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Optimism and determination in the ‘Home of Peace’

Article - February 18, 2013
Governor of Borno State speaks about the determination of its inhabitants and of those in office to secure a peaceful, prosperous future for the self-proclaimed “Home of Peace”
According to Kashim Shettima, Governor of Nigeria’s north-eastern Borno State, British Prime Minister David Cameron “was right when he referred to Nigeria as a ‘dream waiting to happen’. The country has tremendous resources that when properly harnessed, can provide the platform to catapult the nation to a higher level, in the same way that it has happened in Singapore, Korea, Brazil, and China. With the right leadership and corporate governance, Nigerians are set to reach the promised land.” 
A Nigerian agricultural economist, Mr Shettima was elected governor in the 2011 national elections and firmly believes in Borno State’s nickname of the “Home of Peace” and its potential for a prosperous future. He says, “Borno is the second largest state in Nigeria, with a population of 4.7 million people, and a land mass of 70,989 square kilometres, covering a deep and diverse range of ecological zones. It is the largest producer of livestock, cowpeas, and groundnuts in the country. The fish from Lake Chad whets the appetite of almost half of the Nigerian population. We have around 67,000 hectares of land for irrigation around Lake Chad alone (of which a mere 10,000 hectares is being utilised). There is amazing potential there.” 
Contributing as a guest columnist for Nigeria’s Leadership newspaper, last year he highlighted the challenges of insecurity facing Borno State and his government’s commitment to ensuring a better future for its citizens.
He wrote: “The government has visited Egypt and Thailand to borrow experiences to increase food production in the state, especially farming in the Chad Basin, and entered into memorandum of understanding towards changing farming methods. The whole mantra is on increase in yield and we intend to unleash the potential of our youth by investing N10 billion ($63.5 million) into the agricultural sector. In the same vein, the government has put in place a machinery to create 500,000 jobs to address grassroots socio-economic empowerment drive, total overhaul of the education sector, infrastructural renovation and improvements and putting in place quality assurance monitoring taskforce and enhancement of the feeding system to encourage children to attend and stay in school. In addition, vocational and farming skills acquisition centres are being provided and rehabilitated while all our dormant industries are receiving attention and very soon they will engage substantial number of the unemployed. We are also collaborating with all donor agencies and relevant federal agencies such as ETF, DFID, IDB, UBEC, the EU, etc to access funds for the development of the state.”  
From the state capital Maiduguri, Mr Shettima also highlights the great strides that have been made in the state’s education, agriculture and health sectors. “The healthcare delivery system has vastly improved,” he says. “We have recorded a lot of successes in our fight against polio and other childhood diseases. In the past year, we have opened five general hospitals, and commissioned five new ones. We are in the process of rehabilitating seven more general hospitals. My health commissioner is in the US. He is working to get seven new ambulances, and seven mobile clinics. It is all part of our vision to spread 36 hospitals across the state. I can assure you that the next few months will bring about a quantum leap.”
He adds: “Borno has been a torchbearer as far as education is concerned in the northern part of Nigeria. I have signed a bill for the Borno State University to meet the educational needs of our people. We have a contract for the rehabilitation of 18 secondary schools across the state worth N7.8 billion. We set up a Quality Assurance (QA) team, tasked with the responsibility of ensuring quality in public schools. Every Nigerian above the age of 30 (including myself) is a product of the Nigerian public school system. I believe that posterity will judge us harshly if we allow the public school system to collapse. Right now, I can afford to send my kids to very expensive private schools. Other people with resources will perhaps do the same. But what of the sons of the poor? Part of the reason why Boko Haram festered was because of our disconnection with the people. Unless we identify personally with the people, work for them, and improve the quality of governance, we will be in trouble.”
As part of a drive to ensure unbanked Nigerians have access to financial services, the Bankers Committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) recently announced that Borno State had been added to the pilot scheme of the national financial inclusion strategy. Of the state’s 4.7 million inhabitants, only an estimated 280,000 people currently have access to financial services, and Borno is rated as one of Nigeria’s states with the highest level of financial exclusion. 
Part of the project’s aims includes raising the number of ATMs in Borno from the current 95 to more than 770 by 2020. It also intends to expand the network of branches in the state from 72 branches to over 120 and points-of-sales from under 300 to around 10,000.
To ensure the success of the pilot scheme, extensive consultations have been held among key stakeholders, including the CBN, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, Nigeria Communications Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, Consumer Protection Council, and the Borno State government. The successful implementation of the project in Borno State will help guide banks to replicate it in other states nationwide. 
The Bankers Committee is also behind an ongoing Customer Identity Management project, which when completed would radically reduce the cost of banking transactions, improve customers’ identity and reduce fraud. The committee has affirmed that it is pulling out all the stops to ensure that cost of financial services is reduced in the overall interest of the economy and financial system stability.
Mr Shettima adds: “Entrepreneurial capitalism is embedded in the very psyche of the Nigerian population. We are entrepreneurs and capitalists by nature. However, people need the capital to really engage in productive ventures. We need to take drudgery out of agriculture and embrace modern agricultural practices. A hundred years ago, our forefathers were using hoes and cutlasses to till the soil. This led to hand-to-mouth subsistence farming. They produced barely enough to feed themselves. We have to change that through mechanisation, improved hybrid seeds, pesticides, herbicides, and good marketing and packaging—it is a whole value chain. We would definitely be interested in partnering with British firms in this area.”