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How Niger State Is Managing Funds- Commissioner For Finance - Politics - Nairaland

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How Niger State Is Managing Funds- Commissioner For Finance by Oluwolex2000(m): 8:56pm On Oct 03
Interviewer: My guest on this edition of the program Footprint is someone who has seen life from various dimensions. He is the Ajiyan Nupe. He is the Niger state Commissioner for Finance, Alh. Zakari Abubakar. You are most welcome to the program, Sir.

Alh. Zakari: Thank you very much.

Interviewer: A lot of people know that you are from the popular Usman mai Dariya house. But tell us more about yourself.

Alh. Zakari: Well, first of all, my name is Zakari Abubakar. I am the son of Alh. Abubakar Ndawuya Zakari who is a son of the Mai Dariya family. I was born in Bida but went to school in Kaduna and Gusau and then Kaduna and then Kano where I attended Bayero University where I had my first and second degrees and then I went to Ahmadu Bello University from where I had another Masters degree. Ever since I have been working.

Interviewer: You have double MSc?

Alh. Zakari: Yes I have an MSc in Land Resource Development and an MBA Finance. I started work with Niger State civil service in the Ministry for Economic Planing, then it was Department of Economic Development under the Governor’s office during the administration of Mallam Awwal Ibrahim, the present Emir of Suleja. Thereafter I left and went to Nigeria Agricultural and Cooperative Bank popularly known as NACB.

From I went to commercial banking, Islamic banking and so on. I left banking in 2009 to join Niger state again as MD, Niger State Agricultural Development Project and then was elevated to a Permanent Secretary in 2011 and posted to the Ministry of Agriculture. In 2013 I was posted from the Ministry of Agriculture to Niger State Planning Commission as the Permanent Secretary. In 2015 I was posted from the Planning Commission to Ministry of Finance as the Permanent Secretary.

Interviewer: Indeed you have vast experience. Let me take you back a bit. Talk to us about some of your contemporaries especially from primary school. You didn’t tell us much about your primary school.

Alh. Zakari: Well, I went to Primary School, Gusau. I started in Kaduna actually and completed in Gusau. One of the contemporaries listeners would know is the former IGP, Idris Kpotun. We were in the same class with him in primary school. Then you’d recall that it was North Western State, and a lot of us who were from Niger and of Nupe extraction were together in Gusau. Incidentally, this Kpotun was at the wedding of my daughter. That was from a long relationship from primary school. We kept on through the university. He went to ABU and I went to Bayero but during holidays we got together. I think he is the one listeners can recall.
I went to Federal Government College, Kaduna. There, one of my contemporaries that listeners might know is Abdulkadir Muhammed who is one of the children of the late Techno popularly called Akmo. He is an architect presently lecturing at Baze University, Abuja. A number of schoolmates I’d say would be Ndagi Wali, retired Perm. Sec., he was a schoolmate at Federal Government College, Kaduna. We have Kudu Muhammed. He is also at Federal Housing Authority and a number of them from Niger state.

Interviewer: From your childhood is there any incident that each time you remember it, makes you say, I’ll never forget this in my life.

Alh. Zakari: (Laughing) That is a difficult one. It very difficult in the sense that when Allah has blessed you with a long life you live by the day. You thank Allah for each day and you take the lessons of the day and move on. Many of the incidences, if you keep in your memory they might clog your days ahead. However, I would remember that my admission into Bayero was very, shall I say, surreal. The late Professor Alkali was the coordinator of the School of Preliminary Studies. And I just walked into his office and asked what’s the problem and I told him, ‘Sir, I have sat for the entrance for this university and I passed but I have not been admitted.’
He laughed and asked, ‘How do you know?’
And I said, ‘I know passed.’
He said, ‘How do you know you passed?’
I said, ‘I know I passed.’
He pulled out the result sheet from his drawer. I didn’t even know it was there and said, ‘What’s your name?’ I mentioned my name. He asked where I sat and I told him Government College, Bida. He checked and said, ‘Ok, come back 3 o’clock for your letter. It think that was a turning point in my life.

Interviewer: Let’s talk about your teachers especially from secondary school. Are there teachers that each time you remember their contribution in your life you keep appreciating them?

