By Mohammed Dantala Aliyu

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Hajiya Ramatu Muhammed Yar Adua, Commissioner for Investment

Wednesday, 3rd February, 2016 marked the 40th anniversary of the creation of Niger State. It was on this day in 1976 that the decision to announce the creation of Niger state and six others was taken. The military junta headed by Murtala/Obasanjo added seven more states in addition to the already twelve existing ones. Niger State is a multi ethnic and multi lingual state from which the nation’s capital Abuja was carved. The state has had fourteen governors in all from Air Commodore Murtala Nyako to Abubakar Sani Bello. The take off budget of the state in 1976 was One hundred and five million naira (N105 million naira) which is not even up to the monthly allocation of some local governments in today’s Niger state.
This pioneer budget laid the foundation of development in our state; the Chanchaga Water Works, the Government House, the F-Layout, the Bosso Lowcost and Airport Quarters, the Minna township stadium (Bako Kontagora), and some township roads had their foundation through this budget. Over the years, figures of our annual budget have soared. This year’s budget, even though a shoe string by contemporary estimation, is seventy eight billion seven hundred million naira. Over the years, there is not much to cheer because of consistent and decisively poorly conceived policies since inception.
Development in Niger State has inexorably stagnated. As it were all the time, the state is in an unending search for a workable framework of development. The dearth of  investment is not caused by lack of entrepreneurship. It is caused by defective pedagogy and absence of local role models in businesses and commerce. Dozens of developmental programmes echoed by previous governments have yielded nothing. Most of the landmark achievements were recorded during the military era. Our assets and investments have for many years remained completely in comatose. Such assets include among others; Mokwa Ranch, Bida Rice Mill, Bida grains reserve, Bida Soap Factory, Obasanjo Shopping Complex, NSDC building, Legbo Kutigi Conference Center, sight and services at Garam, near Abuja,  liason houses in Lagos, Kaduna, Abuja  and so on. For government to expand the frontiers of job creation and increase revenue drive, it must make conscious efforts of re-investments in key critical sectors. This will create jobs outside the mainstream civil service. 
The sight and services at Garam, which consists of about 600 plots, is almost 80% near completion; it is entrusted to the Niger State Development Company. It is its responsibility to manage those properties and the revenue accruing from transactions the company goes into. Many Nigerlites especially the elites and pseudo investors have in the past abused and misused these properties ostensibly on the notion that kayan gwamnati ne. Even then, standard in investment is not caused by lack of enterprenuership. It was caused largely by the absence of role models. Those given the Badegi Rice Mill for example,  did not run it for a single day, hence refused to allow the place to function. If it had functioned normally it will have created over two thousand jobs in the process of rice production. Government has lost tens of millions in revenue because of shabby handling of these cherished assets. Alhaji Muhammad Abdullahi Kure is the new Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Niger State Development Company. His appointment means a new dawn and a new beginning. An astute administrator of proven qualities is already turning the fortunes of NSDC for the better. What is needed is massive reinvestment that will help reactivate the various assets to be fully operational once again. Government must allow the Development Company to take charge of the sales of the houses at Garam, if we are to maximise profit.
 In the past, government has invested rather in rhetoric ossified in falsehood thus, rattled our collective intelligence. Nauseating! presenting controvertible evidential documentation in investments and conveniently concocted but ludicrous silliness. These irredeemable unrepentant heretic cases of anti-democracy made them uncohabitable with the values of the looming radical reforms which the change mantra has been advocating.  There was deep seated animosity deeply felt towards the preceding government that was rapaciously greedy and avariciously corrupt. As Nigerlites, we are at our wits’ end trying to fathom the root causes of consistently bad administrations foisted upon our souls since 1999. In the past, our collective visions were blurred with the unholy dust and destructive carnage of a deceptive servant. Never again shall we be caught unawares!
 The previous governments adopted the perspective development plans, which centred on active participation of the government in managing the economy. As plausible as the programme was, there was no sincerity in the execution and utilization of funds meant for certain projects. At that time, all dissenting opinions were shrugged off as the malfeasance of the opposition’s introspective propensity and grumbling on the alleged defects in everything done by the ruling party, hence waved aside. Investment is more about basic and sacred mundane values and institutions. For us to move forward, government must sustain and expand the probing of the last government to include among others; joint account fund, SURE-P fund, the MDGs fund, the series of Bonds taken and so on. Doing this will enables us to know where our deficits are. Revamping an economy needs careful reassessment and recapitalization into critical sectors. If this happened, there will be more private participation that can usher in job creation.
