By Tahav Agerzua
Minister of State, Industry, Trade and Investment, Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom, who is aspiring to be Governor of Benue State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, interacted with journalists at his residence in Makurdi on Sunday, 27th July, 2014. During the session he spoke about his plans for the state and answered questions. In this part two of the serialization of the interactive session, Chief Dr. Ortom explains his approach to industrialization, how he would tackle unemployment as well as trade disputes and other challenges. Excerpts:
Approach to industrialization
It is no longer a viable option for government to continue to set up industries. Worldwide it is now the trend that the private sector establishes and manages industries, what government does is to provide the enabling environment, create a conducive atmosphere for businesses to thrive, to look at those challenges that will affect industries, so government is not going to be directly involved. Look at what is happening at the state and federal levels. Today industries are privatized or concessioned as the case may be and sometimes they are sold out rightly to private firms or individuals. No investor will go to the bank and borrow money and invest in a business and then sit back for people to steal or to run it down. You’ll be there to monitor it, you won’t wait for government. The general approach to government property is that it’s nobody’s business and nobody cares. But if you take money from the bank and you mortgage your house and you know that if you don’t make profit to repay this money the bank will come after you and sell your house you’ll be up and doing. That is one way of stopping the killing of these industries. I did say that as governor I’ll ensure that I govern with the fear of God. I speak clearly about issues of transparency, issues of accountability and issues of being truthful. If we’re accountable, if we’re transparent, if we’re truthful, then the issue of corruption will not show its ugly face in anything so as governor and the one leading I’ll ensure that these things are done then nobody will talk about corruption. Of course I did mention that there must be justice so if you are caught as a corrupt person or officer or appointee justice will take its course. You’ll be dealt with, it’s not me the laws are there and are meant to protect all of us, that is what I stand for. But the key thing is when you rule with the fear of God these things will come into play and will be enforced. Sanctions will come upon anyone who has offended.
Primary school teachers and civil servants
You talked about primary school teachers and civil servants. Today this is a very big challenge not just in Benue State but in so many states in the country and even at the federal level. You are aware that right now as I’m talking to you the doctors are on strike. It’s all about trying to take home a bigger pay. Yes because of the difficult challenges we’re having these demands are coming here and there, the same thing at the state level. But I believe that with government policy of industrializing and attracting investment and also encouraging commercial activities most civil servants will no longer even find working as a civil servant lucrative, they’ll prefer to join the private sector. I practiced it before I became minister; from one business alone you can make monies that for the rest of a civil servant’s service, I think its 35 years, he’ll not make it. Once you’re able to create this kind of environment people will be excited to do businesses on their own. Today, I don’t have the exact figure but I know that more than 70% of Benue’s income is going on recurrent expenditure and this is not healthy for a state that is just developing with a lot of challenges. That answers the question of you, my sister, because yes, issues of roads connecting the people are very important to any meaningful administration but when you have challenges of funding it can be difficult. I know that the present government is doing its best to ensure that we have good roads network all over the place. Sometimes when I come here and I go to a street that before then could not be accessed and I see a tarred road it shows the commitment of government. But when you’re spending more than 70% of your revenue on recurrent expenditure then it becomes a problem and the same thing is happening at the federal level, if we don’t take time it’ll go to 80% or even 90. At the local government I think as we speak they’re spending more than 90% on recurrent expenditure, then it becomes difficult. Some local governments even to construct a culvert it’s not possible. We have a chairman of a local government here, the number of staff in a local government, how many do you have now?
1, 148 staff, Guma chairman, Frank Usa Adi answered.
