YAKUBU JANG, Special Adviser to Plateau State governor, Jonah Jang on Special Duties, speaks with ONOJA AUDU on the crisis in the state and activities of the government.
What is your impression on developments in the state, especially Plateau north senatorial district that has for some time been in the news over killings and other untoward activities?
I want to plead with the people of my state to remain law abiding and to give peace a chance. As a citizen of Plateau State, I know that everybody in the state is tired of crisis in parts of the state. I want to appeal to the conflict merchants that are external to us in Plateau to leave us alone. We know that the Hausa man and Yoruba man living on the Plateau don’t have problems. The Gomai man and Ngas man do not have problems with themselves just like a Berom man and any other tribe do not have quarrel or crisis on their hands.
When we sit among ourselves, we know that we all desire peace because without peace, I tell you we cannot progress. Our future is bleak and this crisis affects almost everybody no matter your side of the divide. We have all realised that we have made certain mistakes in the past and are now determined to correct them, not as a government but as a people. We know that the crisis on the Plateau over the years was externally induced from a distance. I want to call on these external forces to leave the people of Plateau alone to sort out their differences, if there is any, in the first instance. Plateau is one indivisible unit of this federation and we want to remain so. Let this very people fueling the Plateau crisis allow us to determine our future and destiny. I call on the youths of Plateau State to realise that the future of the state is in our hands. It is equally good for me to applaud the Plateau Youths as the unity among them is beginning to manifest in many ways of recent. It should continue for the good and development of our dear state. The youths were used in the past to fuel the Plateau crisis and the solution lies with us because if we now refuse to be used to go out and fight anybody, nobody would force us to do what we don’t like to do.
By the grace of God, few years from now, the story of crisis on the Plateau will become history.
What is the state government doing towards resolving the strike by Local Government workers over the minimum wage?
It is sad and unfortunate because there are no reasons why there should be local government workers’ strike on the Plateau in the first instance. Interestingly before the workers commenced this unexpected action in the state, salaries were paid to them as at and when due. Governor Jonah Jang gave a standing order that on the 25th of every month, salaries must be paid. That is what we have been enjoying since this present administration came on board over five years ago.
The unions should have the interest of the state at heart by coming into terms with the financial position of the local government councils in the state and allow the councils to continue to pay what the local government councils can offer their workers for now. No local government council is against payment of 100 per cent payment of new minimum wage to its workforce when the monthly revenue allocation to the councils improves as was agreed upon in the earlier agreement entered into between the state NULGE and the ALGON. It is not proper for NULGE and the state Labour leaders to continue to insist that the second line charges should not be deducted from the local government monthly allocations meant for salaries. This second line charges have to do with local government contributions to the state university which is meant to help the education sector in the state. Second line charges are also meant for the payment of salaries to the traditional institutions in the state and their own welfare. They have also something to do with contributions to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the state, which is a global priority. Yet the unions are saying such charges should not be deducted from local government allocations in the state. It is not fair at all on the part of the Labour unions in the state. What is happening sometimes gives government an impression that there is a lot of politicisation of the unions rather than the unions being there for the welfare of the workers.
How far has the committee on Biometric data capturing machine exercise gone in establishing the true figure of the state workforce?
First of all, the government realises that there is a situation in the state in which we have a very big civil service structure which we were made to believe that the structure of the state civil service is heavy and the output is not commensurate with what government is paying out as wages to its workers on monthly basis. So to sort out this problem of bloated civil service structure, which we inherited, government decided that the only way out is to carry out biometric data verification of its entire workforce to know who really are the civil servants in the state. Also, with the state’s lean resources, we want to know the actual number of civil servants in the state so that salaries should be paid to only those who are genuine workers in the state civil service not to the ghost workers.
We realise that with what we met on ground, government might have been paying a lot of money to ghost workers before now and we felt with this exercise, government may be able to make savings from this aspect to channel such to the development of the people.
Towards this end, the government has set up ICT committee that is over seeing this exercise of biometric data capturing of its entire workforce in the state.
The ICT committee has noticed that from the payment vouchers that have been prepared for the payment of salaries to workers every month, we have over 21,000 civil servants on the payroll of the state government. There had been lots of figures that had been coming out from different exercises that had been conducted in the recent past and this time around, we have decided to deploy technology to see what we can come out with by creating specialised forms that we have given to civil servants to fill and return.
