By Sani Yusuf
If there is a state in the North that is doing what states in the region should be doing, it is undoubtedly the seat of the Caliphate. The Northern Governors’ Forum, NGF, has repeatedly lamented that illiteracy and poverty have been responsible for extremism and insurgency in the North, but for many years it has been all talk and little action.
But many expected a new turn with the election of the All Progressive Congress, APC, a party of progressives, into the government houses of 18 out of the 19 Northern States in the 2015 general election. Two years after their elections, only two or three states in the region are doing things differently.
One state actually stands out among the lot, and that is Sokoto, where Governor Aminu Tambuwal has brought a new vision and dynamism into governance. It is not any exaggeration to suggest that Sokoto is the road to liberation, and one can only hope that the government sustains the current tempo.
Looking at the two-year score cards of most of the states, none is as impressive as that of the Tambuwal administration. The administration is addressing in a holistic way the major obstacles to progress in the North.
Tambuwal realised the importance of education as a tool for poverty alleviation and liberation of the mind, and the first thing he did on assumption of office was a declaration of State of Emergency in the education sector. That shows a leader and a government that takes educational advancement of his people seriously. He followed up with the establishment of a technical committee on state of emergency charged with the responsibility of developing a framework for education in the state.
The committee found that education budgets had been abysmally low in the state and recommended a boost. A blueprint for education that recognises funding requirements to develop the sector was put together, and subsequently education has received the highest budgetary allocations.
In 2016, education got N34.5 billion, which is 29 per cent of the entire budget – the highest budgetary allocation. This was repeated in 2017 with even a higher margin, with N38.4 billion allocation, representing 27.3 per cent of the total budget outlay.
Apart from paying over N2.2 billion on scholarships for indigenes of the state, the administration has passed the Right to Education Bill, making it the first state to do so in the country. The bill provides for free and compulsory education for all children between ages 6 and 18. It also criminalises refusal to send children to school, and parents will be liable to criminal prosecution if they stop their children from attending school.
Statistics have shown that the girl child in the north is probably the most backward educationally and socially, with little incentives to break from the past. The Tambuwal administration has not only created an Agency for Girl Child Education to supervise and implement policies targeted at the girl child, but over N158 million had been disbursed to 10,564 families to enable them allow their female children go to school. Female teachers have also been sponsored for specialised training and posted to communities to serve as role models.
Due to education incentives, a record 1.2 million pupils were enrolled into schools for the first time in the 2015/2016 academic session alone. New schools are being constructed and old ones being renovated.
The other critical sector where the North has comparative advantage but failed to utilise is the agriculture sector. Tambuwal is empowering farmers and boosting food production in Sokoto. A baseline survey to capture irrigable land, farmers date, farmers groups and clusters for easy planning and investment promotion has been conducted and 300 indigenes trained on grain/food security. The training was done by Henan University of Technology via a partnership with the Umaru Ali Shinkafi (state) Polytechnic, Sokoto.
The state is also encouraging diversification. Indigenes are being encouraged to go into fish and dairy farming. At least 140 fish farmers, made up of mostly women and pensioners, have been supported with grants and starter-packs of tanks, fish feeds and fish seeds. Over N19 million has also been invested on their training.
Herdsmen and farmers clashes have been a recurring problem in the North and an obstacle to food security. The administration has approved establishment of nine grazing reserves to be developed in order to enhance meat and milk production, and end farmers’/herdsmen clashes.
The government knows the agriculture revolution cannot be sustainable without the involvement of the private sector. It has therefore encouraged and promoted private sector involvement through rice outgrower programme with Dangote Rice at Goronyo and Middle Rima Valley. Sokoto farmers have been empowered to engage in dry season farming, meaning they would be at work all through the year.
Not less than 1000 farmers have been engaged for the 2017 dry season farming with 500 hectres committed to the project as a pilot scheme. Also 15,000 units of water pumping machine were procured and sold to farmers at subsidized rate of N10,000 per unit. The state procured 981,000kg of rice seeds for distribution to farmers free of charge at the cost of N294.4 million.
Although it is not yet uhuru and it may not be in the short term. But if the current initiatives and tempo are sustained, Sokoto is on the road exiting mass poverty and educationally backwardness.
Sani Yusuf wrote from Sokoto (07037072938)