Bauchi governor, Mohammed Abubakar has been having a running battle with some prominent politicians from the state, including the Speaker of the House of Reps, Yakubu Dogara. The governor recently took some journalists on a project tour, after which he spoke on issues causing divisions in the state, including the prospects for oil discovery in Bauchi. Onyebuchi Ezigbo was part of the tour and presents the excerpts:
You were alleged to have borrowed money immediately you were sworn-in as governor and that you misapplied FG’s bailout funds?
When we took over, even before I was sworn in, I was confronted with strike. Workers were owed four months salaries. I called labour and we sat down, I asked my deputy governor to sit with me. We convinced the workers to return to work because the strike would have affected even the handing over process, the transition process. So I told them to please return back to work and that the moment I am swore in, we would sit down and look for the best way we can to savage the situation. They agreed and they went back to work and we took over government.So it was incumbent on me to find ways and means of settling these outstanding salaries and for that reason I had to take a loan because there was no single kobo in the treasury. For three months, they were collecting money from the federation account and carting it away in the name of security vote.
I needed to pay salaries, we took over in May, by then the raining season had started already and no single bag of fertilizer was procured. I needed to procure fertilizers. The annual pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia was in the offing and time was. You must make certain payments within a certain period of time otherwise you lose out. So these three things had to be done within a short space of time.
For that reason, I called on the State House of Assembly. What most people did not know at that time was that I had not inaugurated the new house of assembly because constitutionally the last House of Assembly had until the 15th of June before its tenure would end. I worked for two weeks with the former House of Assembly members. I called the speaker to my house. At that time, there wasnâ€™t a single appointee of government except the Head of Service whom I inherited from the former government. So we sat, myself, the speaker and the head of service, I told him that you are a son of this state, forget the fact that whatever ills we are crying about were perpetrated by the government in which you are a speaker, it is not time for apportioning blames. You know the situation in which we are; the state was like sitting on a keg of gun powder ready to explode, so please I would request for a resolution from you to enable me borrow N4 billion to pay salaries, procure fertilizers and finance hajj operations.
The speaker promised me that he would have invited all his members for dinner that evening that he was going to throw the matter to them. I instructed the Head of Service to write formally to the house requesting for a resolution and he did. Three or four days later the clerk of the house wrote to us convening the resolution enabling us to borrow the N4 billion that we requested for.
Anybody who understands the constitution of Nigeria will appreciate the fact that, I do not have a hand as to the procedure in the house of assembly. If the house of assembly had sat in plenary to give me that resolution so be it, if they had sat in an executive session to produce that resolution, it is not for me to question how that resolution was procured.
The second issue is that I obtained a loan without an exco resolution. The provision of the constitution is that executive power resides with the governor. Another section of the constitution says the governor shall appoint commissioners and sit with them periodically to determine the direction and policies of government. The constitution did not envisage for there to be a vacuum, the law abhors a vacuum and I gave anticipatory approval for that loan to be taken, I wrote it clearly, anticipatory approval is hereby given, please initiate a memo to exco for ratification when the exco is constituted. So ultimately the exco ratified it. But before I did this, not only did I read the constitution, I also read the fiscal responsibility law which we have domesticated in Bauchi state. So there was nowhere where I am prevented from exercising my powers as governor. One month salary was paid, we procured 10,000 metric tons of fertilizers which we distributed to every ward in Bauchi, for the first time fertilizers were taken to the common man, and then we were able to finance the Hajj operations. The federal government of Nigeria gave what is known today as bailout fund for payment of outstanding salaries. Bauchi state government got N8.6 billion to pay these outstanding salaries. Before we did that, the Federal Ministry of Finance requested from us the level of our outstanding liabilities. We wrote and they asked the SSS to confirm to them what the outstanding liabilities of the state was, the SSS confirmed N8.6billion and we were given. Out rightly we used that N8.6b less N88million at the initial stage and we offset the outstanding salaries completely. For this labour both in Bauchi and at the national level wrote us letters of commendation. So when we did this, we had N88 million remaining. The Vice Chancellor of the state university came to me to say that he too has outstanding and I asked him what he needed, he said N70million and I ordered for N70million to be given to him which left N18million. After a few months, the same VC came back to me and claimed that his visiting lecturers needed to be paid more and I ordered for the outstanding amount to be paid to him. I had a dedicated account for bail out, it is with Zenith bank. Then came the issue of Paris Club refund for which we received N12.7 billion. I was in a bus travelling from the Port Harcourt airport to the stadium for a campaign before the last elections in Rivers when the Accountant General of my state confirmed to me that we have gotten that from Paris Club refund. My immediate instruction was that, at that time the state was owing one month salary while two months at local government level. I immediately told him to pay outstanding salaries. Before the federal ministry of finance released the money to us, we were given the tape containing the percentage that each tier of government should have, our own in Bauchi state is 42 for the local government, 58 for the state. We gave the local government their share plus N600 million. As am talking to you today the local government areas in the state are owing the state government N600 million we gave them to offset two months salaries.
