17 January 2013

Nigeria: How I Spent My Pension Sponsoring Pupils Former PTDF Boss

Katsina — Engineer Muttaqa Rabe Darma is former Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF). In this interview with Daily Trust, he speaks on his new initiative aimed at sponsoring primary school pupils to further their education and his plan to expand the programme to the health and economic sectors. Excerpts:

What motivated you to embark on this project of sponsoring primary school pupils to further their education?

There are three things that one can do to uplift human dignity and human life. First is health; second, wealth; and the third one which is the most important because it can provide the first two aspects is education, because if you empower somebody with education you are empowering him with both health and wealth. So this is one of the principal reasons why I embarked on sponsoring pupils to further their studies.

In my life, I have benefitted immensely from a number of projects and programmes by governments and by individuals. It may not be in a form of scholarship; it may be in other forms but I have benefitted from such programmes in my life. One of the individuals that I benefitted from was the late Umaru Musa Yar'adua, who as a teacher always told us the value of education and when he became governor he continued to propagate the philosophy of education.

When did you start the programme and how did it take off?

I started the programme two years back. When I was appointed Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Technology Development Funds (PTDF), I realized that the amount of salary I was receiving which was N1.8 million was beyond what I needed to run my family, that was in addition to other benefits of the office like car loan and other entitlements. So when I received my salary I sat down and asked myself what do I do with this money? I therefore shared the salary with 105 other people around me. I only took 41% of it and shared the remaining 49% to others.

When I received my first monetization/contributory pension benefits which was N21.6 million, I decided to refocus the gesture by giving the same 105, larger amounts, so that they can fend for themselves. For instance if I was giving you N5,000 monthly and now I give you N100,000, you can fend for yourself if you are sincere.

After I relieved myself of the 105 persons with my first monetization benefit, I then stopped sharing my salary with them. I then started sharing 49 per cent of my salary with hospitals in Katsina State; I was giving Federal Medical Centre, Katsina the sum of N500,000 monthly and the remaining money was shared between Turai Yar'adua Clinic and Katsina General Hospital respectively.

But precisely after eight months I realized that the money I was giving to these three hospitals was not been utilized. For instance I was giving the money to Katsina General Hospital to attend to accident victims but instead the money was been used to run the hospital services and that wasn't my intention.

Therefore I stopped giving them the money and refocused my programme by diverting the funds to the education sector. I started with Katsina local government where I selected 50 primary school pupils. In Katsina local government there are about 58 primary schools so in each of these schools we selected pupils who took first to fifth positions in class six.

We got 100 pupils whom we put in a hall and made them write Graduates Matriculation Examination (GME) for secondary schools which I personally bought from the United States of America. I downloaded the exam and personally set the examination questions for them. Of the 100 pupils, 50 scored 50 marks while two others got close to that so we considered these 52 pupils for a pilot scheme. So I used my N21.6 million pension benefits for the programme because I didn't want these gifted pupils to waste.

However, this year I expanded the programme to all the 34 local government areas of the state and that is why 102 pupils benefitted from the programme and that is why I have to add about N3 million to meet the amount required to take care of the 102 pupils for three years; the amount needed was N25.6 million.

Of course I must say I took this initiative from what the current President did when he was the governor of Bayelsa State where he selected 100 pupils from public primary schools and took them to the best secondary schools in Nigeria. So these pupils that I selected from public schools in Katsina local government I took them to the best secondary schools in Katsina.

Who were those 105 people you shared your first salary with?

I shared it with people around me, that is my relations and those working for me as employees. I also gave some part of the money to the Ulama who taught me Qur'anic knowledge at my younger age.

How many pupils do you intend to empower through the programme?

Well, as at now we have 102 pupils benefiting from the programme and my intention is to continue to sponsor these pupils up to university level but if opportunity opens up for me in the future I will sponsor another set of pupils so that more can benefit. So my target in general is to eradicate poverty and illiteracy among Katsina pupils. I want every Katsina person to be self sufficient.

You started the programme with PTDF's pension benefits now that your tenure is over, how do you intend to sustain the programme?

Good, the whole thing is that whatever I do I must think ahead and I always try to plan things at least to make them sustainable. Like I said, every year workers took what we call monetization benefits in government and my monetization in PTDF is huge so I divided that money and invested in landed property. Like in Katsina here I have some houses which I rented to interested people and the money being generated from these houses always goes to this programme. So I really planned for the initiative and I am committed to the programme.

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