We have given a boost to the tourism sector, starting from the historic city of Lokoja. We mapped out historic relics in the state, including the Cenotaphs of some of our heroes, the point where the Royal Niger flag was exchanged, the site of the first Bank in northern Nigeria, the first primary school in northern Nigeria, tombs of some emirs that were arrested and brought to Lokoja by the colonial masters, among other interesting sites. The Lord Lugard House, where the former governor-general used to rest at the top of Mount Patti is another site we have worked on.
Our tourist and historical sites in the state have all been refurbished, remodelled and renovated. We have provided tour buses for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. We also trained tour guides who are knowledgeable enough to take visitors to these tourist destinations in the state. The government is at the point of signing an MOU for a partnership agreement with a private company for the development of the tourism potentials in the state, beginning with the Mount Patti, which has special tourist and leisure sites where people can come and unwind out of the hustle and bustle of big cities like Abuja and Lagos.
In the area of water supply, the Kogi State has made substantial payment for completion of the Greater Lokoja Water Projects which was intitiated by the previous administration but not completed when we took over. We have also been involved in the operation and maintenance. You know it is one thing to build; it is another thing to operate and maintain, so that the project is of value. That is the role we have played as an administration in the Greater Lokoja Water Project.
We have done the mapping of the city with proper layout of its different segments. For instance, there are new layouts along Lokoja-Okene road, like the place where we have the permanent site of the Federal University in the state. We have also mapped out industrial areas.
We are also mapping out new areas along the Ganaja by-pass. We are laying out that whole area so that people can live in an organised way. We are also looking at the eastern side of our state, which is separated by the River Niger and River Benue. We have proposed the construction of a link bridge. We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a private company to construct the bridge on a Public Private Partnership basis. The construction of the Shintaku Bridge from Lokoja to link the eastern part of the state will facilitate the link between the western part of the state and the east. The eastern part of the state capital has a considerable amount of flat land and we can exploit this link to expand the capital city. The main challenge is that the construction of the bridge is very expensive. For now, we are doing the Geographical Information System of the state capital to restore order in land allocation and housing development in the Lokoja. That would give us clear satellite imagery of Lokoja and the neighbouring locations so that we can build better houses in the city. We have mapped them out, structured them and clearly identified the places where people can build either as developers and private individuals who can own their houses and live in decent locations rather than build houses on hills.
In terms of road construction, we have awarded the contract for the construction of a four-lane carriage way. The four-lane road is the main road in our state capital. The road will be the signature road in our state to enhance the beauty and aesthetics of our capital city. We want to do it properly with good drainage system and pedestrian lanes and an embankment to protect the shore line. We want to make it a reference point in road construction in the state and to add to the beauty and aesthetics of our capital city. Because of the topography of the area and proximity to water, every time the road was constructed in the past, it deteriorateed after one year. This time around, we want to make it the reference road and you will be proud of it when you come to Lokoja. We have approved payment for mobilisation of contractors.
What have you done to curb political violence and restiveness in the state?
Our efforts to unite our people in terms religion and ethnic groups is achieving a lot of results. In terms religion, we have the state Inter-religious council, which meets regularly in a bid to sustain religious harmony in the state. In terms ethnic balance, we have ensured equitable distribution in appointments and projects, such that people can see and attest to that across board. We are deliberate about equity and justice in the state.
What its your government doing to provide the enabling environment for location of industries as well as reviving the existing ones in the state, like Ajaokuta?
Ajaokuta is the hope of Kogi State. We are making efforts to get the Federal Government to give the project the level of attention it deserves. We believe that Ajaokuta Steel Company will revolutionise Nigeria. Our transformation as a nation cannot go the full course without Ajaokuta being operational. Mr. President has said several times that he would get Ajaokuta working. I have put a lot of pressure on the Federal Government to make sure that Ajaokuta works. Recently, I worked with both the minister of Trade and Investment and that of Solid Minerals Development to see how far they were going. We are in the process of preparing a report to be presented to the Federal Government. I have visited Ajaokuta four times since I became the governor and I have continued to encourage the management and staff and that have resulted in the rise in their morale.
We are privy to the negotiations that have brought on a number of private investors to Ajaokuta. Right now there are four lines which are basically operational now. Four out of the 24 lines are working. The state also derives employment and some revenue in the form of tax from Ajaokuta. Obajana Cement is the largest cement project in Africa and Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the promoter of the company has helped our state in so many ways. Recently, we signed an MOU with him to establish a vocational training centre in Lokoja to train our young people towards self-employment. I am aware that he had committed funds and other resources to this project already.
What are you doing about youth empowerment?
When we came into office, one of our first programmes was to create opportunities for youth. We have a programme called Youth Advancement Programme for Kogi (YAD4KOGI). Under this programme, we take 1000 youths from across the 21 local government areas in the state every three months. They are camped at NYSC orientation camp in Asaya in Kabba Bunu Local Government Area of the state.
We bring in resource persons from universities and polytechnics around and some other consultants to re-orientate the youths and increase their morale. It also involves military drills, as participants wake up at 5:30am to take part in drills and they are also exposed to vocational skills. Within three weeks, you will be amazed at the transformation of these youths from people who looked hopeless and fed up with life to people who are excited about what they can do with their lives. On completion of the programme, we deploy them on public works or sanitation duties in the state and in the various local government areas and they are paid a stipend per week. We also ask our local governments to pay them a stipend. Their work on these projects is from 8am to 12pm on week days. They are later attached to any vocation of their choice after leaving the camp, be it auto mechanics or hair dressing. We attach them to people in such businesses. And in the course of a year, we advise them to save some money. If they choose to start their own business after the one year internship, the state government gives them a 100 per cent of whatever they are able to save during the internship and assist them to set up on their own.
We also have a graduate empowerment programme under which we give N250, 000 to graduates after their youth service and vocational training to go into any trade of their choice. They start different businesses in agriculture and other trades. Some of them have become net employers of labour in different trades and in different parts of the state. Apart from themselves being employed, they also now have employees and the multiplier effect of this project is amazing. So far, we have trained over 7000 people under this programme.
We started with a blueprint that was drawn up by a think-tank of 23 eminent citizens of the state who had actualised themselves in their various endeavours. I committed that I would build on the foundation laid by my predecessors. Our Internally Generated Revenue has increased by 250% since we came into office. We did this by plugging revenue leakages in government. We have also digitalised the process of revenue collection in the state, thus reducing loss of revenue. We have since seen improvements in our IGR month on month.
You are one of the governors who are still facing legal battles over their elections. How do you cope running the state and handling these court cases?
It is unfortunate that politicians do not realise that power comes from God alone. I am two years and nine months in government and I still have cases in government. They are distractions no doubt. My appeal is that politicians should be patient. Cases like this could slow down the pace of development in the state.