Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, in this interview with ADELEKE ADESANYA, speaks on a wide range of issues affecting his state and the country. He also assesses the measures required to take Nigeria out of the current economic quagmire. Excerpts:
The last administration in your state promised to improve the welfare of religious and traditional rulers in the state, including providing them with vehicles and modernising their palaces. Why haven’t your government done much in this regard?
First, this government respects traditional institutions and since we came on board, we have accorded them the respect they deserve. They play important roles in efforts to sustain peace and security, and in a larger sense, they promote religious and communal harmony. Because of their place in our history, we know we cannot do anything less for them. But you will agree with me that our financial situation since we came on board has been precarious.
MANY THOUGHT WE WERE RAISING THE ALARM BECAUSE WE HAD PERSONAL HATRED FOR HIM …I HAD NOTHING PERSONAL AGAINST THE FORMER PRESIDENT. THE RECESSION WE ARE CURRENTLY FACING IS AS A RESULT OF THE WAY THE ECONOMY WAS MISMANAGED, LARGELY, BY THE JONATHAN ADMINISTRATION.
Government has cut back on much expenditure, and has prioritised areas of needs for the whole state. I am happy that our traditional rulers have understood clearly what we are faced with and they have not pressured us to continue with the policy of fixing their palaces, when there are more competing needs in our hospitals, primary healthcare centres, agriculture, education, youth, women empowerment among others.
Similarly, if you look into the number and importance of projects we met on ground and the pressure to complete them, what we did was the best for the state. We have inherited about 30 large and important projects from the last administration, and we are working hard to complete all of them and put them to use for the benefit of the citizens. These are projects that we have to complete because allowing them rot away will lead to wastage of funds earlier expended to start these projects.
Our philosophy has been to take these gradually, depending on availability of funds, and complete them before delving into new ones. That policy has served us well in the last two years and we are happy to put them to use. What you may not be aware of is that many of those projects for traditional rulers were to be executed from the joint accounts with the local government councils. But at the moment, many of those councils cannot carry out any meaningful project outside the payment of salaries. We have, several times, bailed them out to enable them to meet their obligations to workers. In such a situation, I don’t think they are buoyant enough to embark on building and repairs of palaces.
You spoke about local government councils, but there are complaints that many of their workers don’t get their salaries on time. What is responsible for that?
We have carried out verification exercise to determine the correct number of workers in each of the 23 local government councils of Sokoto State. What we met on ground was beyond reason because the strength of the workforce in our local government councils is twice more than that of Kano that has 44 local government areas. We felt this was not sustainable. We are continuing with the biometric verification to ensure that only genuine workers remain in the schedule of payment, and they will be paid according to their levels. We must do this to sanitise the system and ensure ghost workers or absentee workers do not find sanctuary in the local government system.
A few days ago, you dissolved the management team of the state’s Board of Internal Revenue. Why now and secondly, what is the current IGR figure for Sokoto State?
For almost two years, we gave the dissolved team the necessary incentives and support to improve the internal revenue base of the state, but they haven’t done that. If you recall, I have stated publicly that we would take action to ensure better performance in revenue generation. After a review of their performance, we decided to bring in new persons to reposition the board. As for the figures, since we came on board, the monthly IGR for Sokoto has ranged between N340 and N400 million.
When I spoke to the Ministry of Finance, I was told that the previous administration received up to N500 million monthly. My argument is that this figure they are giving us is meagre. What we deduct monthly as PAYE from civil servants alone, should be in the range of this figure. So, what happened to other revenue sources? The new team has been mandated to put in place a new framework, which will boost performance and improve revenue figures.
With this new target, are we seeing tougher measures against members of the public who are not paying tax?
We are fully aware of the economic situation in the country, especially survival of businesses and the harsh conditions they are operating in at the moment. We will put that in consideration in pursuing what is due for the government. I am saying this because as leaders, we need to be clear about our intentions. Whenever we ask people to make sacrifices, we must reassure them that it is for the common good. So, we are telling the people that whatever they pay to government as tax will be applied judiciously for the benefit of all the people in the state.