They said we are not doing anything. Well, what Nigerians do not know is that Kano is the most populous state in Nigeria and it has 44 LGAs but it has a total man power of 92,000. Small Bauchi state on the other hand with 20 LGAs has 105,000. That is the number of people on my pay roll.
This outstanding salary that I said we used Paris club fund to pay arose from my attempt to verify these civil servants to know the true civil servants in Bauchi state. I met a very strong concrete wall. Those who usually took away about a billion naira from the earnings of Bauchi state every month in the name of ghost of workers, joined together with detractors of Bauchi state that had been denigrating the state and made it virtually impossible for us to get to the bottom of the problem. In addition to this, Bauchi is one of the states that pay above the national minimum wage. Our minimum wage is N18,500. So our wage bill every month is N5.1 billion and if you go back and take a look at the release, you will discover that from the time I have taken over till date, there wouldnâ€™t have been more than three months in which I collected over N5 billion. On the other months, I was collecting less than N5 billion. Today I am proud to say that Bauch state does not owe a single kobo in salary.
How much does Bauchi generate internally?
Despite the crunching economic problems in Nigeria, you have seen some of the things we are doing that we have been able to achieve because essentially our internally generated revenue is pay as you earn nothing more nothing less which hovers N250 – 300 million tops, most months less than N300 million.
There are two roads that we have completed in Fadama Maga in a section of this state metropolis. There are roads we are doing, one from the secretariat roundabout to federal low cost ending at railway. Then we are dualizing most of the entrances into Bauchi state. When you come in from Jos you will see dualisation going on, it will go from 5 km outside town to the Zarada hotel and from there we are rehabilitating it because that portion going to the roundabout, we call Gidamai , we are doing both lanes of that road, and from that roundabout to Awala hotel work is going on. And then from Awala hotel to a place called Giwa academy that is on the road to Kano we are dualizing. Then we are rehabilitating from Awala roundabout to central market roundabout. We are rehabilitating from Gombe gate to the junction of house of assembly.
