Recently, Governor Umaru Tanko Al-makura of Nasarawa state signed the 2012 Appropriation Bill amounting to N104 bn. Shortly after the exercise, he hosted some journalists to a chat where he opened up on issues pertaining to how his administration will ensure financial discipline in the implementation of the budget. Ali Abare Abubakar was there.
Shortly after accenting the Nasarawa state 2012 Appropriation Bill into law, you spoke of patronage in terms of contracts. Considering that some politicians assisted you in one way or the other to get the people's mandate and so, expect to be compensated through award of contracts, what alternative measures are you putting in place to carry such people along?
On the passing comment on politicians and expectations of patronage, I was trying to clear certain feelings in the minds of people who view dividends of democracy as the provision of contracts, including those that you cannot even afford, or have the capacity to pay as well as those contracts that do not have any positive impact on the lives of the people. We have a kind of discipline in the way and manner we want to implement our budget. This government will not give any contract where money for such contract is not available. That is why you see the avalanche of contracts left behind by previous administrations everywhere, volumes of contracts everywhere when there are no sufficient funds to cover such projects. That is the type of mentality I want to change. We will give contracts in a way that a contractor or service provider can go home and sleep once he has been given the work by this administration, and so long as the money to execute it is there. That is why we are not bothered about flamboyant projects, we will rather construct rural roads, which are less expensive but can positively affect the lives of many. Rather than embark on a small project that could cost over N200 m or N500 m but benefit only a few.
What is your opinion about politicians and politics?
There is nothing like professionalism in politics or professional politicians, it is a mark of laziness and lethargy. As far as I am concerned if you don't have any profession but politics, then you are redundant and have nothing to offer. A politician ought to have a vocation that he excels in, that you can provide service for yourself and community but when politics comes, you could bring your experience to bear in politics during politics and by so doing, you enrich it. Take for instance, without the risk of sounding immodest that I have not been in government but have always been a politician. I am not a professional politician, I am a realtor, trader and businessman and when politics comes I will play my part and afterwards go back to my profession(s). Whoever tells you he is a professional politician is not serious and has nothing to offer. All he is doing is looking for money or ways to foment trouble and disappear.
How will you compensate or appreciate those who assisted in enhancing your mandate?
We have a way of appreciating others and all those that contributed to the emergence of this administration across the board, and across all political parties. Of these people, there are those who will not even execute a contract if you gave them. So there are appointments, committees, there are all kinds of favours and benefits that people are likely to get. I don't want people to continue to think that the only dividend of democracy is the award of contracts.
How can the layman understand budgeting process in your state?
When you tell the people that your government is guided by such principles as rule of law, transparency, accountability and the fear of God, but when you present a budget it is without a detailed breakdown, they begin to wonder where the transparency is. It is not possible for the lay man to make budget analysis when there is no budget breakdown.
I know that a day after the budget is presented; the commissioner of finance gives a breakdown. Once a bill has not been passed it is subjected to reviews and when you make analysis of a breakdown and the legislature changes it or make amendments to it, then you will need to do another breakdown. So the essence of delaying the breakdown of the budget is for the executive to give the legislature time to analyze the document and make corrections where appropriate. Only after it has been signed into law can you talk of budget breakdown. In any case, in the next one week the commissioner of finance will give a detailed breakdown.
But not all your commissioners could confidently comment on details of the budget in their various ministries, secondly, the alleged budget for an airport, without a plan or design, how did you arrive at the figure earmarked for the project. Project like the stadium which together with the airport could not possibly be completed in the span of a year, how did your administration arrive at 1 Bn for the airport?
There are some assumptions I will like to clear. Really, my commissioners may not know the details of the budget and so, may not be capable of making categorical statements on the provisions and implementation. Don't forget that the commissioners took over from permanent secretaries who have been on ground and were part of the processes that led to the compilation of the budget. But the commissioners were properly briefed, not only that we have had more than 5 stormy sessions with each and all the commissioners put together where we discussed the details of the budget of every ministry. Call any commissioner; he will be able to tell you details of the budget provision for his ministry like the back of his hand. Secondly, the issue of airport, that is an insinuation you made and it is not correct. You assumed that the government just woke up and gave a round figure of 1 Bn for the airport. I think I need to correct that impression. I have received a lot of bashing on the issue of airport, people saying that when citizens are dying of hunger you are thinking of building an airport. But how about opportunity cost? There are certain projects that even though they do not put food on the table for the common man, they are a template for the provision of greater things for the common man. For the airport, we have earmarked 1 Bn only and this amount, we assured ourselves after studying and visiting few airports around the country, we visited Gombe, Ajaokuta and quite a number of places, that we are not providing an airport that will cater for heavy airplanes, or heavy commercial flights. We are providing the airport to open the state to entrepreneurs and also simple aviation activities to make the state access facilities not yet available. You can call it an aerodrome. Iam not going to build an international airport, so with the partnership that we are having, N1 Bn will be quite enough. We are going to have three tarmacs like Gombe and how much is it going to cost? Even if you double the cost of asphalt construction, how much is it? We will still build the tarmac and provide for facility building with the same amount. By doing that alone you will be able to allow even small jets to land. Iam doing this because there is so much talk about revenue allocation and generation. In fact, the other time I granted an interview and somebody analysed my response out of context, if he had gone through the whole interview which I granted to Peoples Daily, he would not have given me that bashing like he did. However, I want Nasarawa state to be independent; we have all the necessary potentials for us to be independent. In fact, my resolve is further strengthened because Iam the only CPC governor in the country. And if I can win an election on the platform of my party and get the support of my people, Iam confident that whatever we plan to do so long as I get the support of my people and we have the pre-requisite for that, there will be no problem.
Aside the airport, how else can you attract investors?
Solid minerals, we have large expanse of land that is contiguous to the federal capital. We have been receiving volumes of invitations by entrepreneurs, by investors from various parts of the world to embark on certain commercial engagement with the state. By providing an airport, we are further giving entrepreneurs or people who have interest to do business in the state the opportunity to link up with the state without hindrance. You will be shocked to realise, by the time the airport begins to operate, the amount of business that will be brought to Nasarawa which will far outweigh whatever money we have expanded for the construction of the project.
On the issue of the stadium, we have youth restiveness and some people are talking about skills acquisition. If you look at it, some of the acquired skills do not even have relevance to the needs of the youths of today. You want to teach them how to become a carpenter but that may not be the kind of vocation that is in line with the aptitude of the youth. We are looking for modern businesses, modern vocations that are not pedestrian such that any young chap will be proud to do, like POP setting, plumbing, repairs of GSM, etc. We want to subsidize sports, once you give all the necessary facilities for sports you would have reduced to the barest minimum the issue of restiveness. We are also getting partnership with certain foreign country that will come in to build a modern stadium and give our youths the opportunity to excel in their chosen fields. Iam not going in for a grandiose project or building an international stadium like the one you have in Abuja, No! Iam building a stadium that will just be okay for the state.
Signing Appropriation Bills into law has become a ritual across the country. This is your first budget and all along you have been the arrowhead in the quest for financial discipline in government spending. How can your lieutenants help translate your vision and ensure financial discipline?