‘I will not depend on Abuja, allocation to run Enugu’
Enugu State governor-elect, Dr Peter Mbah, spoke to newsmen on his readiness to hit the ground running from May 29 and his plan of creating 40,000 jobs for the youths every year. MUYIWA ADEYEMI was there.
By May 29, you would be sworn in as governor of Enugu State. How soon will you hit the ground running and what should the people expect in your first 100 days in office?
Ordinarily, the first 100 days are honeymoon, especially when you are coming in with a lot of expectations and you have the opportunity to make an impression because you are riding on a high level goodwill. But that is not going to be the case for us because we have made some specific promises to the people of Enugu State with timelines. Some of the promises, even in the course of the campaign have been reduced to actionable timelines.
For example, we told Ndi Enugu that within 180 days, pipe borne water would run in their homes. We also talked about other things like addressing security challenges and waste management. Of course, we are committed to keeping to these set goals because we aware of the situation, and what we need to do to address them and that was why we put timelines to them.
There are lots of key indicators under ease of doing business that you must address. So, we were clear about the different approaches we are going to deploy to achieve our goals. For us, our mission is to make Enugu the most attractive state for investment. We are not just saying it because it is fancy to say. It is not also about going out there to seek investors, invite them for investment forum and market Enugu. You must have selling points.
In unpacking what we mean by tomorrow being here, it is basically telling our young people how we intend to enhance their skills and get them to compete with their peers across the globe. Our interest in ICT infrastructure is going to address that. We hope to be able to put a minimum of 40,000 young people every year to get productively and skillfully equipped with ICT skills.
That means we are going to have a number of innovation and incubation centres in clusters across the three senatorial zones. We will also work with outsourcing agents across the world to be able match-make these young people immediately they are done with their skill enhancement programmes, so that they can sit in Enugu and provide services to prospective employers anywhere in the world.
That is the good thing about digital economy; you are upwardly mobile. You don’t have to migrate to the United States or Europe to earn foreign exchange. We are looking at a critical mass, about 40,000 every year, which is no tea party. So, we must have robust ICT infrastructure to achieve that goal.
In the area of practical skills, our vision is to train 10,000 young people with vocational and technical skills every year. Our hope in this regard is that Enugu will become a net exporter of practical skills. So, if you are looking for a plumber or electrician, you don’t have to go to Benin Republic or Togo. You will start looking towards Enugu because we are going to build a critical mass of young people with practical skills.
When we say tomorrow is here, it means being able to get our young people to be digitally and practically equipped and we believe that as a state, we are going to be a beneficiary because it will boost economic activities. You can imagine a situation, where we have thousands of young people with digital skills, sitting in Enugu and earning about $2,000 monthly. What that means is an economy close to a billion dollars every year.
Do you think that there are resources on ground to fund the ambitious programmes you have in your manifesto?
In terms of revenue and where we are on dealing with soft issue, which is the second leg of our vision – eradicating poverty – we believe that intervening on issues like payment of pensions and gratuities are things we should do to take our people out of abject poverty. We know what the outstanding debt is, so, we are going to arrange finance to clear that over a period of time and come up with a model that allows for the pay as you go pension. We will introduce the contributory pension scheme and work with that. Meanwhile, on the legacy debt, we will look for money and clear it.
Again, what we bring to the table is our strong finance background; the fact that we have done major projects; we had opportunities to structure projects to make sure they succeed and all that. The model of revenue that we have now will not optimally address those things we have outlined, which is why we keep talking about disrupting that revenue model. So, it will mean for example, looking at our dormant assets and transforming them into productive assets.
If we look at our rural economy for example, nothing is happening in that sector. We have huge expanse of land and our land is so fertile. What you plant in Enugu, if you plant the same thing elsewhere in the North, whether in Nasarawa or Niger State, you get five times in Enugu what you get from there. So, our plan is to unlock our rural economy; create special economic zones in the various local governments, as well as access roads to the farmlands to attract commercial farmers.
So, we are not only going to unlock the potentials of these local government areas because we have about 100,000 hectares of farmland in each of the three senatorial districts, which is over 300,000 hectares when summed-up; we will have food security and we will equally process our farm produce, absorb post-harvest loses, package and market them. Also, we will have a whole lot of manufacturing industries that will come up with made-in Enugu products.
So, there are things that Enugu has not done before or the government has not been able to look into; we intend to do and it will no longer be about going to Abuja to collect allocation. We have a couple of other finance models that we outlined in our manifesto like the Diaspora Bond, which is gaining traction already. We intend to launch a Diaspora Bond basically to tell our brothers and sisters, who live abroad that the money they send shouldn’t be for consumption alone; that they can also dedicate part of it for production.
If you look at revenue that comes from the Diaspora, it runs into billions of dollars. So, we need to educate them on the need to convert a percentage of that for production and as a government, we securitise it, so that there will be security and credit and it becomes a tradable finance. We have also promised that we will run a transparent and accountable government and if you look at our governance principle, we even went further to say that we are going to codify and publish the Citizens Charter, which speaks to our public finance management system and fiscal discipline.
This will ensure that the people of Enugu know what accrues to them in terms of revenue from the different sources. They will also know what those funds are deployed for and the impact the expenditure is having on them. So, it is a robust thing, but you have to build trust; the people must also trust you and those living outside should equally trust, especially when you talk about the Diaspora Bond.
When you talk about disrupting the revenue model in the state; have you considered the challenges that will come with such decision?
