In this interview with NEWS INVESTIGATORS, Governor Hassan Dankwambo speaks about his administration’s efforts at revamping education, his giant stride in agriculture, infrastructure development among other things.
How has it been leading Gombe in the past four years?
Let me start by saying that we have improved education from about zero percent to about 38 percent. We have reduced out of school from about 64 percent to 29 percent. We have increased classes – over four thousand classes. We have added over 57 completed brand new secondary schools. We have added over 73 brand new primary schools and each one of them has a capacity of 5,000 to 7,000. So we have done, to my satisfaction, excellently in education.
In infrastructure, we have done over 840 kilometres of road in Gombe, out of which over 350 are asphalted, four centimetres stone base and 8 centimetres asphalt base. All these cumulated into over 850 kilometres and these road projects are still ongoing. We have opened up all our local governments and they are connected by roads.
We have supplied adequate water infrastructure. We have invested over N8 billion in water supply and areas that did not have access to water before are now having 24 hours water supply in Gombe. We have improved on a lot of facilities that we can say proudly, come and spend a day in Gombe and we will show you some of these things. We have even compiled a documentary of about 9 hours on the things that we have done. When I was doing the scorecard presentation to stakeholders, I said we should compress it to 30 minutes or maximum, one hour documentary. When we do it and we show you, you will be able to configure it in such a way that you can also go and do some extracts so that as we are assisting your papers too, you are also telling the people about what is happening. Even if you want to do it by random sampling and you say ‘I want to see that school, I want to see that road’, we will take you there; whatever thing you want to see.
What about insecurity, violence inspired by insurgency?
It is not really as bad as people say it is in Gombe. We have been able to maintain a very descent society and community. Gombe has a mix society of Christians and Muslims and we have never had instances of religious crisis between Muslims and Christians. We’ve been able to maintain synergy. We work together, take decisions together; we move forward together and we all agree on what to do together with no instance of violence.
But we have been witnessing violence recently which is a spill off from our neighbours. You know by location, Gombe has Adamawa on one side, there is Borno on this and there is Yobe on the other side. So, Gombe is here at the centre and it is the gateway, for all these States into Nigeria. So, internally displaced people are in Gombe. When somebody is escaping, he runs to Gombe. When he has done something in another place and he is escaping back to the camp, it is Gombe. So, sometimes, we feel the impact of these things. But I assure you that all those ones we have had in the last three or four years, we did not lose one single citizen of Gombe. All were people who were coming with bad intention and they blew themselves up. We don’t know how it happened but we believe in God and we pray all the time. So, you hear stories about bombs exploding in Gombe, but they didn’t kill anybody. Maybe something will happen and the suicide bomber will blow himself up and die. We don’t know where they are going but since they must pass through Gombe, maybe in the process, they blow themselves up. The only one we had, we were not even sure whether the woman was going somewhere – the one that exploded at the park. That is the one that killed about 18 people at the park. A woman carried a bag, went to the park and kept it there; somehow, the bag exploded in a fully loaded car. That was the one that killed people.
But Gombe is very safe to the extent that we are in charge. You know there are lots of variables that determine some of these things. Our people are very vigilant and by our nature, all of you will find a home in Gombe and Gombe is very bright. All our streets have streetlights 24 hours. I don’t have pot holes in Gombe. It’s a very nice and decent society with enlightened people.
Our vision is to one day make Gombe an agriculture hub in terms of agricultural commodity exchange centre. I don’t have shares; I don’t have banks that trade on all these things. But we have commodities and we want to create commodity market in Gombe. We have started already, and it’s ongoing, because we have advantage of the railway passing through Gombe; we have an airport; we have major roads up to Cameroun, Niger, Chad and so on. So, we feel we can be an agrarian and commodity hub. We create a market and we create a platform which will be capitalized and we will be buying commodities in advance; we institutionalize the market and we will be buying your farm produce for the next five, ten years. We will create a lot of capital in the society; we will create a lot of products that we will be trading and we can buy on the spot, just like they do in shares. And since we are dealing with food, we think it is a thing that cannot fluctuate.
