ViewPointNigeria was opportune to catch-up with Dr Ponyah Ibrahim, the 2019 PDP gubernatorial aspirant for a short interview at his office at the Federal Captial Development Authority (FCDA), Abuja.
Ponyah who is habitually at the office at 7:00 am, i.e., (2 hours ahead of the usual start time of 9:00am), discussed extensively with Dr Chinnan Mclean Dikwal of ViewPointNigeria and provided deep insights into his vision for Plateau.
Below are excerpts.
- Could you introduce yourself to our readers please?
Before I introduce myself, can I just say massive thanks for the opportunity to sit down with you for this interview and apologies for dragging you out of bed so early at 7:00 am –I appreciate not everyone is an early starter like me. I usually wake up at 5:30am every day and arrive the office at 7:00 am. Starting early, allows me to plan, strategize and generally collate my thoughts and ideas so that I am a lot more productive and efficient. This has been the secret behind my relative achievements –generally, I follow the principle that “one who fails to plan early, plans to fail woefully”.
To your question, I am a civil engineer with over 20 year experience in the provision of civil engineering infrastructural works/facilities to the Federal Capital Territory. My experience spans all projects types, but with particular focus on large integrated projects. Specifically the civil engineering aspects, which includes the design and building of expansive road networks, state-of-the-art bridges, electrical utilities, dams & drainage networks etc.
I am a native of Langtang North LGA. I was born in 1968 to the family of Baba Ibrahim Binchak of Lohmah village (Bwarat District). I had my primary education in LEA primary school Kumkwam within the same locality. I then proceeded to higher institutions of learning, including Nakam Memorial Secondary School, Panyam and the Government Technical College, Bukuru for further education.
Thereafter, I went to the University of Benin to study civil engineering. And on graduation, I worked for Shell Petroleum Development Company at their various oil & gas installations in the then Bendel State, before moving to FCDA in 1994.
As an individual, I am very personable, open, inquisitive and forthright. I operate based on the value system of hard work, dedication and service which was inculcated into me by my mother –she thought me the importance of selfless service humanity and the need to be charitable.
I have a moral compass which is firmly set to doing what is right and just –and this is predicated on my firm belief in the supremacy of the Almighty. I continually appraise and evaluate my actions and deeds in the context of these standards.
- In your opinion, what is it that differentiates you from your peers or other politicians?
The principal thing that distinguishes me from my peers is my quest for continuous learning and improvement. I am perpetually on a quest to understand more, glean new knowledge, garner new insights and apply them in my professional, political and social lives.
I never rest on the laurels of my achievements; I perpetually strive to improve myself. I live by the life mantra/motto which says “the day one stop learning is the day one starts to die”. And this is especially true in this digital age, because the rate of change of knowledge is astronomical, there is so much new stuff happening that once one stops learning –he/she quickly becomes archaic and irrelevant. So to stay ahead of the curve and relevant, one must continue to acquire new knowledge and understanding –that is my life philosophy!
To illustrate this point, left me take you through my personal journey of continuous learning. Having already spent a decade and a half at FCDA and implemented numerous engineering projects, I enrolled at the University of Jos in 2007 to undertake an MSc in Construction Management. I enrolled on the course because I knew that I needed to update my knowledge –fully aware that having been practicing as a civil engineer for nearly two decades, new knowledge about key aspects of construction management must have emerged, and I was keen to amass that new knowledge.
After acquiring that knowledge from the MSc in 2008, I didn’t stop there. I assessed that having an understanding of the commercial aspects of how to manage large construction projects was critical to operating/functioning at the highest level of my field –as such, I enrolled at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) for an MBA programme – this I completed in 2010.
With the new knowledge acquired from the technical (MSc) and commercial (MBA) courses, I felt empowered to undertake my job at FCDA with a higher level of vigour and purpose. And it allowed me to function at an increased level of knowhow and capacity.
However, with further technological advancements in the construction management field, I felt compelled to further update my knowledge and understanding –as such I enrolled for a PhD study in Construction Management (which I completed in 2016). Completing the PhD has been an incredible feat, which has given me the professional standing and gravitas to make tangible impact to the field of construction management, both at my place of work and in the academia.