For the first time in the history of the state, government’s estates internal roads are being rehabilitated. For the first time in our institutions, we are rehabilitating the roads in Abubakar Tatayi Polytechnic. These are realities and they are on-going and from the time we started they have not stopped. We are rehabilitating more roads in the metropolis and from Lufo to Odogbo and up to Gamawa is a distance of about 117kms with two bridges. We are doing that. There is a federal government owned bridge linking Gamawa to Zaki up to Jigawa state that is threatening to collapse I am repairing it because I donâ€™t want to wait for the federal government, should that bridge collapse, it is my people who will suffer. Near that bridge there is a big curvet we call it Kuri junction that we are rebuilding after it was cut off during last raining season. Inside Hazirita, we are rehabilitating Sulekatabi road, we are dualizing Kano road, we have started some rural roads one in each senatorial districts except for the north that we are doing two. We are doing Darigosari in the central, Betus Atafowa in the north, Anaferi Goribabani also in the north and in the south there is a road on your way to Jos in Toro local government area, Mararaba Benue; these are on-going and they have not stopped from the time we awarded them and we are hoping that they are going to be completed within the scheduled time. Of course we are rehabilitating all dilapidated secondary schools and junior secondary schools in every nook and crannies of Bauchi state and to tour those ones it will take you about seven days because not all of them are on the road, they are mostly off the road, in nooks and crannies that in the past nobody dared to venture, we are venturing and I am delivering this to the people. We have built 34 new solar powered bore holes all over the state, they are functioning and those of them that have a problem I have set up a committee, that is apart from engineers who are giving me reports, I now have a feedback from the committee. I set up a committee under the chairman of my party and some three stalwarts of the party that are not government workers to go and tell me the true story of these solar powered bore holes and the primary health care centreâ€™s. We have reconstructed virtually all health centres in all the 19 points these primary health care centreâ€™s along with their staff quarters and sinking bore holes in each of these health care centers. I have rendered intervention in every respect and since I came in I have received commendation twice from the Bill Gates because there was a programme that I inherited financed by the Bill and Millinda Gates Foundation, Dangote Foundation and Bauchi state government. There was a basket where the three parties will put in their money and then the money will be used for routine immunization against polio. By the time I came Dangote has stopped paying into the basket because Bauchi state was not paying, so when I took over I immediately paid in the backlog and as we are now, the 2017 I have already paid more than half of that, I have paid N100 million into that basket. So is every other programme that is supported by international donor agencies that requires counterpart funding, we have been paying religiously and we have given support to that.
Kaduna state governor said governors should disclose their security vote. Do you subscribe to that?
In the first place governors have no security vote, the state has a security vote but it is not controlled by the governor. The security vote is controlled by the permanent secretary security; in every state there is permanent secretary security and there is a security committee in every state comprising the governor as chairman and all the security chiefs that are operating in the state as members. There is the deputy governor, secretary to the government, head of service, the chairman of the traditional council is the Emir of Bauchi, are members of that Security Council.
How has the government tried to address idleness among the youths to prevent them from joining the ranks of terrorists?
We have empowered our youths in several respects, we have trained them first and foremost in computer. We trained 400; 200 in Tafawa Balewa University, 200 in our university. We have suffered a lot of distraction but despite the distractions, I made up my mind that I will not allow myself to be distracted by any made up antics. When we came in we studied our state and we determined our areas of comparative advantage. Bauchi state occupies about 50,000sqkms, most of this, arable land and over 80% of the entire population of Bauchi state practise,one form of agriculture or the other. So in our interest we chose agriculture as one of the areas we will give attention to; why agriculture? It is because we must for the reason of this over 80% who now practise agriculture in a rudimentary form, we have to better their lives, we have to improve agriculture for them and we hope it will massively employ our youth; agriculture is the way to go.
