Abanida: Kogi can become Nigeria’s economic nerve centre with good planning
Mrs. Justina Dolapo Abanida, a lawyer that has served in various capacities in government, is the candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) in the November governorship election in the state. She discussed with RALPH OMOLOLU AGBANA what is needed to transform the state, among other issues.
From your experiences in the Second and Third Republics, how would you rate Nigeria’s current democracy?
Nigeria’s democracy is not improving. Rather, it is sinking. The three arms of the government, especially the National Assembly, need to make deliberate efforts to ensure the survival of our democracy. We have come a long way in our fight to entrench democratic rule in Nigeria.
Under the military rule, we were complaining, we wanted democracy. But today, can we truly say Nigeria is a democracy? The answer is no. To truly democratise, we have to do a lot of reforms to the point of resisting the habit of vote buying, electoral malpractice and violence, which are the major factors contributing to the killing of our democracy. This is because at the end of the day, the government is hijacked by the highest bidder, who probably had stolen Nigeria’s money.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) needs to do more. The security agencies also need to do more. The rule of law is not being respected. Court orders are not obeyed. What is happening in Kogi State is a case study, where the state House of Assembly acted in violation of the Constitution by impeaching the Deputy Governor, despite being given a clean bill of health by the panel set up by the Chief Judge to investigate allegations leveled against him.
It was wrong to proceed further after the panel found him to have done no wrong. Our democracy cannot survive if we continue this way. A country that will advance economically and socially must abide by the rule of law. The judiciary should not be intimidated. We have instances in Nigeria, where some governors are intimidating Chief Judges, threatening to remove them because they are not aligning with their interests.
When we have a society that is guided by the law, where court orders are obeyed, where there is equity and justice, where the votes of the people count, it is then you can say you have a democracy. But a situation where people are kidnapped on election day, gunmen invade election venues, ballot boxes are snatched and nothing is done by the police or government; rather, at the end of the election, sponsors of the gunmen and kidnappers are declared winners, does not in anyway promote democratic values. We have never had it so bad. Not even under the military rule.
Are you saying a violence-free election in Kogi State in November is not possible?
I sincerely pray for a violence-free election. But what happened during the House of Assembly election last March is not encouraging. In my community, there was a gunshot every hour. It continued from morning till night. Thugs were shooting recklessly. Police officers that were around did nothing. INEC needs to do more to prove beyond words that the election will be free and fair and violence-free.
What have been your contributions to Kogi State’s development?
I have been in politics since 1979 in the old Kwara State. Kogi West Senatorial District, where I come from was excised from the old Kwara State alongside Kogi Central Senatorial District to merge with Kogi East Senatorial District, removed from old Benue State to form the present Kogi State in 1991.
I was a student when I joined the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and I have been consistent. I worked for Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s emergence as President of Nigeria in 1979. I later joined the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1988 and was the party’s Legal Adviser, Kwara State chapter.
I was a front-liner in the SDP till the creation of Kogi State in 1991 and subsequently in the All People’s Party (APP), which was later renamed All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP). In 1999, when the late Prince Abubakar Audu was elected Kogi State governor, I became the Secretary to the State Government.
As a technocrat, I worked with the then Governor Abubakar Audu to establish Kogi State University, Anyigba and Kogi State Polytechnic. We built hostels and lecture rooms for more than 2,000 students at inception. Within the four-year span of Audu’s administration, we were able to attract the Obajana Cement to Kogi State through Alhaji Aliko Dangote, which has turned around the state’s economy to a large extent and Nigeria as a whole.
We built good network of roads in Kabba, Egbe, Ankpa and Anyigba, among others, which promoted free movement of goods and services within the state and between Kogi and neighbouring states. We also created the Olobayo Phase I Housing Estate. Also, existing schools were rehabilitated and new schools built in areas that did not have educational facilities.
We brought electricity supply to many communities. Prince Abubakar Audu achieved all these within four years, with the lean resources available to the state then, without owing salaries or pensions. The credit goes to Alhaji Abubakar Audu, but do not forget that he was doing these with my input in terms of advice and support.
We had a very reliable policy framework for the development of Kogi State and we were consistently and effectively implementing the policies. I assiduously worked with Prince Audu alongside other cabinet members. It will be out of place for anyone to believe that a woman cannot run the state. The essential things necessary to administer a state are basically truthfulness, dedication and focus.
