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In this interview, Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura speaks with UMAR MUHAMMED on the labour crisis in Nasarawa State, why he reduced workers’ salaries and plans to beat the recession
What brought about the agitation for the creation of the state?
I think we need to take a cursory look at the agitations for the creation of Nasarawa State. I don’t want to go deep into history. It is enough to say that our people felt that they should be given an opportunity for self-determination. This, to me, brought about the agitation for the creation of the state. Attaining the age of 20 is a big deal for all of us. When we were part of Plateau State, it used to be a wonderful relationship but posed a challenge in terms of development. So, a lot of us felt that we should have a state that we could call our own. That was what led to the agitation for the creation of Nasarawa State. I was lucky to be among the pioneers of the agitation. I must say that in the process of agitating, there was no bad blood between us and the people of Plateau. All we wanted was to hasten and fast track development. We felt that self-determination was a prerequisite to development. The state was created on October 1, 1996. It is now 20 years. I must say it is a thing to jubilate about, despite the challenges and paucity of funds.
Today, we can say with confidence and pride that the state has moved our people forward. I believe if we were still in Plateau State, the level of development, achievements and far-reaching attainment in the state would not have been possible. So, I believe that we should be grateful that we have succeeded in getting a state of our own and that calls for a celebration.
How do you plan to deal with the curent economic recession?
The challenges of generating more money have been compounded by the economic recession. But before the recession, the state was the least in terms of revenue allocation. We are now receiving less than N2bn as federal allocation. I have already drafted a plan to battle recession in the state. The first is to adopt a pragmatic approach to issues. I want the indigenes of Nasarawa State to have fresh orientation because our greatest problem is our value system, especially by cutting down expenses. I have not bought a new car in the last three years. My deputy has not bought any car since he came on board last year, and we have slashed our duty tour allowances by 50 per cent.
We are investing in diversification (of the economy). We have started encouraging small business owners by building model markets in all our local councils. This is because 60 per cent of the citizens make a living from trade. We are also exploiting our potential in agriculture by partnering with Olarm Farms, one of the biggest rice production companies in Africa.
On our closeness to the Federal Capital Territory, we discovered that one cannot achieve anything if one is not able to computerise one’s land reform system. This is what we have been doing for the past two years. I’m happy to say that we have reached the second phase in terms of computerising our land administration system through the Nasarawa Geographic Information System, which is about the best in the country.
We have embarked on a robust housing project on 13,000 hectares of land along Kabusu area, which is about 10 times the size of Gwarinpa. We are talking to the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Works and the FCT, and we hope to see Nasarawa State as the real estate hub for business development in the next six months. Once we get this plan done, we are going to have facilities 10 times bigger than Gwarinpa. We are more concerned about providing more districts for low-income earners.
I’m dreaming that one day, half of the population we have in Abuja would reside in Nasarawa State and this will generate revenue for the state. This is our plan to take Nasarawa out of the recession.
Recently, you had a disagreement with labour over the slashing of workers’ salaries by 50 per cent, what led to this decision?
This is very pertinent. Let me say with every sense of responsibility that it was not my wish to slash the salaries. Being a realist, I do not believe in being insincere with the people I lead. In fact, I expect the workers of Nasarawa State to appreciate what I’m doing. Since I’m not getting this kind of acknowledgement, I must say I’m disappointed. I have given the labour union the opportunity to name any of the 19 states in the North that are paying higher than me. Yet, they are insisting on the old scale. If they want me to pay workers, using the old scale, then there are certain essential things that need to be taken care of (like overhead costs). Whatever remains is what will go to the workers. So, it is left for you to call it or whatever, but we are being realistic and pragmatic.
I have given labour two options: either they take the new scale, which is sustainable, or we go back to the old scale, which is not sustainable. It is left for them but on our part, we are sincere.
The state has been engulfed with communal crisis which has hindered development, what are your plans to unify the aggrieved people?
Every society has its challenges and Nasarawa is not an exception. In every society, there are one or more crises that stagnate development. For us, the communal crises are too many since the state was created. Experience has taught us lessons. You can see that the frequency of such crisis is reducing by the day. In the past one year, I have not known of any communal clashes and I want to believe that we have learnt our lessons.
The state had the worst crisis between 2013 and 2014 when we had the Ombatse crisis; it was unfortunate. I think what has happened has taught us lessons, even though it has caused so much hardship for all of us.
What are your efforts to ensure that the abundant mineral resources in the state are harnessed?
We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an American company to exploit the mineral resources. We have also struck a deal with Dangote to extract the coal we have in Obi and Agwatashi. I believe that in the next few months, we will see the prospects of the coking coal that will be used in generating power, not only to the people of the state but big industries such as Olarm farms, Benue Cement Company and others.
We are also exploiting the potential in agriculture. Dangote is also interested in sugar cane production in the state and we are talking with the Sugar Cane Council of Nigeria on the possibility of this. These are some of the plans we have in the pipeline.
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Source: Punch News