With the depth of knowledge and expertise in construction management and business (MBA), I felt compelled to seek further understanding of strategy and policy –specifically, in understanding the gap between policy formulation and implementation. As such, I sought and attended the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru in 2016 where I was schooled on Policy, Strategy and Leadership. I gleaned fresh understanding of how to strategically craft a plan, implement and execute it in a way that you achieve you desired results.
Again, having finished the course at NIPSS –I have not stopped there. I am currently enrolled at the University of Liverpool, where I am studying law degree. I felt compelled to augment my understanding with a law degree, because I want to ensure that I understand all aspects of governance, from technical, to commercial and also the legal side of things. I will not want to be involved in the execution of a large project or running of a state like Plateau –and not having the legal knowledge of the basics. I am scheduled to finish the course this year 2018.
Once I finalise the law degree, I shall consider what further courses to take in order to carry on with my learning and improvement. However, can I state that the little I have done has given me a very good understanding of engineering (B.Eng in Civil Engineering), construction management (MSc & PhD), business and commercial (MBA), policy and strategy (Certificate from NIPSS), law and legal (MSc Liverpool University) etc. This drive for continuous learning and development in my opinion makes me different from many of my peers.
- Why do you want to be governor of Plateau State?
I wish to govern Plateau for the simple reason that I believe I can bring new ideas, perspectives and dimensions which can salvage Plateau from its current state of near-total collapse. Being a technocrat (not a career politician), I guarantee that I will do things differently. I will create wealth! I will not wait to be given federal government subvention as is the case on the Plateau. I will break the age-long practice of making our budget based on what we hope to get from the Federal government as opposed to what we generate internally.
The fundamental role of a governor is to create wealth, not to squander it. I will not to wait for FG to dole out subvention to us –akin to the way a beggar sits at the edge of the road, waiting on the generosity and charity of passers-by. That is not right; we must create wealth from within the abundance that God has bestowed on Plateau, not wait on the charity or benevolence of FG.
To that end, I will make the budget of Plateau based on the revenue we generate internally and not based on what the federal government may dole-out to us. Because that FG money is merely charitable funds –it can cease if oil sales drops.
I will steer Plateau away from the spend-spend-spend culture that we currently see, towards an invest-invest-invest and cultivate-cultivate-cultivate culture. I shall tap on the unique offerings of Plateau, particularly in the agricultural sector and ensure that we take commanding and leading positions in that regard. I will set an internally revenue generation target (say N20 billion for the agricultural sector) and if I get an individual who come forward and convinces me that they can deliver that amount from the agricultural sector, I shall work with such a person to actualise it.
- Could you give us specifics of what you will do differently if you were elected governor?
I appreciate your question. Below are the specifics of what I shall do differently if I am elected governor of Plateau state in 2019.
a. Exploit the fertile lands around River Ibi in the Southern Senatorial Zone:
River Ibi straddles both Taraba and Plateau states and has extremely fertile lands in its troughs –these have remained largely unexploited. On the Plateau side of things, the river trough straddles Shendam, Langtang, Wase and Kanam LGAs. If exploited, farm produce from this belt alone has the capacity to sustain much of the middle-belt. If elected governor –that will be one of my top priorities. I shall sign a partnership with the Taraba state government and work out ways that we can jointly exploit the river for common good. Central to that, will be irrigation farming, where government will procure or lease state-of-the-art irrigation machineries and put them in the hands of our farmers in order to maximise the opportunity.
b. Thrift/cooperative societies:
Even though Plateau is 70% agrarian, subsistence farming has meant that we have not taken full advantage of mechanisation and synergies. Agriculture remains a very small portion of our GDP as a state –largely because we are still doing things like our ancestors did. This is unfortunate in this highly mechanised and digital age.
As such, I shall discourage farmers from subsistence farming and encourage them to synergise by forming cooperatives of 10 – 50 farmers. These cooperatives will function like companies –with full registration at the corporate affairs commission. They will have a CEO, CFO, COO etc and will work to declare profit at the end of each year. Such corporate mentality will benefit everyone. Example: the productivity and output of the farmers will increase 10 folds (because of synergies effect). Government is able to collect taxes (being a registered entity) and generally a large population of our people become gainfully employed.
Once the entities are registered and functional, government can then guarantee them farming equipment by giving banks an undertaking that allows them to procure and distribute farming machineries to the cooperative. With this strategy, small and medium scale companies (SME’s) will begin to proliferate Plateau, employing youths, paying taxes and fostering a sustainable supply chain.
