Honorable Dogo Shammah is the Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism in Nasarawa State. In this interview with The Voice Correspondent, ESTHER AKAA, he spoke on the underdevelopment of the tourism sector and the drive of Governor Abdullahi Sule to foster investment and development.
The policy thrust of the Abdulhahi Sule-led administration is to open up Nasarawa State to economic and financial opportunities. How far has this impacted on the economic development of the state?
The present government under the leadership of Engr. Abdullahi A. Sule is ensuring that Nasarawa state becomes the home for investors in Nigeria. Frankly speaking, if you talk about first three states, Nasarawa should be among them because we open our doors for investors to come in, we will definitely benefit as a state both economically, socially and otherwise.
The governor is bent on ensuring that this is achieved, especially within the first tenure of his administration and he has interest in some sectors, especially tourism. He believes that tourism, if fully tapped, developed and given the political will, will turn around the fortunes of the state in the area of IGR. He believes that some nations survive on tourism potential that abound in Nasarawa. Thank God that Nasarawa State is blessed with tourism potentials that remain untapped since the existence of the state. Few were discovered during the first civilian administration under Senator Abdullahi Adamu but they were only discovered, left on paper without any development.
One among the major tourism potentials that we intend to develop at the moment is the famous Melony hills where the British local authority were on watch out. It is located in the heart of old Keffi city. We have the Farin Ruwa waterfalls, one of the famous waterfalls in Africa. It is so unique, it has a terrain of forest reserve and it falls from the hills and this hill serves as a notable boundary between Nasarawa and Plateau States.
We also have the salt village in Keana, the Fefe Ruwa lake at Lafia East Development Area. We also have the spring warm water in Awe Local Government Area. These are the major tourism potentials that we discovered and wish to key into and ensure that we develop them. Fortunately for us, the number one is the Farin Ruwa waterfalls because the nature and pressure of the falls is an attraction and we have started consultations for the private sector to come in so that they can bring in their money and we can develop under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement. As we await the proposal and specifications from some contractors who have indicated interest, the good news is that the federal government has indicated interest to take over the Farin Ruwa forest reserve which is called Marhai reserves. It encompasses the forest and the Farin Ruwa waterfalls so it is a plus to the state as the federal government has desired to take it as a national project like in the case of the Obudu Cattle Ranch, Yankari Games Reserves in Bauchi.
What we stand to benefit is that the federal government will bring in development, the forest is going to be preserved, protected and at the same time, budgetary allocations will be made for the work force that will take charge of preserving the place. It will be an open route as our youths will be employed to work as forest guards, tour guides and other facilities that will be available to ensure youths are employed.
That notwithstanding, we are still on course to develop the Farin Ruwa waterfalls and like I said earlier, last year, our intention was to start the creation of Nasarawa film and resort village, unfortunately, it couldn’t take place but right now, we are still on course, by the first quarter of the year, God’s willing, we will commence the construction of the film village.
Now that the Federal Government has indicated interest to take over the development of the Marhai Farin Ruwa forest reserve, is there any arrangement for royalty to be paid, what is the state looking at?
When we say federal government is taking over, it does not mean that it is their property. They have indicated interest to support the state government in the area of development and preservation of the forest. It is going to be well preserved to the extent that animals will be brought in and they will be protected. If you have visited Yakari, you will see animals at free will. We as a government, we are not thinking towards that side, our major priority is to develop the fall which is a major attraction. This time around, it’s a plus to us, maybe, the federal government can decide to construct a double carriage way, from Sisin Bakin down to the falls, that will be a plus to us and then the other developments that will come there. They have not unfold what they really want to do there but we believe that there’s going to be a development that will be beneficial to the state and to the communities.
What exactly has the state government done for the development of the Farin Ruwa waterfalls?
The governor visited the area last week, he saw the beauty of the place and he said what we need to do is to make consultations with private partners to come in and the first step the governor took was a visit to South Africa. Before now, the road from Mama used to take three hours and one cannot go there except with Hilux but the good news now is that Governor Abdullahi Sule has constructed the road and it now takes not more that 30 minutes to get to the waterfalls. My principal already said that if any investor comes in with specifications on what they want to do, his government will go straight into signing an MOU for them to do the development. We have interest in this Nasarawa film village and resort, because we want to do it the way we want, achieve the taste we want so that it will be a home for film makers instead of going to places to make films, they can come to Farin Ruwa waterfalls because it has an environment that is conducive for film making. So these are the steps we have taken so far.
