In an interview with our Editor, VICTORIA IKEANO, last month, the immediate past Commissioner of Information, Culture and Tourism, DOGO SHAMMAH spoke on a number of issues. Below is text of the interview
QUESTION: Let us start from recent events. Organised labour in the state recently called off their strike action after 21 days. What is your reaction to this?
If you recall the strike was called off based on the understanding and agreement reached by the representatives of the organized labour and the Nasarawa state government. In fact the governor because of the interest he attaches to the recognition and contribution of the workforce to his administration was personally present during the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.); in the past this was done by Labour and the Head of Service or the Committee set up by government to negotiate with Labour. This time around the governor was personally present because of his passion for partnering with Labour. The understanding came about through dialogue that involved various stakeholders – traditional rulers, opinion leaders, government functionaries and so on; government agreed to effect the promotions starting from this August and we are a government that keeps to its pronouncements. We believe we cannot achieve much without the workers; we value our workforce and their contributions. This is why despite what we are going through; we have diversified means of getting the resources so that this issue will be a bygone issue.
We want workers to see us as partners in progress; we are the policy developers and they the implementers. Whenever grey issues crop up, let us handle it maturely, we should not go to the extreme of being at daggers drawn with ourselves and going on strike because strikes affect both the workers and the government negatively and even the citizenry too. For example, during the strike salaries were delayed and it had a spiral effect on the society. We should be aware that strikes have chain reactions which are not too good for us.
On the recently reported cash allegedly snatched by armed robbers from the ministry of finance?
I want to talk to my colleagues in the pen profession. I cherish and appreciate the contributions of members of the fourth estate of the realm in their reportage of Nasarawa State. Since I came on board they have viewed me by their actions as their ambassador. They have been giving us positive reports. I want us to apply ethical values in our reportage at all times The society looks up to us, they have confidence in the press; they believe that whatever comes through the press is the truth so we have to be very careful in our conduct. We are like the bridge between government and the governed. So we should apply wisdom in whatever we do. Am not saying we should not criticize. We are a government whose doors are open for criticism but let it be constructive criticism. Above all ethical balancing of reports must be observed. There was this news that went viral about the robbery in the Ministry of Finance recently. The figure quoted, N100 million naira is out of context. How can you as a government withdraw N100 million naira cash, where will you keep it, what sort of safe will take that amount? It was an error in error by some colleagues; some did not balance the report. Our colleagues should be mindful of what they write because we can destroy as well as build. The correct figure was N11.4 million and it was meant for purposes that I spelt out in my later press release. Am calling on our colleagues to be cautious because we can set fire and equally douse fire with our reportage.
The local government primary elections have come and gone and the ruling party, APC’s candidates for the election proper are as good as having won the election proper itself. Besides, politics seems to have kicked off in earnest with many support groups for the governor cropping up. Is the governor distracted by this politicking?
When we went on tour of the local government areas during our celebration of the second year anniversary, it was all endorsement, endorsement, endorsement, wherever we went. First of all the tour was meant to thank the people for the mandate they gave us in the first place in 2019; we could not do that in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic. Secondly, the tour was meant to get some kind of feedback from the people about what they feel about the government and it was based on the wonderful performance of the governor, Engr. Abdullahi A. Sule that the people started the endorsement, before we even clocked the two years in office. We believe that the endorsements are a correct, factual assessment that we did well in the first two years and we have so much more to do for the people in the remaining years. The governor made it clear that these endorsements, calls and agitations for him to go for a second term in 2023 will not distract him from focusing on what we have on ground for the people of Nasarawa state. While we thank the people for this we also say let us wait till 2023, our activities, performance and achievements will speak better for us then than now.
Nasarawa state had faced some security challenges. How would you assess the security situation now?
