Jibrin Baba Ndace is the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Governor of Niger state. In this interview with AWAAL GATA, he discusses the agricultural revolution which the governor plans to bring to the state, how he discharges his duties as CPS and other knotty issues surrounding the state’s administration.

The government of Niger state unveiled a four-point agenda after its inauguration; what is it doing now towards achieving it?
Gov Abubakar Sani Bello was fully prepared before seeking to be the Governor of Niger state. He came fully aware of the challenges the state has been facing over the years, especially in the last 16 years. After the inauguration, the government came up with a four-point agenda, which is dubbed “restoration agenda”.

Restoration of agriculture, good governance, women and youth empowerment, workable healthcare system of which every ward will have a standard healthcare centre, education, security… the agenda are four but each has many sectors dovetailing into it, but they were each brainstormed, reflected and creatively arrived at for making the state a great place for its citizens, against the backdrop of its potentials.
Its foremost potential is agriculture; it has the highest landmass in the country, and this landmass is arable for the cultivation of rice, cotton, sorghum, and other exportable farm produce. But over the years, we have not been able to really take advantage of it, so this administration has taken agriculture as its number one agenda.

Consequently, the Governor has been working round the clock to see that this vision comes into fruition. Even before he appointed Commissioners, bold steps were taken. At the moment, there is a company that is into rice importation which has indicated interest to do a rice plantation in Niger state in a place called Swashi in Borgu Local Government Area of the state. They have even started and they promised to invest about N200 billion into it.

The plantation will cover about 7500 hectares of land, and it will include a rice mill so that we can have the benefit of value chain of agriculture. So, very soon, we are going to have a brand of rice from Niger state that would serve the whole country and beyond.
By and large, the four-point agenda is pandered in an order of enabling Niger state to build a very strong economy, peaceful and secure environment where people can prosper as well as positioning the state in tandem with the new world order. Once Swashi rice comes on board, it is capable of creating about 20 thousand jobs… just imagine the way 20 thousand jobs can change the fortunes of Nigerlites. It will revolutionise the state.

How does the blueprint look like and when should the people of the state expect it?
Already they have started the pilot project. The Governor has visited the location, and it was towards consolidating on the already existing relationship with the investors that he visited India of recent. The idea is that if a company, for instance indicates interest to invest here, you must be able to know whether they have the capacity to deliver and the level of their seriousness; hence the governor went to India with myself, some Commissioners and some Members of House of Assembly, to see the rice plantation, the group and their rice mill. The visit was an eye-opener; the governor was satisfied that that they have the capacity to deliver on their promise.

Was seeing the rice mill and the group the sole aim of the visit?
No, there were other activities but it was the main aim. He had meetings with series of investors from India, but most of them were owners of rice plantations and mills.Those meetings were not in hotels in New Delhi; they were in rice mills and plantations neck-deep in the hinterlands of India. Sometimes we had to travel on road for over 120 kilometres to get to them. We also visited tractor companies, because the administration wants to mechanize agriculture in the state and also have a tractor assembly plant which would serve the whole country. There was also a meeting with a hospital which reached out to the state that it wants to have its facilities in it, so that Nigerians would no longer go to India for medical care but come to Niger state.

How cooperative have been the investors?
They have been very cooperative. The governor sold Niger state to them; that the state is arable, peaceful and the people are friendly. However, the investors agreed to come down for investments. From India we went to the UK to visit some rice plantations and mills, as well. SSA International, one of the companies we discussed with has a technology which uses rice chaff to generate power; now talks are in an advanced stage for them to come and also do a rice plantation here and generate power for us with rice chaff. The governor is very particular about creating jobs for the people of the state via the activities of these investors. He also wants to generate revenues which would be used in building tactile infrastructure in the state.

Before leaving the UK, we visited The House of Commons, where, like in India, Niger state was unveiled; with its potentials, the economic viability, among others, discussed. The focus was on agriculture, solid minerals, water resources and housing. He told them of the state’s proximity to Abuja, and the gains of investing in housing.

People have been complaining that the governor rarely stays in the state to pilots its affairs. Why is he always travelling?
He is not new to travelling; so he wouldn’t jump into the plane to travel around for the fun of it. He doesn’t travel without a purpose beneficial to the state and its people. Everybody knows that not much money is currently coming from the federation account because of the tumble in oil prices; hence state, like the country itself, have to diversify their economies in order to get things right. Since Gov Sani Bello came on board, that is what he has been working round the clock to achieve, and you know that cannot be achieved by sitting in the state. Very soon, Nigerlites will begin to feel the impact of all he has been doing and traveling for.