But we will also help in stabilising food prices in the country. We will also succeed in creating value for money for farmers because the problem with people farming today is that they make a lot of losses. So, we will stabilize prices. We will also create an atmosphere where people will save; people don’t save today in Nigeria because when you go to market, you buy one bag of rice even when you don’t need one bag of rice, but you must buy one bag of rice because the price is unstable. You are not sure whether if you go back tomorrow, it will be N10, 000 or even if it will be available. So, all the money that you should have saved to do some other things is invested in food. You have to buy deep freezer to put tomatoes and because there is no certainty that you will find all these at what you will get them today. So, we want to create a platform that will guarantee these things at least in our part of the country and by extension, if they agree in Nigeria depending on capitalization. So planning has reached an advanced state and Insha Allah, we will do that one.
You once talked about having set a high standard for performance in education and you were once quoted as saying that you have built the best schools in the country. How realistic is this?
The investment we have done in education, I don’t know what Ibadan will call itself, but if I were to be Governor of Oyo State, education alone can sustain Ibadan. With the investments I have done today, we can thrive on education. I have the best secondary schools in Nigeria; I have the best primary schools; I have the best university and you will see it. That is why I said I will not keep you in a hotel because I want you to come and see it. I know this because I have moved round and have seen it. I stayed in Lagos for 18 years and I know what I’m saying. By so doing, you will be more courageous to say it because you have seen it. If you see my primary schools, it is better than most of the universities that you see around the country. I don’t want to mention names but you will see that Gombe can be a hub for education. With a little more investment and expansion, we can make money and add value. Making money does not mean I will run the administration; but I will engage a lot of people in that industry. We have systems in other countries that run on education; Massachusetts, Boston runs on Education. So, we can do that. I don’t have oil and I don’t want to think about oil; I don’t have gold and I don’t want to think about gold. But we have human capital which we can utilize better.
As the coordinator of the PDP/Jonathan/Sambo campaign and your own election, how difficult is the job?
I am party man, a PDP man and I believe in whatever PDP does. I believe in all the positions that we will field for the elections come 2015. As a gubernatorial flag bearer in Gombe State, I have responsibility to deliver in all elections in PDP. A coordinator is not like the Chief campaigner. In our party structure, a coordinator is a layer that, in some cases, they will be relating with on issues that collectively affect the region to get or find a solution. There are issues that collectively affect all the six States in the Northeast – issues of security, issues of unemployment, issues of infrastructure. Those are the kind of issues that they will relate with you. But in each of the respective states of the Northeast, they have a coordinator who is the Governor of that state. So, I’m not in a structure that I will go and be campaigning for the President and for other members. I’m just a coordinator that will relate with the President’s office with respect to natters and issues that affect that region, which are of common nature to the region.
It’s a good assignment for me because it gives me an opportunity as somebody that has hosted the Northeast Summit group to further show the requirement of what we feel should be done in the Northeast. We have a roadmap of what we think should be done to the Northeast in terms of improving infrastructure, improving on human capital and improving on all sorts of things that we feel will impact on reducing insecurity, reducing unemployment, getting our people all inclusive in government and more importantly getting our people exposed to commerce, to trade and to industry. So, it’s a very good assignment and I’m glad to do it.
So, you don’t find it a difficult task?
It’s not a task as such to me. There is a presidential campaign team that handles all responsibilities of campaign. As I said, we will just mediate on common issues. Still, all the Governors are the people that will set the way they feel which the President will win. No zonal coordinator will tell somebody in Bauchi or Gombe how this X will win or Y will win. But as party leaders in our State, we have responsibility as party men to deliver all the PDP flag bearers in our State. In the circumstance, it is also very difficult as you said. Even Prophets were stabbed at the back. One of the Kalifas was leading prayers and somebody came from the back with a knife in the mosque. The Messiah – Jesus had a Judas who was always with him.
I also tell my people in Gombe State; don’t say you all love me because when I do good roads, somebody is losing money. If you go to see Vulcanizer ten times in the past, you may not go to see Vulcanizer that often again. If the Vulcanizer cannot find another job, he may not be happy with me. I’m building hospitals and you are all happy. I give free drugs to the elderly; I give free drugs to the woman and her child. For the nine months you carry the baby is free, up to five years, it is free. I’m not sure whether the chemist people and hospital workers are very happy with me. You never can say.
In Gombe today, we have traffic lights that intentionally slows down. I didn’t do it to beautify but to slow down the traffic and make it more organized. As a result, traffic related deaths that were recorded were very minimal; most of the deaths recorded were people that were coming from other states, not inside the town. But people selling coffin now, I wouldn’t know if they are happy.
From available records, you brought tremendous changes to Gombe landscape in the last four years. What should Gombe people be expecting from you in your second term?
