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Interview: How Nigeria Can Get Out Of Recession – Tambuwal

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Governor Aminu Waziri
Tambuwal fielded questions from journalists in Sokoto on wide range of issues
affecting his state and the country. He gave his frank assessment of the
measures needed to take Nigeria out of recession.


The last
administration promised to improve the welfare of religious and traditional
rulers in the state. This includes providing them with vehicles and modernising
their palaces, why haven’t you done much in that regard?

First of all, this government respects traditional
institutions and since we came on board, we have accorded them the respect they
deserve. They play important roles in efforts to sustain peace and security,
and in a larger sense, they promote religious and communal harmony. Because of their
place in our history, we know we cannot do anything less for them. But you will
agree with me that our financial situation since we came on board has been
precarious. Government has cut back on much expenditure, and has prioritised
areas of needs for the whole state. I am happy that our traditional rulers have
understood clearly what we are faced with and they have not pressured us to
continue with the policy of fixing their palaces when there are more competing
needs in our hospitals, primary healthcare centres, agriculture, education,
youth, women empowerment among others. Similarly, if you look into the number
and importance of projects we met on ground and the pressure to complete them,
what we did is the best for the state. We have inherited about 30 large and
important projects from the last administration, and we are working hard to
complete all of them and put them to use for the benefit of the citizens. These
are projects that we have to complete as allowing them rot away will lead to
wastage of funds earlier expended to start these projects.

Our philosophy has been to take these gradually, depending
on availability of funds, and complete them before delving into new ones. That
policy has served us well in the last two years and we are happy to put them to
use. What you may not be aware is that many of those projects for traditional
rulers were to be executed from the joint accounts with the local government
councils. But at the moment, many of those councils cannot carry out any meaningful
project outside payment of salaries. We have severally bailed them out from the
state government to enable them meet their obligations to workers. In such
situations, I don’t think they are buoyant enough to embark on building and
repairs of palaces.

You spoke about local
government councils, but there are complaints that many of their workers don’t
get their salaries on time, what is responsible for that?

We have carried out verification exercise to determine the
correct number of workers in each of the 23 local government councils of Sokoto
state. What we met on ground was beyond reason because the strength of the workforce
in our local governments is twice more than that of Kano that has 44 local
government areas. We felt this is not sustainable. We are continuing with the biometric
verification to ensure that only genuine workers remain in the schedule of
payment, and they will be paid according to their levels. We must do this to
sanitise the system and ensure ghost workers or absentee workers do not find
sanctuary in the local government system.

Few days ago, you
dissolved the management team of the state Board of Internal Revenue, why now
and secondly what is the current IGR figure for Sokoto state?

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For almost two years, we gave the dissolved team the
necessary incentive and support to improve internal revenue base of the state,
but they haven’t done that. If you recall, I have stated publicly that we would
take action to ensure better performance in revenue generation. After a review
of their performance, we decided to bring in new persons to reposition the
board. As for the figures, since we came on board, the monthly IGR for Sokoto
ranges between N340 to N400 million. When I spoke to the ministry of finance, I
was told that the previous administration received up to N500 million monthly.
My argument is that this figure they are giving us is meager. What we deduct
monthly as PAYE from civil servants alone, should be in the range of this
figure, so what happened to other revenue sources? The new team has been
mandated to put in place a new framework which will boost performance and
improve revenue figures.


With this new target,
are we seeing tougher measures against members of the public who are not paying
tax?

We are fully aware of the economic situation in the country,
especially survival of businesses and the harsh conditions they are operating
in at the moment. We will put that in consideration in pursuing what is due for
the government. I am saying this because as leaders, we need to be clear about
our intentions. Whenever we ask people to make sacrifices, we must reassure
them that it is for common good. So we are telling the people that whatever
they pay to government as tax, will be applied judiciously for the benefit of
all the people of the state.


How will you review
the performance of the state’s 2016 budget?

