AMINU BELLO MASARI: Obasanjo Not Qualified to Discuss Credible Elections

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Aminu-Bello-Masari

Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, is a former Speaker of the House of Representatives. He recently played host to some select journalist and fielded questions on sundry national issues. Olaseni Durojaiye presents the excerpts:

It is election season once again and not surprising, you are seeking re-lection as governor of Katsina State, in what way would you say you merit a second term in office?
When we came into office in 2015, security was a major issue of concern. In fact, those who had the means packed their bags and left the country, thinking that after the election here will be violent. We thank God that the election came and there was no violence. In fact, it was one of the most peaceful elections ever held in Nigeria. The incumbent didn’t contest the outcome of the election either in court or on the pages of newspapers. The losing party accepted defeat even before the final results of the election was announced.

Regarding what we met on ground, of course, you’re aware of the security challenges as a result of Boko Haram in the North-east of the country so much so that it had reached Abuja and beyond. Again when we came in, the oil price had started going down, at a point it was 27, 28 United States Dollar (USSD) per barrel of oil. Yet the country kept going. At the time, too many states could not pay workers’ salaries, with some owing as much as over two years workers’ salaries. And we’re not talking of pension and gratuities that had even been forgotten in some states.
In our state, about a year before we came in, an incident happened in one of the local government areas that claimed the lives of about 250 people, because of activities of cattle rustlers and bandits. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was here at the time campaigning for his re-election. When we came in, cattle rustling had become an everyday occurrence and killings were no longer news. Daily you hear that five people were killed, the next day you hear eight; it was as if that was a part of normal life.

But immediately we came in, we started putting measures in place to address the security challenges. Although we have not completely eliminated the security challenges as a result of Boko Haram and that of cattle rustlings, at least we have reduced it to a manageable level. The measures that we have put in place have ensured that it is no longer a threat to normalcy. Governments both at the federal and state levels are working to make sure that the issue is no longer a threat to normalcy in the country.

In terms of infrastructure, what we met on the ground when we came in was decayed infrastructure, abandoned schools and hospitals, not to talk of unpaid bills, which we inherited. If you saw what we met on the ground, you would wonder what the immediate past government did with all the huge resources that they got. That government left I think N8.53 million. They left N3 billion in SURE-P account, all the money that the government left was not up to N4 billion.

We also met 3,200 workers, who were removed from the government payroll. These are people that were not sacked or suspended from the service. Their names were simply removed from the payroll and when we came in, we met them in court. The same government, when they lost election in February, employed about 1,020 new people into the state’s civil service.

On the one hand, you removed some people’s names from the payroll and on the other hand, after losing election, you went on to employ people. Why? Because they wanted to set us up to fail. According to what people were saying, they were expecting that in three months, the state would collapse under our government.

But we were undeterred. In fact, when we were campaigning we had told the 3,200 people that when we come into office, we will look into their cases even though they were at the Nigeria Industrial Court in Kano State.
There was also the case of teachers in public schools that have not been promoted not even once in well over eight years. At that time, we didn’t have up to five consultant doctors. The government before us inherited about 1,142 nurses but when we came in there were only 942 nurses in the state. The population is increasing but the number of nurses was deceasing. It was the same with medical doctors. No consultant doctor was willing to come to Katsina State.

The education sector, as regards primary and secondary school education, which was the foundation of a good basic education, was a total mess, when we came in but we made it a priority of our administration and we have made massive interventions in the sector. The minimum number of pupils in a class was 100, because there were not enough classrooms in the schools. In both primary and secondary schools, the deficit of classrooms as at the time we took office was about 13,000. In some places, only the walls of what used to be classroom blocks were still standing, in other places even the walls had given way. Today, in Katsina State, that is history.

I remember a village we went to in Basari Local Government, when we were campaigning, there was an accident involving one of the villagers and he died, so we went into the village to condole the family. What was left of the primary school in the village was the foundation; the school was constructed in 2013 and by 2015 nothing was standing anymore. But now we have reconstructed the school as we have done so many others.

So, that was the situation we met when we came into office and that is why we say our own mission is restoration – to restore the honour, dignity and pride of the people of Katsina State, because our people have a reputation with education. When the colonialist came they met a functional Islamic education system in place in Katsina, which was only second to the one that was in Timbuktu. That was why the colonialists established the first post primary school here in Katsina.

The remains of the minaret of the place are now part of the national archives. For those of you who are interested in history, you will find out that throughout the first, second and third republic and even the military and police officers of northern extraction you will find out that 90 per cent of them either schooled here in Katsina or are natives of Katsina. That’s why we have been able to produce two former Inspectors General of Police in MD Yusuf and Ibrahim Coomassie; the former Chief Justice of Nigeria Muhammed Bello; Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal Mamman Nasir.