My second session is coming at a time that Nigeria will be facing some little bit of challenges. I’m not sure if it will be as rosy as it was because we are coming at a time when oil price is going to $48, $41 and $42. That means we are going into recession; anyhow you look at it, we are going into a problem. The problem may be temporary but no matter how optimistic you are, it may not be less than a year and when you maintain a certain level of expenditure when you fund in naira and your only source of revenue that you get is in dollars, and you have seen it depreciate to about 30 percent of the value, that means from about $110 one or two years ago to about $41, maybe by the end of first quarter, only God knows where it will be.
For government, I’m not concerned about that because so many people that are charged with that responsibility will have to find a solution. If you have fewer dollars, you need a lot of naira to fund your activities because it’s not possible to say you will reduce salary tomorrow. It’s not possible for you to say you will retrench. The only thing you can do is to get more naira to at least meet the current expenditure. That means government must use a lot of monetary policy instruments, one of which maybe to continue to devalue. But I know the most painful one is to devalue with all the consequences of inflation. Under the situation, we are going into a very rough terrain. But what I tell Gombe people like I did when I came in 2011 is that I will be able to package all the scenarios in place for us to chart a course forward. I set up a committee, put all the variables to Gombe people on a table and let us take a collective decision on what you think we should do; what you think we should prioritize and they come and review and see whether we should change this priority or add another one. The same way, I will put all the parameters on the table; I will call them once again to chat. But particularly, we will be driving Gombe towards making the State a hub. We have a lot of road networks that have opened rural areas and we have increased our yield per hectare in Gombe. Our yield in the last four years has increased by 480 percent. That was done through the combination of a lot of things that we have done including mapping Gombe. In Gombe today, I have mapped it. I know where I can plant rice to get 10 bags. I know where I can plant rice to get 20 bags. I know where I can plan plant beans to get 50. I know where I can plant beans to get one bag. All these things we have done, we have to consolidate on all those. So, we will be consolidating on all the initiatives towards making Gombe a hub. Secondly, towards creating a lot of activities in Gombe.
As you enter Gombe, you will see that I have started dualising the roads – the gateway from the airport to Gombe; that is to open a bigger corridor for people to bring industries and other activities in Gombe. Just last week, I have added capital to my traders because if we have raw materials and we have been able to create additional capital for industries through BOI, which I did; I have a N3 billion scheme which our industries have benefitted. We do lotion, soap and other things now in Gombe. Then we have to strengthen the market. So, through strengthening the market, I have injected N1.5 billion so that they will add additional capital. As we did for agric, we have given them N1 billion to rice production for the industries to buy from these people and process it. Now, we have enhanced the capacity of the marketers who by extension will buy or consume it. Focus too will be on consolidating these three chains and add to their capacities to develop the market very well so that activities will increase, since we will be expecting very little from the centre, going forward.
On education, I told them that seeing the pass rate in Gombe, it is time to add additional university in Gombe. The two we have are stabilized and the output is very good.
We also have other things in Gombe. The whole of Gombe is lying on coal, marble and gypsum. We can do additional five cement companies in Gombe. But we don’t know to what extent. Do we have the technicians that can do it? Do we have the engineers that can maintain this thing? So, going forward, 2015 to 2019, we need a university of science and technology so that we will be planning for these things that we have in Gombe.
We will also continue on development of infrastructure and development of all sorts of things that we have started, mainly four years of consolidation. But most importantly, in all these, Gombe people will agree; we will be transparent, we will be open; we will discuss and we all agree on the next course of action. We have done it in the last four years and all of them said we have succeeded. So, we can do it in another four years so that collectively, we can succeed together.
Don’t you feel that marketing Jonathan could be a big task in the North East in view of the negative perception being peddled around by the opposition?
It’s not my responsibility as coordinator to market him. Each Governor in the Northeast is a coordinator of our campaign as a leader of PDP in the zone. My responsibility as I said is to relate with the campaign team on issues that are of common interest to the Northeast – issues that commonly affect us. I’ve called a meeting for me to sit down with my colleagues and others and agree that most importantly, we are already positioned on those kinds of issues and we have documented the election plan for the Northeast. So, it’s easy for us to discuss with whoever that is ready to relate with the Northeast. Marketing President Goodluck is for the campaign tea; I will do my own bit in Gombe State, which is my responsibility and every Governor will do same in his own state. It’s not as if I’m the one that will be campaigning to elect President Goodluck Jonathan. Even in some cases, they may not really need to relate to me, except of course for logistics as it relates to the election.