I will say that it is all happening at a time when our people are becoming conscious of good governance and people are getting interested in leadership. In the first place, I believe that I emerged as a candidate for the governorship election because the leadership of the PDP in the state and the current governor in particular, realised the need for the party to reinvent itself and that the party needs to do things differently.
So, I believe that we are going to have massive support from the political elite and the people of Enugu State, who believe that the current system is no longer able to serve our people optimally and are yearning for change.
How are you going to address security that has almost crippled the economy of the state?
Security is key to everything we want to do in terms of economic growth, lifting people out of poverty and making Enugu the most attractive state in terms of ease of doing business. If you don’t have security, there can be none of that. You cannot have sustainable growth or development without peace and security. At the same time, you cannot have peace and security without sustainable growth. They are mutually reinforcing, so, you have to tackle the two issues at the same time. That is why we talk about kinetic and non-kinetic approaches to tackling insecurity.
Of course, the non-kinetic approach is about dealing with unemployment and poverty frontally, but at the same time strengthening our policing architecture. We have a robust security plan, so, we are going to deploy technology to be able to identify and track criminal elements wherever they are. We are going to have a command and control centre to monitor activities going on across the state.
Since 1999, Enugu State will have a House of Assembly that will not be dominated by the PDP because Labour Party won a sizeable number of seats. How are you going to navigate the opposition that will come from the House?
It is a function of what our common objectives are. Frankly, our objective is greatness of Enugu, development of Enugu, and its growth. To this end, I believe that the lawmakers-elect, irrespective of party leaning, share the same objectives. Yes, we may have our different political beliefs, but the goal remains the same.
What are the yardsticks that will determine appointment of your commissioners given the pressure that will come from godfathers and other stakeholders?
If you look at our manifesto, we talked about social performance contract; so, we are bringing in people, who are going to execute that social performance contract across all the functional areas. We will be clear about the output targets for each of the ministries and my duty is to communicate goals and vision as clearly as possible and to work with a team of people, who have bought into that goal and we will have a way of measuring performance on the social contract we signed with Ndi Enugu.
How would you react to the claim by the opposition that you forged your National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate?
I would not have thought that our interaction would be complete if we didn’t address this issue. By way of background, you know that NYSC is not an event you walk into and at the end of that event you’re issued a certificate. It is a process. So, it is either you did it or you didn’t do it. And of course, if you’ve done it, there are people you must have done it with; people who must exist somewhere.
You could have pictures or maybe even if you’re not so careful to put those things together, somebody somewhere can come out and say I know this guy, we did our primary assignment together or we were in the same Community Development Service (CDS) group. So, the truth is that I did my service and I was honorably discharged. I was also issued a certificate by the NYSC.
I did my LLB in the United Kingdom and typically once you are a graduate of Law from overseas, when you’re back to Nigeria, you do what is known as Bar Part One. At the end of it, you join Nigerian students to do the Bar Part Two or the Bar Final as we call it. So, I started my Bar Part One and we were just completing it, when the Bar Part Two students were going in, so we did not end on time to join them. What that meant was that we had to stay back at home and wait till the next Nigerian students were ready to go for their Bar Part Two because we cannot go exclusively as Bar Part One to start our own programme.
I did my Bar Part One at the Lagos Campus of the Nigerian Law School. The DG then of the Lagos Campus was Prof. Abayomi of blessed memory. He advised us that instead of staying back at home till the next set of Nigerian students were ready for Bar Part Two, we should go and do our youth service.
Of course, some of us took that advice. Now, midway into the service, the Bar Part Two of Nigerian students were now ready and, so, we were told that our admission was ready for the Bar Part Two programme. Of course, at that time, I had a choice. I had a choice to either defer the admission or defer the youth service.
For me, I was more interested in seniority at the Bar. So, it was a clear choice to defer the youth service. I served in Lagos and the place of my primary assignment was on Lagos Island. My CDS group was in the Federal Road Safety Corps. So, when the issue of Bar Part Two admission came up, I wrote to NYSC that I wanted to defer my service and they responded, saying if you are going to defer your service, we are going to remobilise you at the end of your Law School programme and I also attached my admission for the Law School, saying upon completion of my Bar final exams, I will come back to complete my service and it was approved.
My NYSC started sometime in January and it ran till June, when I wrote to the NYSC that I was leaving for my Bar Final and they approved it sometime in August that I should go. I did my Bar Final exam in March and immediately after that went to NYSC to ask for remobilisation as that was what they said. I wrote that I should be remobilised and they sent a letter to me, approving that they have reinstated me to continue from where I stopped. Note that I had requested for remobilisation and what that means is that I would have started afresh but they sent back their report, saying “let the corps member start from where he stopped.”
So, they gave me a fresh posting letter. By the way, my first posting letter was to Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), but NPA rejected me and I was then given a second posting letter. My first posting letter was on January 28, 2002. My second posting was on March 5 and I went to a Law firm, Ude and Associates and started my primary assignment there. When I broke my service year and came back, I applied for remobilisation and they reinstated me. They sent me another posting letter and this was on May 2003. Don’t forget that by then, my batch had passed out.
Members of my batch passed out in January 2003 and they sent me the second posting letter on May 26. So, my probable date of discharge was five months after, September 9, 2003, taking into account the previous months I have done. Of course, I continued my service and at the end, I had a final clearance letter from my place of primary assignment, confirming that I have done all the things I needed to do and should be given my discharge certificate and the discharge certificate was issued to me by the NYSC.