Now what type of agriculture? We decided we have to introduce even if it is intermediary mechanization in agriculture. I am not going to procure tractors and distribute, we donâ€™t have the resources to procure tractors. But there are machines we have seen around the world that we can procure at a comparative cheaper cost that do essentially what tractors do because they will till the ground for you, they will cut the grass for you, they will water for you, in the night they will give you electricity, one single machine that I have seen in Czech Republic. And by the time you finish your farming, you can connect it to your bucket and drive it, it can carry your farm produce back home. So we believe we can be able to use those kind of machines to attract our youths because you remove the drudgery from farming there is no way you can hope to attract these youths into that. So agriculture was the first. The second was the minerals because there is no form of solid minerals that exist in this world that you cannot find in one local government of Bauchi state or the other. I think it is only gold and I have not written that off, that has not been found, starting with hydro carbons, oil and gas it is in Bauchi. Right now there is exploration activity going on. I saw for myself NNPC and Chinese company using 3D technology out there, where Chevron and Shell tried with 2D they discovered the biggest oil and gas in an OPL called 809. They sank one well and they covered it because they found out that it has gas in it. So now we are hopeful that this attempt with 3D technology will tell us the existence of hydro carbon in Bauchi. The third is tourism. Since we started I have been number one marketer of tourism in Bauchi state. If you have been following social media you will know that one winner of one big brother I invited him to come to Bauchi free off charge this is all in the bid to draw attention to Yankari Game Reserve. We are hoping that with the successes that the federal government is recording in the north eastern sub region we will put paid to the scourge of Boko Haram and by the time we do that and our friends abroad now begin to lift their travel advisory we will vigorously come out and market the game reserve. With a little value addition, Yankari Game Reserve will become a gold mine. One thing I am thinking of doing is constructing an 18 hole golf course at the reserve. We are also setting up a spa based on the wiki warm spring which is a very rare gift by God Almighty. It is it is a spring that maintains a constant temperature 31.2 degrees Celsius come rain come shine and it is crystal clear. Some have said the water is medicinal but I cannot swear on that because I have not had it tested. But whatever qualities you think of any natural endowment that Wiki warm spring has. It is good to set up a spa maybe invite people from the other part of the world to come and set up a spa in that place.
With all these achievements, why do you think anyone would mount opposition against you?
Answer to your question is one word, ambition to become governor of Bauchi state. My argument is that now is not the time for that, now is the time to work for the people of the state. By the time we are ready to begin politics everybody is free to come and aspire for any office. When I was not governor, I contested along with seven other people for the ticket of APC, I was the underdog. When I went I visited the head quarters of my party for the first time, I went to see the general secretary of the party, he told me clearly that we donâ€™t know you, we only know of two aspirants in Bauchi state and he mentioned their names and I said it is because those people have access to you and they are always on the pages of newspapers showing themselves as the leading candidates of Bauchi state while we were going to the actual people who will do the election.
I am not afraid of anybody who wishes to contest for any office but now is not the time. Now is the time for us to put our heads together and work for this state and when the time of politics starts everybody can aspire. I told people at one time, the people think they are denigrating me, they are doing this against me but they are not in reality because if my wish is to be the governor of Bauchi state, God Almighty has already answered that, it has gone down in history. So it is not me that is concerned, it is the image of our state, our state has never been like this, we have never had it so bad and we are not the only state that has those crop of people, every state in Nigeria has; members of House of Reps, Senators but none of them is misbehaving the way our own are misbehaving; so it is essentially ambition but they are free to aspire.
Are you saying each and every one of your critics want your seat? Or that they are â€œganging up” to support a particular person to replace you?
I donâ€™t know whether they are ganging up to support a particular candidate but each one of them is harboring an ambition but the fact is, is it true that I am not delivering from what you have seen? I hope you have the opportunity to go to other states for you to compare what you have seen in Bauchi state.
Have you made attempts to reconcile?
At every opportunity that I have, I mentioned it that they are our children; if they tarry and do a rethink, we are willing to take them back, we cannot wish them away because they are our children. Let me tell you a secret, at 2pm today, I had a meeting with some heavy weights in the state who took it upon themselves to intervene, big names. I went to them, I didnâ€™t ask them to come and it is all in the hope of reconciliation. Before then there was nothing that I did not do. I have sent committee after committees including at one time the entire working committee of the party, I said move to Abuja, sit in Abuja, call these our children, ask them what is their problem, what is their grudge, all these attempts failed. First class emirs in Bauchi state invited them to come, they did not. They set up a committee of three under an emir, they went to Abuja to meet with them but nothing came out of that. So everything I could do including some big names like Maitama Sule, he invited the speaker and spoke with the speaker but the speaker refused to heed. We have done all we could do, and we are still doing. My reason is simply because I am the leader, if there is peace in the polity it is me that will enjoy the most. I am in interested in peace and development in Bauchi state.
I am not afraid of anybody who wishes to contest for any office but now is not the time. Now is the time for us to put our heads together and work for this state and when the time of politics starts everybody can aspire.