I can say with all certainty that the transformation agenda is on course. His Excellency, Captain Wada has been clear as to the desire to reposition the state in a manner that would fast track development. From the very onset, the governor is clear headed about his vision for the state. He didn’t want to pass through without making impressionable marks. It is quite clear that agriculture remains a major plank of this agenda. We have the rice farm, the cassava farm, and cocoa as well as cotton plantation to drive the agenda in the sphere of agriculture. We also have cassava processing plant. To add to all of these, agriculture is being used as a tool to ensure youth employment and entrepreneurship. In other areas like education, the government has continued to ensure that it is given the pride of place by ensuring that the condition of service of teachers is looked into carefully. Every policy from the National Council on Education is given a proper positioning within our own set up. In the area of healthcare delivery, the state has remained polio –free. The unfortunate area where we haven’t fared well is in the area of the increasing scourge of HIV/AIDS and the governor has charged the ministry of health and every stakeholder in the health sector to rise up to the challenge posed by the situation for us to address the problem. The governor has continued to chart necessary free health programmes for our teeming populace. The whole essence of these free health services is to cater for the health needs of the people knowing fully well that there are people who might not be able to afford the cost of treatment. The government has also been backing all immunization programmes. Our specialist hospital has just taken delivery of new badge of equipments to improve on their service delivery. The administration has also been spending huge sums on the procurement of drugs. Let me disclose to you the plan of government as regard the health needs of our people. Before long, a health programme would be unfolded targeted at improving healthcare delivery in all parts of the state. The government, I must say is concerned that the state no longer has inter and intra transport services. In a matter of weeks, that would be addressed. By and large, the transformation agenda is on course. It is less than one and a half years and appreciable progress has been made. We have in all sincerity, made a quantum lift. Very soon, we will unfold new areas. The whole essence, I like to add, is for us as a people to appreciate that there is virtue in planning and I think that we are achieving something in that direction.
How suddenly has rice taken the centre stage?
Rice has always being in our national life. Do you know that the country spends a whooping N1 billion every day to import rice? Maybe, we have suddenly just discovered the suitability of rice to grow on our soil and the governor has merely taken advantage of the potentials of the state in that regard to once again; drum the state into the consciousness of the nation. Captain Wada has been driving the process of this revolution in agriculture. We have a huge capacity to earn revenue from rice production. It is a major channel of development with diverse multiplier effects on the state. For now, we have five rice mills with each having the capacity to mill 2,000kg per day. The federal government has also gone ahead to earmark additional two rice mills for the state. Any moment from now, the state will become a major producer of rice in the country.
What is happening to the rice produced? Have we started to eat the rice?
Not yet. We have them in our warehouse. We are processing them. We will polish the rice. Afterward, we will decide what should be done. Let me assure you that we have very high yield.
What is the level of private sector participation in the programme given the fact that many governments are increasingly divesting their interest in business because of non-profitability?
The approach the state is bringing to bear on the project is akin to what the private sector would do. On the farm, we have a consultant to ensure that we operate in line with best practice. Private individuals are also partnering with government to produce rice on the farm and the proceeds are to be shared based on an agreed ratio.
The administration, on assumption of office, raised a committee to prepare a development blueprint for the state. Is the blueprint being followed?
I must confess that it has been very tough but by and large, the spirit and letter of the blueprint is being adhered to. A programme is a plan, as you progress, you may see a need to make some adjustments and so on. But one thing is sure; we are not working too far away from the blueprint. It has been more like our road map.
How has the state been coping in the face of tight finances?
The issue of finance or funding is a global challenge. It is a major challenge that has kept us on our toes. It has made us begin to task our thinking faculties to see what we can do to stay afloat. In this direction therefore, we are doing something about our internally generated revenue, IGR which has gone up by at least a 100 per cent. By the time the bill guiding the operation of the internal revenue board is passed and signed into law, the board will be sufficiently empowered to launch out fully.
Considering the state’s experience arising from last year’s flood and given the fact that there are predictions for similar occurrence this year, what is your greatest prayer?
