear in some quarters that some of us politicians in Government House that if we have state police, they could use it to intimidate their opponents. So, to me, what is the status of security in Nigeria and what must we do as a nation. This has to be agreed as a consensus.
The oil dichotomy which was abrogated remains on still front burner in the polity as if the nation's existence depends on it. Do we need the controversy?
Fortunately I was part of the legal team as the attorney-general and commissioner for justice that represented Katsina State at the court then on the onshore/offshore dichotomy issue. Now my question is this, is it just about onshore/offshore dichotomy or about development of Nigeria and Nigerians.
In Nigeria, we love to blow big grammar on issues that may not have any bearing with poverty and the enormous challenges we are facing: unemployment, insecurity, etc, and I think we should start by asking ourselves what are we doing with the little we are receiving, what difference will it make now even if we start giving more money to any state in the country. To my mind, this thing(about increase in derivation money from the federation) should be tied to specific programs.
Even if we want an increase, what do you intend to do with the young men and women out there, how do you fight poverty, how do you encourage industrialisation, how do you create jobs, how do you improve power and water supply and other infrastructures that have decayed since independent, are we talking of onshore/offshore tied to certain programmes to change the lives of Nigerians of are we just talking because we love it as a political instrument to hurt each other and over heat the political system?
Yes, I'm a lawyer and I believe in rule of law, and laws can only be made in a manner in a nation like Nigeria if there is consensus and understanding, but I want to ask all of us whether we are for or against dichotomy, to think deep and think hard, so what we do nothing to undermine those institutions against the interest of Nigerians.
Nigeria at 52 does not appear to be getting it right. What do you think we should be doing at this point in time?
The problem of Nigeria never started today, no, and Nigeria of today is not the Nigeria of yesterday in terms of population, social, economic and political challenges. Even, all over the world, there are also crises, economic, social or political. Just recently, Europe and America witnessed economic meltdown and, even now, the world is witnessing insecurity and political instability more than ever before.
If you look at all these and say Nigeria has not done well, no, Nigeria has done well. There is this problem with us in Nigeria, the issue of individuality, more individual feeling than national feeling, and state feeling than regional feeling. We should just try and live in peace and harmony irrespective of our tribe, religion or political affiliation and talk about Nigeria instead of individuality.
Katsina State is 25years old. What are the milestones since you took over from your predecessor in 2007?
I feel happy as a governor as my people are appreciating the good work of my government, that means our effort at improving the lives of our people is being appreciated. In coming to office, I was faced with three important challenges Education is one. This has been given me a lot of worries and the reason is simple:
The poverty or the income of our parents is hindering most parents from taking their children to school, so I decided to save about 100 million naira to fund our education system. We started free education since 2007 which was absolutely free both for primary and secondary education, while WAEC and NECO fees are paid yearly for the final year students and we also have free feeding programme for the pupils.
We gave out scholarship to about 270 students being trained in Arabic education. I also provide buses for students for as low as 10naira per drop. We also increased the number of classrooms and teachers just as we improved on the salary structure of our teachers both in secondary and primary schools alongside other welfare packages even before the introduction of the national minimum wage.
We also work on the issue of the girl-child education by constructing additional 165 schools and also encourage local govt. councils to create a department for the girl-child education. We completed the state owned university which we met on ground in 2007, the Umar Musa Yar'adua University, furnished with equipment.
Our second area of focus is agriculture. About 85% of our people are engaged in farming and rearing of livestock and this in turn contributes not just to the economy of Katsina State, but also the economy of Nigeria. We try to improve on our agriculture by setting up a special committee that gathered data from research and agric institute at ABU, Zaria, with which we then now set up a special task force under my office to look at ways of encouraging the development of agriculture.
We provide subsidized fertilizer at the rate of N1500 per bag which cost us around 900million per annum. We also imported improved rice seedlings, conducted training and workshop for farmers and provided them N25million interest free -loans. We are in partnership with the Songhai Farm in Benin Republic on what we call the Songhai/Katsina initiative which is to train our youths in different areas of agriculture. And we supplied 340 tractors, 10 to each of the local governments at 40% discount. We encourage farmer's cooperative groups with the aim of empowering them.
We also focused on irrigation and one of the dams in Katsina State by the time we came into office was barely existing, we turned it around, channelled it, fixed the generators and other equipment, we worked on the road , provided fertilizers, improved seedlings. By the first year of harvest, the farmers contributed tonnes of food and cash crops.
Katsina is a state with fertile land that can produce food and cash crops all year round, that is why I said if we handled the issue of irrigation properly, Nigeria will be self-sufficient in terms of food production. We encouraged our farmers to irrigate for cultivation purposes.
We are also in talks with some people from Spain trying to see if we can go into flour production and we are also working on Benniseed production which is a good product in international market, we are also working on Jatropha seed production for bio-fuel production. We are really encouraging agro-allied industry, we are the first state in Nigeria to embark on a project of a mini-fertilizer processing plant, we started it with the Nigerian Institute of Agricultural Science Students with the collaboration of the Federal Government to produce green fertilizer made from Dogonyaro tree and also pesticide.
We mandated four other local government areas to set up four local fertilizer blending plants and we train 25 young boys and girls in each local government to produce organic fertilizer and the first year of operation, we bought fertilizer worth N300 million from each plant having about ten thousand production capacity that can do blending of urea and turn it into N.P.K 15:15.
Cotton appears in abundance here. Any works in the pipeline to generate revenue through foreign investors?
Cotton has a special program under the Federal Government and we are presently looking at ways of working with the Federal Government on how to improve cotton production and also export. So all hands are on desk to see that this happens. Even as we speak, I received request from my brother and friend, the governor of Lagos State, Fashola in that regard. Argentina, Bangkok are in talks with us, but you know the problem with agriculture is that the gestation period is long before you can make a formidable, viable economic production.
