‘Despite robbery attack on my deputy, Nasarawa is peaceful’
He stated: “So many vehicles were parked, waiting and his pilot vehicle, not realising the number of armed robbers, moved on. They thought it was just the normal armed robbery attack with just two or three criminals with one gun fighting and they ran into them.
“Unknown to the pilot operatives, there were about 50 of the hoodlums on top of the hill and nearly every one of them was shooting at the vehicles. That was how they ambushed the three policemen on the advance vehicle. With the exception of this major problem we witnessed recently, Nasarawa State has seen some level of stability in the area of peace and security on the whole.”
The Nasarawa State’s chief executive also spoke on what is being done at the level of governors, emphasising that the first meeting between the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and President Muhammadu Buhari was centred on security.
“At the second meeting we had with the National Economic Council, we did not discuss economy; we discussed security.” he disclosed. “So, security is a big concern, not only in Nasarawa but also in other places”.
Governor Suleiman expressed relief at the prevailing peace in the state, adding, “We had a Sallah period that went without any reported incident of insecurity in the entire state. You will find a lot of security challenges in Benue, Taraba and Plateau States and even in the FCT itself, which has been troubled because of all the El Zakzaky followers.
“Nasarawa has been peaceful and we are at the centre of it all, but we have seen a lot of peaceful co-existence amongst our people.”
On where his state stands over calls for state police and vigilante groups, the governor explained: “State police is a matter we discuss extensively at the level of the governors’ forum meeting. We also discuss it at the level of the federal executive council. So state police is a matter of great interest, but we have started something at the lower level.
“For instance, most of us engage one form of security unit or the other, vigilante groups and the rest of them. In Nasarawa we have what is called the Nasarawa Agency for Environmental Safety (NAES), which is actually the equivalent of Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) that you have, but the difference is that security is more of their concern than road issues.
“What we did also is that the civil defence (National Security and Civil Defence Corps) is very aggressive in the state and the majority of the NSCDC officers are indigenes of Nasarawa State itself. They go to the local community and engage the youths from that particular area and in some cases, they ask them to look after the area.
“That was why the commandant told me that the most active state in the North Central is in Nasarawa State, because of this kind of approach. Once it is concluded and agreed, I think it will be adopted by the Federal Government.”
He expressed reservations as to whether state police would solve the security challenges, since, according to him, “if the NSCDC and vigilante groups have not solved the problem, I wonder if state police will.”
On the issue of fiscal autonomy of local government councils, Suleiman said: “Nasarawa State is one of the first few states that decided to embrace the autonomy wholeheartedly.
“When the allocation came in the very first month in June, we allowed the local government areas to set up their own committees, distribute and separate what was meant for salaries and what was meant for what they call the CAP (capital projects). We worked with them on that and we did not touch one naira of the councils’ funds.
“So far, we have been able to pay their salaries for June, July and now, this week they will also get that of August. And not only salaries, but they are also paying their pension 100 per cent as against percentages that they were experiencing in the past, because of their own faults.”
He pointed out that currently, most of the local government councils that thought they were autonomous are now screening their own beneficiaries, not only for salaries but also for pensions.
“They discovered that a lot of people who were earning from these two areas were not entitled to them. They were able to separate that and take out what is considered as ghost workers. We welcome the fiscal autonomy 100 per cent and have been able to work without any problem,” he stressed.
IN the other area of debt, the governor declared that Nasarawa remains one of the least indebted states in the country, saying, “We are very lucky that the immediate past administration only took one major debt through a bond that was paid up even before we came in.
“But they had inherited debts most of which are still being verified, ranging from those who said they awarded contracts and those that ordered things from banks, yet we did not really have any major overdraft from any bank.
“So since we came, servicing of debts has been the least of our concerns, because it has not been an issue in this government.”