Civil Servants in the state have not been promoted for over twelve years now. What is the state government doing about it?
Recall that during the maiden speech of the governor in 2019, he promised to look into the pending issues of civil servants in the state and tackle them squarely. This, he has brought to bear and definitely, without the contribution of civil servants in the execution of government policies and programmes, the government is bound to fail. In January 2020, the issue of minimum wage came up while we were facing the issue of promotion and arrears of salaries and the government decided to look into the issue of minimum wage first before attending to other ones. Unfortunately, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. Despite that, government was able to set up a committee that looked into the issues at stake, the committee worked and submitted its report. In their recommendations, it is stated clearly that the August 2016 salary will be paid in January, February and March this year but what hindered the implementation is lack of finance and that is why it couldn’t take place from January. The state government met with labour union and their resolution is yet to be made available but it has been on the table at the council level and there is a need for the governor to do it, so I believe that it will be done as the government is expecting funds from partners.
Everything seems to be quiet about COVID-19 despite the second wave. What measures have the state government put in place to curtail the spread of the virus?
The second wave of COVID-19 is like a fire outbreak globally, it is ravaging, causing more havoc than the first outbreak. Nasarawa State is not an exception; in fact, we have recorded more cases now than we did in the first wave. From the beginning, we took proactive action even before the first case was recorded. We embarked on aggressive awareness campaign through various media aimed at reaching out to the people on preventive measures.
We believe that what we are doing is to create awareness to the people. When proper awareness campaign is carried out, definitely, people will know how to safeguard their lives and that of their neighbours. That is the tool that helped us reduce the spread of the virus to too many people. Other actions taken include: the locking down of the state for some hours to control movement; we made sure that people adhere strictly to the preventive instructions of the Covid-19 by the task force. That’s how we came about the low cases of victims. Unfortunately, the second wave came and we discovered that there is no way we can proceed to lock down again, it is causing more harm to the government image and to the people, so the best we can do now is to continue to create awareness via the media, especially electronic media through production of jingles, talk shows on government driven policies and wherever we are, any function we attend, the governor always emphasise on the need for us to adhere strictly to the safety measures.
Another good thing is that some individuals and organisations like the GNI, CAN, and others have indicated interest to go into aggressive awareness campaign and that is the only thing we believe we can do to ensure that people stay safe. We have procured drugs and the good news is that we no longer go to Abuja to conduct COVID-19 test, we do it here in the state.
What is the political situation going by the prospects and challenges of the ongoing APC registration in Nasarawa State?
Yes, 2023 is around the corner and the party leadership is already gearing up to what is obtainable. Membership registration and revalidation has kick started and it is focused towards the 2023 election. It started on a good slate until we encountered a big problem, not only in Nasarawa State but nationwide, that is the issue of shortage of registration forms. Every polling Unit across the nation was given 100 registration forms.
In the past, after the merger to form APC, the same number of forms was circulated, yet it wasn’t enough, talk more of now that APC is almost eight years in power. There are so many people to be registered and stakeholders of the party were told that production is being made and soon would be distributed to states across the nation.
As regards to 2023, we believe that the projects we have executed will speak for us and our democratic landmark, the dividends of democracy that our government has given to the electorate which have bettered their lives will stand out for us. When the time comes, it is the people that will go out to campaign for us and not us because we have done things that have direct bearing on the electorate.
The tenure of local government council chairmen is coming to an end, is the government ready to conduct the LG elections?
We are ready to conduct the elections, we are a government that believe in due process, we would not have anything done during our administration to stand against the rule of law. The tenure of local government council chairmen ends in May, and it’s expected that elections be conducted before that time. That is why we brought about the state independent electoral commission (NASIEC) last year, they were empowered with a lot of money for them to independently conduct the elections. We were informed about two weeks ago that the election was shifted for obvious reasons, then the issue of this registration came on board. We are a government operating under the APC, I personally think that there is no way you can conduct elections while the party is undergoing revalidation of its members, that will cause confusion. I’m not speaking for the NASIEC chairman but he will appear before the state assembly to defend his action.
We are not having any opposition in Nasarawa State, you can imagine the massive decamping from PDP, which was our major rival, into the APC, I don’t think that PDP is still alive, I wonder if their office is open.