My prayer is that may it not happen this year. From all the predictions and reports, it appears that the flood will come sooner than last year. The best we can do is to be better prepared. As a committee, we meet regularly to fine-tune our strategies. We don’t want to be caught napping. We are making arrangements for proper camps because we don’t want to disrupt school activities just as it happened last year. We are also making arrangement on how relief materials can be better received. However, let me say that we do not want to over anticipate the flood but even at that, we don’t have reason to be caught napping and that is why we are planning and making projections ahead of time so that at the drop of the heart, we can access all that we require to mitigate the effect of any flood disaster. As we speak, we are already making contact with places we can get relief materials from. By and large, if the flood comes, we will be ready. People in flood-prone areas should be ready to move. We are already sounding this warning and we are being careful not to be draconic in enforcing the order but we expect them to show understanding that all we are doing is in their interest. We don’t want to be too heavy-handed.
Talking about being prepared, the housing project being undertaken, can they be ready as camps before the flood sets in?
The houses being built are not meant to serve as camps. They are post-flood housing scheme. They are houses built to ensure that those who live in flood planes access them. We have about 250 units which, we consider grossly inadequate but it is a good starting point. It is government’s gesture of concern. The houses are not ready but we are making good progress and hopefully by September, they should be ready.
What are the modalities for accessing the houses?
That, I believe is being worked upon by the relevant authority.
Last year, the flood committee faced a lot of challenges ranging from lack of warehouse to pilfering of some of the materials. What are your plans towards solving these problems?
All that you have said is news to me. We didn’t have problem with where to store our materials and let me tell you, we effectively distributed all that we had. The only problem we had was that of identification. In many camps especially in city centres, we had people who are not internally displaced persons coming to collect materials which they go and sell. This time around, we are working hard on getting our data capturing system in place. I can assure you that we will get over the problem.
There is an outcry about the amounts that was given as compensation to the victims. Sir, what is the true picture?
Let me explain what the donations were meant for. The N500 million from the federal government is to provide succour in terms of relief materials to the victims who were in the camps but because we got so much relief materials from good spirited individuals, we kept the money until many of the relief material had been dispensed. That was when we started to buy. Also, from the money, roads that were made impassable by the flood had to be fixed. We also used part of the money as seed fund for the housing project. Later, we sat down and categorised the nine local government areas affected into three just as the federal government did and gave them money according to the magnitude of disaster in their respective areas. At that level, we instituted stakeholders’ committee and the committee was expected to decide what is to be done with the amount they received. In some places, the money was used to fix roads or some other infrastructure destroyed by the flood. It is laughable when people say that all that victims got was a paltry N1,000. Whatever was given as cash was to facilitate their return home after the flood. We had the biggest problem in Ajaokuta and Lokoja. Honestly, the government did its utmost best.
It’s almost one and a half years that you assumed this position. Do you a times wish you are not the one wearing the cap?
I have always enjoyed wearing this cap (laughing, he removes his cap from his head)
No, it is not about the cap, it is about the office.
One and a half year into this assignment, I give thanks to God for giving me a leader like Captain Idris Wada. To be honest with you, I am a very busy deputy governor. I thank my boss for the trust he reposes in me. I pray that I don’t disappoint him or the people of the state. It can be quite tough and frustrating though, especially when you are not able to choose those you work with. It is a big challenge. By and large, the average civil servant in the state is desirous of progress. It has been quite wonderful and one prays that it gets better each day.
Just today, someone said he is poorer by accepting to serve. Do you feel the same way?
My perception of the whole issue is different. I don’t judge my being here on the basis of material wealth. I am richer by experience. I am richer by my knowledge of the state. I am richer by the people I have come to know and relate with in the course of doing this job. My mind has been opened to the richness and vast potentials of the state. All of these, you cannot measure in monetary terms but they are solid gains. Yes, I am poorer by the fact that I have not seen my children for 18 months but again, it is about service. On the whole, I am fulfilled and happy doing what I am doing.
Now, let’s talk about your Ibaji project. How far?
Ibaji is a work in progress. I am so passionate about the people. I think we are making sufficient progress and I appreciate the communities from both ends for agreeing to now begin to discuss even though it was achieved after lives had been lost. I also commend the National Boundary Commission for its resolved to see the matter amicably resolved. All that I know is that we will have what is due to us.