‘Where Niger governor’s critics got it wrong’
Mallam Sani Lafiya is the Director-General, Projects Monitoring and Documentation to Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State. In this interview with ADELOWO OLADIPO, he denies as untrue, allegations from critics of the government that there is no single completed project done by the governor, listing some of the achievements of the governor.
Critics of the government, especially opposition figures, have talked about perceived lack of transparency in the management of the bailout funds, the Paris Club refunds and even the monthly statutory allocations to the state by Governor Bello. What can you say about this, specifically the allegation that the governor cannot point to a single completed project.
That is not very true because everyone should know that for the bailout funds and the Paris Club loan refunds, strings were attached. The money for specific programmes, that is, for infrastructure development and payment of salaries, pension and gratuity arreas. Now if you look at our state, our monthly salary bills is in the neighbourhood of N1.6billion, that is for now because at the beginning of 2015 and 2016, it was hovering around N2.6 billion monthly. If you could remember, when we came in we had a standing order or a standing liability of our debt to the Zenith Bank which was about N670million every month. If we were to also tie it to how much we were collecting then, especially at the end of 2015 and 2016, everything we were taking, we did not receive up to N3billion and it ended up at about N4billion before we could stabilise at that amount. If you look at these elements, especially the currency in terms of what was coming in at that time, probably we would not have been able to do anything we are doing now or we would not have been able to accomplish what we have accomplished now as a government.
During the last year’s raining season, some communities in Niger State, including Minna the state capital, were submerged by flood to the extent that the residents of such communities resorted to self-help to get their roads repaired due to the inability of government agencies like Niger State Roads Management Agency (NIGROMA) and Rural Access Mobility Programme (RAMP) to come to their aid.
Currently, the government of Niger State is building 577 rural roads in RAMP project alone and most of them have been completed. From our own assessment as Projects and Monitoring Committee, we can probably tell you that the rural roads implementation programme has achieved about 78 to 79 per cent success. Last year, we were very unfortunate in the state that that we were hit by some natural catastrophe. Not only is the government doing the roads, it is also maintaining the federal roads in the state, sinking billions of naira into it. And since the governor has never left the Suleja- Minna road project, which he is constantly monitoring. I was there recently. I spent some hours discussing with the Managing Director of NIGROMA, Umar Awuse, who told me that most of the equipment is on the field. Now we have rural roads projects under the RAMP arrangement, but let me clear one impression, people say that RAMP is a World Bank project. Yes, it is. But it is a combined bilateral efforts that if the government has a commitment to that the staff, implementation is all the products of Niger State government.
In the area of potable water supply, the complaint among the general public, especially in Minna and its environs is that the water supply is not getting to their individual homes due to obsolete water pipes, inadequate reticulation or as a result of the failure of government to complete the water project?
I agree with you partially because even when those projects were being implemented then in the 1970’s by the previous military and civilian administrations in the state, especially the Chanchaga, Minna Water Works and the Bida Water Works and later in 1992, the Suleja and Kontagora Water Works, these projects lasted for about five years before they were fully completed. And what we are doing currently is even more difficult to implement because the equipment is now very old. Even though you are not changing the entire structure, the equipment there makes it most significant for you to embark upon. Even though our commitment to the project is beyond politics, the entire place needs proper planning, packaging and funding. And of course it is not as if funding the water project in the state is like funding any other project that you will just pick it up and work on it simultaneously. We are trying to review the system with the view that the government gets values for the money spent so far on water supply to its people. But let me give you a scenario, by 2012, things were in comatose in the state, particularly in Minna, the Water Works had since then not been operating, probably then the one that was in operation was the Suleja Works Water. But Chanchaga Water Works in Minna was not operating since then, so also the Kontagora and Bida Water Works were also not operating since then. And all of these problems were tied to the obsolete nature of the equipment there.
When we came on board, we looked at it and we said okay, change everything. Now the planning of all these projects is in about six phases. But we have done both the first and the second phase and we are now on the third phase.
How many of those interventions from outside the state, especially from either local or foreign investors, has yielded positive results for the state since the assumption of office in May 2015?
There are quite a number of them and the one that is traditionally coming into the state is the one from the World Bank such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) projects, the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) the Rural Access Mobility Programmes (RAMP), the Fadama III additional Financing Scheme and then of course, you looked at the investments partnership mostly with foreign investors, especially the one that we are currently doing in New Busa, in Borgu Local Government Area of the state. I am talking about the Swashi Rice Production Farm, which is a partnership between the Niger State government and the PDS Farms in India and partly by the Federal Government. We also have other interventions in the areas of healthcare that are being handled through the office of the wife of the governor, Dr Amina Bello, a consultant gynecologist and a number of them that I cannot remember off hand now. There is the open governance process that replaces the previous arrangement by the World Bank. What it basically means is that values such as transparency and accountability are entrenched and this gives us an opportunity to get international financing.