There are several retired generals of the Nigerian Army, who are from this state. Look at the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, and the current president, President Muhammadu Buhari, who schooled under the Native Authority here in Katsina for nine years.

So, we have history and our people are ready and willing to learn but the opportunities were not available to them. When we came in, in the ratings of West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO), Katsina ranked 33, we were only better than three states in the whole of the country. In those examinations, we were presenting 40,000, 50,000 and all we were getting was a maximum of 11 per cent of those who passed English and Mathematics.

Mind you, this includes students of Katsina State origin, who are resident in Lagos, Port Harcourt or Abuja. Once he fills Katsina as his state of origin, the computer automatically collates the results for Katsina State. What we found when we came into office in 2015 was that from that 11 per cent that passed the examinations, the percentage of those resident in Katsina was not up to five per cent; even the ones from within Katsina were from private schools. And then you know what, the teachers who teach in the privates schools were hired from public schools. Public healthcare system didn’t exist when we came in.

The Katsina water supply system was commissioned in 1972, the treatment plant aspect of it was completed in 1981, yet the dam has not work for a single; and many of the parts that are needed for it to function are in bad shape yet the previous Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government got about N980 billion from the federal allocations in eight years. The facts are there with the Ministry of Finance.

Confronted with that barrage of challenges, did you ever feel overwhelmed by the scale of problems that you were confronted with so much you feel like abandoning the job?
We knew it was bad, but never knew it was this bad. In any case, leadership is about having the courage to face the most difficult task. If I run away from Katsina, where will I go? My relations including my siblings that are in the village, where will they go? There was no time at which I feel like quitting the job. Rather, what kept me going was faith. I had faith that even though the job was challenging yet doable and that we could do it, what was required was a lot of sacrifice and we were lucky, up till now we are one of the first states to pay their salaries into the federation account.

We are also proud of what we have been able to achieve in the area of education that we promised; in agriculture, water supply, security, provision of healthcare delivery. What we have achieved in three and half years, they couldn’t achieve it in eight years. The rehabilitation in the educational sector for example, is being done to the last. We are not just flooring the classrooms, we are building the schools and the floor are being done with pure terrazzo so in the event of a worst case scenario, the school children can sit on the floor and we have rebuilt 282 classroom blocks. We have also built 746 new classroom blocks at primary school levels. We have remodelled and completely upgraded and remodelled all our girls’ secondary schools.

What are you promising the electorate, as you go about your re-election campaigns?
What we are promising them is what we promised them during our first term, because the fundamental issues in Katsina still remain the issues of education, issue of security and how to make clean water available and accessible to the people all year round. As at last September, we have built over 786 bore holes across the states and I am not talking about the ones that the local governments have built, because since we came, the local government councils had built no less than 100 each.

Where do you get the money from considering that the state cannot be said to be very rich?
We got it from the federation account of course.

What is the internally generated revenue of the state like?
It is bad as it has been, because we have not put in place the infrastructure for the IGR. What do you generate IGR from when people don’t even have businesses to run? We are just now putting in place the infrastructure that will make generating IGR possible.
In this part of the country, the state revenue is dependent on what you are able to get from the federation account. Our IGR comes from the taxes that contractors pay, personal income tax like pay as you earn and a few others.
The IGR of the state has not been buoyant since the abolition of poultry and cattle tax, which was what the Native Authority depended on back then.

In that case, when you hear of a drop in the price of oil in the international market, what happens to your pulse?
I don’t let that get at me in any significant way. I believe if we survived when it was around $27 per barrel, we will survive still. You know what, when things were rosy, everybody can lead but only visionary and courageous people can lead and lead well as we are doing when things are not rosy.

The issue of insecurity in the state being in the same geopolitical zone with states like Kaduna and Zamfara is cause for concern. How are you responding to the challenge?
We are still battling with the issue of security. When we came in, the major security issue was cattle rustling within the states. Of course, you know we have borders with Kaduna and you know what is going on in Kaduna, Zamfara, Niger Republic especially in the forest area. However, we were able to curtail the issue of cattle rustling through constant security patrol and maintenance of strong internal security. But when we had that under control suddenly kidnapping came up.

What we are fighting now is kidnapping and really, the issue of kidnapping is on the decrease. What happens is that today, you hear that they have set up base in one local government area and when our security forces dislodge them from that place, they run to another local government. The problem really is as a result of our borders with Kaduna, Zamfara and Niger, which are all forest areas and they are so vast, because of that, they can easily come and attack in our state or go in from Kaduna and carry out attacks. That is why it is difficult to totally eradicate the menace but we are trying, because all the governors of Kaduna, Zamfara and Katsina had agreed that everybody takes care of his borders, because we know that if we do, incidences of banditry will reduce, then, again the military and the police are also on the ground, providing security as well.

