Jun 30, 2008

Verbatim with Nuhu Gagara

Mr. Nuhu Ishaya Gagara is the Plateau State Commissioner of information. Recently he granted an interview to the News Tower magazine on some issues related to the activities of the government of Plateau State.

Sir I want to congratulate the administration for clocking one year in office. The thing I want to find out is that… will you say that it has been rosy for the government.

Certainly, not. It has not been rosy. This is a new government and any body that is starting something new must face a lot of challenges. Before our coming in there were a lot of problems in the state: Problems of insecurity, lack of peace, there was disunity, disharmony throughout the state, religious crisis, political crisis everywhere. People became suspicious of one another and the worst thing was that no project was executed for eight years. Money was given by the Federal Government to the state but there was nothing to show for it and the money was not there. When the new government took off there was nothing in the treasury. So these were some of the challenges that we met. So on this note, nobody will say that it was rosy; nobody will say it was a smooth take off; it was rough. But thank God that shortly after that, the governor, who is talented, was able to study the situation fast and adjusted himself and normalized the situation. These problems are now history. They are no longer there. You can see that we are running a stable government.. There is peace in the land, there is security. Security of both life and property and you can see government activities are going on. Though we have one or two problems with labour, every thing is now okay.

The next thing I want to find out is that yesterday during the hearing on this electoral matter there were people who gave submissions saying that the state branches of electoral commission across the country should be scraped. According to them it gives room for manipulation. Since they are funded by the state government and those who work there are also recruited by the government.. Sir, do you buy that idea.

Well…. Everybody is entitled to his own opinion. I know that there are states where the electoral bodies do the bidding for the government. It is often said that he who pays the piper dictates the tune. But I also know that there are a few states where the state electoral bodies do well, living up to its expectation. So it all depends on the leadership. Where you have somebody who is not honest, a leader that is not interested in doing what is right, he will pocket the body and do whatever he wants to do with it. There are instances in some states where even before the elections are held, results will have been prepared. But I want to assure you that in Plateau State having come out of the little crisis we had with the state electoral body, we now have a formidable team manning PLASIEC and I know that these men of integrity will organized a local government election that everybody will be happy with. I believe they will be neutral, I believe they will be fair to all manner of people. They will be fair to all political parties. In my case, I will say there is no cause for alarm.

There is this issue I torched a part of yesterday. You know that in Nigeria we seem to depend so much on oil revenue. As a matter of fact up to 90% of the income that Nigeria generates comes from oil. Recently it has been experiencing an increase because of the problems in the Middle East and the Niger Delta, making the price to go up. Now we are getting used to this money and there is no guarantee that the price will stay up. Do you entertain some fear whether the price of oil will go down in the future and then we begin to have problems with our finances? Do you entertain fears?

Let me tell you. As a state we are not entertaining any fear. What is it that we get from the oil revenue as a state in Plateau? Plateau is one of the least beneficiaries of the oil revenue. With or without oil I believe states will survive. Before we discovered oil, before we started making money out of oil, there were certain things that were sustaining the national economy. The western region was sustaining the economy through the production of cocoa which was being exported, the eastern zone had their palm oil, and they had coal. These things were revenue earners at that time. In Plateau State we had our tin and columbite. That is why you have all these mining pits all over the place. In the core northern states, they had groundnut and cotton. All these put together sustained the economy and it is this money that was used to explore and develop the crude oil deposits that we have in the Niger Delta region. But today people are beginning to think that it just rained crude oil on them and so it is only them that should have access to the resources.. Plateau State, I want to tell you that with or without oil we believe we will survive. The Governor has already put in place a machinery to generate revenue internally. Right now the Board of Internal Revenue is being investigated. At the end of the investigation that place will be re-organized and it will play a role in revenue generation. We will get a lot of money. Many people don’t want to pay tax. Government can get a lot of revenue from taxes. Apart from that we have our tourism potentials that have not been tapped. The government of Jonah David Jang is interested in visiting the issue of tourism. That aspect will be tapped. Tourism alone can sustain the economy of Nigeria not just Plateau State. So on our own we have many things. Solid minerals, we have a lot of them on the Plateau. If these minerals will be tapped, I tell you that nobody will even mention oil here. Talk about agriculture, Plateau state is agrarian. That is why a lot of money is being sunk into the agric sector. Fertilizers have been bought, tractors are available. They will soon be distributed to Local Governments for hire services to enhance agric production. So before long, I tell you that Plateau State will have so many sources of revenue generation. So the issue of oil is no threat to us.

In the estimation of the government have you been able to estimate how much the state will be able to make from internally generated revenue.

Let me just take one aspect, the Revenue Board. When the Governor took over it is on record that, in a month, they were recording zero collection in the Board of Internal Revenue. He now called the management and told them to sit up or they will go. It is just impossible for a revenue board to say that throughout the month nothing was collected. They now started collecting money and government started seeing money coming in. Between June last year and April this year the Board of Internal Revenue collected about N2 billion and they are hopeful that as time goes on, they will be able to collect on the average N300 million monthly. So government is interested in the board and we know that the board will be able to collect revenue and in fact the three hundred million that the management says they will be able to collect from now onward is even apart from what the government is planning again. Very soon we are coming with a master plan for Jos and Bukuru metropolis. The plan is ready.. It will soon be made public. This plan takes care of so many aspects of our lives on the Plateau. For Jos and Bukuru, we will be able to know the number of houses we have, the number of business premises we have, and when you know this, you will be able to control taxes. Taxation will be easy. You know the people you are dealing with, you know their property. So it is just to assess them and then encourage them to be paying and I believe people will be willing to pay because if you enjoy government services, you will be willing to assist the government to provide more services for you.

Sir you mentioned something about tourism. There was a time we were doing a story about tourism; we realized that most of the facilities that are often quoted as tourist attractions, some of them are either abandoned properties or dilapidated structures. For example the Rockland International Hotel, Shere Hills Lamingo is a project that was abandoned a long time ago, the Mado Tourist Village is something that was though completed, has been abandoned and things that where inside have been removed. Sir, what do you think is the idea people should have? Do we need to be quoting these things as tourist attractions, even when they are not functional?

As far as this government is concerned, we will continue to mention them because the government will attend to them. Already investors both within and outside Nigeria have come. Hey have visited the sites, have assessed them and will soon come back with their proposals. Like the Rockland International Hotel you are talking about, so many people have come and indicated interest that they want to take over and, you know, complete it and run it. So we are on course, we will continue to quote them and before long they will become viable.

You have worked with the Nigerian Standard before. Can you give us a little biography of yourself?

Yes, I was a practicing journalist for almost two decades. I left active journalism practice and joined Benue Cement Company. I served as a depot manager for about nine years, and then I left and joined active polities. Before my appointment (as commissioner) I was the state’s Publicity Secretary for the Peoples Democratic Party.

Thank sir,

You are welcome.


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