How would you review the performance of the state’s 2016 budget?
I’ve spoken about this during the presentation of this year’s budget, and in fact when I assented to the budget law a few days ago. Taking a holistic view of the performance of the budget, I feel we can do more. That is why we started this year by making necessary changes in the personnel that drive the budget process, as can be seen from what we did at the board of internal revenue. We will continue to improve the system because time is not on our side. What I’m promising the people is that the performance of the 2017 budget will be better than that of 2016 in terms of implementation, while even distribution of resources will be ensured. We will start new projects across the state, with much emphasis placed on rural areas.
At the recent meeting of the Northern Governors Forum, you agreed to improve the security situation in your states. How far have you gone in that regard?
We discussed many areas of cooperation, for example, agriculture, education and the likes. As for security, we agreed to share intelligence and this has been paying off. Take for instance issues of castle rustling; because of renewed onslaught by security agencies and the inter-state collaboration among all the states, this problem has reduced. We still have few scattered instances, but we are working to tackle that as well. This cooperation is extending to cases of kidnapping, armed robbery, civil unrest and the likes. So, the more we collaborate, the better for us as states, and the better for our citizens.
Your Excellency, the government has done well in containing the fuel situation which was getting out of hand in the last few weeks. What are you doing with regard to prices of commodities in the market?
We read from the news that the Federal Government has set up a committee to ensure commodities are not priced out of the reach of the common man. In Sokoto, we’ve already established the state commodity board, which will work to give our farmers and citizens a fair deal. The board will buy grains from farmers and store them. We hope to intervene when situation is getting out of hand, as you have stated. We are already talking to the Federal Government and Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc for effective utilisation of the silos here in Sokoto by buying and storing grains so as to do some intervention when the situation arises. We intend to use the commodity board as a platform, whereby we can always off-take excess produce from our farmers.
Who or what is responsible for the current economic situation in Nigeria and secondly, what’s the way out of recession ?
Experts have called on the Federal Government to inject more money into the system. Personally, I believe creating job opportunities, especially through the construction industry, and the injection of more money into the economy, remain sure ways out of the current recession in the country. Ask any economist about the way out of recession, and I am sure they will inform you that massive construction efforts, backed by release of funds, will create jobs, whose multiplier effects will jumpstart the economic barometer. As Speaker of the House of Representatives, I’ve had reasons to disagree with many of the policies of the last administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, which we felt were inimical to the overall development and wellbeing of the people. Many thought we were raising the alarm because we had personal hatred for him. That is not the case. I had nothing personal against the former President. The recession we are currently facing is as a result of the way the economy was mismanaged, largely, by the Jonathan administration. What is the way out? I’ve said we need to inject money into the system and create employment opportunities for the people. And one way to do that is to engage in massive construction projects. It is part of the reason why we encouraged the Federal Government to disburse the funds from the debt relief for states to kick-start activities at regional level. Similarly, we’ve read how immediate-past president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, used this strategy of massive construction works to take America out of economic challenges. So, construction projects alone will create a lot of jobs, which will benefit the economy. We all know that Nigerians are not happy and are running out of patience, but they should be more patient. It is very easy to destroy, but to rebuild the economy takes time.
You have announced an incentive that will benefit some 25,000 women across the state. Can you shed more light on this?
What we are doing with the women groups is part of our overall strategy to assist small and medium scale entities to boost their operations. We’ve asked the Sokoto State Small and Medium Scale Enterprises Development Agency (SOSMEDA) to create a data base of all small business run by women in the state. As a starting point, we decided to empower 25,000 of these women who are in the rural areas with a soft loan of N10,000 each. That amounts to N250 million. We plan to expand it as time goes on, but we are starting with the first set who are getting the N10,000 each very soon.