BY VICTORIA N.IKEANO
Nasarawa state governor, Engr. Abdullahi A. Sule who has lived abroad for several years as well as worked for most part of his adult life in the corporate world where best practices are the norm with little room for guile, appears to be coming face to face with reality of the Nigerian political environment. One of the things he would have learnt in the past one year since he became governor is that because most of our politicians/leaders often speak from both sides of their mouths, their words are usually not taken on their face value but interpreted to mean something else. The second thing he would have learnt as he transited from corporate to public governance is the wiles of civil servants, government workers – their laissez faire attitude to work and especially their financial shenanigans – which is why he set off to reform the civil service, pruning down the number of ministries and blocking leakages. And now he has just signed the Procurement Bill into law. This ensures that things are done by the books, transparently and accountably. Specifically, it makes for competitiveness, innovation in the delivery of government services as well as making Nasarawa state more inclusive and conducive for the private sector
The third thing he would have realized over the last 12 months is that the average Nigerian, the masses gauge democracy dividends by the amount of free money they can get. They would prefer to be given fishes aplenty than to be taught how to fish; the average Nigerian does not have the patience to wait for the cake to be properly mixed with the right quality ingredients for higher yield after cooking; he/ she thinks only of today, not tomorrow. Which is why most of our leaders play to the gallery, are short sighted and have no long term defined plans to make for sustainable development. And that is why 21 years after we began a new democratic journey in 1999, we are still largely grappling with the first level of democracy dividends – provision of basic infrastructure. By now we aught to have moved to the next level which is industrialization that would bring far more dividends of democracy because of its multiplier effects.
A core industrialist who is used to producing things and with a calm exterior behind which lie a disciplined, focused, hardworking personality that does not allow himself to be distracted in whatever way, Governor Sule has set himself the rather tall order of making Nasarawa state the fifth most competitive state in the federation by 2023. His uncommon commitment to this singular goal in which is embedded wealth creation and eradication of poverty is amazing. And he has already laid the theoretical framework for it with the Nasarawa Economic Development Strategy (NEDS), a document that literally identifies and spells out the roadmap towards achieving this; establishment of the Nasarawa Investment and Economic Advisory Council made up of international business experts and global leaders of thought; Initiating reforms to facilitate ease of doing business – this is to internalize in the state, reforms by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council; improving the state’s fiscal framework through development of the Medium Term Sector Strategy that provides a robust and transparent budgeting and economic planning in the state; development of the Nasarawa State Investors’ Guide, to guide potential investors to the state.
Since the state has comparative advantage in the agricultural sector, it is not surprising that the governor’s industrialization drive is hinged firstly, on agro-based, agro-allied industries. This not only creates employment opportunities for the indigenous communities, it also creates wealth, thus enhancing their living standards thereby curbing poverty in addition to an array of other benefits in the value chain. Of the state’s 2.7 million hectares of land, one million hectares is said to be arable. Indeed, Nasarawa state is one of Nigeria’s food basket. As managing director of Dangote Sugar company plc, Engr. Sule was instrumental to getting the Dangote Group sign a memorandum of understanding with the previous administration for establishment of a 700 million dollars sugar refinery in Tunga, Awe local government council. It consisted of 68,000 hectares of sugar plantation and two sugar factories with a production capacity of 430,000 tonnes per year of refined white sugar which is about 30 per cent of the country’s sugar consumption. When expanded to 100,000 hectares in its second phase, this project is primed to be Africa’s largest sugar plantation. And it is estimated to provide employment for some 40,000 persons, including 10,000 out-growers.
However, this over N217 billion project was hampered by disputes over land compensation. And upon assuming office as governor in May, 2019, Sule quickly resolved the problem, enabling commencement of work. In the last one year he has allocated another 50,000 hectares of land to the Dangote Group for establishment of rice plants in Doma,Tunga, Nasarawa just as a tripartite memorandum of understanding was signed with Azman Rice and Farms Limited to cultivate 14,000 hectares for rice production in Umasha, Toto local government council. Also, in Umasha, Flour Mills plc has started setting up its own cassava and sugar plantations on a 20,000 hectares land. Olam had since entrenched itself in Rukubi, Doma local government council and plans are afoot to allocate more land to it for cultivation. Nasarawa state has now been selected for the north central zone, by the African Development Bank (AFDB) as site for the Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones, similar to Free Trade Zone. Since Nasarawa state is rich in solid minerals(it is called land of solid minerals) the next phase of this industrialization drive will be establishment of solid minerals based factories. Currently, the loose ends in that sub sector is being tied, rules and regulations being formulated to make for smooth private-sector participation.
Nonetheless, Governor Sule has not overlooked other sectors that are key to rapid industrialization of the state, chief among which is peace and security. There can be no meaningful development/progress without a peaceful environment. It is the foundation on which every other thing thrives. In the last one year the governor has been holding regular security meetings with his counterpart in Benue State, with security chiefs in the state and stakeholders. He hosted the security summit for the north central zone, just as he hosted the historic mediation meeting between Benue and Taraba states. He has increased the number of security bases in Nasarawa State from nine to 16. In April this year he donated vehicles, motorcycles, communication and other security gadgets as well as two military “super-camps” to security agents. So far, there has not been any notable communal conflict as in the days of yore.
Sule continues to complete some of the infrastructural projects started by his predecessor, believing that governance is a continuum, just as he is initiating his own in the areas of rural road construction, electricity, education, etc. Moreover, the state is now entrenching and leveraging on the digital economy in its services.