The Gubernatorial Interview
In this interview with journalists, the Katsina State Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Shehu Shema, fielded questions on the state of the nation and development in his state. Zacheaus Somorin presents the excerpts:
Can you confidently say Katsina is an investment destination?
Without doubt, Katsina State has grown in leaps and bounds since I came in as governor. We are very focused on the need to open our doors wide. There is no serious economy in the world that can hope to grow and prosper at the pace we hope to grow and prosper without partnering the private sector. That is why Katsina offers tremendous opportunity in the field of agriculture, soil mineral development, livestock development and other critical areas of infrastructure, education and health.
What are your strides in the sector of agriculture sector said to engage about 75 per cent of the population?
Absolutely, agriculture engages about 75 per cent of our population. And because of the importance of the sector to our economy, you can’t depend on rain-fed agriculture. We are establishing some kind of synergy between rain-fed agriculture and irrigation. Consequently, you can grow crops from the first day of January to December. When it’s chilly winter in Europe, you can come to Katsina and grow practically anything under the sun.
We have five major dams. It is yielding result as we have moved from about 1, 000 cultivation per hectare to more than 13, 000 hectares in the last five years. On top of that, we invested hugely in terms of training, extension services, chemicals, seeds and fertilizer.
Of course we established the Shongai farming initiative which is a partnership with some farmers in Port Novo in Benin Republic. This initiative is aimed at creating young farmers, who not only engage in agriculture produce but also in the utilisation of the produce to provide employment for teeming youths in Katsina State and to indeed unbundle the chain of the activities in the agricultural sub-sector and livestock development.
Attached to that closely is the issue of how we can drive production and the agro allied section. We also create market opportunity, market potential for farmers so that at the end of each farming season, we buy off their produce. We buy the produce at competitive prices so that the farmer would not lose on the investment he has made that year. We now sell the produce to our consumers at subsidised prices. In that pattern, you can see that the farmer does not lose and the consumer equally has access to controlled prices. Besides that, Katsina is the largest reserve for cotton in Nigeria.
The produce is usually in large quantities. What are you doing in the areas of storage and preservation?
Preservation is critical in dairy and dairy products because without preservation, the entire agricultural process would be in trouble. We have to teach farmers how to preserve their produce and large crop growers and developers how to process and preserve milk. That is what the Shongai initiative is all about.
And we are trying to get into partnership with a foreign firm to re-energize what we used to have in Ronki grazing field, where we have a diary facility to see how we can make it an effective facility for use by our cattle rearers because the market for diary products in Nigeria is quite large.
The transportation of cattle from up North to the South is a big challenge. Are you doing anything about it?
Transportation of agriculture produce poses a challenge like any other product in Nigeria because our means of transportation remains the roads and the cost of petroleum products keeps going up. But with the ongoing development of the railway by the federal government to move goods in large quantities, in the next couple of years when the railway system is very well established, the cost of transportation of goods will simply come down.
But in Katsina State, what we have tried to do is to have infrastructure on a massive scale so that the farmer can have access to road to bring his produce to the market. As I am talking to you, we’ve done over 52 roads and rural feeder roads spanning over 2000km to enable people move their produce from the hinterland to the mainland or to the central market. And we are reaching out to some Chinese companies to see how we can establish a local rail in Katsina State.
Any young graduate who is keen about farming has to deal with the issue of land and access to credit facilities. How are you dealing with those two issues?
Our intention is to get land in abundance and ensure that most of them can cultivate. All the young boys and girls we are training under Shongai in the three senatorial locations in Katsina, when they come out, will be given pieces of land to settle on the type of production they have learnt and they want to pursue in terms of agriculture activity.
What is the impact of your education policy?
Education is number one tool for breaking the cycle of poverty. When I came into office in 2007, I left no one in doubt that my number one priority is education. Without education, no nation can progress; no nation can hope to move to the level of development or success they need to. That is why we unbundled the problems around education and we made sure education is free from primary to secondary.
Government pays WAEC, NECO, NAPTEC and SSCE fees. And we felt there is a challenged group, which are the young girls. They have little or no opportunity to go to school and, when they do, poverty remains an issue for the parents. So we came up with a strategy and set up a special department called the Girl-Child Education and Development Department.
I appointed a Special Adviser who is doing a great job. We went out to establish one girl-child school per LGA, which of course attracted young girls in the 34 LGAs of the state who are doing pretty well. And then we introduced the conditional cash transfer grants. We are working with donor agencies like UNICEF, USAID and others and this conditional cash transfer grants are meant to assist mothers and the kids to stay in school. Stipends are given to the mother every term and the same stipends are given to the girl to stay in school.
Why is it conditional cash transfer?
They have to remain in school to receive this stipend from government and donor agencies and of course, the apparent increase in the number of children that go to school in Katsina is not only because of free education but also the additional facilities. We built over 200 new secondary schools, we expanded our primary schools, we hired more teachers, we bought more teaching aids and equipment and we introduced bus services in some of the LG headquarters to convey our students at 10 naira per drop.
We improved the salary of our teachers because you know they say you can afford to have a school without a classroom but you can’t afford to have a school without a teacher. We increased the salaries of our workers in tertiary institutions I think twice at the end of my first tenure.
You cannot run away from giving quality education to the people. The nation, not only Katsina, needs to put together strategic education development plans for the next 40 years in order for us to break our people from the cycle of poverty.
How do you relate your policy in education, especially girl-child education to the growing insurgency in the country?
Job creation is a critical tool to break insurgency. My understanding of the insurgency we are experiencing in Nigeria today is that it came from the fact that Nigeria has about five serious challenges that we must face head long: electricity, unemployment, drug addiction, transnational crimes, and indeed the flawed electoral process which brings about perceived injustice. It is a sad story that a beautiful country like Nigeria with tremendous human and material resources and which should be the most dynamic business destination in the world is the one suffering from terrorism.
Being the largest economy in Africa today, the growth rate is about 7 per cent. Yet, we are facing challenges. Insurgency is a recurrent issue in Africa not just in Nigeria. But here in Nigeria, what the leaders and all of us must do is to work as members of one family. In Katsina, when I became governor, a group of people came to visit me and called themselves non-indigenes and this is what Nigerians call themselves in their own land when they don’t live abroad and I queried them.
There is no reason a Nigerian living in any corner of this country should feel like he is not living in his home or country, that nationalistic feeling; that collective feeling should be there in us. Nigerians must come together. The insurgency we are seeing today, I think we have to tackle it headlong. Our traditional leaders, the clergy, political leaders, we must put our heads together.
Look at the enormous support Nigeria is getting from the international community. The world is a common platform now against Boko Haram. No responsible government will sit and watch the Chibok girls kidnapped without doing something. I feel grieved personally; it is inhumane to cart away young girls, who are struggling to acquire education, struggling to write their exams. You can see the effect of the wicked act.
The entire world is coming together now to find the kidnappers but Nigeria too must rise to the occasion and do what is right. We must cleanse our institutions; it is not about individuals. Our institutions must work and they must work effectively to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.
We have had crises before in this country; we have had challenges on security – Aguleri/Umuleri – it was crisis between two factions; Ife/Modakeke was a crisis between two factions; the Maitatsine crisis, even the Niger Delta militancy. What is critical is that our institutions must be made to work responsibly in order for us to restore peace.