Abdu Labaran, a Senior Special Assistant on Media to the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, believes the state is on a mission to greatness under its current leadership. In this interview with Solomon Elusoji, he discusses his principalâ€™s strides in road infrastructure, economic and social security, and commitment to progressive governance
What is special about Katsina, in terms of its capacity to attract foreign investment?
Katsina is the leading agrarian state in the country because we have comparative advantage in cotton production, rice production and in crops like beans and sorghum. In fact, after Kebbi, Katsina is second in rice production. BUA is establishing an industrial park for the textile sector. They have been given 100 hectares for farming of cotton and the establishment of a giant textile industry in Katsina State. Dangote Group is meeting with the governor too to discuss the possibility of setting up a textile hub. And we are the leading producer of Kaolin, one of the most important ingredients in the production of paint. We also have gold in commercial quantities. We have not become so prominent like Zamfara in that respect because the governor has not allowed illegal mining. Then there is the Indian company, the Mahindra Group, which has set up shop in Katsina State and are assembling motorcycles and tractors and also producing nails and aluminum roofing sheets.
And the governor has said that all things being equal, Katsina State will be exporting almost everything Nigeria will be needing in the next few years. And I have no doubt about this. Aminu Bello Masari is not a politician. When you say someone is a politician, we use the word in derogatory terms; it means the person is a liar, but this is not Masari. If he says he will do something, he will. So, in the next five years, Katsina will be great and reliance on oil proceeds will be a thing of the past. We will be sufficient.
But to be able to achieve industrial revolution you hint at, investors have to be confident about security. Against the backdrop of the recent cattle rustlers crisis, how has Katsina been able to deal with security threats?
One day in March 2014, the then President, Goodluck Jonathan and some PDP members were in Katsina and some bandits went to the confluence of three local governments and massacred 142 people, despite that all the security apparatus – courtesy of Mr. Presidentâ€™s visit – in the country were in Katsina State. In fact, the operation lasted five hours and 142 people were massacred like insects. Up to this date, none of the perpetrators have been apprehended. This is to show the degree of the deterioration of the security apparatus in the state then. So, security was one of the issues on which the present governor campaigned on. He promised that if he came to power, he would definitely accord security the necessary attention.
When he was elected, Governor Masari sounded out his colleagues also affected by the cattle rustlers cum bandit crisis in Kano, Jigawa, Zamfara, Kebbi, Sokoto and Niger states. Governor Masari beckoned on them to create a common front to fight the scourge. For starters, each state pledged N100 million. As time went on, some of the governors went lukewarm but Masari was not deterred: he went to Abuja and met with security chiefs. His efforts were what led to the launch of a military operation in Zamfara – which was the theatre of the bandits.
The governor also unilaterally went to make arrangements with the Air Force, the Army, the DSS and Civil Defence. So he was given extra operatives that are permanently on ground in these affected local governments. And, believe you me, the government spends nothing less than N250 million to sustain this individual operation.
There was also the amnesty extended to some of these cattle rustlers and bandits, where they returned all their weapons. There was a special ceremony and Chief of Army Staff, Buratai, was on ground to witness the weapons handover. The Katsina Government now extended some amenities – like hospitals, schools – into the forest where some of these bandits have been forced into. Before the amnesty, no farmer dare go inside the forest and no Fulani dares to come into the town; anyone who breaks the barrier will find himself killed. Some of the Fulanis were in the bush for four years.
Now, the security situation has improved by more than 80 per cent. Before, no week will pass without reports of major massacres by cattle rustlers. But today, you hardly hear about these things in Katsina. There are normal criminal activities of course; no society in the world is free of this. But you cannot hear about cattle rustlers in Katsina anymore.
Every fortnight, the governor meets with the security chiefs here. The Katsina military formation, which used to be a battalion has now been upgraded to a brigade. Also, the Air Force, for the first time, now has a permanent Air Force base in Katsina. All these developments are a result of this administrationâ€™s efforts.
This is why investors are now trooping into Katsina. An industrial park, sitting on some 800 hectares, is set to be established and a lot of foreign companies are having meetings with the government on how they can participate in this success story.
Also, what is the government doing to improve infrastructure in the state, especially as it relates to road infrastructure?
The government is doing a lot. Three days ago, road projects worth 15 billion naira across the state was approved by the executive council. But if we are to go back and calculate what the government has done in terms of road infrastructure since it was inducted into office, I think between 30 to 60 billion naira has been spent on new road projects and for the completion of those inherited from the previous administration. If you see some of the roads, you will think they are federal government projects.
Also, it is worthy to note that the previous administration concentrated their development efforts in Katsina Central. They ignored the other two senatorial zones, Daura and Funtua. All the tertiary institutions – about five of them – are concentrated in one zone. But when Masari came, he made it a policy to ensure fair and equitable distribution of amenities. So if one road is constructed in Katsina Central, then one road each will be constructed in Daura and Funtua, and they must be of almost equal distances. Currently, there are three road projects in each senatorial zone. So no zone is preferred over the other.
So, in respect to road infrastructure, this government is determined to meet those needs. These are promises the governor made on the campaign trail, and he is ensuring that he meets those promises. Secondly, the commitment of the Commissioner for Works, Engr. Tasiu Dandagoro, is top-notch. He is extremely committed and very good at his job.
In light of the recent economic recession, how has the state been able to fund these road projects?
My Principal never gets tired of saying this: it is not about the lack of resources, it is how well the little that is available is used. Definitely, it is a question of leadership. If you have good leadership, no matter how little the resources are it will be well utilised. And thatâ€™s what has been happening at the centre. Where has the money been coming from? Imagine what the previous administration had, when a barrel of crude oil sold at almost N140, while when this administration came on board, the same barrel sold for as little as N26, two naira less than the production cost.
So in Katsina State, we are really very glad and lucky that we have Aminu Bello Masari. The truth is that if it was anybody else, we will not be able to do most of the things we are doing today. Before he left office, the former governor, Ibrahim Shehu Shema, hinted publicly that whoever gets elected will not be able to pay more than the first three months of state salaries. But, today, Katsina State is among the only four states, along with Lagos, Rivers and Kano, that pay their workers as at when due, without waiting for federal allocation. And you have to understand what the other three states generate internally per month is twice what Katsina gets from Abuja. What Apapa, a local government in Lagos State, generates in a month is more than the entire budget of Katsina State.
Believe me, Katsina has never had it this good in terms of road projects across the state. No one section of the state can say it has been shortchanged.
This governor (Masari) is not about any worldly things. He has seen it all. Some months into his tenure as governor, one early Saturday morning, I went to see him – he is a very free man who is easily accessible without needless protocols, whether you are a politician or not. When his second child was getting married, Governor Masari gave out an order that no public officials should attend, that it is a Masari family affair and not a government matter. When the son of the last governor was getting married, every local government and MDAs were levied N500,000 in cash and each was assigned the souvenirs to produce, using public money to fund private commitments. But this is not Masariâ€™s style. Besides, this is a governor that drives himself. He goes out on project inspections at midnight alone. He does not rely on reports on supervisors. And most times, he goes on unscheduled, unannounced visits. So we are very lucky to have this kind of leader in Katsina.