Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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Something of a storm brewed out in Nasarawa State. Although it started in Nasarawa state, it extended its tentacles to Abuja, the nation’s capital where it was given a life of its own so to speak and blown up like a typhoon; no thanks to Governor Abdullahi A. Sule and his immediate predecessor now Senator Umaru Tanko Abdullahi who elected personally, to make a public show of the matter. How? Governor Sule and his deputy, Dr. Emmanuel Akabe (that is, the number one and number two citizens of Nasarawa state) visited Senator Almakura in his residence in Abuja last week, specifically “to clear the air and restate with resounding clarity that Governor Sule has never raised an alarm or complained about alleged budget support obtained by Nasarawa state whether by the immediate past administration of Al-makura or at any other time in the history of Nasarawa state”. Thereafter, they held a joint press briefing on the matter. This shows the seriousness and concern with which the leaders view the originating news report from Nasarawa state, such that they had to bring the full weight of their persons and positions to “refute” it.
But first, let me do a recap of the news story that precipitated all this. At a meeting with elected councillors of all 13 local government councils in the state, Governor Sule was quoted as having advised them and the management of local government councils, to focus more attention on initiating ideas on how to generate revenue to enable the Councils do more than just paying salaries. While describing Nasarawa state as being among the most disadvantaged state in the federation in terms of allocations from the federation account and internally generated revenue, the governor listed three major debt burdens which the state must settle. “The economy of the state is facing serious challenge with dwindling federal revenue as it has to contend with settling three major debts namely, excess crude account debt, bailout funds and budget support all collected between 2015 – 2018”, he lamented. This formed the basis of an editorial by Nasarawa Eye, a Lafia-based newspaper. The governor echoed similar views at a retreat for public officials. Some other newspapers crafted a bolder headline of the story such as, ‘Gov. Sule cries out over N18.9bn debt inherited from Al-makura”.
In their joint press briefing, both the current and immediate past governors seemed to be particular about stressing that there is no rift whatsoever between them as insinuated by some from the news report of what Sule had said. In our ‘toxic’ Nigerian environment, politics appear to cloak virtually everything. Whereas one looked at the matter from an economic perspective, many others read political meanings into it. Said Engr Sule at the Abuja briefing, “At no time have I stated that there is a debt N18 billion taken by Governor Umaru Al-Makura and that it had stopped the running of government. For the purpose of clarification, I mentioned to stakeholders during the recent retreat for public office holders that we should all tighten our belts in view of expenses ahead and the reduction in revenue accruing to the state from the Federation Account. I mentioned the need for us to all wake up and improve our revenue base in order to continue to prosper as a state. I mentioned that currently we are having some deductions from our allocation due to the federal government intervention such as the bailout which is not peculiar to Nasarawa state”. And former governor Al-makura stated, “I am saying with every sense of sincerity that I did not go to any bank to take any loan on behalf of the state government while in office. We are here to reassure the people of Nasarawa state that whoever is wishing to see that we have friction with the current administration is chasing shadow”.
Apparently another of their concerns is that the ‘debt’ being spoken about is being misconstrued as a bank debt. This is so at first glance until you read the body of the story. The fact is whether from a commercial bank, the stock exchange or the federal government, a loan is a loan and in so far as it has to be repaid it remains a debt. The difference between a government and bank loan is that the latter comes with huge interest while the former is a soft loan with little or no interest attached to it. There is certainly nothing to be ashamed of in calling it a debt as far as one specifies the type of facility it is.
It is good that both Sule and Al-makura have set the records straight. Kudos. Every wrongly interpreted story should be refuted quickly before it grows wings
One is disappointed though that they had to do this personally with a pubic visitation outside of Nasarawa state to wit. When I was a media assistant to a former governor of Nasarawa state, there was only one resident correspondent in the state – Daily Trust. Whenever there were big events in Lafia and elsewhere in Nasarawa state, reporters used to come from Abuja to cover them. I felt this was not good enough and I challenged my colleagues, the editors in Lagos, to have their reporters on ground in Lafia, Nasarawa state. I can say without being immodest that the fact that today, there are a plethora of resident reporters in Lafia specifically covering happenings in Lafia/Nasarawa state is a legacy I bequeathed to Government House. You can therefore feel how depressing it is to me that the assembled press in Abuja had to be called to address them in Abuja on a wholly Nasarawa state issue which germinated in Nasarawa state. Secondly, the two leaders need not to have gone to the extent of personally refuting the reports with their presences. It would have sufficed for their media aides to issue statements in the names of their bosses denying the newspaper reports. The rebuttals would equally have been given prominence in the media because it is ‘hot’ news.
Thirdly, Governor Sule and his deputy should not have gone to publicly pay a courtesy visit to former governor Al-makura where he reportedly pledged his loyalty, trust, respect for his predecessor. It is an unnecessary dramatization. He should have just paid him a private visit where they can discuss privately and make mutual vows to each other, if you like. They both have shared mutual interest which is to move Nasarawa state forward and their loyalty is to the people and the Almighty – to serve the people and to obey/adhere to the Will of God at all times which is nothing other than to spread happiness and peace in their duty posts. Nobody should endeavour to put any wedge between the two or any other former governor. All of them should work in unity for the overall interest of Nasarawa state.