How we re-engineered the finances of Gombe State to fund devpt – Gov Yahaya

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Leadership means results seem to be the mantra in Gombe State as the Governor, Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya, gives his mid-term report showing major milestones across several performance areas including finance and fiscal responsibility, healthcare, education, infrastructure, security and youth engagement amongst others.

In this interview with Vanguard senior editors, Gov. Yahaya gave some insights into what has changed in Gombe state since 2019.

Excerpts

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We have noted some significant strides you have made just under first three years of your administration. Maybe you give us some insight into your strategy and drives that led to the results.

First let me thank you for recognizing the modest achievements we have made so far. But let me also say it is not just me. This team that you see around me are really standing by me day and night, 24/7 and I can say 365 days a year we are trying to achieve that collective vision since we belong together and everybody is committed to doing this hard work.

This is about taking Gombe State to the next level and I am proud to say despite the fact that we are down the ladder in terms of  the Federation Accounts Allocation and even internal revenue generation that we have been able to do a lot of things fundamentally tied to the development plan that we were able to set up for ourselves, that has to tell Gombe to align with the Sustainable Development Goal and likewise achieve more human capital development, security, environmental control, business and all aspects and spheres of human endeavour, particularly.

Our recognition as number one state in terms of Ease of Doing Business, I think is something worth being proud of and worth appreciating. Not only that, Gombe came top in young scientist appreciation and presidential approval for young scientist development. Not only that, in terms of fiscal responsibility and compliance with budgetary procedures, Gombe state came fifth amongst the 36 states of the Federation. So in so many spheres of human development, Gombe is really doing well.

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We also imagined that you have executed or you are executing some  sort of financial re-engineering whereby despite inheriting a whole lot of liabilities/ debts but then barely two years into your administration we are seeing some turn around in completing abandoned projects, in terms of liquidating outstanding backlog of pensions, in terms of local government salaries that were outstanding, even with the backlog of debts you inherited. So maybe you can give us some further insight into what happened in the fiscal position of the state that you are able to do these things.

I think I can boldly say that we came in with a mindset of doing the correct thing. You know, trying to follow procedures and practices that are in tune with international best practices and that will make us to leverage on the little that we have. It is not about you having enough resources but your ability to manage the little you have that helps you achieve your goals and aspirations and my background is in finance. I am an accountant, professional accountant for that matter and I happened to be privileged to be, at one time, the Commissioner of Finance and Economic Development of Gombe State.

Maybe I think I was the longest serving Commissioner, by the time I left because I served for seven years as Commissioner of Finance. So that gave me the background of knowing where and how that we need to prioritize and we need to address. Not only that, the team too like I mentioned, Commissioner of Finance, advisers and whatever, all of us together put the finances on track. You know is one thing for you to know where you are and it is another for you to manage and be able to establish your feat especially during the transitionary days.

We had a very robust transition committee that comprise of seasoned professionals that really know where to touch in terms of the button and how to go about it. And I am proud to say that that Committee provided a guide as what to do plus a modified civil service that we fine tune to make sure that we achieve the objectives and it worked and the result you saw is overturning the issues of poor financials, corrupt tendencies and improper or I can say somehow poorly managed treasury. So that helped us and we thank God we relate very well with the financial agencies and we have record as to know what to do and that was why we are able to do the correct things and check ourselves.

Not only the State government the local government too. We improved reasonably and as a result we know, in terms of compliance with the demands of the Strengthening Fiscal Transparency Accountability and Sustainability, SFTAS, project that is financed by World Bank, Gombe was able to attract reasonable funding to support our finances.

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With that and what we were able to do in terms of collaborating with development partners and international agencies that are willing, we have been able to achieve much in addressing the backlogs. I am proud to say that what we have done is really on track and we are yet to achieve what we want but God willing we shall reach our destination.

Gombe State is seen as the most peaceful state in the geopolitical zone despite being surrounded by states that are besieged by Boko Haram and other bandits. What is the secret in maintaining a stable and peaceful state in the midst of all these turmoil?