Another area is minerals production with about 18 different types of minerals deposits both metallic and non-metallic?
There is investment profile listing the various minerals deposit which I set up as department, now a ministry of resources development and the first thing we did was to identify the largest minerals deposit and kaolin happened to be in abundance ,incidentally, kaolin is a major ingredient in the production of chalk and paint. So rather than going out to buy them, we can as well produce them since we have the ingredients here.
We thought we could give it a trial by getting our youths trained in its production and we gave it a trial with about 25 persons from each local government who were trained on how to produce paint and chalk and the production actually started in 2008, and the paint you are seeing on the wall of Government House building was manufactured by these boys. I deliberately did not repaint it since then as I wanted to know its quality. You can see for yourself the quality.
Curbing youth restiveness
Nigeria needs to pay attention to youth restiveness and there are many men and women with untapped potentials for the benefit of the nation and so that we can move our youths away from drug abuse and political thuggery. I personally oversee the establishment of youth training centers here where they are being trained in carpentry, furniture and wood work, metal work, tie and dye, sound proof generator, G.S.M handset repairs, computer training, baking of cake and catering services, hairdressing, web design and publication, fashion designing, etc.
Everything is possible with will and determination. We have where we teach young farmers on modern techniques of farming, I set up a special department for bee keeping, fish farming, poultry farming etc to train young people in these areas, we equally created young entrepreneurs and we give them interest free-loans to the tune of aboutN250million for GSM repair, block making machine, weldering, car washing, hairdressing.
In the same manner, we also trained people from Borno State and other parts of Nigeria and also Niger Republic; even the NYSC has approached us to train some of their staff members. Youth empowerment is very critical, that is why we directed all the local government councils to get 200 young boys and girls who have finished schooling and are at home to go and teach as casual workers in schools and those of them who did community health should be hired to assist in clinics and maternity centers.
We didn't stop there; we have not overlooked other critical infrastructure and amenities, we've developed over 30 new road projects and we have dualized roads across all the local government areas. We built about 2000 houses with about 35 housing units in each local government and about 752 in the state capital, and the way we did it is that each person that works in the government establishment here will get an automatic discount of about 40% .
For example a three-bedroom flat will cost N3million plus but you don't have to pay all, all you pay is just 10% and you will get a key to your house and the remaining balance you will pay in 15 years without interest, this is just about N310,000.
On transportation, we received an award as the fastest growing state owned public transport company and we have well over 100 plus brand new vehicles. The health sector is not left behind, we have a policy of free ante natal and post natal care, free medi-care for children between age 0-5years and also for special conditions like accident victims. We also subsidize our drugs and hired more doctors because, quite a number of them have left because of insecurity in some parts of the country.
We built over 68 new primary health care centers and expanded some facilities in the main hospital and bought other new equipment. We have a 250-bed orthopedic hospital under construction; this is the first of its kind; we are in talks with some foreign firms to see how we can partner in this regard in a public/private partnership. The Katsina airport run-way has been expanded and this is the sixth year we are running hajj operation since we completed the run-way expansion in the airport now named Umar Musa Yar'Adua International Airport, Katsina.
If you take the aspect of rural development and infrastructure, we've covered 130 villages in electrification. Of course, power supply remains our major challenge. Because of that, there is already a wind mill plan with Japanese and Federal Government, our own role there as a state government is to provide the land and we expect to generate from the project about 10,000 megawatts of electricity.
This is the first of its kind in Nigeria and we are hopeful that by October or December, it will be completed. We have signed an agreement with the Federal Government in partnership with the German government to provide solar energy facilities in the same trip I made to Germany.
I also met with an independent company to provide 20megawatts of electricity. The will not require any money from the state government because it is a direct foreign investment. So cumulatively we will be generating about 60 megawatts of electricity by the end of next year or so, our current demand is about 40 megawatts of electricity so we will be having an excess of 20 megawatts as a result of these projects.
We also try to introduce biogas facilities for cooking and we have selected eight locations with involvement of experts from China who are helping us to set up these facilities while we use animal waste to generate bio-fuel for cooking. So, we are really trying our best to making sure we develop all areas.
We are also building a new Government House building. The interesting part is that all the money we are spending on all these projects were not borrowed. We did not borrow money from anybody, institution within or outside of the country. We are also working on the abandoned 35 thousands capacity stadium and by December we hope to complete it.
You must be very prudent given that your allocation from the federation is less thanN4b monthly yet you have done so much. What are you doing to improve your internally generated revenue, IGR?
You see our IGR was very small; it was about 130 million per month when we came into office. And the only means we could use to raise money is to pay contractors about 40% of the total contract sum and lodge the remaining balance.
So if I have N100million project, I will only pay N40million and I will be left with N60 million and we won't pay the remaining balance until you finish the project. While we are waiting to pay the N60m balance, we generate interest on the money we have in bank, and the money we have in the bank is not a free money because it will be irresponsible for any leader not to pay for a contract well done.
So, doing that, we save close to N700 million as interest. But we also improved on our I.G.R, we hired tax consultants and tightened up financial loopholes. But we were also faced with the challenge of minimum wage issue, but what we told our workers was that we were more interested in doing the right thing by making sure we get accurate data account of all the workers in the state.
At the end of the exercise, between seven and nine thousand ghost workers were identified and in a manner most transparent to everyone. Since January we've been paying N18, 000 minimum wage and this applies to all sector of our workers, we even tried and settle our wage arrears with about N2.4billion, so up-to date we are not owing anybody.