An interview by ISAAC SHOBAYO, culled from the Nigerian Tribune
Honourable Rufus Bature is the Secretary to the Plateau State Government. In this interview with ISAAC SHOBAYO, the former lawmaker speaks on emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Plateau State, attempts by the administration to recover allegedly looted money, the debt profile of the state, and other issues. Excerpts:
THE All Progressives Congress (APC) government in Plateau State is about 10 months’ old, how has it been?
We on the Plateau want to thank God that he gave us the opportunity to serve the people of the state. For the past 10 months, it has not been rosy because all of us Nigerians know the situation in which this administration found itself: the dwindling in revenue from oil which Nigeria had been solely depended on. Federation allocation is now coming in trickles. And for this reason, we have to go outside what we get from the Federation Account to make up for salaries.
We inherited crises in some parts of the state. Peace, which is sine qua non to the development, was not there. We didn’t find it easy because the tribes on the Plateau were at daggers drawn. The insurgency in the form of cattle raiders and other high profile crimes were the things we met on the ground. Therefore, it took us some months to study the situation, situate it and come up with palliatives that included bringing in the warring parties to the reconciliation table.
What we discovered was that before we came in, there was no proper dialogue. The crisis was between the Berom and the Fulani in Barakin Ladi, Jos South and Riyom.The previous government did not create an atmosphere for proper dialogue but one of the first things Governor Lalong did when we came to power was to sit with these two groups. The problems were laid bare: both sides appreciated each other’s problems and they now saw reason to sheath their swords so that Plateau can move forward. We thank God that for the past 10 months, particularly in 2016, we have been having relative peace on the Plateau. Apart from one or two incidents that happened, the state has been enjoying relative peace, we thank God that we have found peace.
In terms of outstanding salaries, we have been able to pay six months without the bailout, we have received half of the bailout and the remaining half will soon come and we intend to clear all the backlog of salaries with that. What we are left with now is the issue of gratuity and pensions. We have received N10 billion bailout for infrastructure development. Before we reach one year in office, we will tell the world that we are here to serve because that fund will be used strictly for development of the state. So, it has been tough and rough but we are focused.
Many people in the state find this difficult to believe. How is it able to cope with its debt profile?
The debt has been rescheduled, the Federal Government has taken over the debt, it will be paid in the next 24 years. If you look at the debt profile of the state and what is being deducted at source, definitely, it hampers development because the money which comes from the Federation Account is not enough to pay salaries, not to talk of deduction to service debts.
Are you saying the state can go ahead and borrow more?
With the Treasury Single Account (TSA), some of the banks have a limit to what they can give as loans to any state. We as a government would not like to borrow, because if we go borrowing, we would be putting this state into indebtedness, which our grand children might not be able to pay. Right now, we are thinking outside the box. Forget about the fund that comes into the state, let us look inward. How do we raise the revenue profile of the state? Mechanisms have been put in place and very soon, things will begin to fall in pleasant places. Whatever we collect as revenue from the people will be injected into the development of the state.
My investigation revealed that since the present administration came onboard, the state Internal Generated Revenue has been nosediving. Shortly before your administration, the IGR was about N900 million per month but it has now reduced to N300 million. What is the government doing to improve on this ?
What we realised was that the IGR was tied to ISPO. There were some loans that had already been collected and this is tied to the internally generated revenue. So, by the time the banks do their deduction, the state government is left with about N300 million. It is not as if they are not working. The last time we addressed the press, we had raised the profile to about N800 million but I am assuring that in the next three months, the mechanism that has been put in place will boost the revenue of the state.
We want to complete the PLAGIS which has to do with lands. There are many applications waiting. From the Ministry of Lands alone, we intend that nothing less than N500 million will be generated for the state monthly to cover the gap occasioned by the dwindling allocation from the centre. We have other avenues we can harness for more revenue. Last week, there was a workshop in Abuja where states considered how they could amend the law on mining to generate revenue from mineral development which was in the Exclusive Legislative List and now the states are going to be allowed. The Minster had made pronouncements but there must be enabling laws to make sure that this takes place. There are other areas like company tax, ground rent and other areas where minerals could be tapped. We don’t want to continue to wait for monthly allocation before we do anything. We are considering the possibility whereby the IGR would be able to pay the salaries of workers in the state.
The governor has repeatedly stated that his government would recover all the money allegedly stashed away by the previous administration. How far has the government gone with the recovery?
Since last year, we have written to various organisations saddled with the responsibility of bringing people to book. They visited us; people are reporting to EFCC and ICPC to answer questions. So, investigations are still going on.
Based on findings by your government, how much is involved?
It is a lot of money. For example, there was money that was released towards the tail end of the last administration that was supposed to be given to the small and medium scale industries, about N2 billion, that money suddenly disappeared. The Central Bank has written to us asking what we have done with the money, we told them we didn’t inherit the money. Those who received that money would have to go and answer questions. There are recoveries that had been done, money that were put in certain accounts were recovered. We intend that at the end of the investigation and the appropriate time, we would tell Nigerians how much we have recovered from who and what has been done with the money.
APC is in charge of Plateau State. What is the party doing to woo more members, especially from PDP?
People have not come to terms with the reality that power has moved away from PDP, they are still in the dark. They don’t believe that power has moved away from PDP. They are still being skeptical. But I want to assure you that by the time we start our developmental strides, people will move en masse. There are quite a lot of people that have come in, we don’t want to publicise this.
There are people that are registering in villages and various wards. At the appropriate time, we will go round to thank the people of the state. That time, the defectors would all be received. Plateau issue has always been the issue of godfatherism. But how do you describe Lalong’s government? Who is the godfather?, it is God that is the godfather. People have not come to terms with that reality. We are only accountable to the people of Plateau State. We have elders, we respect them, what the government is doing is based on a collective decision by the people that brought change to Plateau State.
Interview was culled from Tribune’s site (by Isaac Shobayo)
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