This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: To Fight Insecurity, We Need to Adequately Man Our Porous Borders

interview

While most states are crying out that they are broke and reeling under heavy debt burdens which are negatively impacting on their development, Governor Abbdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara state insists that adroitly formulated policies, financial prudence and discipline have launched the state on an irreversible path to agro-wealth and development. He fielded questions from Roland Ogbonnaya and Ahamefula Ogbu on wide range of issues including state police. excerpts...

You must have clear intentions of what you wanted to do for your people in coming to service, how far have you gone in achieving them?

Yes, we have been able to go very far. Don't forget that we came in from an administration that we were part and parcel of and we were able to see policy formulation and implementation at that time; so for us, coming in was just a continuation of what we had been doing in the past because we were vantagely positioned to have played critical roles in the formulation and implementation at that time. By 2011 when I came in here as the governor, it was very clear where we wanted to go. We started with an end in mind. We clearly spelt out policies that affected our people, having garnered information from them during the electioneering campaigns and these policies were largely premised on infrastructure support, human capital development and economic growth.

I am happy to let you know that based on time lines we articulated with our various policies; we are very much on course. We drew up a four-year policy programme for the State, putting into cognisance revenues that are accruable. Yes, we know that revenues are changing as we are moving on, but at the same time what we require to do is to adjust here and there to be able to carry on the programmes as highlighted in our medium term development strategy framework and I am happy to let you know that we are completely on course. At the end of the day, the picture we had in mind will be the picture we will be seeing. I think we would have seen a developed Kwara from where we took it. Our people are quite clear in understanding of what we intend to do and they are carrying on with us and this has been seen in how much we have done in roads for instance, we gave a lot of promises on roads, rural roads especially. Quite a number of roads were done in the last administration at the metropolis levels so we are now going into nooks and corners to link up communities.

We are also going into providing electricity. We did make some promise during the campaign that we want to support a lot of people with electricity, we did make some promises that we want to support a lot of people with electricity and I am happy to tell you that over 200 communities have been supported with electricity over the last one year and of course, in terms of water we gave promises that we are going to make water available. All these were premised on clearly spelt out policies that no one is going to move more than 500 meters to access potable drinking water.

I am happy to let you know that we are less than a kilometre too go now on that policy and we hope that by the time we spend four years, we would have been able to get to the policy to ensure that nobody moved more than 500 meters to access potable drinking water. Over 200 communities have been supported with potable drinking water today in Kwara and we have been able to renovate 300 classrooms at secondary school levels and of course at the basic education level, we have been able to renovate over 400 classrooms.

What would you say is the thrust of your administration, as you cannot address everything; what areas have you chosen to concentrate on to leave lasting legacies at the end of your first or second term?

Don't forget that we said we are a system that is evolving from an existing system where we took over from, so we built our policies to reflect the next level the then policies were supposed to get to and this next level will be our milestones and they are encapsulated in three major areas firstly is that of human capital development. Now in human capital development what are we trying to do? We are trying to build our human capital development to reflect the current exigencies of how education requires to be taken to the level that will support the economies of Nigeria and indeed Kwara State as it is today. Don't forget that this issue of joblessness is very huge and we recognise the fact that most of those who form the category of unemployed youths are school leavers who at one time or the other dropped out from the basic level, some dropped out from the secondary school level, some dropped out from ND level, some HND level, some NCE, some graduates of universities and some did not even have the opportunity of going to school at all.

The legacy we want to be remembered for is being able to put a platform that will improve on vocational training. As it is today we have been able to lay the foundation for an international vocational centre in Ajaso in Kwara State and God's willing, in the next one week construction work will start because we hope to take in the first set of people by September next year. This is going to be a monumental change in perception in how education is viewed and how we are facing the challenge of developing the middle manpower, which is highly sought from the neighbouring countries. If you look at it today, a lot of our middle level manpower especially in the construction industry is being supported from the likes of Togo, Benin Republic, Ghana and so on. Our people have the capacity, every fifth black man in the world is a Nigerian, so with that population, we should be net exporters of human capital, not net importers.

