Babale Umar is the secretary to the state government (SSG) in Kebbi State. In this interview with ANKELI EMMANUEL, he spoke on the ongoing industrial revolution, civil service reforms, and other sundry issues. He revealed that he never had any political contact with Governor Atiku Abubakar Bagudu before his appointment as SSG.
The government of Atiku Abubakar Bagudu is five years old in Kebbi State. As the SSG, what is your assessment of the administration?
No doubt the government in our state is five years plus now. And good enough, anybody can see our achievements by revisiting where we were before the coming of this administration of Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu.
One of the achievements is the fact that the people of Kebbi State before now relied on funds from the federal government. But good enough, Governor Bagudu has succeeded in changing their psychology from depending on that to making people cater for themselves. He has made them economically strong.
The governor has empowered them to become self-reliant. This, the government has achieved by taking to agriculture to diversify the income of the people. The people solely rely on what they produce and are doing well than the usual way of waiting for government to give handouts.
As I am talking to you, some of the industries that are coming up in Kebbi, not even the big ones, but the cottage industries are basically because of the agricultural revolution in the state. These industries are springing up almost in every village in the state. That is a very good pointer which indicates that in the near future, we will be self-sufficient by having food security and people will stop total reliance on the government.
Then, the second most important achievement of this administration is peace. The peaceful coexistence of the people is very encouraging and legendary. This peace also translate to the political front as previously, you will find out that opposition was very, very powerful but now almost all the people of the state have deserted opposition because of the cherished accommodating nature of the governor.
And in rural development, if you have that opportunity which we are trying to create for media people to go round our villages and find out what we have achieved, you will be amazed at what this government has done.
In the area of education, a lot of schools were built; furniture and equipment were procured and put there. Our people are no more siting on the ground to learn, hence accelerating our educational system and acceptance.
The coming of this administration also led to the establishment of many industries because of the good enabling atmosphere laced with favourable policies that has made it possible for people to come and invest in the state.
A few examples include the Waccot Rice Mill, Lolo Rice Mill, Dangote is also building another one in Saminaka and we are currently trying through the cooperation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to establish an ethanol industry in the Zuru area, of which our target is to create a revenue of around N376 billion and we have started with the farms where over 3,000 people are already in that plantation.
And in Waura, Gafara area, GB Foods has established and started producing which will be commissioned soon by President Muhammadu Buhari. The governor’s leadership qualities coupled with the agricultural revolution have made private individuals to invest in our economy by establishing industries in the state..
And in tourism, we have resuscitated the Argungu Fishing Festival, which was not celebrated for the last 10 years. We also resuscitated the Regatta Festival which was also not observed for the past 15 years. These are almost areas where this government has tried so that the people will be more integrated. All areas where you find tribal conflicts have all been addressed.
Coming to the civil service, there is a revolution which we did that people are not really aware of. Before the coming of this administration, there was was a State Tenders Board where everything that had to do with the award of contracts from zero kobo to billions of naira were being undertaken by the governor but this administration abolished that system.
Now, for a contract to be awarded, you do not need to see the governor, Atiku Bagudu, it is the ministries that award contracts which is something that had never happened in most states of the federation.
Besides that, once the governor gives approval for any work, you don’t have to see him again before the Ministry of Finance pays the money.
Most importantly is the fact that projects are not given without funds availability so that you get your payment once the project is executed, inspected and approved.
Less I forget, the era where people have to gather at the Government House to get favours has been eliminated. Both the Commissioners, SSG, Chief of Staff are all allowed to do their jobs. So you don’t have to see the governor for anything that relates to your ministry.
What impact has the governor made on human capital development?
This is an area where the governor has also concentrated more resources. There are certain trades that hitherto we look at as trades that did not receive government’s patronage. For instance, fishermen, women groups, GSM repairers and sellers, wood sellers and all of them have been empowered by the Governor Bagudu-led adminstration. The government gave them capital for their businesses to thrive.
Part of the Anchor Borrowers Programme in the state was simply targeted at women and there is even a project worth over N2 billion that was set aside for women entrepreneurs.
And a lot of the cottage industries and other incentives were also given to women groups.
You have worked with different governments in Kebbi state right from the military era to this present one. What is your view about Atiku Abubakar Bagudu?
Yes, I have worked with almost every government right from the old Sokoto State and at present in Kebbi State. I have worked as Permanent Secretary, Head of Service and now the SSG.
One of the things that stands Governor Bagudu is the fact that there is no political contact between myself and the governor before he even appointed me as the SSG.
His belief is that Kebbi is a joint project for all of us. Kebbi cannot take political wrangling and all of that. If we do that, we cannot contain it. Remember, I told you that he has not victimised any single civil servant. And if you look at the other governments that I have worked with, you will realised that his pattern of governance is very unique.
Most amusingly is the fact that the governor is always ready to take corrections. He doesn’t victimise you because of your feelings. In the State Executive Council (SEC) meetings, you are free to criticise and challenge any decision that might have been taken by the governor and he has been reversing virtually all of those decisions that have not gone well with the people unlike other governors who say that whatever they say is final.
In the case of Governor Bagudu, you are free to make comments in the SEC meetings. And it is because of his proven leadership prowess that he has been able to bring almost all the former governors of the state into one political party. Any political bigwig you find in Kebbi State today is in the All Progressives Congress (APC) because the governor has united us.
In Kebbi State, we are one big family. Though that does not mean that we do not have differences at times but the governor tries to manage the differences for a common goal.
What is your message to the people of the state in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic?
For a state like Kebbi, we need to take COVID-19 as a pandemic that exists and we must encourage our people to follow the professional advice given by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). We encourage our people to obey social distancing, wearing of facemasks, regular washing of hands, using of hand sanitisers and others being put in place by the NCDC.
On the part of the people, my advice for them is to be patient as the revenue coming to the government is certainly not enough to take care of virtually everything especially with the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. Some funds allocated for other things must be reverted to fight this pandemic. I am therefore appealing to all to be patient, as time goes on, I am sure some of the things will be treated by the government.