The Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, spoke with journalists recently on the promised change by the All Progressives Congress, calls for restructuring and Federal Government’s bailouts for states among others. OLALEKAN ADETAYO was there
You were elected governor on the platform of the All Progressives Congress that came to power at the centre based on the change mantra. How will you assess the performance of this government in the last one year vis-a-vis the promised change?
I will say that the promised change has come but it might be short of a few people’s expectations. It is not unexpected to be short of people’s expectations. It would be unfair to begin to make assessment without looking at where you are coming from, where you are and where you want to be.
We are coming from a process where democracy has been on ground in the last 16 years, what has it translated into the level we have found ourselves economically among the comity of nations in Africa? How have we utilised all the resources we have accessed in human capital development, infrastructural development?
The President who came last year met a barrage of huge problems on ground. It is not about the APC, it is about us sitting up as a country to truly move these things forward. Yes, the APC came with the change mantra to let people see that we need to do things differently; for us to begin to make things different. These changes will not come overnight.
We have seen changes in the area of the fight against corruption because it is part of the bane of good governance. We have seen change coming in the area of infrastructure development. The government is coming up with deploying infrastructure in energy, road and water at national and sub-national levels. But of course, the challenges are enormous and that is why the changes are slow. Except we truly speak as a country and agree that we have to jointly move forward, it is not an APC or PDP thing. It is a collective responsibility. Enough of bickering!
This idea of thinking that a section of the country or a part of the country would move us forward is not realistic; it is a collective responsibility. Let us put our heads together and agree that we have a set goal of where we want to be at a point in time and pull our resources together to take us to that level. That is where we are today as a country because we have seen it several times in different parts of the world that homogeneity in religion, homogeneity in race and homogeneity in language doesn’t guaranty success.
What guaranties success is the ability to organise yourselves under set rules and allow yourselves equity and fair play that would take us to the promised land and that is what we need to do as a country and luckily, we have a leadership that mean well for the country.
Some people are calling for the restructuring of Nigeria. What is your take on this?
Certainly, Nigeria requires to be restructured, but along what lines? When you are using a process that has not translated into the desired benefits, you change it. But each time we talk about restructuring, people express fear that it is a way of balkanising the country. No, it is a way of reviewing how we have been doing things. If the way we have been doing things has not taken us to the promised land, what new way do we need to take?
Our restructuring in the past had largely been political and driven by political exigencies. That is why the economic impact is not felt. We need to restructure on economic lines which might also require geo-political restructuring. But I think the most important thing is on the economic lines.
We need to identify our economic strengths and put our energies in those strengths with specific ends in mind and allow for those economic ends to truly transform into human capital development that will transform into wealth creation. That is the kind of restructuring I think Nigeria should go for. That is what will give everybody a sense of comfort without necessarily allowing ourselves to be reliant on a section of a country for support because every section of the country has one support or the other.
So, the restructuring we require is to take potential to the fore and allow everybody to contribute to human capital development and economic growth. At that level, we will begin to see that we are not threatened by any section of the country.
Still on restructuring, what will be your take on President Muhammadu Buhari’s position that he will jettison the report of the 2014 National Conference?
I am not aware the President said he would jettison the national conference’s report. He only said he would put it in the cooler. Jettisoning and putting it in the cooler are not the same. The reason is very simple; you can only fight a battle at a time. There is a high level of insecurity, huge economic downturn, low level of human capital development and infrastructural deficit. You cannot be fighting these and still want to restructure the country at the same time. You need to bring the country to a basic minimum level when we begin to see the implementation of whatever is put together in the report of the national conference.
So, I think the President is not incorrect by saying that there is a basic minimum level we need to stand on before we begin to talk about implementation. The challenges we have now are enormous and we cannot begin on this platform to talk about restructuring at the same time. We need to bring some levels of normalcy before we talk about which levels we are restructuring. That is my own understanding of the President’s narratives.
States are said to have started the process of again accessing the N90bn funds set aside by the Federal Government to come out of the current economic crisis. When will this end?
No. What has happened is that the Federal Government has created a window to enable states augment their budget needs. Don’t forget that the budget itself is a plan on an assumption that falls within the flow to support budget execution and with the trends at which revenues are inflowing into the country now, it is becoming obvious that states will not only be unable to meet up with their budgetary needs but also going through a lot of challenges in supporting their current expenditure based on budgetary provisions.