We also want to be remembered for being able to make the health service available to every Kwaran at a distance of not more than 500 meters. That is primary health; this we are taking to that level, we want to ensure that this is done and we are carrying on with the support of MDG programmes and with the support of the State policies in driving the health sector. We also want to ensure that we are remembered for strengthening the secondary health sector, which is how do we see referral general hospitals for the primary health centres and our legacy will be that every local government must have a general hospital, but before then, let us look at the existing general hospitals. You find out that quite a number of them are not in good shapes, so the first responsibility is to renovate these five general hospitals. Of importance is the Ilorin General hospital, which has just been vacated by the Teaching Hospital to move to their permanent site leaving the carcass.

Now you are talking about health, I know Kwara State has a unique Health Insurance Scheme, which was first launched in Shonga; how have you fared with the scheme?

A group from the Dutch government as it were, supported the insurance scheme and also an NGO of course, Hygeia as the first community health insurance scheme, which has been quite supportive of ensuring our people access health services at that level. It was pioneered in Shonga and I am happy to tell you today that it has moved beyond Shonga; we have moved to Moro local government; Ifelodun local government and quite a few supporters are coming in to enhance the scheme so that it can really be taken to every nook and corner of the State. Efforts are being put in place and I want to assure you that before the first quarter of next year we would have covered minimum of half of Kwara State with the Health Insurance Scheme. This will begin to see our people having a lot more access, especially to the extent that we are putting the health institutions on a proper footing. So this will ensure that our people have proper genuine health services at that level.

Almost every state in Nigeria is coming to terms with the reality of the national cake from the centre not being enough and are carving niches for themselves on how to grow revenue along the lines of comparative advantages. What areas of comparative advantage are you building Kwara to start generating enough revenue to sustain your programmes?

Quite a few things have been looked at as possible support for the much-desired internally generated revenue and the first point of call here is agriculture. We are expecting to drive an agro-economy. Agriculture is one area, which if any country takes up, will never get it wrong. It is not far-fetched, you need to put food in the stomach before you can think very well and if we are coming from a country we are heavily reliant on importation of food, it tells you that potentials for growth of an agro economy is huge and that was why in the last administration we brought in farmers to Shonga to drive a commercial farming venture, that commercial farming venture has now translated into a coordinated Public Private Sector driven commercial farming venture.

Now the next level would be how do we move from that level to the next level and that is how do we carry our local farmers to imbibe that technology so that they too can begin to see commercial farming as an impetus to driving an agro economy and that is the level we are in now and we have against that background, gone to seek the support of Cornel University in conjunction with Kwara State University and University of Ilorin to develop an Agric Master plan, which will see us come out with a truly structured methodically defined agro economy and this requires proper planning and that is why we went to see those who know how to do it best. They have given us a proper platform now to develop an agro economy and that is where our strength will lie. Taking advantage of what our people know how to do best; don't forget that 70 per cent of Kwarans live in rural environments and they are predominantly farmers, so on the strength of that we have to take advantage of what we know how to do best.

The time the Zimbabwean farmers were brought in to the State, the scheme had so much hope, so much vision like setting up processing plants and exporting some of the products, how far have those dreams been achieved?

At the time the concept was put in place, it was designed to serve as a major showcase on how commercial farming should run. We have since moved from that level of what you saw that time to have them properly compartmentalised into three major consortiums, which is the diary, the poultry and the mixed cropping. The mixed croppers are largely supporting cassava for now; the dairy section currently produces fresh milk. They grow maize and soya, which serve as feeds to cattle and the cattle are now made to milk and the milk is now sold to WAMCO as part of the feedstock to what you see today as Peak Milk, so that is a typical value chain.

The poultry they, grow maize and soya that serves as feed. They have a feed mill that has about 50,000 tons capacity; so these feed is now fed into the poultry, the poultry will now grow broilers. Each farmer has capacity for 100,000 birds and as it is today, I think they are all half of their capacity and these broilers every six weeks they grow table size broilers that are sold to outlets, like Mr. Biggs, Chicken Republic and so many feeding outlets that we have across the country, so for now it is a successful venture under the poultry and the dairy. The only challenge we are facing is the mix cropping. So those are part of the problem we are facing in this cropping season, however they have been able to concentrate largely on cassava and I am happy to let you know that the cassava that is being planted in Songa has the highest yield in this country today. It is about 15 to 20 tonnes per hectare. I am happy to let you know that in Shonga, Kwara State today, we are doing 40 tonnes per hectare, which tells you that by sheer improvement on the growing process and technology, you can improve on your yield. These are some of the things we want our local farmers to imbibe. Some of them are already there as out growers, but we need to make it statewide.