Alh. Zakari: Yes, my Geography teacher, Mr. Ayodele was a very... how do I say it? He starts the day with a quiz; so everyday you go to the class you get tested. We were the first set of the school and, in terms of subjects, Geography was the best. Almost everybody passed. So yes, he has been a remarkable one. And I think also my English Language teacher, Mr. Ayina. Then my English teacher in Primary school, Mallam Taliya Gajere. These were very astute teachers.

Interviewer: Talking about very good teachers, Sir, English very good, I must confess. Look at what’s happening in the society now, if you check, the standard of education seem to have fallen. What do you think is responsible?

Alh. Zakari: I think we have left the basics and we tend to be in a hurry. The basics are exactly what the foundation are of any subject. And you don’t concentrate on anything but the basic concept of that foundation. So if you find yourself in a situation that you don’t know and you rely on the foundation and the basic concepts then you will get it right. Take English language for example, if you understand Lexis and Structure of English, and you understand your tenses and all that, then you will know how to construct sentences naturally. The other thing is that we become experts even before we learn. There’s a need for us to be patient.

But, talking about formal education, I think we have a lot to do at the Primary level because that is where the foundation is. Much of what you see today of those that have succeeded is not even sometimes Secondary school, but Primary school. I was joking with a friend who incidentally is from Niger and of Gbagi extraction, and I told him, ‘Look, why don’t we start teaching at some level in our native languages?”
Maybe then we would get the best scientists. If you take China, they don’t teach science in English in China. They teach science in Chinese. In India they have been able to mix it, their own language and English but they basically teach in their language because the level of understanding you get at that level is high. So while you want to teach English, French, Arabic and the likes so that we can engage with the world, for us as a society, we need to look home and engage our people in the language they speak everyday because anything you learn in school has a practical dimension so that they can relate to the practical dimensions of things.

Interviewer: Do you have anyone you can call your role model?

Alh. Zakari: Sir. Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto.

Interviewer: What are the things you cherish in him?

Alh. Zakari: Selflessness and the fact that he had a vision and was selfless.

Interviewer: You have been in politics, Sir, what would you say is the major challenge in politics.

Alh. Zakari: I have to be a politician here but I have to be direct. I think there is a tendency for us to see politics as politics in itself rather than seeing it as a means to achieving a desired or a certain goal be it development. Even if it’s a personal ambition that you have, it must have a meaning that translates to what can benefit society. You don’t just go into politics because you want to be Local Government Chairman or be the next Member. Now, when you want to be Member, what exactly are you going to do when you get to that place? These are very important things and this is what I believe is lacking in our system.

Interviewer: Base on your travels, if you check, Nigeria is not where it really has to be. What do you think is the problem based on what you have seen in other countries?

Alh. Zakari: Discipline and being law-abiding. Law-abiding transcends everything. As a Muslim you know that discipline is the key. The five daily prayers that we undertake every day is part of the discipline of Islam. There are prescribed times for it. There are times you’re supposed to get up and pray, and if you fail in that then there’s a failure. Also, faith is key. And going by the rules. The fact that we have failed to go by the rules has led to what I’d call skepticism. People do not believe that the system can deliver what would benefit them. So they result to self-help, and that brings chaos.

Interviewer: If you have the opportunity to reposition the Nigeria’s politics and democracy, what would be your recommendation, Sir?

Alh. Zakari: Discipline, vision and being selfless. You’re in politics it is not for you. It is for the people. And you discipline yourself so that people will get that benefit and you be the example of what you want people to be.

Interviewer: Ok. Let me talk to you as an individual, not Niger State’s Commissioner for Finance. If you have an opportunity to invest, what sector of the economy would you invest your money?

Alh. Zakari: (Laughs) Education.

Interviewer: Why education?

Alh. Zakari: Because that is where we need it most. See, this is what they say: if you want to kill a society, kill education. And I think that’s where we need the most quality so that when people come out of qualitative education, they can impact the rest of society and rest of other endeavors for today and tomorrow.

Interviewer: What your philosophy about life?

Alh. Zakari: Live and let live.

CC: mynd44

Re: How Niger State Is Managing Funds- Commissioner For Finance by Oluwolex2000(m): 9:14pm On Oct 03
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Interviewer: Sir, let’s talk about your office. Under your watch, how has the state Government boosted revenue generation?

Alh. Zakari: Revenue generation has a local dimension. Most of the time people tend to make comparisons. They say this state is making so much, why is our state not making as much? You forget that it is set within your own environment and then the laws most especially. For Niger state, we have an environment that is not the same with other states. Some are our neighbors, yes, similar, but not exactly the same.

