11 November 2012

Nigeria: Why We Set Up Committee to Verify Oil Deposits in Katsina - Shema

Katsina — Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema of Katsina State in this interview with Sunday Trust relates his position on the agitation for the review of revenue allocation formula, on-shore/off-shore dichotomy, discovery of oil in Katsina State and his achievements in five years as Governor. Excerpts:

Some northern governors are agitating for the review of revenue allocation formula. What is your take on this?

It's simple. No nation can successfully carry out developments without a strong revenue base or capital base. Now, from historical facts and available data in modern economics and modern developments, nations of the world thrived more on taxations than on anything else. There is no oil in Germany, yet it is one of the richest and strongest economies in the world and that has been actively demonstrated even here in Nigeria with the innovative approach of Lagos state. I understand they generate well over N22 billion per month from tax. Before that time Lagos was exclusively dependent on revenue of N7 billion from the federation account.

Now, it has become obvious that states have to sit up and reorganise their taxation structures because the revenue from tax alone could be more than oil earnings because nations thrive and survive on taxation. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is generating revenue from royalty, which is paid to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, during pilgrimage.

Though the country has oil wells, it could not fold its arms to allow people to go for hajj free of charge. So, in Katsina State, our efforts are geared towards raising our own revenue base through taxation. There are so many loopholes in terms of taxable incomes. Katsina, like most states in Nigeria, relies largely on the federation account and, when I assumed office, I used to receive between N3.8 billion to N4.8 billion per month. Our internally generated revenue was about N700 million and N1 billion. I met N130 million as internally generated revenue, but by the time we were two years we raised it up to about N200 million. So proper taxation will greatly help us develop our states.

As I am talking to you, as a governor, from 2007 to date, we have not borrowed a kobo for any project. We don't want to be indebted because if we continue to borrow under circumstances of huge interest rate, then Katsina will continue to be indebted. In other words, Katsina State, in the last five years, has been operating on its own resources and its own federal allocation revenue. All the projects I have executed were done with Katsina State resources. That was why when the issue of N18,000 new minimum wage came up we insisted of reviewing the data of workforce and it helped us a lot. With this system, we have paid N2.4 billion arrears to our workers after the verification exercise.

For revenue from the federation account, we have talked a lot on who should get what. Now there was a method from Day One that brought about the current sharing formula. The Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission had the responsibility to use the formula and review it after every five years or certain number of years. That formula was premised on certain indices: landmarks, population, bed space. Then, our constitution has defined in clear terms the issue of 13% per cent derivation and I think that quantum of fairness, equity and justice is okay if resource is generated from area A.

That area should be fairly compensated for the revenue that is coming out from the place especially in terms of perspective resources. So that has gone on for sometimes but there are some agitations some for, and some against, the review of the formula. My position is that the principle of justice and fairness should always stand above any other interest. There should be equity for the place where you prospect for oil and there should be equity for other citizens of this nation who contribute in other areas, because no nation can hope to grow without a mix: the mixture of culture, mixture of opportunities, mixture of religion, mixture of people and mixture of languages, among others.

So, if we really want to grow as a nation, the potentials found in Adamawa State will be extensively useful to the people in Delta and the potentials found in Rivers State may be extensively useful to the people of Katsina State and so on and so forth. And if you look at the scenario in Nigeria, people live in every part of the country as citizens. If you go to Edo State you will see a Fulani man rearing his cattle there. You will see Hausa and Kanuri people and yet when you go to Maiduguri in Borno State I am sure you find other tribes of Nigeria residing there despite the insecurity situation. They live there and have made Borno their home. Of course, how you share the revenue is important but you share it on the basis of fairness and equity and share it for the purpose of developing Nigeria and Nigerians.

Do you subscribe to the creation of a replica of Niger the Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in the north?

Of course, they should have it if there are resources which contribute to the nation's development, but the principles should on the basis of equity and fairness. If there are any resources which contribute to the wellbeing of the nation those people from where the resources were derived should take part of it. Let me tell you one thing, oil doesn't have a peculiar terrain. From historical facts available now, oil can be found in sloppy area, it can be found on the high seas and sizeable quantity of oil is found in deserts, like Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Gabon, Denmark, Niger Republic and Chad all have oil. So with cheaper technology, I am sure oil would be discovered everywhere in the world. Therefore, cohesion, unity and brotherhood should be the key. Every Nigerian should be free and be happy in every part of Nigeria and call it a home.

There is a wide speculation that oil has been discovered in Katsina. What is government doing to ascertain the truth or otherwise of this rumour?

There have been indicators and reports that there is oil in Katsina State. I will not be surprised to hear that because Katsina State shares the longest border with Niger Republic and the entire Niger Republic was said to be sitting on oil. They have a refinery built by Chinese which is about three kilometers away from Daura in Katsina State. Therefore if that has happened then one should expect oil deposit in Katsina state.

Government has set up a committee which will liaise with the Federal Ministry of Petroleum to follow the process of getting the correct data about the discovery. We want to get the data first, then if there is oil we will forge ahead through the normal processes because the exploration of oil is exclusively reserved for the federal government. So we are taking the necessary steps to ascertain the issue.

Some governors, after their two terms of four year tenure and who believed they had worked for their people, contest for the presidency. What should people expect of you in 2015?

