Abdullberqy Usman Ebbo was the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger state between 2015 and 2017. He is now the Director-General in-charge of Strategic Operations Unit, ICT and Public Enlightenment. AWAAL GATA recently engaged him, and he spoke on the contributions of his office, as well as the current administration’s achievements.
What exactly does your office do in the administration?
I am the Director-General, ICT, Strategic Operation Unit and Public Enlightenment. I do three things, combined. First, I am championing ICT for the administration. Everybody knows what it is. E-government is very potent in the administration; it is my duty to ensure that it works effectively. I handle the efficacy of the computers, the internet; everything that has to do with the cyberspace. When we came in, e-governance wasn’t anything to write home about in the state. We felt there should be innovations, and today the administration has fully digitised its activities.
On Strategic Operation Unit, we analyse policies, plan them, and ensure that they are maximally realised to the benefit of the people, for whom government exists.
Then Public Enlightenment, which behoves my team and I to inform, educate and enlighten the people on the activities of the government; the things that are going on, how far it has gone in its works toward taking its vision and agenda to fruition. The administration is very open in every segment of its affairs; hence we communicate strategies and actions and how they are being executed.
What innovations have you brought to the administration?
For the first time in the history of Niger state and the country, Government House is having its own Application, through which people could know and follow its activities by simply clicking on their browsing devices. Secondly, we are currently working towards building an ICT park. Construction of the structure has not begun but all the paper works have already been done. In conjunction with the government, Zenith Bank is also going to build another one at Abdulsalam Youth Centre in Minna.
What does the govt intend to achieve with the parks?
Our young people are going to easily key into the new world order, which is of course the ICT. Many of them are already into it but lack the platforms for showcasing what they have or lack the platform for honing or harnessing their talents; these parks will put an end to that. You develop software, Apps, etc. you have a place and tools to work. This will hugely help in the eradication of the overwhelming unemployment in which the young people are mired. The government will also make sure that talents are showcased to the world for patronage.
E-govt hasn’t gone beyond ‘words’ at the federal level, but you have championed it in Niger; is it working?
It is robustly working in Niger. Everyone could go and confirm. Government officials don’t have to be on ground for activities to move: they exchange memos and have them promptly treated from wherever they are.
The administration, at inception, unveiled an agenda dubbed ’restoration;’ how far has it gone?
The government has superbly worked for the realisation of this agenda and the results have been sterling. Any time I talk about the agenda, I love explaining what it means and how it came about. Something was once glorious but later became inglorious or bad; having the ‘ingloriousness’ and ‘badness’ replaced by ‘goodness’ and ‘gloriousness’ is an apt elucidation of what the administration meant with ‘restoration’. In achieving the agenda, the administration is taking it sector-by-sector, and no sector has been left untended.
What has the govt done in revamping the rot in the education sector?
Everyone knows that education is the bedrock of development in every society hence the administration has placed it on top of its list. When it came on board, things in the sector were dauntingly in rot. To turn things around, it adopted a scheme dubbed Transforming Education
Sector in Niger State (TENS), under which the services of consultants from Cambridge University were sought. The consultants worked with some indigenous expert because of their understanding of the terrain to diagnose the sector and came up with a blueprint that would bring about its salvation. In their report, they highlighted three factors from which the sector ailed. First, according to the report, was that schools were in total dilapidation, and wouldn’t allow proper learning and teaching. Secondly, they dwelt on the qualifications of the teachers. Lastly, equipment for learning were non-existent. For example, laboratories and libraries were either not there or empty.
To begin to put things in proper shape, because of paucity of funds, teachers were intensively trained by the world-class experts from Cambridge. To make sure that everyone was covered, 100 were trained, empowered and deployed to train their colleagues who were not covered by the Cambridge experts. Those trained went to schools in every nook and cranny in the state to train their colleagues the same way they were trained by the Cambridge experts.
On the infrastructure; when a study of the schools was carried out, it was reported that almost all of them were comatose. The governor was so concerned by the situation, given the importance of education in the society, but financial constraint wouldn’t allow all to be revamped. In view of this, three were picked from each of the three zones in the state. Each was fully revamped, equipped and given a world-class standard. In Zone ‘A’, Government Science College, Kutigi, Government Girls’ Secondary School, Bida, and Government Secondary School, Baro, which has been converted to a science college, were picked.
In Zone ‘B,’ Maryam Babangida Girls’ Science College, Minna, Government Science College, Izom and Government Girls’ Secondary School, Tegina, benefited from the scheme. In Zone ‘C’: Government Secondary School, Rijau, Ibrahim Mua’zu Commercial Secondary School, Kontagira, and Government Girls’ Secondary School, Kontagora.