1, 148 staff and these people are doing nothing because there are no funds to fund their operations and so they just wait for every month. In those days when I was local government chairman I think we had just about 500 of them or so and we were able to do some little work. But most people that I knew them while I was politicking I never knew that they were on the payroll of the local government so they just go there to collect salaries. The money to fund their activities is no longer there. The way out of trade disputes and strikes and all that is for us to industrialize the state; to ensure that commercial activities are going on; bring investments from outside so that all these industries and other things can be funded in a manner that we will divert attention from government to the private sector, make the private sector more lucrative and I think this is something that government can do. This is what we’re doing at the federal level at this time. In the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment we don’t give contracts, if you go there I cannot give you one contract. Ours is policy formulation, monitoring and regulation and we’ve done so much within a very short time. You can see that today all those moribund auto industries are coming back to life. Peugeot is going to launch the new Peugeot in August. During May 29, 2014 celebrations we did launch Nissan Sports Utility Vehicle, SUV. It is based on the new policy, the automotive policy that we brought to bear when we came in. A lot of things are happening and so we’ll bring all these things into the state and we’ll divert attention from government and everyone will be happy and government can collect taxes to be able to fulfill some of those basic obligations. Primary school teachers and civil servants are the engine of every government. I want to commend His Excellency for the effort even though it was a difficult thing because I was also briefed and I knew that it was a difficult thing to do but he still found a way of convincing the teachers. And the teachers too I commend them for understanding with government and coming together to call off the strike because it is about our own future, the future of our children and that is all of us. We’re not getting younger and we’re talking about our leaders of tomorrow so if you bake them half way it will be a difficult thing for ustomorrow so I commend them for doing that. But you know that I’m very passionate about issues of the civil servants and issues of teachers. I wish to inform you that 23 years ago when I was local government chairman, for those of you who could recall, that the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, gave me awards and the Nigeria Labour Congress, Benue State chapter gave me awards. Joint Councils one, two and three also gave me award for my passion about the welfare of civil servants and teachers. There is no way that I’ll betray what was conferred on me. Up till today I’m still a comrade, some people call me bourgeois comrade but I’m still a comrade. I still wear that title and so I want to assure you that working with you and working with other stakeholders we’ll be able to find a way out of this. But I want to assure you that priority will be given to issues of teachers and issues of civil servants.
The need for reorientation
The attitude of our people is what I did say again there will be need for a total reorientation of our people. Our party men, our civil servants, our politicians, our leaders and traditional rulers, my government will seek to give all of them a new orientation so that they will have the right attitude at the right time so that we can flow together. My government will be the type that will seek to include everybody. Everybody must be a stakeholder, this is democracy and that is the beauty of it. Everybody should come on board but there should be direction as to where we want to go and we’ll follow it and by the grace of God we’ll be able to succeed.
How I’ll tackle unemployment
On unemployment I told you before that it is impossible for the local, state and federal governments to provide the jobs that are needed and that is why you see most of our youths walking the streets. The only option is what I told you before – industrialization. When you export your primary products you are exporting jobs; that is what we’ll seek to correct. We’re doing that at the federal level. We did a new National Sugar Policy which is meant to attract investment into the sugar industry in the country, that is going on. We did the auto policy which is also meant to revive and even bring new auto manufacturers into our country and then it’s going on well. As I speak with you Nissan is already producing in Nigeria and the intention is to produce a brand new car that you can pick for N1.7 or N1. 8 million naira. We have SUVs already in the market and we also have four wheel drives, pickups that are already in the market. Hyundai are coming on board and Mr. President is visiting the US this week as Ford is also indicating intention to be part of the Nigeria Auto Policy that we put in place. We recently launched the National Industrial Revolution Plan which is a policy that is also meant to industrialize Nigeria and that is the only way we can curb unemployment. Today I know that once in a while we have opportunities to fill in vacancies in certain government organizations, departments or ministries. The same thing applies to states but what will give a boost and minimize unemployment is nothing outside industrialization and this is what government is doing at the federal level. I’ll seek to ensure that we replicate what is happening at the federal level back home. Of course worldwide that is what is happening. Industries are the ones providing jobs. If you go to China it is not government that is providing jobs for the over one billion people that are there. That is the way to go.