We as a government believe that when there is security there is development. So we believe that the issue of security must be tackled headlong. When we came on board we inherited security challenges like cross border issues that spilled over to Nasarawa state and the governor wasted no time in liaising with his counterparts in Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Kaduna and Kogi states in a bid to make the north central zone free of insecurity and that brought about the North Central Security Summit that was held in Nasarawa state, last year, February 2020. That is an indication that Nasarawa state was more secure than any of the other states as at that time, that is why we were the host. We did not stop there, we have been able to attract to the state, establishment of the Mobil Police training barrack unit, located at Endehu hills in Nasarawa Eggon local government; we now have a Special Forces barrack at Doma, we now have an army barrack in Doma brought about by this administration to tacke insecurity in that part of the state; we equally now have the Air force Special wing located along Shendam road. Also there is a new Mobil Police (MOPOL) unit along Agyragu, before you get to Agyragu; that is not all; we have the military task force unit in Toto currently as well as the MOPOL special unit at the Umuaisha, Toto axis, now operational. These we attracted by the goodwill the governor, Eng. Abullahi Sule has with the presidency. Whenever we run to them, they listen to us and these security establishments have brought some measure of stability to the security situation and a free environment to operate. And that is why we now have investors coming to Nasarawa state, Toto in particular, to invest billions of dollars in agriculture. At the moment we have the Azman Company that is into agriculture in Toto. We recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nigeria Flour Mills about six weeks ago and the governor visited them in Lagos about two weeks ago to fine-tune the process of coming onboard. They are bringing in over 250 million dollars to invest in agriculture and in Toto particularly. There is relative peace in Nasarawa state because if there was no peace people would not have invested in Nasarawa state.
How would rate the state’s industrialization drive, especially in the light of a report by the Nigerian Investment Promotion Concil which analysed total investment destinations into the country for the second quarter of this year and ranked Nasarawa and Rivers states as joint third, behind Ogun and Lagos States that were first and second respectively. This is a giant leap in the state’s industrialization quest is it not?
The Nasarawa state industrialization drive is anchored on the Nasarawa State Economic Development Strategy, NEDS. The governor believes that Nasarawa state is a civil service state that has virtually no industries and little opportunity for employment. He is an industrialization-driven person as he believes that it is only industrialization that can fast track development in the state, so you now see major industries, major investors now keying in into Nasarawa state. We were third in that report that you cited. We were at zero level when we came on board and to have beaten 33 other states to be placed third is a great achievement. There are many investments that people are now keying into because of the potentials that abound in Nasarawa State and given our proximity to the federal capital territory, we believe more investors will come in. I believe that in the next two years to end of our first tenure, we shall be able to beat our chest and even surpass Lagos and Ogun states in the area of investment destination. We have been striving to see that we do the needful for the people of Nasarawa state.
What is the state government doing to take advantage of, leverage on its proximity to the federal capital territory, Abuja?
We are embarking on a number of projects to attract people from the federal capital territory to especially our tourism and hospitality industry, one is the proposed Nasaarawa Film Village and Resort to be located at Farin Ruwa waterfalls, that is the tourism aspect. We want Nasarawa state to be a hub for film making. There is the Marhai forest there and its other natural environment/ambience that is suitable for action films. The advantage we have is upgrade of this same Farin Ruwa forest to a national park. It has been upgraded by the president of the federal republic of Nigeria to a national Park, so it now has same status as the Obudu Cattle ranch, Yankari Game Reserve, etc. We also have the hydro power project that the federal government has taken over. It is going to serve as a tourist site as well as generate electricity – about 50 kilowatts of electricity. Out of the number, Nasarawa state would use five kilowatts, so the remainder would be distributed to other states, including the federal capital territory. There is still another aspect which is agriculture. The dam is going to be used for all season agriculture. You can see that we have this package around the Water Falls and you can drive one and half hour from the federal capital through Akwanga to the Water Falls. The road has been rehabilited and passable now, unlike before when it was in bad shape which is why you can now make it from the a to Farin Ruwa Falls within 90 minutes on a smooth ride. Then we have the bus terminal in Karu local government council which shares border with the federal capital. This terminal has a capacity to accommodate 500 buses. That would also attract people to the state. We have the Moloney Hills in Keffi. That is another tourist centre. Captain Moloney was a colonial master who was killed by the natives at the time. His grave is on top of the hill, located at the centre of Keffi. My ministry is partnering with the Keffi emirate council to develop and make that place a tourist attraction.
When will the Film village come to reality?
They require planning; it is not something to be rushed. But the plan is on ground. That was what necessitated the visit of the federal minister of Information, culture and tourism, Lai Mohammed not long ago. We shall unveil this package before the year runs out by His Grace.
Briefly, on the sports sector, your comment? Nasarawa United football club reached the finals of the Aiteo Cup and lost to Bayelsa United only on penalties. They also narrowly missed qualification for the CAF competition on the last day of the league, having been second on the league table until the final match.
We believe that sport is a way of socialization. That is why the government has supported the players financially and morally.