What this exercise has revealed to us is that we may have a lot less than what we have been paying because so far from the forms received, only a fraction over 16,000 have returned forms that have been collected. It is quite surprising. We are in the second phase of the exercise. The first phase was the form collection and the second phase is the return of the forms. Every form is expected to be signed that the person involved is a civil servant by his supervisor, the head of department and chief accounting officer of the MDA’s. By that we believe that some people who might have beaten the first exercise and come to the point of submission will be detected because if the MDA chief accounting officer does not know you, obviously, he will not sign your form. So we are expecting another reduction from there. Another phase of the exercise that is going on concurrently is the aspect of progression evaluation committee, a sub-committee under ICT committee. What progression evaluation committee is supposed to do is to open a secret file for all the civil servants in the state to look at their progression. There were some cases in the past where some people who had spent only six years in the service were on Level 13 and you begin to wonder how they quickly moved to that level within six years of joining the service. The committee is saddled with the responsibility of checking all these excesses in order to set the records straight for all our civil servants.
The last stage of this exercise is implementing end. This is to end payment of salaries where we move from old method where you have salaries being prepared at MDA levels. This time we want at the end of the month, from the finance department, it hits your account straight on end to end and you receive your salary.
What is the level of implementation of the three-pillar policy of Jang’s second term administration?
The three-pillar policy of Jang administration is supposed to address infrastructural development, Human capital development and Financing options on the Plateau. We have worked so far on the financing options by re- organizing the Board of the State’s Internal Revenue Service with the setting up of a committee for that re-organization. So far, from the Internal Revenue Service where Plateau State was generating between N200 – 250 million, they had been able to improve at the last count to about N700 million per month which was a very good improvement from what the case had been in the past. The idea of financing option is to look at other ways of generating revenue for the state and not depending only on federal allocation that comes monthly into the coffers of the state government from the federation account.
Right now we have implemented the Plateau Geographical Information System which I know will soon go into the field to begin to give demand notices to people to pay up their grant rents and other taxes that are due to be paid to the state government so that we can generate enough funds from there also and use it for the development of the people of Plateau and creating more infrastructure.
In the area of infrastructural development, we have looked at the option of road development because one thing Jang administration is trying to do on the plateau is to develop an agrarian economy. We have realized that to develop any functional business economy, you need good road networks to be able to move goods and services across and that is why road net working has been very important to this administration. We have constructed most of the roads from the first tenure that we moved into the second tenure with.
We have also done much in the area of human capital development of late. The state government has sponsored not less than 50 students at Man power Institute to be trained in skilled acquisition. Barely two weeks ago, we also sent about 100 people to be trained at Air Force Technical Institute, Kaduna where they are going to be trained.
In the area of agriculture, as I earlier said, we realize that most of our people are farmers and one better way to train them is in the skill they require to farm. That is why the government has set up Agricultural Services Training Centre (ASTC), where the local farmers are trained on newer methods of farming.
What ASTC does is after the training, they now go to their farms to take their soil samples for analysis in the laboratory to know what best crops to grow there on the farms and the quantity of fertilizers needed so that at the end of the day, they are supplied to the farmers right there on their farms. They don’t need to go about looking for fertilizers anywhere as they are brought to them right on the farms so they can carry out their farming activities effectively. People should be able to buy farm produce at internationally fixed prices from the farmers and be able to sell. ASTC has the capacity to store grains, store perishables over long period so that they can now take their time and do their onward sales and marketing rather than what had been in the past where farmers had been under pressure to sell what they had harvested because some are perishable and can easily get rotten if they are not properly preserved. Local farmers had severally been exploited by the middle men who offered them anything they wanted to offer because they don’t have a choice but now they are being protected from that which is part of our human capital development in the agrarian sector. So these are part of the few of what we have been trying to do to make sure we develop the human capital sector.
In the educational sector too, we are looking at how we can better train our young ones and soon the government will be awarding the contracts for the construction of the special science schools, one in each of the three senatorial zones and five comprehensive secondary schools in each of the senatorial zones, meaning we are going to have 18 special schools that are coming up .The science schools actually are to address the issue of science education which is on the decline in Nigeria as a whole. We need to create these special science schools two for the boys and one for the girls. One of the special schools is almost completed and this was taken up by Zenith Bank who decided to make it as part of their social responsibility to the plateau state people. They have built that school and it is almost at competition stage. The government intends that each of the principals of these special science schools to encourage professionalism is going to be at the grade level of a permanent secretary. We are going to bring in specialist teachers so that we can encourage science education and we want to pick best students from these schools for onward scholarships into specialize science schools in foreign universities or any local university that offers such trainings. So this is all to encourage our human capital development.