Well, I cannot say there is any secret about it unless the fact that we realise and we know our differences and the nature of Gombe society is such that in the places that are predominantly Christian there are Muslims within, you find the family that share both Muslim and Christian siblings, that have parents that are of one faith or maybe of the two.

That helped us a lot, and the fact that it is a cosmopolitan city and there is accommodation by our nature. For example, even now there is an Ibo man that is an adviser on this cabinet; there is a Yoruba man that has been appointed the Director General of sport commission. So we are one family and we understand our differences and we respect those differences and accommodate one another. That has extended not only within us but those people that came to settle with us. I think that has been very helpful. God too has been on our side and we have been very prayerful and we shall continue to pray.

On the issue of internal security, on resumption to office I created a ministry for internal security and ethical orientation, that is, trying to make us align with our good values even the ones we left behind, and also work with security agencies and ensure we provide peace security and harmony within the state. We are up and doing, it is only Gombe that has such ministry in the North East.

Since you came into office what have you done in the area of education for your people to be able to carry them along and prevent them from joining groups that may be inimical state’s security?

Education is one of the serious challenges that we are facing, and because of the centrality of Gombe and as a result of the insurgency that happened in the frontline states of Bornu, Yobe and Adamawa, a lot of people have relocated to Gombe. Almajiri people within those states are now living in Gombe. By the accounts we got, by May 2019, UNICEF claimed that there were about 550,000 out of school children in Gombe.

But I personally told them as at that time it was 700,000. So we had no option than to align with any agency, be it national, local or international, that is out to support education, such as UNICEF, UBEC, among others. A very conscious effort was made towards aligning with all national programmes that would improve on education.

With UBEC and the Basic Education Service Delivery for all were able to take up over 350,000 out of those numbers. It is not only taking them off the list but we sustained and maintained them in class up till this moment through some incentives and allowances to the parents to allow them remain there and we are still doing that.

I believe what we did, in both basic, that is primary and junior secondary schools is very unique. By the account of House of Representative Committee on Education that went to Gombe, they said our situation in Gombe is by far much better than what we see in other states. So basic education and taking up out of school children and improving on high education, Gombe, I can say, is not doing badly in terms of education. We are trying to do our best to see that we get better by the day.

What are you doing to attract investment into the state?

That is one of the things we put as a priority, what we have done is one of the reasons we got number one in terms of Ease of Doing Business. This government facilitated providing power in the small industrial clusters that is in Gombe housing about 20 or 25 small scale rice milling and oil processing and in that place alone, I can say that there are about 10 to 15 thousand people engaged in terms of processors, employees, marketers and distributors. That has been the driving force, but we have the vision of providing an extended industrial park and we are working on that already. We have earmarked a thousand hectares of land, we are working on the project, the first phase which is N17 billion that is, working on providing 350 hectares of land provided with all the basic infrastructures that industries need, power, water supply, good road network and  security, these are the basics and they have all been provided.

We are trying to see that it pick up and as a result of that, because of the Dankigor Dam that is close by, about 40mh of power has been supplied. But because of bureaucratic red-tape, we have not been able to move on to the grid, we are moving it now to the industrial park.

I think all the basics required for industries to pick up and do very well are in Gombe now, so the value chain on agriculture, being an agrarian state, the farmers could have good market and industry alike could have raw materials while people, especial our youth and business men, will have some commodities on which to trade and finished products that can go elsewhere. We are on the right track and we are trying to be at least the industrial hub in the North East.

How far have you gone in providing healthcare for your people who cannot afford it?

The weakness of the Nigerian healthcare system got exacerbated by COVID-19 and it brought to fore what we need to do as a people and as a nation. Gombe State is about the same; it is not very unique; there has been a long standing decay in the healthcare system and for us to get to the ordinary people, we decided that we would go to each of our ward, we have 114 wards, and we approached it in a way that where we have moribund, abandoned primary healthcare centre we resuscitate them and put them to use and give them all the basic infrastructure so that the ordinary man can access good healthcare at little or no cost and proximity to his residence or place of living. Gombe is among the states that have been able to achieve that in the whole North East aligning with national health sector improvement project. On top of that, we expanded so that we can have from basic to secondary and tertiary healthcare.

