Governor Mohammed Abubakar of Bauchi State in this interview with select journalists speaks about how he has been able to transform every facet of the state in the last three through ingenuity. MUYIWA OYINLOLA was there for LEADERSHIP
How do you cope with the little funding viz a viz competing demands of governance in your state?
Actually without singing my own praises, before we took over, the entire machinery of government in Bauchi was in tatters, there were a lot of wastages and a lot of corrupt practices. So, what I resolved to do at the onset was to plug all the loopholes for wastage. And if one succeeds in doing that, you tend to release a lot of resources for development which were hitherto been either wasted or carted away into private pockets.
Because honestly, Bauchi state is one of those states that face challenges as far as internally generated revenue is concerned. I have fought shy of adding to the burden of the poor because I met them prostrate so to speak, so I always warn the chairmen of the revenue board to improve on their collections, widen the tax net but don’t introduce new taxes. I always give the example of Kwara state that has done very well in the area of IGR without introducing more taxes.
So it’s proper management of the scarce resources of government. When we started we inherited a workforce of about 105,000, translating into a wage bill of about N5.1 billion on a monthly basis.
We come to Abuja where we depend on the monthly FAAC, we go back, if we are lucky, the best we have gone back with is N8 billion that is for the state and LGs. So, out of it if you take away N5.1 billion you are now faced with the arduous task of allocating this to the competing demands.
After payment of salaries comes the feeding of school childre. Secondly, I am bound constitutional to pay the legislature because they are an independent arm of government. So, after this you discover you now have next to nothing.
I count myself lucky because of the magnanimity of the President, the various interventions he had given, we have utilized our funds judiciously and that is why we even have something to show to people.
Before you came, it was difficult for projects to take off or continue, were you able to do this through borrowing from banks?
Actually yes, we were borrowing. Even in borrowing, you know the banks will assess and determine for themselves whether you will be good debtor before they will approve, but we had them falling over each other to provide funds and so far so good we have deployed these matching funds judiciously. Flying over Bauchi with the President I pointed out to him the blue roofs of schools that were my UBEC projects.
How about the area of agriculture, how have you fared?
Well, I must say so far so good, we probably have not been making enough noise about the feat we are achieving in agriculture. The very first intervention I did was the Anchor Borrowers Scheme for dry season rice farming because we started very well under the guidance of CBN which is usual, with commercial banks; we convinced our people to come out, they opened accounts, were given BVN then suddenly 4 or 5 of the commercial banks withdrew from the scheme for no reason. So, we were left with only the Bank of Agriculture and one other, so we were forced to look for money elsewhere. We procured seedlings, herbicides, the fertilizer, spray machines and little stipend. Only recently I was able to get some funds from the CBN.
What came from that was fantastic harvest of rice, Bauchi has always been a good rice producing state not in the like of states like Kebbi. In the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, the anchor itself is the off taker, you have a sure buyer for your produce even before you plant. When Mr. President came the other time he launched an agric enterprise programme through which we are acquiring 500 tractors and 150 power tillers and many other implements for farming that we are giving as loan through cooperative societies, individual and large scale farmers alike.
The tractors were brought from Italy and coupled in Bauchi. Bauchi occupies one fifth of the total land mass of Nigeria, and 80-82% of the population in Bauchi practices farming. So, it is incumbent on us to improve on agric. There are giant rice mills procured by the federal ministry of agric from China to be distributed to states that grow rice, so we will participate and see how we can add value to what we produce.
Fighting corruption is a strategy of this administration, are you also doing the same in Bauchi?
On inception, because of the level of rot I inherited, I set up a high powered committee headed by a chartered accountant to investigate all the facets of government, and SUBEB and MDGs were areas to pay attention to. This was where we discovered that money was just taken away without anything to show for it, so many things were unraveled. I now got a law from the state assembly to set up a recovery tribunal, got the law passed, and instructed that white paper committees should invite those accused because of fairness. Unfortunately, my Attorney General at the time bungled the matter. The accused persons, one of who was a past governor went to court challenging the setting up of the recovery tribunal, that is where we are now. Once we settle this, the tribunal will hopefully recover a lot of resources carted away.
What about road development, what challenges are you facing in this area?
I must thank God, and the President for his magnanimity, there was an infrastructure that was given states, N10 billion, this was what started me off in the area of road construction. I took the N10 billion as a loan but I rolled out projects worth N22 billion. Road construction is not a short term thing, it takes time. But for one or two rural roads that I had the contractors stop work, in all the other areas the contractors are still working. Soon, I am going to inject more funds into road construction. We were given loan, yes, but we have added so much over and above to get the road construction going.
How did you spend your own Paris Club intervention fund?