The revocation of 241 plots around Zuma Rock is a welcome development. Because this action helps us to tighten our grip on the potential tourists havens we have in our beloved state. Zuma Rock is so essential and strategic, it is often wrongly “allocated” to the federal capital. It is an unexplored goldmine that is surrounded by other attractions like; waterfall, port, colonial ruins, historical sites, cultural relics, and mythical landmarks. All these put together should be accounting for considerable revenues internally generated by the state.
A drastic decision must be taken to make Niger State structurally convenient for visitors, investors and intending residents. Turning these sites into attractive places through recapitalization of the NSDC will be a major investment by this administration. Taking control of all the lands around Suleja should be government’s top priority, because of its proximity to Abuja, the Federal Capital. It can serve as a base for vast investment in housing. Suleja,  as it is now, is simply a town of loud chaos of sleeping tents for workers in Abuja. Niger State has not been able to scoop the full revenue potentials available to us in that area. You can imagine if Lagos had shared boundaries with the Federal Capital, the entire theories of taxation and other revenue formulas will have been applied to squeeze every single kobo accruing as revenue.   
Niger State has apologetically remained a failed state, perpetually stooped by the weight of unresolved consortium of socio-economic problems caused by years of government’s inability to engage the ever increasing army of youths. The blueprint of where Lagos will be in 20 years  is what Fashola handed over to Ambode. If I may ask, what did ex governor Babangida Aliyu hand over to Governor Abubakar Sani Bello? Justifiably, both the government and NSDC must make conscious investment in agricultural-related industry. The potentials of vast arable land for rice cultivation of Niger south has remained largely untapped. Government must make efforts towards recapitalizing the wet and dry season farming if at all we must engage our growing army of young ones in more meaningful and profitable ventures.
The shoe-string budget of N78.7 billion naira this year means no wastages, no leakages. Government must, therefore, ensure that only properly registered youths benefit from the fund set aside for any agricultural programme. One major factor that cut short the dream of most investors aspiring to venture into Niger State is the state of idleness of our factories and industries. Recapitalising the Niger State Development Company (NSDC) and systematic empowerment of the youths in various skills will rapidly resuscitate the ailing business sector and make everybody busy.
The president’s agreement with the Sinohydro corporation limited of China has captured Niger State in two critical areas; first, the establishment of 300 Mega watts electricity solar panel at Shiroro which will boost energy supply to small scale businesses and secondly, solid mineral exploration. Niger State is blessed with solid minerals. Illegal mining has been going on for years, with no visible benefits. With foreign investors means the end of this illegality. Recapitalising the NSDC will enable our state to partner with Foreign Direct Investors (FDI). Such that we provide the site and the manpower while our foreign partners provide the fund and expertise. The NSDC can further liaise with the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC) to explore other potential areas of attracting foreign investors to Niger State. Very recently, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello  inaugurated a shea butter processing centre at Tungan Wawa village in Kontagora Local government. This is in partnership with PZ Cussons Foundation. It is a clear example of the Foreign direct investment and a Public Private Partnership (PPP) that will provide job and complement government efforts at providing sustainable economic environment for women and youths who engaged in the production of agricultural raw materials in Niger State. This type of collaboration with developing partners will uplift the standard of living and job creation. This is an investment drive that will yield result in the shortest possible time.
The NSDC must go into partnership with the Ministry of Tourism to develop the Gurara waterfall and other tourism havens around Abuja if the state were to have a firm control of all the lands belonging to it.
Finally, the government must clearly identify the fine thin line between determination and desperation; encroaching onto the side of desperation would only open doors for invaders rather than investors. In a few months from now, we expect to see modest improvements that will give us some hope and sigh of relief. I have no doubt that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their state can change it. This government can change Niger State.     
Aliyu teaches Mass Communication at Fati Lami Abubakar Institute of Legal and Administrative Studies, Kpakungu, Minna.

TAURARUWA