To achieve secondary healthcare, we improved a specialist hospital, refurbish it and put up structures. At this moment, it has qualified to have resident doctors on training who are qualified to be consultants. We improved on it to have space for those that graduate from medical college. They were not there before, but we recruited specialists in the fields of medicine so that they could give them the training to be qualified as registered and licenced doctors. So from residency to internship, we have complete facilities for training and retraining in the specialist hospital. Taking that as an example, we now widen it to cover all the state by having at least a re-modified, improved and a specialist hospital in each of the senatorial districts. In the far north there is one at Vajoga, in the central, there is one that is completely a new hospital that we are putting up and at the south, at Katungo, we are working. 

The Katungo hospital was the first hospital in the whole of the north east during the missionary days, so we now made effort to improve it, it is about to be completed. Together with the teaching hospital which used to be the federal medical centre now taken over by the federal government to be a teaching hospital. From basic to secondary and tertiary healthcare, we are making efforts to see that we have complete healthcare cover.

We have set up health insurance programme known as Go Health. So far, we have even extended to cover the informal sector. Previously from the beginning it was civil servants, both state and local government. We have opened up the window; there should be about 50,000 that has enrolled plus those that are not our own citizens, because those that relocated, especially displaced persons are being enrolled and are getting their own.

Those of them and the physically challenged people that were around were registered for free. All it takes now is to ensure there is a very robust healthcare service in Gombe State and I can ask that you come and see for yourself .

What are you doing to market Gombe state to the world?

Well the greatest challenge of the North East was the issue of Boko Haram and insecurity. When you are talking of insecurity, the idea to attract tourist to that place becomes a problem. But it has subsided now and we have a lot of facilities and events that could attract tourists but I think we need to do a lot and that is why I said that we will extend invitation to you people to come and see so that we can help in showing to the world what Gombe has in terms of tourism, trade and investment.

On taking development to the grassroot what are some of the milestone achievements of your administration so far at the local government level?

There is none of our local government that is not linked to a tarred road. So also power and to some extent even water supply and health care.

What we did that will even make it become better is engaging in a programme/project that is called Network Eleven 100 by which we intend to construct a 100km road on each of the local governments and so far we have achieved a lot linking not only the local government headquarters but areas that are having high population density that are not served by good roads. So, we are making efforts to make sure that within the state very soon there will be 1100 kilometers of brand new roads in Gombe State.

What are your initiatives for engagement of the youth especially in area of employment?

Well, because of poor financial standing we have to start with getting partners so that we can align with them and get a robust framework on which we engage our youths.

Sometimes in the first quarter of 2021, I made the research and documentation unit of the government house to find out for us the extent of graduate unemployment that we have in the state. By the end of a week, we got up to 27,800 unemployed with First Degree to NCE and those with ND and HND. And not only that, we have also done on hawkers and the out of school children documentation. So it is a real problem even though is not Gombe alone as it is a nationwide problem.

And that made us to think and plan a way out. In fact the idea of setting up the industrial park is for us to have a place where, within the value chain, you can have uptake the youths and give them job.

But because of that background we now started to find means but which we can have engagement for the youths

And that was what took us to the idea of setting up Gombe State Security, Traffic and Environment Corp so that we see within the youth who are capable, able and who have the energy to function in that assignment; an engagement, program that can be paying and help in improving all our  security and environmental management.

That is what we have done and so far about 2000 of the youth have been engaged for that and not only that we provided another 500 youths to serve as development facilitators so that they could give training in five vocations areas: poultry, livestock management, basic embroidery, beauty products and other things. With that we can be able to engage the youth especially if we are able to support them and give them the required facilities and tools that they need so that they can provide services and be able to make a livelihood.

This is the basics that you have to improve in terms of the social needs of the people using the youths.

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