As soon as these SME’s start to become sustainable, I shall then ensure that we assist them with a go-to-market (or export) strategy. As such, working with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, I shall ensure that all the farm produce are standardised and ready for bulk export. We shall review the export conditions stipulated (by the USA, EU or China) and assist our farmers to meet such. So for instance, if the export condition (from the EU or USA) says they only want white corn (not mixed colours of white and yellow), then we shall enforce a standard that says any corn farmed within those SMEs has to be white corn. The same for rice, potato and other produce – this will foster standardisation and allow us to gain pole position in the exports.
Even though this industry is largely under the control and jurisdiction of the federal government, there are key ways that Plateau state being the custodian of the resources can participate in the venture. One of such ways is by bidding for concessions (through PIPC) and then mining under the federal government mandate. In doing so, Plateau can partner with a reputable foreign mining company, which can lead and operate the entire venture –but the proceeds will remain largely Plateau’s. Bringing in foreign partners is a very strategic move, it will ensure that knowledge transfer is maximised to the Plateau entity, but that there is significant corporate social responsibility and revenue generation.
It is a known fact, that the mineral deposits in Wase LGA alone can sustain Plateau. There is zinc, lead, traces of silver etc. In Langtang South the story is the same, large quantities of lead, oil and other minerals have been proven. Not to mention Pankshin and Kanke LGA’s where quantities of granite, uranium (for nuclear fission and fusion) have been found. I shall ensure we undertake a full mineral mapping of Plateau so we know what exactly it is that we have etc.
d. Link Plateau to Abuja:
I will lobby the federal government to ensure they properly link-up Plateau to Abuja, cutting the commute time from 4 hours to 1 hour (using fast high speed rail). That way, many people who work in Abuja will rather live in Jos and commute to work in Abuja as oppose to live there. Jos has the most clement weather, great food (vegetables & fruits), picturesque scenery, and low cost of living. It will become a no-brainer that people live in Jos and commute to Abuja as oppose to live in the hot, humid and highly congested Abuja. Once route is properly connected, most embassy workers who work in Abuja (particularly the foreigners, will rather live in Jos). This will raise the quality of education, foster a more diverse economy and boost economic activities.
e. Build Plateau’s Technical Capacity:
One of the big issues in Plateau is that we do not have capable and functioning engineering firms. Any large capital projects which need to be executed will always require firms from Lagos or Abuja because our people do not own large construction firms capable of handling all aspects of such contracts. This explains why currently approximately 80% of the contracts in Plateau are executed by outsiders (not indigenes). What this means is that 80% of Plateau’s revenue (or subvention) leaves the state –only 20% is utilised within the economy, which is why our people are so poor. This is really something worrisome that we should all be worried about? How can 80% of our revenue end up leaving Plateau to other states and to the hands of the Chinese? To put an end to this, I will build the capacity of our people by giving them avenues to own and operate small companies which can grow into large functioning corporations. We shall start small, but the end goal is to develop large corporations which are capable of going to Abuja and competing for large contracts like other Nigerians do. If a Plateau firm gets a large contract –say N50 billion, you can imagine how that will revolutionise the state. Such are the types of contracts other Nigerian gets, which I am yet to see a single Plateau man come close to.
f. Create Jos film & music village:
With the abundant talent of movie and music artists on the Plateau, it will be criminal if we do not monetise their talent and art. I shall ensure that I set up a fully functioning film and music village, which is fully operational with studious, gadgets and gizmos to enable our artist thrive and be creative. I shall support film producers who come up with scripts that show Jos and Plateau state in a positive light. We shall work with them to ensure that, that narrative is seen and heard by the world. Plateau state currently has a bad image in the outside world because of the blood that has been spilled. So, using the instrumentality of movies, we shall attempt to re-brand and launder a good image for the state. This re-branding is critical to enticing investment and boosting business confidence in our state.
On the music front, we shall explore the possibility of starting an indigenous music record label for our artist to ensure that their skills and art is maximised.
This is the first phase of the interview with Dr Ponyah Ibrahim, the second phase which cover broad topics of how he will increase Plateau’s internally generated revenue, solve the security challenge and other sundry issues will be published in 2 weeks.
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