And then our laws are too far behind. And then you understand that all revenues that states collect, some of it are for the Federal Government and some for the Local Government. In any case, what we have tried to do, particularly in the last year, is to ensure all the relevant laws are passed and automated, bringing all revenue collecting agencies together so that we have one platform and from the on we believe we would see an improvement.

Interviewer: Niger State has often been described as a Civil Service State. As a financial expert, how do we change that?

Alh. Zakari: We can change that. Think about it, here in Bida for example all the provision shops here are operated by people in Bida and Niger state. This means there are opportunities even within our environment. But one of the things we can do is to generate employment on the private sector level so that we stop depending on the government alone for employment. Now, our education, I keep going to that has not imparted to people. We need to look at our education as see that it performs the function of imparting skills. We need to start a program like internship. Even if you’re in secondary school, you can go and be maybe in a hospital. I’ll give you an example. When I was in secondary 4, I was doing an internship at abattoir in Bida. I did an internship for two months. When I was in the first year university, I did an internship at Badegi Rice Research. So all through the long vacations. I thank Almighty Allah, I thank my father who used to say, ‘Just go and work there.’ Not necessarily to be paid. But everyday during long vacations I get up and go to a place of work and I learned a lot. An internship is not necessarily that you get paid but you at least learn a skill, you get some experience and from there you even make a decision as to which career you want in life.

Interviewer: If you check, virtually all government ministries, parastatals, once you ask them their major challenges they’d tell you shortage of funds, lack of finance. You’re the Commissioner for Finance. How have you been copping with all these challenges from various ministries and departments?

Alh. Zakari: Well, I can tell you it’s difficult particularly in the last one year. Not many realize the impact of the Covid-19 on the economy. Most people have tended to carry on as if it’s business as usual but it’s not, particularly in the financial sector. We are only emerging and it’s been difficult. We also must realize that there’s a changing, should I say, atmosphere or work environment such that we need to have more innovation to how we approach our work be more practical and, should I say, resolute. Each one of us if we look within would find something that would help society.

Interviewer: If you have opportunity to change anything singlehandedly, what would that be?

Alh. Zakari: (Laughing) Our attitude. We should have more faith. If somebody does not do what is expected, just let him know. First of all, before you pass a judgment, seek to understand what exactly are the causative factors, what has led to that situation. Perhaps you’d find that you’re on the same page with that person. We need to change our attitude.

Interviewer: Sir, as the Niger State Commissioner for Finance, surely you’re always with youths and a lot of people in the society. What is your advice to youths and Nigerians generally?

Alh. Zakari: The same thing: attitude because it governs everything that we do. When we change it and we change our approach I believe we would move our nation and our society better.

Interviewer: Let’s look at the issue of salary. You are from Zone A and ever since the issue of partial autonomy came, you discover that some Local Governments are struggling to pay salaries. Are you aware of that, Sir?

Alh. Zakari: I am aware. Just like you said, His Excellency Alh. Abubakar Sani Bello right from the beginning of this administration has said that Local Government funds are separate from State funds and there is no tampering with Local Government funds. So they have autonomy and they run their affairs. Every month they do their jack (check) and they agree on what to do from the jack (check) and they implement. I believe I may have some knowledge but it is not in-depth enough for me to make a public comment.

Interviewer: Let’s leave that aside. Let’s talk about something very close to that, that is the Bida-Minna road. What’s happening to that road? Does the State Government really have the financial capacity to complete that road before the expiration of the tenure of this administration?