Now this cassava as it were, we had a little problem initially in selling; these are parts of the problems we are faced with because some of this cassava had to go into wastage. Luckily we got a consumer from Ihiala, starch manufacturing company, they use to come here to buy cassava, but look at the distance between here and Anambra State, it is huge but we are lucky to say that we have been able to access people that would be able to take cassava chips from us. What we use to transport to Anambra State use to go raw and was herculean because cassava requires being harvested and transported within 48 hours otherwise it loses its main value.

Where did you meet the State in terms of internally generated revenue and taking all the programmes you enumerated into consideration, where do you intend to leave it?

We met the State at a level of about N500-N600 million per month; incidentally I was part of the key drivers of the state at that time having served as Commissioner for Finance and Economic Development for close to seven years before I took up the office of the Commissioner for Planning which was a ministry I set up to drive planning process, so as it were you will see that the revenue is growing slowly, but steady and ways in which we want to grow the revenue are premised on ensuring that we have a proper collection process; ensuring that we block the loopholes and then ensuring that we create new taxable environments.

How do you create the new taxable environments? By investing in infrastructure, investing in other areas that will make it enabling for prospective investors to come and set up businesses that will end up being taxable and hopefully we intend before the first quarter of next year, to drive our revenues to up to a billion. By this method that I have said of blocking loopholes, efficient and effective collection process and creating new taxable environment and also incorporating new taxable environments because there are areas that are outside the web and we need to incorporate them into the web so that we begin to see a broader spectrum in taxable environments.

Do you see the possibility of Kwara State running on internally generated revenue without reliance on federal allocations?

It is very possible, but it is a huge task. Huge task to the extent that there has to be support for evolving an agro economy and has to be supported not only in terms of people, in terms of policy at the national level. Don't forget that our economy is not in isolation. We cannot be driving an aggro economy in the State to support industrial feedstock and food when the country is still importing food and still importing industrial feedstock. This will naturally form a cog in the wheel of developing these sectors in the State, so that is why I said on policy terms, it has to be supported at the national level and also at the State level.

For us at the State we are prepared to drive it and live on an IGR that is aggro-economically driven but it has to be supported like I said with policies and inputs from the federal government that will enable us get to that level.

Some States have cried out that they are broke and their economies are bad though not arising from the global economic downturn is Kwara broke?

Kwara State is not broke, but liquid. Liquidity means you have the capacity to meet all your recurrent obligations as at when due and we are able to meet our obligations, we are not broke but I will tell you that we have pressure on our cash flow. The reason for the pressure is not far-fetched and I will tell you the reasons; one, you look at it that we have a lot of federal ventures in the state. We have the police, who are the security sector, we have the army, we have the air force and we have other paramilitaries and they are largely supported from the State in terms of logistics. We have federal roads, which we have to expend our monies on; there are various schemes like that; even in collection of revenues, we have difficulties with federal agencies so this is our own problem as a State.

Now that you have raised that issue, there is a clamour for State police since the federal government is leaving most part of the funding to States, do you agree with your colleagues that are calling for the creation of State police?

The concept of State police is neither here nor there. If you look at it very well, how many levels of security do we have in the country? We have different levels and we find out that the police has not been positioned to meet up with challenges of internal security as it is today in Nigeria and not because of anything but lack of funding. For me, I don't judge the failure of the police to meet up with their challenge in security as incapacity largely from not being able to do it alone but I want to go beyond that and look at their problems. I know the police are underfunded. I have been a contemporary observer of the police force since the 60s, incidentally I grew up in that environment, so I have the opportunity to see how the Nigeria police force has gradually degenerated to the current level we are in today and we cannot use that as an excuse to request for a state police.

Of course a state police is desirable, whether you like it or not, the best people that can police any community is the people themselves. So no doubt, community and State police is desirable but before we get to that level, how do we structure a federal police? If we cannot fund a federal police to work well, how do we want to fund the State police to work well? How do we want to sponsor other levels of security to work well? That is my own grouse, which of course my position is well known that in as much as the State police force and other community police are very desirable, I am very concerned about the capacity to fund them to desirable levels.

