BY VICTORIA N. IKEANO
Nasarawa state governor, Engr. Abdullahi Alhaji Sule over the weekend became a Father Christmas of sorts when he doled out unspecified sums of money to some callers requesting for “assistance” during an interactive radio session in Abuja. The programme on the network service of Radio Nigeria and monitored by this columnist in Lafia was supposed to be on developments in Nasarawa state. There were callers from various parts of the country – Lafia, Abuja, northern Nigeria, south east and south south regions. Governor Sule was visibly excited that people from areas other than his state and region were also concerned about the state’s progress and well being of its citizens to call in and even offer suggestions, noting that such attitude augurs well for the unity and development of Nigeria as we are one people with one destiny under one God. In the middle of the programme someone called to enquire about what the governor is doing for youths, he later veered off to say that he is a disabled person, asking the governor to help him. That appeared to be the signal as another person from Edo state who is visually impaired phoned in pleading with the governor to assist him financially in something he is currently engaged in, etc. Governor Sule promised to help them “in the spirit of Christmas”. He spoke about his administration’s youth empowerment programmes, especially, establishment of the National Vocational Training Centre. He stressed that giving money to youths would come to naught unless they are trained on what to do with the money.
The Nasarawa state chief executive described talks that he is kowtowing to his predecessors and taking instructions from them as “garbage”. He discloses that as a player in the corporate world before becoming governor, he was handling projects worth millions of dollars, an amount that is way above what any of his predecessors had ever handled. The state’s allocation from the federation account is currently less than five billion naira. He insinuated that it is an insult on his person to even remotely contemplate that he could be pushed around by anybody, given his background and where he is coming from. According to Sule, the reason why he is completing projects started by his predecessors is because it would be a waste of resources, Nasarawa peoples monies not to do so, adding that billions of naira had been expended on them. He also reveals that he consults the former governors (both of whom are now serving senators) from time to time, to get more information about those projects and also as stakeholders. Such regular meetings should not be misinterpreted. One can regard such consultative meetings as being borne out of respect, particularly as the two former governors are more experienced than him in politics. Sule says he has developed a thick skin towards criticisms, quickly stating though, that he is open to constructive criticism and advice. Overall, the governor describes relationship with his predecessors as cordial and his motto as ‘live in peace with everybody’.
Among the projects commenced by his predecessors and which he has taken on headlong is the Farin Ruwa Falls in Wamba local government area, started by the state’s first elected governor, Abdullahi Adamu which is now being turned to a tourism and entertainment hub. Another is the (Cargo) Airport located in Kwandere, Lafia local government area, started by immediate past governor, Umar Tanko Almakura. According to Sule, it was 60 per cent completed when he assumed office; its total cost was put at N10 billion out of which seven billion naira had been paid. Engr. Sule states that he has had to do additional job on it, like extending the runway, road works, etc. This airport is considered strategic as Nasarawa State shares boundary with the federal capital territory, Abuja. Also, the state is a foremost producer of yams, cassava, beniseed in the country, all of which could be exported and the airport comes handy in that regard. Its commissioning is tentatively fixed for January, 2022. Currently, the military (airforce) special force for the north central zone is based there. Lafia residents now experience occasional buzzing of helicopters in the sky.
On security, the governor intimates that special forces are now stationed in Keana, Doma while Police and military camps dot the state. Both Nasarawa and Benue state governments have been meeting regarding boundary issues with the National Boundary Commission as the arbiter. They both have a harmonized position now. Whereas Benue has an anti-grazing law, Nasarawa does not and this often leads to herders wishing to sidestep the law straying over to Nasarawa State resulting in friction with host communities. A solution to the perennial farmers/herders clashes is the National Livestock Transformation Programme (NLTP), inaugurated sometime ago in Awe Local government area as a pilot scheme. It is partly funded by the Netherlands and federal government. Under the scheme all social amenities needed by pastoralists and their families are to be provided there. Governor Sule remarks that work is in progress there, revealing that though the scheme is to take off with 30 families, over 200 families have indicated interest to participate. This means that NLTP is eagerly embraced by pastoralists. He views anti-grazing law in some states, debates on state police, direct and indirect primaries as political and diversionary.
In the health sector, the governor maintains that his administration is improving health care facilities and bringing them nearer to the people through collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international nongovernmental organizations, NGOs. It is also working towards having a Teaching hospital with increased funding for its specialist hospital in Lafia, the state capital. He says the state’s Diagnostic Laboratory is rated as the best in the country, adding that it is also collaborating with donor agencies on the possibility of producing vaccines in the state. Statistics show that Nasarawa State has the best COVID vaccination rate with some five percent of its population already vaccinated.
Engr. Sule discloses that he met a “totally broken” civil service upon assumption of office in May 2019. He avers that the Service as the engine room of government is now being reformed with lots of trainings. Promotion to the rank of permanent secretary is now via examinations while the number of ministries has been pegged from 18 to 13. Pension and salary arrears have been cleared, just as local government back log of unpaid salaries have been reduced to one month with the state government supplementing their funds. Noteworthy is that Governor Sule has been able to get commercial organizations operating in the state to fulfill their corporate social responsibility. For example, some schools and health centres are being renovated and reconstructed by banks doing business in the state. The attention and resources he is giving to security matters are not misplaced since a conducive environment is needed to attract investors. And as a corporate man himself, bringing in investors to turn the state around from its civil service state label is of prime importance to him. So far he has been able to woo some big corporate bodies to the state.