Nasarawa State Governor, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura spoke to Adedayo Adejobi on the state of the nation, including the situation report on Nasarawa’s communal clashes and his plans to realise APC’s promise of ‘change’. Excerpts:
What’s your assessment of PDP’s crisis?
Way back as at 2013, when we announced the process of the merger, I had the benefit of insight that they were likely going to lose out, given the tenacity, seriousness and commitment of people from all walks of life coming together to battle the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). As God had it, the resilience, perseverance and sense of patriotism by all the four parties – ACN, APGA, ANPP and CPC – that formed the All Progressives Congress (APC) ensured that the merger process produced a very robust party that represents all kinds of opinions, when put together, to make this country united, strong and indivisible.
In the history of this country, there has never been a time when people across board, from different tendencies, had shaken off the inclusive peculiarity of each in the interest of team work. I think PDP’s dissolution started when they were bragging because during the time of PDP, it was one controversy after another; one problem after another and up to this point in time, you can see PDP continuously being divided on different issues. That, I believe, is normal. It is an indication of the people that are not prepared for the setting of an opposition because of their illusion. They never thought they could be on the other side.
As far as I am concerned, we won’t bother about their confusion, we have an objective, target and a vision for this country, and that is to undo what the mischievous PDP had done for 16 years and we are all appealing to Nigerians to be patient. What will take many years to build can be destroyed in one minute and if you want to correct what has been destroyed, if Nigerians are waiting to see a change in every facet of government in only about eight to nine months that we have been into office, I think that is unfair. More changes are in the pipeline, but they are not changes you can wake up one morning and see them just happen. I bet in the next one year, it will be designable that some of these changes can be visibly seen not only in the process but in the end of some of these initiatives.
You just said the APC does not have a strong opposition party, do you see the APC ending up the way PDP did?
No, I don’t think that will happen because the scenario is different. I stand to be corrected that we have a strong opposition but the strong opposition is confused. It’s a strong and confused opposition. PDP has quite a number of states. It’s not like when we used to have PDP against other parties. PDP has, as at the last count, close to about 10 states, so you can see that we have a strong opposition but an opposition that is directionless; an opposition that has no programme rather than to undermine and sabotage the government in place. I think until PDP finds it bearings, its strength in terms of the opposition it poses to the government in power is just an illusion.
Does the PDP pose any major threat to the APC?
No, it is not an opposition threat as such. What I see is that, having seen that they have failed to be worthy, and having seen that Nigerians actually have rejected them, all they are doing is to see that they throw spanners in the works. But that will not do anything because what this administration is doing is focusing on those priority and vision that became the basis of the merger, which is security. The country needs security in the north, east, south and everywhere.
The second is the issue of corruption and robbery of the treasury; the amount of proper articulation that will guide the economic development and progress of the country. Sadly, the corruption image and stigma that this country has to suffer for the better part of PDP’s administration, for me, are the fundamentals of this administration. And God being so kind, we have a president that has a clear vision and understanding of the situation and went straight ahead to keep the gun running by solving these problems in all the intensity of their priority as they come.
The Boko Haram issue is gradually becoming a thing of the past because the vibrancy and audacity with which Boko Haram used to attack communities have now ceased. They are now looking for a place to hide. That’s a great success and it is gradually reducing, if not for the issue of the herdsmen and farmers. About the issue of the country’s economy, the president has been moving from one place to another across the world to ensure that those funds that were stolen and stored in those countries are returned to us.
Furthermore, the president has been able to rewrite our integrity as a country you can do business with and as a country which is globally involved in family affairs; also, as a country that fits into international practices. And you can see that the advantages are working, if not for the falling fortunes of oil, the prices of oil, the value of naira and our economic factors.
I believe in ten months of our administration, this country will be very vibrant in terms of economic activities and people will earn good living without much difficulty. In a nutshell, the present administration is pursuing its order of priority to ensure the reduction of things that have stalled the development of this country. And I am very sure that with patience, after this period, Nigerians will have enough opportunities to bounce back like we have always done.
Do you think oil prices will rise anytime soon?
I think it’s beyond anybody to determine whether the situation on the prices of oil will come too soon. It all depends on the interplay of forces that determine such position. Already, the president is doing whatever he can to deal with OPEC, interfacing with people, who are involved in the oil industry and the refinery leveraged to improve on the cost and even the production. I think this is a wonderful economic diplomacy that if it comes to reality, Nigeria will be better for it.
It’s not something that someone can easily forecast. It all depends on the synergy that Nigeria can have with other sister countries. But I think we are optimistic that given the kind of positive responses with which the president is interfacing with other sister countries across the world, there is an indication that, hopefully, things will get better.
Is it politically wise to investigate the NNPC?
To investigate NNPC, I think it’s the wisest thing to do. That’s the country’s cash cow and the cash cow is bastardised and so heavily affected by corruption and all kinds of nonsense. I think the president is doing what is right to ensure that funds that went down the drain through some ridiculous ways and means are recovered and also a stop is put to squandering and stealing of our riches. The issue about the key players, as far as I am concerned, is immaterial. If you look at the recoveries that NNPC has been subjected to, you will collapse.
It’s not about key players or anybody, but about leaders. It doesn’t matter whoever is involved, it is the leader that will be able to identify whoever is there. Whoever is involved, whether he is in APC or PDP, the leader should be able to identify them, and the judiciary will be able to tell you to return what you have illegally acquired or stolen.
So, it could be a minister or whoever but the concern of the president is the lead and how the system will be put into perfection. Whoever has his hands burnt is not the president’s concern or the government but about the leads that point to who and who are involved. As far as I am concerned, the interest of Nigeria supersedes any individual interest.