In the schools, there were no laboratories, libraries; the classes and dormitories were in various states of collapse. No even (good) fences in some. However, under the Whole School Renovation scheme, everything got totally reshaped. The structures that could still be renovated were renovated, the ones that couldn’t be were taken down and new ones built. Now there are laboratories, libraries, computer centres; the classes are now in great shape and conducive for learning. The dorms and administrative blocks and staff quarters were treated the same way.
For the basic schools, so far over hundreds have been totally renovated and equipped, spread across the 274 wards in the state. It is in the life of this administration that a school, at least, has been renovated in every ward in the state.
Still on teacher’s qualification, the administration has established a teachers’ development Institute in each of its zones. This is the first time in the history of Nigeria that such institute is being established by a state government. The one in Zone B, at Mararaban Daudu has started running. In the school, every ward is represented. An examination was organised in every ward, and the top two performers (one female, one male) were picked for the school. In the school, everything is free. After graduation, the graduates are expected to go back to their respective communities to become teachers.
Tertiary institutions aren’t also left behind. For example, school of Nursing, Bida, for 42 years, didn’t see any renovation; its laboratories were not very functional despite the fact that it is an environment where health workers are trained. At a time, the governor visited the school and, on seeing the dilapidation, he said ‘even my dog would not be allowed to live there, yet people were learning and living there for years.’ Against this backdrop, he ordered total equipment and renovation immediately. Today, the school is in a world-class standard. It was also had not been accredited for 42 years; this administration has now ensured that it is fully accredited. The school of midwifery in Minna has also been upgraded, and another nursing school has been established in Kontagora, to make sure that each zone is covered.
Why is the administration not offering overseas scholarships?
The governor studied in Nigeria and is a staunch believer in the Nigerian system, hence the administration’s reluctance in giving out scholarships to people to study abroad. The people given before the coming of the administration are being properly taken care of but the governor believes in the Nigerian universities in terms of training the country’s manpower. He is also of the sentiment, that anywhere the country’s institutions are problematic, they should be fixed, instead of going abroad. Scholarships for local students are being taken care of adroitly. However, anyone who gets scholarship elsewhere to go abroad, the government supports.
How has the govt fared in roads rehabilitation and construction?
In this area, the administration has fared overwhelmingly well, as a total of 600km of roads have been awarded, and all are either completed or in the works. Many things are being said about the Minna-Suleja road. When the administration came aboard, the rehabilitation of the road was undertaken, and every road user attested to its good condition.
However, there was a collapse at Tatabu Bridge, hence traffic from that axis was diverted to Minna Suleja road. Trailers, tankers and other heavy-duty vehicles started plying the road in their hundreds. And it began to collapse again. However, the administration got lucky with the coming of SUKUK federal bond which saw to the construction of the Suleja to Lambatta part of the road. From Lambatta, the Niger state government is gradually taking care of the rehabilitation to Kwakuti, as Kwakuti to Minna has already been done. Only 24 kilometres are now outstanding.
In Minna metropolis, the Sabon-Gari road has been rehabilitated, as well as Makera and Himma roads. Bosso Estate road is under construction. Others are London Street road, Padikwe, Heritage, Shiroro Hotel, Gbeganu, Bomas-New market, etc., and in most of them, street lights were installed. In Bida, there is the Ban-Gaie road, Dokodza road, Gowon’s lodge road. In Suleja, Maje-Kwamba road and other two roads have been rehabilitated. At the moment, a total number of 579 kilometres of roads have so far been constructed or rehabilitated by the administration. The rural areas are not also left to their own fates. Last year, 171 kilometres were constructed across the rural areas. We all know the importance of roads in boosting the economy. Without good roads, problem of transporting farm produce to markets will arise. In recent weeks, contracts were awarded for the construction of another 403 kilometres of rural road, spread across the total number of the wards in the state.
What has the administration achieved in the health sector?
Healthcare delivery is very potent in Niger to the extent that the federal government and international organisations have been commending the state. Constructed or rehabilitated more than 274 primary healthcare centres are now spread across the state. Each ward, at least, has a PHC that is very functional.
Over 3, 000 people with eyes problems have also been treated. The IBB hospital before now was nothing to write home about; it has now been fixed. The neonatal hospital that was built by the last government has been upgraded. Now, the paediatric equipment are the best in the country, and come from other West African countries. The general hospitals are still being continuously boosted. In Minna General Hospital, a new laboratory has been built. Contracts have been given for the upgrading of Suleja General Hospital, and those of Bida and Kontagora.
Apart from these, the administration has done robustly in the provision of potable water; hence potable water problem in Minna is gradually coming to an end thanks to the new equipment and the overhaul that was carried out. For almost two decades, Bida has been in potable water dearth; it water board is currently being overhauled. The Gawu waterworks has now being completed. The fire service has been made effective across the state. And about 85 communities in the rural areas have been electrified and connected to the national grid.