(Laughter) .... For me, it is too early to ask this kind of question because we are barely half way my tenure but you are talking of next general elections. If I can remember vividly, campaign for the American election did not start until three months ago. So people should learn to settle down and face the responsibilities that God put on their shoulders, deliver services to their people and then let the people decide what they want. About power I can say, power belongs to Almighty God and God gives it to whoever He pleases, when He pleases and how He pleases.

Can you enumerate some of your achievements in five years as governor of Katsina State?

From 2007 when I came into office, I came with the perception that Nigeria has been suffering from a lot of uncompleted projects littered all over the country because each time a new administration comes into power the first thing it does to score a political goals is by doing things that they can claim credit for and avoid anything that will probably give recognition to the previous administration, forgetting that government is a continuum.

If you ditch a project midway, it means the money spent on it by the previous administration has been wasted. So when we came on board, we decided to change the trend in Katsina and we did. I made sure that I completed all the projects I inherited from the late Umaru Musa Yar'adua within the period of one and half years. While I was completing those projects, I was also planning for what I intended to do. Some of the uncompleted projects I met on ground included the expansion of the Katsina International Airport, the Turai Yar'adua Child and Maternity Hospital and the Umaru Musa Yar'adua University, Katsina. There were eight roads under construction across the state; there were expansion of secondary schools in some major towns. Some water projects and electrification projects as well as supply of some hospital equipments, which we all completed.

We made education our Number One priority, followed closely by agriculture which is the mainstay of our people. Next to it was solid mineral or resource development.

Now, in that order, we were able to introduce free education policy in the state. From the day I took over power to date, education has been virtually free in Katsina State; free in primary schools and free in secondary schools, and every child that goes to public school in Katsina State enjoys writing his/her WAEC, NECO and SSCE for free, government pays for all these.

We have introduced different agricultural schemes geared towards boosting the sector. We made sure that we don't allow people to depend on rainy season alone for farming. We have good soil that we can cultivate and grow various kinds of crops all year round. So we made sure that in Katsina we create the enabling environment for irrigation that can enable our farmers cultivate their farms from January to December.

Jibia irrigation scheme, when we came into office, had stopped working. The dam was constructed about 30 years ago under the Ibrahim Babangida regime, but it was not put to proper use; it was neither put in use for supplying water to Jibia community nor for irrigation. Of course, we have 27 other irrigation sites in the state, most of which were rehabilitated and equipped by the present administration. In a nutshell, irrigation capacity in Katsina State has increased from about 1000 hectares to over 12,000 hectares within our 24 months in office. Beyond that, we have also introduced organic fertilizer production in four local governments. We trained 25 youths each in Batsari, Mai'adua, Bakori and Safana local government areas. We established organic fertilizer blinding plants with capacity of producing 4,000 metric tons of organic and chemical fertilizer. Over N400 million worth of fertilizer was purchased from these plants by the Katsina State government in 2009.

Another important scheme was Songhai Katsina Initiative; we have chosen three irrigation sites in Sabke dam in Daura zone, Mai-Ruwa dam in Funtua and Zobe dam. In the solid minerals area. We found that Katsina State has kaolin deposits in 27 out of the 34 local government areas and this product was tested to be first class in terms of grade and quality.

How is your government dealing with the issue of unemployment, especially as it relates to youth and women empowerment?

To us the development of youths and women go hand in hand with the entire activities of our government and one of the ways you can address the menace of poverty in the north and indeed, the entire country is by empowering youths and women. We have various programmes for the youths and women in Katsina State. I was able to establish the Katsina Youth Craft Village where we train youths on different kinds of trades comprising maintenance and repair of computers, tie & dye, automobile repairs, tailoring, film and photography among other trades.

Most of the iron poles we use for our solar street lights within the state capital were made by our youths at Katsina Youth Crafts Village. Interestingly, we did an experiment where we picked a crippled young boy on the street and took him to the centre. We asked him to choose a trade for himself and we trained him.

After one year, he learned the trade and we settled him. He therefore, moved from street begging to becoming an owner of an industry and employer of labour. The facility we have established has the capacity of training 2,000 youths per annum. We are receiving patronage from other states and we have patronage even from Niger Republic. Apart from that, we met some Basic Skills Acquisition Training Centers (BATCs) in existence but added about nine of them in the building trade, welding, carpentry and other aspects of hand crafts. Beyond that we have also introduced N250 million interest free loan scheme to the youth and the 34 local government areas also introduced a loan scheme for 200 youths every month...

We have also achieved much on water supply. In Katsina alone we constructed four semi-water supply schemes with each having 11 boreholes connected. When I came on board in 2007, statistics showed that about 3,700 boreholes were needed by the people and so far we have dug over 3,000. We expanded semi-urban water schemes in 27 local government areas and we are still expanding more. We are constructing wind solar energy wells across the state which will be commissioned next month. In addition to that, the present administration is expanding the Dutsin-Ma dam for the supply of drinking water to the host community and their neighbours.

In the health sector, we have introduced a system where we provide free medical care to children from the date of birth to the age of five. We provide free medical care to people with kidney diseases, free medical attention to pregnant women, for nursing mothers and malaria patients as well as for accident victims for the first 48 hours. We also introduced drugs revolving loan scheme. We have built over 68 new primary healthcare facilities and we have under construction a 250-bed orthopaedic and specialist hospital which we hope to complete by December this year.

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