The first tranche of Paris Club, 80% was spent on salaries. We had a situation where the LGs owed two months salary, the state was owing one month. So, when we got funds we paid salaries and we made salary issue history. The records are there. Bauchi is essentially a civil service state, so it’s not too much, and this was what we did also with the bailout. We used every kobo unlike other states.
You have brought President Buhari to Bauchi twice within a short period of time, how did you achieve this?
If you recall from the first time President Buhari contested for election in 2003 he had been consistently defeating even sitting Presidents in Bauchi, and Mr. president is very appreciative of this. You can see this with the number of his appointments to people of Bauchi, and every time he goes to Bauchi one of his comments is the apparent genuineness of the people of Bauchi. One woman at the Emir’s palace was crying because she had seen Baba, so the love is natural real and that is why.
What about the area of health?
When we came on board, we realized that the health sector needs serious rejigging, if you are able to get primary health care right then the rest is easy. We immediately latched on the Federal Govrnment’s programme of ensuring one efficient primary health care (PHC) center in every ward, so we constructed 19 brand new PHCs in all the LGs except the capital.
And polio eradication was suffering but the Dangote foundation, Bill Gates foundation, USAID and states were supposed to contribute, I took that up, paid the outstanding, and I’m paying religiously. This is all in a bid to improve health. And in addition, we have been paying more than the 15% recommend for allocation of total budget to health, we have been paying 16%, some of the facilities I visited I could have cried, including our tertiary institutions.
What about Yankari Game Reserve?
From inception, the first place out of Bauchi I visited when I became governor was Yankari Game Reserve, that was because I had a stint there while I was growing up in the civil service of the state. For two years, I was Company Secretary of that place, I was hands on, I was participating in its management, every Friday I would drive down, weekends were peak periods. I conduct room checks myself. There was a time 24 new chalets were constructed by the Sani Sami administration. We were to commission it, my Board came, Alh. Garba Gumel, Alh. Abubakar Snr. and others, Ajuji Waziri was Chairman, they came, asked about the chalets, I told them it was fine.
But they decided to see for themselves, I was so confident, we went but the first room we went was like a construction site, tiles stained, nails everywhere. So, from that point I said I would never take the words of anybody.
So, I have this love for Yankari, I started by renovating all the facilities. Thank God, the Muazu administration did a lot of renovation of the place so we did touch up and paid attention to things towels etc.
And I appointed a serious minded person as Sole Administrator, and I now became the number one marketer of Yankari on social media which served to attract a lot of clientele.
So, with all this progress I am making slowly and carefully, why, because we are located within the North Eastern region which is a complete put off. The current US Ambassador came to Bauchi without notice and called me that he wanted a first hand experience, he said he found out Bauchi is hospitable and safe, so I thanked him and requested for him to advice his people that it is safe for them to visit.
And we have Sumu Wild Park, it is special and novel because the animal species you find there are not found anywhere in the W/African sub-region except in zoos. Ahmed Muazu went to Namibia and Kenya and brought some species.
Looking back at three years of your administration, what would you have done differently?
Well, what I would have done differently, the ongoing verification of staff, the way I started, I was messed up by a lot of people I trusted to the extent that I had to go on air to apologize to the good people of Bauchi state. I told them two forms of mistakes were made, one was deliberate, the other because I am the leader I take full responsibility and apologized. So, given the chance I will do that differently.
What do you intend to do in the remaining period of your term?
I will reinvigorate myself, so many things need to be done and with very little resources, but I have never deceived myself that it was going to be easy. I used to tell people that Abuja was my comfort zone, I left my comfort zone and joined the murky waters of politics but it was because I was convinced that there was something that needed to be done, I thank Almighty Allah for His mercies.
People thought I was boasting when I said at age 24 I was already a big man, in the sense that I was a head of department in the House of Assembly in Bauchi, I was head of legal drafting. I used to sit elderly people at management meetings, from that point on I have not looked back, so Almighty has been kind to me. If I should go to Bauchi and not do things differently then I will not be fair to myself, so this is my driving force and that is why there is a lot of noise in Bauchi, it is because I have decided to do things differently.
I have a four-year mandate as governor of Bauchi, that is what God has given me, at when he gave me this he never conferred with me, so whatever comes in future I leave it to the Almighty. I want to succeed in the mandate he has given me and I thank Him for what he has given me.
What Message do you have for the people of Bauchi State?
I crave for the understanding of Bauchi citizens, because they should understand where we found ourselves when we took over and the difficulties that befell the country. We thank God for the resilience of President Buhari we are out of recession, and with God’s help the economy will recover and when that happens and we are able to get additional funds into the coffers of Bauchi state government, I am assuring them that we are going to excel beyond their dreams.
We will do wonders in Bauchi because that is what they elected us for. They should be law abiding, respect their leaders and pray for them, we should not deviate from it otherwise the wrath of the Almighty will descend on us. I thank them for their understanding and appreciate them.
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