So, the Federal Government has created a window for states to augment their budgetary needs. States that feel they require to augment their inflows to truly execute the budgetary provisions have requested to access this fund. So, as a state we have seen that we also require to access it because the inflows as captured in the budget are shortening because the inflow of the crude oil isn’t meeting up with our expectations and the only way we could truly support it is to get this kind of window that has been provided by the Federal Government.
I want to commend the Federal Ministry of Finance for this initiative because it will help not only to create some level of stability for us, between now and when, not only oil price will stabilise but also get to a level that will meet with the budgetary expectations. So, for me it is a fantastic window for us to carry out our budgetary expectations.
Five states were said to have completed the process of accessing the fund. Is Kwara State among them?
We are in the process of putting our documentation in place and we will meet up with the expected deadline before the month runs out.
If state governments are in this difficult situation, what then will happen to the local governments?
The local government issue is a bit more complex than what we are looking at because if you look at the local government structure as it is designed to be, the people and specific needs in social and human capital programmes are structured to touch the people immediately, these needs have been defeated because at the time of operation of these local governments, they were largely driven by political allegiances without putting into consideration their economic capacities. So, that is why there has been heavy reliance by the local governments on the federal allocated funds.
Now with the dwindling federally allocated funds, most of them have become almost comatose to an extent that they have been unable to pay their salaries as and when due. Not that alone, their capacities to even generate revenue have seriously been hampered by many factors. As it is today, the local governments are barely able to give any level of productivity and for me, this is the time to truly look at how these local governments fit into the current federation system because the current level doesn’t give them that ability to fit into the level where they could determine their direction financially, socially and of course in terms of human capital development.
Their current level of productivity is quite low and you see, most of the funds that are federally allocated goes largely into payment of only salaries and I think it is high time we began to truly see how local governments should be restructured along economic lines so that they can also add to what comes in federally. I know a few states have local governments that are truly generating revenues but I am sure over 80 per cent of them are not able to generate any revenue to support what comes in from the Federal Government. So, the capacity to truly improve on human capital indices, to improve on productivity is seriously impeded and I think a restructure would necessitate that these things be brought to the level where they can become truly viable.
So, for me, today, the local governments are not too viable in terms of capacity. The worrisome part of it is that the teachers’ salaries at the basic level are tied to these allocations which bring us to what is necessarily required to bring us to restructuring because I feel like funding for the basic education is very critical. This is the level where you are creating a foundation for human capital development in Nigeria and if funding at that level is affected by the current level of inability of local governments to meet up with their funding, then it is quite challenging to look at what sort of educational future we are looking at for our youths. So, I feel that in as much as it is difficult for local governments to meet up with their challenges, the issue of basic teaching levels should be isolated and treated accordingly because if not properly addressed, it will affect the current level of education support and of course future productivity. So I think that this is the kind of thing that I urge we look at as a country to change the way things are going.
The Federal Government is emphasising on the free Home Grown School Feeding Programme. Osun, Kaduna and Abia states have keyed into the programme. Are you thinking towards that direction in Kwara State?
Of course, we hope to key into the school feeding programme as we move on. Don’t forget, it is largely a Federal Government-supported programme and states will only key into that to show their support so that it has an overall desired impact. As a state, we are also desirous of joining the school feeding programme and we are working out the funding capacity within the state to see how it can truly fit into what the Federal Government is doing. The sweet thing about it is that it is a double-edged thing; it serves as stimulating the local agric support scheme because the feeding is supposed to come from foodstuffs produced within that environment which automatically stimulates the demand in that sector from that section of the country. So, for us the double-edged sword thing that allows us to stimulate agriculture and get it used for feeding at the basic level is a fantastic one. So, we would look at it and we will also key in as a state.
Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, has dissociated himself from the school feeding programme, saying it is a campaign promise by the APC and the APC is turning around to involve other states. What is your take on this?
Joining the scheme is by choice and if any state feels it has an alternative programme, it could come up with it but for us, it is not just seen as a campaign thing. It is a thing that has been thought out properly, structured and currently being implemented to meet up with our current support for the education sector in our human capital development programme as a party and as a government. So, it is by choice that any state feels it wants to key into it or not.