With your knowledge of Mr. President, will he go after Jonathan?
The Buhari I know will go after anybody, even if it is his son. So, talking about Jonathan is not an issue. Whoever is involved, the president will go after that person. I am very sure about that.
It is largely assumed that the anti-graft agencies lack the will to prosecute government officials. Do you agree?
I think this is speculative. I will not want to say anything against the EFCC. But cast your mind back and see the efforts EFCC has made in the past and their credibility and the way and manner they have appealed on their anti-corruption initiative activities. You don’t expect to have 100 per cent perfect system anywhere in the world and if anybody will use the short comings of EFCC as a barometer to determine their efficiency, I think it’s very unfair. I personally commend the efforts of these agencies in carrying out their obligations against corrupt practices that this country has had in the past 16years.
What is your assessment of the judicial system in Nigeria?
I think the judicial system is constitutionally doing what it is expected to do. But like in every human endeavour, you have certain shortcomings here and there and it becomes a case of worry when such shortcomings contradict the very basis of such an institution’s existence. But I don’t have any case against them. The only thing I want to admonish the institution for is that they should be a partner of this administration’s vision and objective to sanitise the country.
This year is very critical to governments at all levels. As a governor, what’s your administration doing towards unemployment, health and education?
The effort of government to ensure implementation and practicalisation of the vision of change, and for those of us that have been in government before now and also participated fully in the emergence of this regime, the issue of priority is already included in our manifestos and vision of our leader. The first thing is the issue of security, to see that we are on the same page with the central government; to ensure that all security challenges that have become a pain in the neck to our domains are sorted out so that we can transmit into a platform of smooth governance to deliver the expectations of our people and our vision. That’s the first priority.
The second priority has to do with the issue of providing employment. To consolidate and ensure our security intervention becomes effective, it has to go side by side with job creation, skill acquisition and engagement of the vibrant section of the community. We are working tirelessly to open greater employment opportunities. For Nasarawa State, what I consider most critical is the issue of infrastructure.
I cannot compete with other states because they already have some of these infrastructure and the level at which they will be flying will be higher than which I will be flying. We are concentrating on building roads to liberate our farmers and citizens to have the opportunity of movement of goods and to also give children qualitative education through decent infrastructure in various communities. We are also considering health services to our people; we are very passionate about the primary health support system, where our focus now has more to do primary health centres.
How have you managed to bring peace to Nasarawa State?
Our focus is on security being the mantra of change, which this administration is known for. When I came into power, I met community and the herdsmen crisis, shortly after which we tried to handle the situation. One of the things was to attend to the major problem facing the people and that was why in my first two years, I first ensured there was peace in all communities. That was what brought about the conflict resolution mechanism and how we made sure the issue of security became everybody’s business. When I came in, I discovered security duties were only done by the police and soldiers, so I called the state on a summit and made them realise that they needed to take security as their own priority.
Do we say that Helen Keller has been the inspiration behind that?
My role model is Helen Keller. I feel very happy and excited to mention that name. A lot of people, who may not know Helen in the 19th century, she was blind, she was deaf and became an international figure by becoming an advocate for ensuring that people with disability get something to do rather than sit back and wait for charity to survive. That, to me, is one thing I will love to expand, to see these people get the best they deserve.
My administration will be looking into exclusivity in education, in governance and virtually everything to carry everybody along. My administration will be uprooting their educational sense from childhood to pick those children who by nature became physically challenged or as a result of natural occurrences. I am doing this so that a lot of people who find themselves in such position need some funds to live a normal life than the normal person. Take a look at children with disability and poor parent, that’s double tragedy.
I believe government needs to come out in full to support inclusive society, providing special school for children with disability, providing jobs for people with disability, creating policies that are inclusive of people, who are of more value to the society. I expect to see policies of government, activities and projects that also help the blinds to participate. I want to see the blind and deaf business men. I want to go to government offices and see one out of ten of the staff being people with disability. Our policies are not including the children with disability and that is why I advocate without apology for disability law.
You obviously have a penchant for education, but what’s the spirit behind your free education policy?
My policy of free education has been misunderstood by a lot of people. We are looking into efforts to reduce the burdens of parents in handling the education of their children. There is no education that is totally free, there can’t be any education anywhere that is totally free but I don’t believe in it. Even during Awolowo’s regime, it was not total because parents took responsibility for certain things.
Free education doesn’t mean everything concerning the child will be taken care of. The parents too will be contributing theirs. All we are talking about is increasing subsidy to reduce burdens on the parents. But the government is only concerned about the public schools. Whoever has the resources to take his or her children to a private school is allowed, but we are only fending for the public schools.
Recently, you donated materials worth 150 million naira to some communities, how did they receive the gesture?
The materials were worth over 200 million because we distributed to over 27 communities. We considered doing that because we has done many of such in the past that were not as robust and gigantic as what we have now. We have discovered that over the years, community clashes resulted in people losing their places of work as a result of fire and destruction. So, we thought of supporting with building materials because we realised that shelter is the number one priority of human being. One of the things I am happy about is the intervention we have done in the health services. Most of these communities have their primary health facilities destroyed, so we were able to identify some. We therefore sent long vehicles, like trailers, which were full of health equipment.
It’s a strong and confused opposition. PDP has quite a number of states. It’s not like when we used to have PDP against other parties. PDP has, as at the last count, close to about 10 states, so you can see that we have a strong opposition but an opposition that is directionless; an opposition that has no programme rather than to undermine and sabotage the government in place