Nigeria will be 60 years soon and there are fears that we may not have attained nationhood. What is your take on this?
As people, we must thank God for where we are as a nation. For the last six decades, one cannot but show appreciation for what we have. We have had good and bad moments. We went through a civil war that was induced by selfish lack of interest for the Nigerian flag. We fought for 30 months and lots of lives and properties were destroyed. During that period, Nigeria never borrowed for once and he brought reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration. Since then we have seen series of memory intervention which I will leave for historians to judge. My prayer is that, the positive aspect of what we have learned will be used to pilot the affairs of Nigeria.
Likewise, Nasarawa State will be 24 years. As the first civil governor and elder statesman, how do you view its competitive strength compared to others states in Nigeria?
One has to be grateful again, because with Nigerian independence, we were adolescents but with creation of Nasarawa State, we were the major actors, we were involved in travelling all over to solicit for support. Unfortunately some of the people we embarked on this journey with, are not alive to see the reality. We hope that agriculture will take the front burner. I am happy that the current administration is piloting the ship of state back on course. Agriculture is getting the prominence it deserves under Eng A.A. Suleiman in Nasarawa State.
What should people remember as your legacy in Nasarawa?
As the first democratically elected governor of the state, I can say that at 24, we are still grappling to find our feet. Ordinarily, a 24 year-old man should be matured but we have a long way to go. When I came on board, we had 13 local governments and if you know Lafiya, you will know that the LG chairman’s office was my office. Gen Abdulsalam gave the new state N250 million to ensure the provision of Democratic institutions. I had to start from the scratch. We started developing barren lands. We set up the polytechnic, ministries,the universities, city hall of Lafiya, fertiliser plant, government house, governor’s office, hotel on Shendam road, these were all built during my time. The international market in Mararaba, the general hospital in mararaba, NYSC in Keffi and other key structures were built during my time. My allocation then was just N680 million. By the time I finished as governor, the allocation rose to N1.2 billion. Every local government and district, had additional classrooms and made education compulsory. When we set up the university, people opposed it, that the state doesn’t have the resources. I said I made a promise during the elections, so I will fulfill it. Our internal generated revenue was about N500,000 then. So there wasn’t enough, yet we did those gigantic projects. While this was happening, we had states that were getting N18 billion at that time. During our governors meeting, one of our colleagues said, money is not their problem, but how to spend it.
Coming back to the centre, the CAMA act has generated lots of mix reaction with some advocating for it’s abolishment. What is your take on this?
First we must understand what CAMA is all about because government will not shift its position on this. We have a situation where every Tom, Dick and Harry wakes up and opens a church. He is The head and his wife or son are the board members. Every kobo that comes to the organisation is not accountable to anybody. If he or she falls dead, his son or wife takes over. No declaration of offering, no payment of taxes and no accountability. We have other churches like COCIN, ECWA and Catholic who have not complained about the Act. Nobody wants to harass or stop churches from functioning, but there must be law and order. That is how It is done all over the world. If the Catholic will obey the laws, why won’t Pentecostal obey it? Is it that others are not Christians or don’t obey the Bible? What makes them different that they don’t want to obey the law?
What informed your decision to sponsor on TETFUND?
TETFUND sponsors universities and because they have more resources, they take good lecturers from colleges of agriculture and others. The colleges were losing manpower because those institutions getting funding were poaching staff from the colleges. The colleges are now becoming less attractive. If you don’t get the right expertise, there is no way we can go forward agriculturally. We are hoping that once the funds of colleges of Agriculture are improved, we will have better students and better results in research and it will be better for the country. The research council is supposed to be the apex in research, and every research should emanate from there. We had about 22 research institutes in Nigeria but they are not properly funded. The legislation has been abused with careless abundance. People who lead the place are not scientists at all. Most of the DG’s who are supposed to be number one in research, read others things yet, they are made head of such agencies. Some even stop seeing themselves as research institutes, but as public institutions rendering public service. That brought its performance to its knees. With this law, everybody will sit up. National development funds are not judiciously used for the purpose. At the moment if you go to a research institution, their current is always 100 per cent, but when you go to capital, you will get 20 per cent or less. And that is the fund required to buy equipment. Over the last ten years, no meaningful research has taken place in the institutions. We must fight until the right thing is done.
But the Federal Government keeps blaming middle men for the high cost of food prices and low production of agricultural produce…
I am a farmer and I can tell you that, I don’t make the money market people make. We have the Shylock and those who are not happy with the closure of the border, those who want to import food from outside and sabotage the Federal Government, but government will persevere. We must eat what we produce.
Federal Government was reported to have imported thousands of metric tons of maize. Nigerians are worried this is a sign that we have lost capacity to produce and feed ourselves. What do you think?
They imported maize because there is a high demand for it. We have poultry farmers who have need for it. I don’t approve of it but, I am sure government has a good reason to do that. I am a farmer and I have maize in my farm. I won’t be happy if they import maize but, if there is a short fall and in the face of demand and supply, I will be the first to support that.