I’ve spoken about this during the presentation of this
year’s budget, and in fact when I assented to the budget law a few days ago.
Taking a holistic view of the performance of the budget, I feel we can do more.
That is why we started this year by making necessary changes in the personnel
that drive the budget process, as can be seen from what we did at the board of
internal revenue. We will continue to improve the system because time is not on
our side. What I’m promising the people is that the performance of the 2017
budget will be better than that of 2016 in terms of implementation, while even
distribution of resources will be ensured. We will start new projects across
the state, with much emphasis placed on rural areas.


At the meeting of the
Northern Governors Forum recently, you agreed to improve the security situation
in your states, how far have you gone in that regard? 

We discussed many areas of cooperation, for example agriculture,
education and the likes. As for security, we agreed to share intelligence and
this has been paying off. Take for instance issues of castle rustling; because
of renewed onslaught by security agencies and the inter-state collaboration
among all the states, this problem has reduced. We still have few scattered
instances, but we are working to tackle that as well. This cooperation is
extending to cases of kidnapping, armed robbery, civil unrest and the likes. So
the more we collaborate the better for us as states, and the better for our
citizens.

Your Excellency, the
government has done marvelously well in containing the fuel situation which was
getting out of hand in the last few weeks, what are you doing with regards to
prices of commodities in the market? 

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We read from the news that the federal government has set up
a committee to ensure commodities are not priced out of the reach of the common
man. In Sokoto, we’ve already establish the state commodity board which will
work to give our farmers and citizens a fair deal. The board will buy grains
from farmers and store them. We hope to intervene when situation is getting out
of hand as you have stated. We are already taking to the Federal Government and
Flour Mill in Nigeria Plc for effective utilization of the Silos here in Sokoto
by buying and storing grains so as to do some intervention when the situation
arises. We intend to use the commodity board as a platform whereby we can
always off-take excess produce from our farmers.

Who or what is
responsible for the current economic situation in Nigeria and secondly, what’s
the way out of recession for the country?

Experts have called on the Federal Government to inject more
money into the system. Personally, I believe creating job opportunities,
especially through the construction industry, and injection of more money into
the economy, remain a sure way out of the current recession in the country. Ask
any Economist about the way out of recession, and I am sure they will inform
you that massive construction efforts, backed by release of funds, will create
jobs whose multiplier effects will jumpstart the economic barometer. As Speaker
of the House of Representatives, I’ve had reasons to disagree with many of the
policies of the last administration of President Goodluck Jonathan which we
felt were inimical to the overall development and well-being of the people.
Many thought we were raising the alarm because we had personal hatred for him.
That is not the case. I had nothing personal against the former President. The
recession we are currently facing was as a result of the way the economy was
mismanaged, largely, by the Jonathan administration. What is the way out? I’ve
said we need to inject money into the system and create employment
opportunities for the people. And one way to do that is to engage in massive
construction projects. It is part of the reason why we encouraged the Federal
Government to disburse the funds from the debt relief for states to kick-start
activities at regional level. Similarly, we’ve read how immediate-past President
of the United States of America, Barack Obama, used this strategy of massive
construction works to take America out of economic challenges. So construction
projects alone will create a lot of jobs which will benefit the economy. We all
know that Nigerians are not happy and are running out of patience, but they
should be more patient. It is very easy to destroy but to rebuild the economy
takes time.

You have announced an
incentive that will benefit some 25,000 women across the state, can you shed
more light on this?

What we are doing with the women groups is part of our
overall strategy to assist small and medium scale entities to boost their
operations. We’ve asked the Sokoto State Small and Medium Scale Enterprises
Development Agency (SOSMEDA) to create a data base of all small business run by
women in the state. As a starting point, we decided to empower 25,000 of these
women who are in the rural areas with a soft loan of N10,000 each. That amounts
to N250 million. We plan to expand it as time goes on but we are starting with
the first set who are getting the N10,000 each very soon.

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