The clamour for State police is because we are not getting what we want from the Nigerian police and the Nigerian police are not doing what they are supposed to do because they are not being properly funded. So let us fund the Nigerian police first, fund then adequately, get them properly transformed to meet with the challenges as they are today in this country, then we look at the gaps at the community levels and then we see what level of police, we might not even call them police, we might give them different names, what level of security support that will complement the efforts of the police at the community levels we need to create.

By the time we begin to do this, then we begin to see confidence being brought back into the police force. And then, the compromise that has gone even into the recruitment, of process where all sorts of human beings have found their way into the police force will also be checked.

You mentioned Kwara State using state money to repair federal roads and supporting other federal institutions, does that not call for restructuring the laws that govern the federation in a way that will put things in proper perspectives?

Yes, it is not unconnected with why governors are talking about review of certain exclusive areas of government and also in the ratio of sharing the federal allocation. These are some of things that are informing our decision to ask the federal government to review its policy in exclusivity in certain areas and also to review the formula in sharing the allocation because obviously if we are still using the allocation we are collecting today to support areas that are outside our jurisdiction in terms of exclusivity, then you can see there is no way we will not be under pressure. The State governors are putting pressure for restructuring in these lines that will see that exclusivity are reviewed and they are supported with the commensurate allocations and if possible these are allowed to be carried on by states to improve on efficiency and effectiveness.

Most Governors would always say they are unable to do what they want to do due to financial constraints drawing largely by huge debts left for them by their predecessors. Did you have the same problem and how much debt did you inherit?

I am happy to let you know that Kwara State did not experience that type of problem of having to have a problem of not being able to start due to inherited problem of debt. There was no problem that was inherited. What we inherited were platforms for future growth and development. Every funding that has gone into funding in Kwara State was well articulately sourced and they were well timed to support the level of programmes put in place. Don't forget I told you that as Commissioner for Finance and I was involved in advising on what level of funding we should get to support what programme and what policy were to be outlined and articulated so we didn't get to have that problem.

So there were no borrowings that were outstanding as at the time you took over as Governor?

You see, you can't say there were no borrowings. It is not possible for anybody to develop under a recurrently inflowing fund without borrowing, it is not possible because the current inflow cannot support the current needs. If you want long term needs you have to borrow and you will recollect that we went to the capital market. I was the one that championed taking the State to the capital market and I am happy to let you know that some of the funds that were accessed at the capital market have seen a lot of developmental projects in the State today, so for us, borrowing is a level of health because the first consideration in lending money to anybody is the capacity to successfully pay back. So if you are not seen as having the capacity to successfully pay back you will not be lent any money.

How has your background in the banking sector helped you in the management of the resources of the State, do you see a correlation?

My banking background definitely has given me the background to understand how the economy runs and how systems are funded and what sort of funding windows are available for what products and for what systems. So definitely it has given me major advantage in understanding the kind of programmes and problems and challenges governance is faced with and the right funding window to suit the desired level of funding requirement. So between you and I it is the best thing that happened to me and has made my job so easy because I have been able to create a picture of what funding should be and I have been able to understand where to source the kind of funding to suit what programme.

Do you have infrastructural challenges in the State?

There is no state in the country that does not have infrastructural challenges and it still takes us back to the federal government involvement in infrastructure. For instance, the only roads that are bad today in the State are federal government roads and because we don't have a clearly spelt out arrangement that enables you to take care of federal government roads ad get refunded immediately so it becomes a challenge to you to decide whether to do it or not. How much money can you spare looking at the cost of doing your own roads? But unfortunately whether it is federal State or local, they are all roads for our people in Kwara State, so that is another huge challenge.

If you are coming in from the air you will now see the level of expansion of Ilorin town. The expansion is good for us for economic purpose but of course again, it is a pressure on our infrastructure. The rods, if you drive in the evening at closing time you will see the level of traffic which is good for us to the extent that it is posing a challenge that we should expand our roads and make easy access for people because the more the people the more the economic activities and the ore the resources we are able to put together to be able to grow the system at the same time.