Where do you draw motivation from and this is for two reasons: you were head of a firebrand House of Representatives during the turbulent period of the third term? Again, you did mention earlier that you met huge challenges on the ground when you assumed office as the governor of the state.

Well I will say first and foremost from God almighty, because I lost my father when I was two years old, so, practically I was brought up by my mother. That said I have never been afraid of challenges all my life, probably because I grew up as an orphan and I had to fight through life. I have had to fight to get everything that I have. So, probably that has help too, but really, it is a question that I cannot answer. I can only say it is from God.

The gale of defections to the APC from the opposition PDP has also been on the rise in Katsina, what is the attraction?
Those who doubted us in 2015 have come to realise that we are doing what they were not able to do. We are giving leadership that they were not able to give and that accounts for why notable politicians have been joining our party.
During the last administration, commissioners do not have access to this office (Governor’s office). The commissioners could spend up to 30 days trying to see the governor, but now commissioners and other state officials just walk in here as they like and that is because we run an open-door administration.
The politicians that you referred to are our friends, either in politics or in governance and most of them have come to realise that this is where leadership is being provided. And like we have always said, we are not in government for rulership but for leadership

You always sit at the edge of the conference table, do you ever seat behind your desk at all?
I have never sat on that seat.

Why?
This seat does not appeal to me. If you go to the president’s office, I don’t think his desk it is as high as this one. The seat reminds me of Jean Fidel Bokassa when he was crowned Emperor of Zaire, so I detest the seat.

If that be the case why have you not dispose of it?
It is government property, even as the governor of the state, I have no right to dispose of government property.

Are you saying you have never sat on it even for once?
The only time I sat on it was after our swearing in on May 29. They insisted I sit on it to take some official photographs. I have never sat behind that desk after 29th of May 2015.

What are the chances of your party in the North-west considering that the opposition PDP insists they are very popular in the region?
They are popular where? Who are the people driving the PDP here in the North-west? The best you could say is Tambuwal in Sokoto; name it. Our politics is not like that, in fact, Tambuwal has his own seniors even in Sokoto PDP. I have my own leaders here in Katsina APC and I cannot singlehandedly claim ownership of APC in Katsina. The reality is if you say PDP is popular in the North-west, then, tell me where in the zone.

Is it with Kwankwaso in Kano with his 87 votes at the PDP presidential primaries in Port Harcourt, not all the delegates from Kano to the convention voted for him? Where is the PDP in the North-west?
And if you are talking about PDP in Katsina, who are the people left in PDP here; virtually all the notable politicians have left the PDP and joined us in the APC.

Today is a Saturday and the time is 10 minutes to eight pm and here you are still tending to state matters, what is your normal day like how do you relax?
We normally resume here at 10.00am, after taking our breakfast, we resume here at 11.00am at the latest, when we don’t have engagements outside of the Government House and we don’t close from work until between 11.00 pm and mid night every day.

You were once the Speaker of the House of Representatives and now the governor, what are the differences between the two offices? Are there any similarities and what are the experiences that you garnered as a Speaker that has impacted on how you discharge your duties as a governor

Let me start from the last part of the question, from my little experience, people who have served at the national level have a better understanding of issues than people who spent time at the state level. They have better understanding of Nigeria, better understanding of issues and better understanding of the society, because of that exposure. If you carry out a survey, you will find out in most cases, I am not saying in all cases, those that have served at the federal level do better than those that do not have that kind of experience.

It makes you a better person; if someone from here who has not had the experiences of serving at the federal level is talking, he may be talking about Duara to Funtua, the two ends of the state. But for somebody, who has served at the federal level, who has been to Bonny Island in Rivers State, to Bama in Borno State and Ilela in Sokoto to Badagry in Lagos and then Abuja, he will look at the other person and laugh, because he will be talking from his little and narrow experiences. So, his perception and understanding of issues are totally different from that of the other person who has a much wider view and understanding of the issues.

However, the problem that people who have served at the federal level have when they come down to serve at the state level is how to come down to the level of the people at the state level, how to use their experience to relate and communicate with them so that they understand him and he understands them too.

And then, there is no basis for comparison between a Governor and the Speaker. The governor is the chief executive of the state and has direct access to the resources of the state. He can construct housing project, road project and schools project for the people, but a Speaker or Senate President cannot do any of the three. The best he can do is to put his interest in the budget and lobby the president or the appropriate minister to implement the project so that he can be seen to have made an impact in his constituency.