Having done so much with former Governor Abubakar Audu, I believe I have garnered necessary experience in good governance and sound policy framework that will be brought to bear on the state’s reformation and rebuilding. If elected governor of Kogi State, I will continue in this way because I am used to a background of good administrative management of the state.
What are the chances of ADC winning against the more established APC and PDP in the forthcoming election?
The election is not going to be about parties. Rather, it is going to be based more on what an individual can do. People of Kogi have become more enlightened. They are wiser. My personality and wealth of experience as ADC candidate also matter. My running mate, Alhaji Ibrahim Yusuf is an astute politician from Ankpa, Kogi East Senatorial District. He was a Senior Special Assistant to a former Kogi State Governor. He is equally loaded with experience in politics and governance.
What are your programmes for the state, if elected as governor?
My dream is to turn Kogi State into the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria and by God’s grace and with the support of the people; I believe I will win the election.
To start with, the state of roads in Kogi State is simply appalling. Consequently, a lot of rural and urban businesses have been affected. Movement of good and services have been made difficult. I intend to ensure that our roads become passable within three years. It is achievable if done in stages.
In the health sector, tackling infant mortality will be our focus. We will concentrate on free medical services to pregnant women. I also intend to promote immunisation. Many diseases that often lead to premature death can be prevented through immunisation. Many of our rural women take immunisation for granted. So, I intend to enforce it by legislation. Presently, most of our rural hospitals do not have doctors. We will see to the employment of doctors and nurses for early diagnosis and effective treatment of patients.
In the education sector, we embark on rehabilitation of existing schools and build new blocks of classrooms where needed. The provision of education facilities is currently lopsided. In some communities, there is an excess of classrooms built through political patronage but not used, whereas in some communities that truly need them, they don’t even have access to one classroom. I intend to correct that. Not only that. We will also employ teachers and post them to rural areas. In some of these places, one teacher tutors three classes. Again, the teachers are not motivated, as they are not paid regularly. I intend to correct that by ensuring that all teachers are paid promptly.
Security will be top priority. Kogi State shares borders with many states and is the gateway to the Southwest, Southeast and the North. This is why kidnapping is so rampant around the confluence. Kogi State needs serious policing. Security should not be toyed with. So, we will do everything possible, including the use of helicopters for rapid response and apprehension of criminals. No investor will come to a state where there is no security.
How do you intend to fund these programmes, when the state is indebted to N50.8bn bailout loan?
My idea of turning Kogi into a commercial nerve centre will be done within the available resources. I intend doing this through promoting Public Private Partnership initiative. The government has the responsibility of creating jobs, as well as enabling environment for small-scale businesses to thrive. We will encourage small capital based industries, such as production of roofing sheets, tomato, furniture production and soap making, among others.
Government can invest 20 percent and push 80 percent ownership to the private sector, thereby promoting commercialisation of the communities. We will do this tax-free in every local government for two years. When the companies are strong enough, you can then begin to generate IGR from them. Such companies can employ not less than 50 youths in a local government. We have 21 local governments in Kogi State. So, you can imagine the number of youths that will be gainfully employed through this scheme.
Aside reducing unemployment and burden on parents, it will also improve youths’ skills. They will be meaningfully engaged. By the time these industries are functioning in all the local governments, Kogi State is bound to become a commercial nerve centre.
How do I intend getting the fund? I would say it takes the sacrifices of everybody to move the state forward. The state’s economy has been bastardised. And for it to be sanitised, we will have to look inward, and not depending on the monthly allocations from the federation account. I know of states that did not collect bailout loans, and they are paying salaries, pensions and doing projects.
I don’t see the need for bailout. It is peculiar to APC government. We started hearing of bailout in 2015 and it has encouraged corruption and laziness. The money is being collected and spent recklessly by the governors, thereby plunging their states into more debt. These are loans that will be paid by generations yet unborn. In this coming election, people should realise that if anybody in government gives them N5m or N2m to get their support, he/she is giving out money from loans collected in Kogi’s name.
A state government that cannot pay salaries cannot tell me that they have one million, two million naira to give to an individual for votes. Our children and the generations unborn are the ones being indebted. The money will be deducted from source, which translates to more problems for Kogi, unless the incoming government makes sacrifices and block leakages. Definitely, any government taking over from the present government cannot afford to be wasteful. It is going to be very hard on the citizens.
Then you focus on developmental policies that can boost the IGR. This can only be achieved, when the people are actively involved in business development policies. When people get actively involved in businesses, and the bailout loan is being deducted from source, we will not feel the impact much.