These are not the best of times for the Sokoto State government as it is currently facing litmus test from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over the decision to obtain a bank loan to complete some projects that it claimed was meant for the benefit of the people.
The Sokoto State House of Assembly had two weeks ago, approved the request made by Governor Aliyu Wamakko to obtain N3.6 billion loan to complete some projects that it believed would further enhance the infrastructural development of the state.
Though the Sokoto State House of Assembly had consented to the proposed loan based on its conviction that it would go a long way in allowing Wamakko complete some strategic projects considered very dear to his administration, but this has been kicked against in some quarters, especially by some individuals who believe that the state government has no business securing bank loans to execute its programmes.
In fact, shortly after the approval given by the legislators for the government to go ahead and secure the loan, those opposed to the idea contended that Sokoto has no cause to be over burdened with debt, as such loans would end up pulling the state backwards in the long run. They claimed that the money was meant to be used for the 2015 project of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and not actually to complete ongoing projects.
It was against this backdrop that some youths protested against the loan request and matched to the State House of Assembly asking members of the house to rescind the decision. The protesters emphasised that Wamakko has no reason to put the state under the burden of debt and as such should not collect any loan to execute projects.
Speaking with THISDAY in Sokoto recently, the spokesman of the protesters, Malam Anas Dannayaba, said the youths embarked on the protest in order to express their anger over the approval granted the governor by the house to secure the N3.6 billion loan from Sterling Bank. He reminded the members of the Sokoto State House of Assembly that, as representatives of the people, they should have put the interest of the masses at heart in dealing with the request submitted to them by the governor.
To this end, Dannayaba urged the members of the Sokoto Assembly to as a matter of urgency reverse their decision in the interest of the people of the state. "We are indeed surprised at the way and manner members of the State House of Assembly rushed into granting the approval to secure N3.6 billion loan from a bank to the governor.
“As citizens of Sokoto, we don't want our state to be thrown into debt and therefore, appealed to the members of the house to reverse their decision in the interest of the people. “
Similarly, the Sokoto State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had expressed shock at the approval granted to Wamakko by the State House of Assembly, to secure the bank loan. It also alleged that the ulterior motive for seeking the loan was to raise funds to prosecute the 2015 electioneering campaign of the APC in the state.
In a statement signed by the state PDP Chairman, Alhaji Ibrahim Milgoma, a copy of which was made available to THISDAY in Sokoto, the PDP wondered why the governor that has barely nine months remaining in office would leave such a huge debt for his successor.
"The PDP is aware of the financial difficulties this administration is facing and the real motives for seeking the loan is to raise funds to finance the 2015 election expenses of the APC in the state but they are trying to hide under the cover of funding capital projects," the statement reads.
The party decried that Sokoto had been reduced to a debtor state, in spite of the huge amount of funds collected by the state government in the last seven years. It reminded the members of the Sokoto State House of Assembly that as representatives of the people, they should have put the interest of the masses at heart in dealing with the request submitted to them by the governor.
"The way and manner the State House of Assembly rushed into granting the approval for the loan leaves much to be desired on the part of the members of the assembly".
The Sokoto State PDP also disparaged the lack of judicious utilisation of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (Sure-P) funds by the state government and challenged Wamakko to explain to the people the projects executed with the SURE-P funds in the state and how it was expended.
According to the statement, youths in the state have not benefited from the various laudable components of the SURE-P programme while the people could not identify a single aspect of the programme that impacted on their lives. The party therefore berated the chairman of the SURE-P programme in the state, Mallam Yahya Abdulkarim, for not doing much in terms of inaugurating projects in the state.
"The Chairman of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme has not done anything to ensure judicious utilisation of the funds and has not been seen laying foundation stones or commissioning any project.
”In fact, the people of Sokoto cannot point to any single aspect of the programme operating in the state while the youths have not benefited from any empowerment scheme", the statement stressed.
It therefore called on the state government to explain to the people what Sokoto State and the 23 local government areas received from SURE-P programme since the inception of the programme to date. "Wamakko should tell us the funds the state and the 23 local government areas received for the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme since inception of the programme to date and on what projects the money was expended". It added that “Wamakko should emulate other states that made effective utilisation of the SURE-P funds to improve the lot of their people, especially in the area of youth empowerment.”
But reacting to the statement, the State House of Assembly reaffirmed its support for Governor Wamakko, saying the N 3.6 billion loan secured by the state government to complete some projects was meant for the benefit of the people.
According to the lawmakers, the N 3.6 billion loan facilities secured by the state government was meant to complete projects that would impact on the lives of the people, contrary to misinformation being peddled in some quarters by some individuals. It said the support became necessary in order to confirm to the people that the house was fully behind Wamakko.
"We, the members of the Sokoto House of Assembly are ever ready to support any initiative by the state government. The people should always understand that the motive of the government is always in the interest of providing good governance to them," he stressed.
Also contributing to the debate, the Chairman of the House Committee on Education, Hon. Malami Galadanci, said the protesters were sponsored by selfish politicians in order to create chaos in the state. He wondered why the PDP youths did not embark on protest when President Goodluck Jonathan recently asked the National Assembly to approve the one billion dollar loan to procure fighter jets to fight Boko Haram insurgents. Consequently, he maintained that members of the house would not be deterred from doing what is of benefit to the people.
The Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Lawalli Zayyana, said a letter of vote of confidence would be sent to the governor in this direction, also confirming that the house was fully behind the governor.
"No amount of distraction will divert the attention of members against Governor Wamakko,"Zayyana stated assuredly.
It is a basic fact that the electorates are always suspicious of their leaders, especially at the twilight of an administration, no matter their popularity and good initiative. Hence, there is a general perception that loans are weights that future government will struggle to offload no matter how low the interests are. In fact, there are evidences to show that loans tend to put burden on the recipients because they have not been properly managed in the past.
It should be noted that the present administration never obtained bank loan to execute its projects and that is why the recent move generated undue controversy and criticism by the opposition which sees it as unnecessary.
However, many observers opined that securing the loan is a welcome development. The proponents believed that such loans will drastically reduce the cost of implementing some capital projects because the state government will be compelled to hasten their completion in view of the accruing interest on the loan.
On the other hand, some pundits attributed the controversy generated by the issue to the inability of the state government to carry people along in the execution of policies and programmes. They noted that much sensitisation was not carried out to let people know the essence of securing the N3.6 billion loan.
In fact, they opined that had it been concrete explanation was given; some rampaging youths would not have embarked on the protest rejecting the approval given by the State House of Assembly to the governor to secure the loan.
Pundits believe that government ought to have given the breakdown of the projects that will be executed with the N3.6 billion so that people will see the merit or otherwise of obtaining the loan, especially if the government is actually people-oriented.
Nevertheless, there is the need for the state government to take the bull by the horns and must give assurances to the people of the state that the loan will be judiciously utilised for the purpose it was designed. This is the only way to reduce suspicion among the people especially now that the 2015 election is fast approaching.