The pressures are also different. The pressure in the House of Representatives and the Senate are more intense because every member of the legislature, all of the 360 members of the House in the case of the House of Representatives are qualified to occupy the seat of the Speaker so you are only first among equals. It is a position that you can go into and come out as an ordinary person, likewise you can go in and become a Senator President and come out as an ordinary Senator.

To balance and carry your colleagues along with you is not easy especially in the House where most of the politicians there are politicians on the move. While a majority of the senators are on retirement in the senate, members of the House are like a new river rearing to go; it is eroding, corroding along its course. It is different from when it has reached the end of its course. It is very calm, so, there is a wealth of difference between the two in terms of caution. But as a governor, everybody here is at my beck and call.

The issue of padding has become a recurrence every at budgetary cycle. What is your perspective of it?
The issue of padding didn’t happen during our time. That said, no member of the National Assembly can pad without the connivance of the Executive, because ultimately they are the ones to implement the budget so if I pad the budget in connivance with a minister, the minister is equally guilty, because I cannot pad the budget without the active connivance of the political head of that ministry.

During out time there was nothing like padding. What obtained during our time was that we put in what is called constituency projects. How that came about was that in 1999, all the governors and members of the National Assembly were elected without the influence of the other, when we went into the National Assembly, most of the governors then didn’t regard members of the National Assembly as anything.

As it were then, when a governor construct and commissions a project in let’s say my community, local government or constituency, you find that the Commissioner or a member of the state house of assembly, or even a minister often incite the members of the area against the National Assembly member, they would say something like, your representative at the National Assembly, what has he done for you?
What project has he initiated or commissioned in your area whereas we are in the same party and supposed to share the credits when our party initiates, completes and commissions projects in a particular constituency. Unfortunately that is not what you get. Instead, you find yourself being sidelined by a commissioner or another political appointee, even by a member of the state house of assembly, who is angling for your seat, which was what gave rise to the issue of constituency project.

People want to insert projects in the budget so that they can go back home and say I have brought this and that is what the local governments in the state should actually be doing, because the federal government has no business with constructing bore holes, primary healthcare delivery clinics, even constructing housing scheme is not the business of the federal government.

The reality is that we inherited some of these practices from the military era and we have not been able to do away with them. And with that kind of incitements against them, members decided that if that is the case they must insert a project, lobby the ministry and make sure they do the project so that when the next round of elections comes, they will have something to show. But we did no padding of the budget when I was in the House of Representatives either as a member or as a Speaker..

You have worked closely with both former President Obasanjo and President Buhari, what is your take on their recent disagreements leading to media spats?
They are both human beings so it is normal to have disagreements. You see, I wonder if former President Obasanjo does take time to consider some of his actions; even the beneficiary of the presidential election that he conducted, late president Umoru Yar’Adua – may his soul rest in peace – admitted during his inauguration that that the election was a fraud and set he set up the Uwais Committee.

So, what qualifications does Obasanjo have to tell people about leadership? The media are the ones promoting Obasanjo. Who is he to talk about election? During that presidential election, the ballot paper on which I voted was like any other A-4 paper. I voted on a piece of paper – no serial number. What credible elections did he conduct? What are his achievements apart from third term?
Obasanjo enjoys criticising every government since he left government. Is he telling us that he is a saint? Even if he is a saint, nobody has the kind of investments that Obasanjo has. Have you been to the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta? Even the president of the United States of America could not have that kind of library in his local government area. What former president Obasanjo is doing is not right; he has no respect for his age.

The restructuring debate has been topical for so long, what is your perspective of the issue?
There are so many meanings to restructuring.

What does it mean to you?
I will support restructuring if it is done in such a way that it does not weaken the federal government, because we have seen cases of insurgencies like the Boko Haram, Niger Delta militancy, if you have a very weak federal government, then, we are in serious problem. But sadly, like I said earlier, what is the business of the federal government with the construction of bore hole? What is the business of the federal government with primary education? There are so many things that are not federal just as there are so many things at the state level that are local and should be the responsibility of the local government.

But if you are talking of restructuring by way of creation of more states and local government – we started with three regions, then four; we had 12 states then 19 states, then 21 and we now have 36 still people are clamouring for more; so it means the solution to the problems is not the creation of states or more local governments.

What will solve the problem is to allocate resources and allow the people to pursue the issues of their development on the basis of their concept and understandings. During the first republic, a Sokoto man contested election and became a Mayor in Enugu. It was never an issue. The fundamental issue is a just leadership. If you have a just leadership, people will stop asking where you are from. And that is one thing about President Buhari. He has never taken anything down to Katsina simply because he is from here.