Alh. Zakari: Now, let me put things in perspective. The Minna-Bida road is conceived as a dualization project. What you see happening now is a single lane being constructed to ease difficulty. But we didn’t relent on the goal of dualizing that road. The dualization is a big project of about 67-70 billion Naira. It would be the single biggest contract ever conceived in the state. Even right now, the single lane construction, which is about 23 billion is the single largest contract ever given in Niger state. So when you dualize it’s about 67 to 70 billion Naira. So we need external funding outside of the state. We need this funding to be cheap so that it would be affordable. We don’t want to end up with a road that people would have to pay five or ten thousand to use it. It would be useless and would make no meaning at all. So we have to keep an eye on what our people can afford so that it would be useful. We have to keep an eye on making it a relief to our people, rather than a burden to our people. For now, yes, we have funding that is required of the state. Of course it’s not from FAAC. We have done a bond and in the bond we have over 13 million is dedicated to that road. And to the best of my knowledge so far we have been releasing and paying the certificate of the contractor as required. Now, the project is an 18 dry month project, which translates to 3 years. If you take 6 dry months in a year, it would give you about 3 years. Now you understand the construction started last year and it was in the midst of Covid so we have had a hold up of about 6 months which was also largely during the dry period so I expect that there would be a little adjustment. Now for us to keep to our goal of dualizing, we have continued to speak to our partners in Islamic Development Bank, and also the Federal Ministry of Finance has helped us with Abu-Dhabi Fund for Development. Also, as at the 2nd of September the board of IDB has approved the project. We held a meeting in Tashkent, that’s Uzbekistan. I have been following and they’ve approved the project, which means we are ready to go. Now we need the Federal Government to support us. The Federal Executive Council has to sit and grant the Minister the approval to endorse the loan agreement because it would be a load agreement between Nigeria and the Islamic Development Bank because Nigeria is the sovereign. Then Nigeria now would give Niger state the money. Because of the passion of Mr. Governor, all that is necessary to secure funding for the Minna-Bida road has been completed. We have the approval of the Abu-Dhabi Funds. They are giving us 40 million dollars, and then Islamic Development Bank will give us about 88 million and Niger State Government itself would contribute 31. The 31 is inclusive of the work we are already doing. When you put them together you get somewhere in the region of 163 million dollars. That is the total project cost, which is a huge undertaking.
Re: How Niger State Is Managing Funds- Commissioner For Finance by Oluwolex2000(m): 9:14pm On Oct 03
Interviewer: Sir, in a nutshell, how many months are we looking at for the completion of this project?

Alh. Zakari: (Laughing) That’s an engineering question. I am Commissioner for Finance. All I can do is assure you that the finances required to fund that project is on ground.

Interviewer: What was the first thing came to your mind the day it was announced that you’re the Niger State Commissioner for Finance?

Alh. Zakari: I was scared.

Interviewer: Why sir?

Alh. Zakari: Because of the level of responsibility. That’s been honest. The responsibility is huge and the expectation is very high. And it’s not just in official cycles, even in private undertakings. My uncle asked me, ‘Can you do this? Are you sure you can this?’

Interviewer: Sir, which of your uncles?

Alh. Zakari: (Laughs) I would rather leave the name out but he was concerned because given my nature, it might affect me negatively but I told him that God is in control of everything and if society calls you, you take up the responsibility and rely on God.

Interviewer: There’s this question I must ask you. There’s usually this issue of conflict of interest between a Permanent Secretary and a Commissioner. You were once Permanent Secretary and today a Commissioner. Do you have anything to say about that?

Alh. Zakari: (Laughs) Do you want me to talk theoretically or practical?

Interviewer: Both.

Alh. Zakari: Now there is a book called The Conundrum. It’s about the public service in the UK. One thing you take away from that book is the politician who is the head of the Ministry as Minister is in a hurry but the Permanent Secretary who is a civil servant and has been there for years takes his time. So when you have one person in a hurry and the other taking his time, there is certainly a difference in pace. The politician knows, like in our environment, that he has 4 years within which he must complete a task. If he is lucky to get re-elected because of Allah and the people, he has another 4 years and that’s all. The civil servant stays there for 35 years so there’s a difference in pace which you want things done. So in my case I have transited from civil service. So when much is being said about the civil service, I understand that the civil service is the custodian of our public affairs and that being so, they have to ensure due process and ensure that things go well in terms of record and that takes time.

Interviewer: Ok. Let me take you back a bit base on your experience as a former banker and staff of ADP and as Perm. Sec. which of those offices would you describe as the most challenging?

Alh. Zakari: The present one.

Interviewer: Why sir?

Alh. Zakari: Because it has to do with finance and finances have limit but the desires and wants and aspirations of people have no limits so you have to prioritize and that prioritization has a personal impact on people if you understand that anything you do in office has a personal impact on somebody somewhere then you know there is a challenge.

Interviewer: On a final note, Sir, what would you want to be remembered for?

Alh. Zakari: That I served to the best of my ability did not want to hurt anyone personally or officially. Service with dignity and I would say patience.

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