We have challenges in electricity. We have challenges in the health sector in terms of infrastructure. Don't forget that Nigeria has traditionally not been a country of maintenance; we have just been a country where we just construct and then we leave especially at the federal government level and this lack of maintenance of our infrastructure has led us to always start all over again. Otherwise if the past administrations especially the military had been involved in maintaining roads and infrastructure, people like us now will not be talking about infrastructure, we will be talking about driving the economy, but we are faced with the challenge of checking infrastructure and also driving the economy.

So we have to inculcate the concept of maintenance into our culture, we must have it and that is why we are strengthening our road maintenance agency. They are given a grant every month, which they must showcase where and where they are maintaining roads. We have a zero pothole policy in Kwara. We intend to ensure that no pothole is left in Kwara. Now with the coming in of the dry season, it is a good time for us to work on our roads, we will ensure that we block all potholes.

How much does the federal government owe the State on federal roads you constructed or repaired?

In our own nominal terms it is over N10 billion. If you consider the roads we have done in Akosu Bosu area, the ones that we did within the metropolis that are federal roads, It will be well over N10 billion.

You have been in public office for some time, have you ever been tempted to dip your hand into the public till for personal use?

I won't have to. I am properly compensated.

Have you made attempts to get reimbursed?

We have always made attempts, but unfortunately like I said, the policies have not been cast in stone. If the policy had been cast in stone and the method of execution of contract have been allowed to go in this direction, we will not have problems because of the federal government doesn't insist on doing the roads themselves, if they can enter into synergy with states that are willing partners, some of these problems will be overcome within a short time.

You are a border State, which comes with its own security challenges, so how are you coping?

It is a huge challenge because if there is anything that we require like yesterday is to have the presence of the Nigerian army at the border with Benin Republic because we all know the kind of problems that are facing states that are border posts. Our borders are very porous; we have seen security challenges resulting from porous borders, especially from the porous northernmost parts of the country and the north Eastern part of the country. So if we can nip the whole thing on the bud to ensure that we patrol our borders very well, Kwara State border with Benin Republic inclusive, we would be able to go a long way in surmounting the security challenges we are faced with.

Cost inflation and poor procurement policy have been major bleeding points both at the federal and state levels, how are you ensuring that you plug such loopholes?

We have been very familiar with all these things from inception and that is why we set up a price intelligence unit. The price intelligence unit ensures that every procurement is checked, common sized against its actual price before pricings are made for procurement. So between you and me, it has been checked. In fact we don't have an option that to check it because we don't have the kind of resources to throw around without checking. It is just like you now, if your resources in your pocket are limited, you must check what you are spending, but when you have excess funds you can afford to throw it around like a drunken sailor.

You are on your first term, are we coming back here to campaign for your second term?

You see the whole thing is in the hands of God Almighty. He giveth to whom he willeth and taketh from whom he willeth and to him we give our strength and direction. So between you and I as a Muslim, I believe that tomorrow is in the hands of Allah and He giveth to whom He willeth and it is his choice that we are sitting here today and I am sure he is going to guide us aright because we have always sought to be guided aright.

What is the relationship between you and the Saraki dynasty?

We have a very good relationship and I am happy to let you know that for the first time we want to ensure that we set up a legacy in Nigeria that will show how one government transmits to another government smoothly and people see the impact on developmental terms. You know, we are not just being friendly as we are today as a family, we want to see that process of handing a baton to another person with a policy that is continuing and developing peoples life, really gets to the desired level that Nigerians would begin to copy that process that it is better to allow a government to grow and transmit into another government that will not just truncate its programmes but will take it to the next level. In terms of relationship, we have always been one family and will continue to be one family.

Do you have an opinion on immunity clause and local government Joint Account system because while most Councils Areas complain of state government tampering with tier allocations, you said you give to them for development?

For local governments, I strongly believe that for administrative purpose they could relate with the State and of course the State House of Assembly should largely oversee them. I want to have a little perception to the issue of complete autonomy of the Local Government; I don't know how that fits into a federal system. My understanding of a federal system is that you have a central government and the federating states forming a federation so I don't know how the local government will key in under that federation if we are to truly have a federal government. Be it as it may, I believe that the local governments could be a lot more responsive if they are allowed to synergise with the State governments in terms of policy formulations and policy implementation because more often than not, you find out that they run quite differently from what is done at the State level and that is why you cannot optimise the benefits that are accruable to the people at the grassroots.

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