AZIGE LOUIS M.
On May 29th, 2019, His Excellency, Governor Abdullahi A. Sule, an Engineer nicknamed “The Industrialist” received the mantle of leadership as the 4th elected Governor of Nasarawa State amidst high expectations from the people. The economy of the state and the overall wellbeing of the people was the main thrust of his campaign. He has spent the first year of his four year term. Although it is difficult to say if one year is enough or not for him to do anything substantial to address the challenges confronting the state’s economy and the wellbeing of the people, given his experience and what he was exposed to by his predecessor, one year is enough to understand the direction and aspirations of his administration.
In his inaugural address, Engr. Sule pledged that industrialization will be the cardinal objective of his government. This is to provide employment and wealth creation that will be an integral part of the overall industrial policy of his Administration. An integrated employment creation strategy that will encompass industrial, agricultural, commercial, vocational and such other related ventures was to be considered. He promised to encourage small, medium and large scale industries, develop agriculture and attract investors among others.The birth of Nasarawa Economic Development Strategy (NEDS), which captures the specific vision of the Engr. Sule led administration and focuses on employment and wealth creation, accelerated industrialization, infrastructure development, human capital development and urban and sustainable housing development gives a very clear direction of what to expect from the government between 2019 and 2023.
There is no doubt about the sincerity and vision of Engr. Sule for Nasarawa State. Considering his background, exposure and wealth of experience in the private sector as well as his numerous attempts to govern the state in the past, the expections on him to at least deliver a greater good to a greater majority of the people is justifiable. More so, given the foundation that his predecessors had built and what they exposed him to, the least the people expect of him is to “exceed all expectations.”
The constitution and inauguration of Nasarawa Investment and Economic Development Advisory Council was one of the first and major initiatives of the Engr. Sule led administration and was considered by many to be a laudable attempt at taking deliberate steps to improve the economic fortunes of the state. The Advisory Council led by Konyisola Ajayi, a renowned Professor, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and an investment guru is advising the government on how best to attract investment to the state. The Council is supporting and implementing the Nasarawa State Economic Development Strategy (NEDS). This overall effort is already yielding the expected result.
In the last one year, a number of investors have identified with the state and expressed their desire to invest in the agricultural sector. Azman Rice Mills and Farms Limited is cultivating 20,400 hectares of land in Toto; Dangote Group is acquiring 50 hectares of land to set up rice plants in Doma while Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc is also acquiring 10 hectares of land to set up cassava processing plant in Wamba Local Government Areas of the state. This is in addition to already existing investments in rice and sugar production by Olam Farms and Dangote Group in Doma and Awe Local Government Areas of the state. The out growers programme tied to these investments will no doubt create job opportunities for many people. These investments will also add value to agricultural products and provide access to market for local farmers to sell their products, thereby enhancing food security.
The Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) reports that $56 million worth of investment was announced in the agricultural sector in Nasarawa State in the first quarter of 2020. This is higher than investment announcements for Lagos, Ekiti and many other states of the federation over the same period . This means that even though a lot more needs to be done, the inductrialization drive of the Engr. Sule led government is yielding results.
Upon assumption of office, Engr. Sule also made efforts to encourage agricultural production among the people. Early in the year, the state government procured 240 metric tons of assorted fertilizers and distributed to the people for dry season farming at subsidized rates. Only few days ago, the government again flagged-off the sales of 390 metric tons (18,600 bags) of NPK 20:10:10 fertilizer for the year 2020 farming season to be sold at N5,000 only per bag. This is in addition to partnership agreement with the Lower Benue River Basin Authority to access 500 hectares of land in Doma Local Government Area for the production of rice to provide employment opportunities and contribute to food security. More so, some selected farmers in Awe, Obi and Keana Local Government Areas of the state are benefiting from the Value Chain Development Programme for small farmers in the state by Japanese Agricultural Funding – a scheme designed to provide mechanized farming equipment that will enhance the quality and quantity of rice produced by local farmers in the state.
In the last one year, Nasarawa State also made significant contribution to food security in Nigeria in spite of the challenges confronting her agricultural sector. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report that some 16 Northern states of the federation will face food and nutrition crisis between June and August, 2020 and Nasarawa State is not one of them.
However, armed group activities and farmer-herder conflict has increased in Northern Nigeria in 2019 and spiraled into different types of violence such as banditry, cattle rustling, kidnapping, sexual violence and looting. A recent report by International Organization for Migration on internal displacement in eight (8) states affected by communal violence and farmer-herder conflict (Nasarawa inclusive) indicates that around 540,000 people are displaced by the persistent violence. Nasarawa State also has her fare share of these challenges.
It is however, worthy to note that until a deliberate strategy is adopted to ensure that boundaries are respected to curtail clashes between herders and crop farmers, and kidnapping is brought to a halt, crop farmers will not be able to produce good yields for the state. Investors setting up plants for production in various parts of the state will also not deliver their best if their investment is not guaranteed adequate security. This will mean that the people will remain unemployed while local farmers will remain poor as value will not be added to their products.
To provide job opportunities and enhance development in the state, it is important to encourage small and medium scale enterprises, and this is part of the aspirations of the Engr. Sule led administration although not very much has been done in this regard in the last one year. Regardless of the fact that he has attempted to empower women by providing 100 vulnerable of them selected across the 13 Local Government Areas of the state with sewing and grinding machines donated by the Nigerian Ports Authority, a lot more is expected to make a difference in the lives of the majority of the people in fulfillment of his pledge to ‘encourage small, medium and large scale industries’ and thereby improving the economic fortunes of the state and its people. There are many citizens of the state who have acquired various vocational skills in fashion designing, plumbing, electrical works, metal and wood works, and a host of others but do not have the needed material and resources to engage in production.
The Engr. Sule led government’s industrialization drive will make more meaning when poverty, unemployment and inequality are addressed and reduced by improved fortunes. The vision of every government, especially in the developing world is to address basic challenges that relates to these three fundamental issues daily affecting the people. At the end of his reign, Engr. Sule will be rated base on successes attained in this regard.
The poverty and inequality statistics for Nasarawa State recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics is alarming and the state should be very concerned. 57.3% of the state’s population is reported to be poor. This is above the national average of 40.1%. A state rich with abundant agricultural and mineral resources have no reason to have this high record of poverty. This however is the result of the near total absence of investments in production to add value to these abundant resources.
To ensure that a good number of the state’s population is lifted out of poverty, and job opportunities created, the Engr. Sule led government must sustain and in fact, increase its effort at providing a conducive environment to encourage investments especially in the agricultural sector. The government must also make hard choices to save resources and invest in critical infrastructures (road, energy and water supply, and security) that are capable of attracting investments and empowering the people.
The economy and welfare of the people must remain Engr. Sule’s top priority and every decision must be tailored towards improving it. Effective governance is beyond paying salaries and pensions and giving food items to the needy. For the government to be judged effective in 2023, it must deliver quality services with a sustainable economic plan to lift its people out of poverty and unemployment and reduce inequality.