To consolidate on the youth engagement, that the state would have a football academy soon; when exactly would the academy begins to work?
The discussion is on; and I am very positive that the infrastructure is going to be provided soon, considering the seriousness of the investors. But there is no date for the kick-off yet.

It is being alleged that the state government interfered with the recently concluded LGAs elections, hence APC’s total victory. In your estimation, does the allegation hold water?
How would it hold water, my brother? I see it as an unfair remark! The opposition parties did not campaign, then why should they expect victory?When you go for a political campaign, you sell your agenda, but they went apologizing. You can’t come to me and say that you are sorry for the wrongs you have done for 16 years and I should forgive and vote for you; I won’t! APC fielded credible candidates, campaigned, told the people their agenda, hence the total victory.

The allegation is spurious in every ramification. Moreover, if it was not free and fair, there was no way the governor would have moved around on the day of the election without crisis. A day after the election, when we were coming back to Minna from Kontagora with the governor, we stopped in almost every community and people would come out in their thousands to celebrate with their governor; if it was not free and fair I am sure that would not have happened. In the whole of the state, did you hear of any crisis? If it wasn’t free and fair, you would have heard of crisis from different quarters.

The task force formed to retrieve funds stolen by members of the last administration; what is its modus operandi and, so far, how much of their mandates have they delivered?
The task force is getting its priorities right by getting back the monies. You must have heard that they were able to recover some monies from the pension scam that was carried out by the last administration. One of the people involved returned N100 million. However, there are other recoveries that haven’t been made public. I have said it times without number that the focus of this government is not to criminalize anybody or to make noise about the task force, what is important to this government is to ensure that what belongs to the people gets to them. The governor has said severally that anybody who took anything that belongs to the government should return it and he could be allowed to go…

But that is not in tandem with the law.
Yes, but it is the same law that allows a room for what is known as ‘plea-bargaining’. The thing is, if you want result you have to be creative. The task force is doing its job very well, but we are not going to make noise about it. The concern is funds recovery; and since the strategy is yielding good results, the administration is satisfied.

What challenges is the administration facing in implementing its plans for the people?
The main challenge is what I have said earlier: funds. The administration came at a time that there is paucity of funds. After payment of salaries; you wouldn’t imagine that a state like Niger is rarely left with almost nothing to work with. Salaries gulp about N2 billion every month. The ongoing workers’ verification is another way of cutting the money expended on salaries because it was learnt, and now confirmed, that the system is abrim with ghost workers.

What is your message to Nigerlites from this government?
This is their government; they voted to bring it to power willingly and overwhelmingly. So this is the time to work, and they should contribute by giving it their utmost supports. Based on the governor’s love for the state and his leadership credentials, I am sure that they are not going to be disappointed.

The office of CPS is challenging, what is your modus operandi?
Keeping the people informed about the activities of the administration is our prime responsibility, and so far we have been doing it to the best of our knowledge. The work has even been made easier, considering the open and people-oriented mien and personality of the Governor. However, in my office, we don’t work under ‘panic alert’. Niger state is a state that belongs to millions of people, and many of them could have an opinion or two on the state or the government of the state; in my office, we have no issue if someone make his or her opinion about the administration public; what we want is constructive criticism.

Ibrahim Dooba, your predecessor, recently wrote on his Facebook wall that while he was in office, members of the Correspondents’ Chapel asked him for N1 million monthly, and now they are asking you for N2 million; you haven’t come to the public with this.

Are they truly asking you to pay them that amount of money?
I think that is Dooba’s own figment of imagination. I do not know how he ran things with the Correspondents’ Chapel while he was the CPS, but since I came I have been having a very cordial relationship with the Chapel, NUJ and every journalist in the state and nobody or no journalists’ association has asked me to pay any amount of money. As you said earlier, the office of the CPS is a very sensitive and dicey one, hence you need to put the experiences you gathered on field as a journalist to work in order to excel and finish your time unscathed. Maybe Dooba’s lack of field experience was behind his lack of cordiality with journalists while he reigned.

source: Yusuf P Mu’awiyyah

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