Coming from the private sector, does Governor Suleiman have plans of visiting the capital market to fund development in his state? He said: “We are definitely looking at that possibility since the last bond has already been cleared off; we are trying now to find the prospect of taking a new facility for major areas of infrastructure with the viability of paying back, areas of market development and bus terminals, for instance, and also a road that can be tolled in certain kinds of areas.
“For that reason, we are interested and we are considering it, but we have not taken any yet.”
How explained how the state was able to surmount post-governorship primary crisis in the state, noting that “before the main election, it is only in Nasarawa State that out of the 11 aspirants that contested the primary election, the 10 who lost decided to be members of the campaign council for the winner.”
He revealed that in the area of education, the state has witnessed the completion of most of the projects, especially for skill acquisition centres, special education, technical education and then most of the primary and secondary schools that were initiated by the Tanko Almakura administration.
On-road network, the governor said new contracts have been awarded since his administration came in, explaining how the government listed about 14 areas of interest, particularly ensuring the promotion of the agricultural sector, the major trade in Nasarawa State.
His words: “On that score, we are already working with the Federal Government to provide us a facility of N1.5 billion to empower the youths. Right now they are undergoing training prior to giving them the funds. And we have identified portions of land, where the farms will be situated.”
On the other areas of special interest, he said, “One of our biggest achievements is that while the former administration set up a special education school for the disabled that there is none like it in the entire nation, we have got the universal education board excited to the extent of promising to build a modern one in Nasarawa State, in compensation for what the state has done.
“So we will end up with two established special schools to cater for those who have a disability and to ensure that they are also being carried along.”
On electricity generation, the governor said his administration has identified three major areas, including solar power, adding, “Today, all the new street lights we are installing are of brand new technology, without the batteries that are usually stolen. So we are getting just one unit solar system and most of the boreholes being constructed in the various primary and secondary schools are also solar-powered and energized.
“Other major areas of power identified are trying to ensure that the huge coal deposit in Nasarawa State will be converted to fuel as a source of power for the coal fire turbines that we are developing with General Electric and the hydropower.”
The governor disclosed that his administration succeeded in getting the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to start the process of constructing a dam at a waterfall called Arua, stressing, “On our own part, we have awarded the contract linking the major highway to that site to ensure that what we are doing in that area succeeds.”
He asserted that Nasarawa State currently sells fertilizer lower than nearly any other state in the federation, “because agriculture is our mainstay and we are now giving fertilizers to local farmers at subsidized rates that are lower than anywhere they can find it.”
He explained the way it works: “We buy and sell at 50 per cent of the cost. We buy from the cheapest source and sell at 50 per cent of the cost; so we are supporting our farmers in order to have a bumper harvest while attracting major commercial farmers to the state.
“We set up a committee for our own economic advancement; we set up an Investment and Economic Development Council headed by Prof. Tony Ajayi, as chairman, with so many other prominent Nigerians that are not from the state, including the special adviser to the president on the economy.
“The former Managing Director of NEXIM Bank is also a member. We brought people from various aspects of life, the President of GE, Lazarus Agbazu, is also a member. We have retired generals, former governors, former deputy governors and the rest from across the country.”
He said the majority of the members from outside the state agreed to come and serve on the committee because they believe in the economic potential of Nasarawa State, adding, “We have developed an economic strategy for the state, called Nasarawa Economic and Development Strategy (NEDS). That is one of the things that brought us to the NBA conference.”
On the SME Ambassador Programmes, where 3,000 women, youth and physically challenged persons will be empowered, Governor Suleiman said: “We have already started and we have gone far with it.”
He said the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is to offer Nasarawa about N1.5 billion for agricultural projects, remarking that the money would be used to empower youth and women so they can have their own small scale farming activities.
“We have gone round on sensitization of what the SMEs will be all about in the areas of agriculture, mining and trading. In addition, we have gone ahead to give forms to all the prospective beneficiaries of the programme.
“But 48 hours after I was sworn in as a governor, we started by distributing sewing and grinding machines to a lot of people and most of the things we did were for them to go and create employment opportunities for themselves and their families, so they can earn a living.”
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