Nasarawa: A battle with ‘phoney’ debt overhang
Nasarawa State could have been a high flyer in progress and development had it been free from needless huge debt profile. Yet, the government of the state is learning to trudge on, gaining more supporters by the day with initiatives to reposition the long-neglected states. Idowu Samuel writes on issues in Nasarawa, as the government celebrates its first year anniversary.
A public office holder in any clime is usually faced with two options. He either emerges a hero or a villain by the end of his service if his conduct, initiatives and general performance are weighed. It takes a short spate of time to detect a public servant who has sworn to etch his name in a hall of fame. Alhaji Umaru Tanko Al’Makura, Nasarawa State governor, falls into the category of public servants cut out to live by public support, going by his reflexes in the governance of his state. He had hit the ground running while exuding uncanny trait of a very determined administrator. His desire to turn the fortune of his state around is best understood in the manner he has been addressing very daunting problems in which Nasarawa has long been enmeshed.
Nasarawa, a land-locked state, is tucked right in the heart of the Middle Belt states, blessed only in solid mineral and arable land suitable for agriculture. The share of the state in federal allocation is meagre, a reason it has been surviving with loans which eventually turned into huge debts. When he stepped into power a year ago, Al’Makura inherited a huge debt of N30 billion from the previous government. He had discovered, too soon, that the debt was incurred from just one source, amid many of such hanging on the neck of his state. The huge debt profile of Nasarawa made the governor to lament the state of finance of his government when he disclosed that the government was being forced to offset another debt, totalling N17 billion, being a loan taken by his predecessor from the Paris Club.
That was not all. Nasarawa, according to Al’Makura, is also faced with the herculean task of having to off-set a debt of $240 million taken years ago by the government of the old Plateau State, which has turned into a liability for the growing Nasarawa State today. What the state found most painful, perhaps, was the need for it to pay back the sum of N17 billion ($113 million) which it never made use of. The governor, in his lamentation, said the money was carted away by those who took it, an indication that they had used the state to pilfer the loan offered by an international creditor. The former governor of the state, Alhaji Akwe Doma, is currently being probed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged financial impropriety while in power.
During a recent interactive session with correspondents in Lafia, Al’Makura was quoted as lamenting that “the loan of $113 million was assessed, received, banked and eventually disappeared with no trace” under the watchful eyes of a government headed by Alhaji Akwe Doma, adding that “there was no record of expenditure by anyone, there was no legislation backing any spending of it and there was no project sited anywhere in Nasarawa in the name of the money.” He said, so far, his government had lost the sum of N2.3 billion to the fictitious debt, while making conscious efforts to contain excess spending in the state, amid the consistent dwindling of federal allocation since February this year. However, the desire of Al’Makura to re-write the history of Nasarawa seems not to lie only in his ambition to write off the controversial debt. The manner he has been working things out in the state has been eliciting the confidence of the stakeholders also. He has improved electricity generation in Nasarawa State to the extent that the vehicular movements in the state capital now depend solely on traffic light to flow effectively. Such had never happened in any part of Nasarawa before.
The Chief Press Secretary to the state governor, Ilyasu Ali Yakubu, disclosed that Al’Makura had been touching the lives of people of Nasarawa in many spheres. The starting point for the governor, according to him, began with his ability to indentify three key areas which required immediate attention for improved living standard of the people. The areas include immediate provision of potable water, electricity and access roads. Ilyasu said the governor had attained maximum success in all, such that potable water like never before, now flow freely from pipes, following a renovation of the water treatment plant in the state, coupled with procurements of facilities to make water available for people’s use. The governor was able to attain results in that regard within one month in office.
Al’Makura’s aide also disclosed that road construction was another milestone attained by the governor in turning Nasarawa’s fortune around. He said, in addition to re-habilitating dilapidating roads, the government had also embarked on construction of new roads, both in the state capital and across specific local government areas in the state, adding “in the first phase of the project, the governor had awarded contract for the construction of several road projects within Lafia, the state capital. Most of the roads have been completed while others are 80 per cent completed”.
The Nasarawa government is also said to have raised the bar in the education sector. According to Illyasu, “for the first time in Nasarawa State, parents heaved a sigh of relief as government upset both WAEC and NECO fees of all students in government schools, just as he ordered immediate construction and renovation of primary and secondary schools as well as construction of post primary schools for the physically challenged in the state”
The governor is also said to have facilitated a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Nasarawa State government and the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), which saw the establishment of solid minerals institute and other scientific innovations in Nasarawa State. With health facilities provided, the people of Nasarawa State, according to feelers, have been enjoying free medical care, while the government ensured the procurement of drugs to be sold at subsidised rate to patient at government hospitals. There have been arrangements at the instance of state government to upgrade and construct new hospitals across the state. The complementary role of the wives of the state governor has been encouraging, according to Ilyasu. He said: “The wives of the governor, Hajiya Salamatu Tanko Al-Makura and Mairo Tanko Al-Makura, have been outstanding in giving a helping hand in the area of health care delivery and empowering the women.
“While Hajiya Salamatu, on her side, donated Mosquito-treated net to rid children of malaria with provision of soft loan to woman as part of effort to improve their capacity, Mairo Tanko Al-Makura had donated three incubators and beddings with one million naira to specialist hospital to aid easy growth of premature babies”
If the governor of Nasarawa State is treading the path of heroes, the attention his government has been according civil service matters in the state is one of the reasons. He won the hearts of the civil servants in Nasarawa with his resolve to pay the (N18,900) minimum wage alongside other incentives. He had earned commendations to that effect, even from the state’s capital of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC)
In demonstrating the skills of prudent management of the state’s finances, Al’Makura has created a clan of die hard supporters from across the length and breadth of the state, thus indicating that the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has come to stay in Nasarawa. The governor’s media aide alluded to this, stating, “State government usually access an overdraft of about N850 million monthly to pay salaries. Yet, the governor, since assumption of office has been paying salaries without any form of over draft from any bank. Rather, he has within six month saved over N4.7 billion for the state through cutting of cost and needless expenditures”Share