Sen Aliyu Wammako Magatakarda represents Sokoto North senatorial district in the senate and in this interview with RUTH CHOJI and ANKELI EMMANUEL, the former governor of Sokoto State advised the government to set up a committee that will look at these assets and see how they can revive them and make them productive.
Nigerians have protested federal government’s plans to sell some national assets to revive the economy. Are you in support of this?
No, I am not because in most of the privatisation we have had in the past, government properties were sold at giveaway prices to cronies and selected friends at the expense of Nigerians. I don’t believe selling our assets is a solution. It only encourages corruption. It has happened again and again but instead of solving our problems, it added to our problems. If you remember, we had Nigerian Airways in the 60s and 70s that used to ply Lagos-New York and other parts of the world. But today, even smaller countries around us have national carriers except us. Even concerning the recent privatisation of the power holding company that was sold, if you see the small amount of money that was paid for the purchase of the organisation and the bail out that the government later gave them, it was four times more than the amount they bought it from government and till date, Nigerians are made to suffer by paying huge sums as bills while the services are still poorer than what it used to be. I am of the opinion that instead, government should set up a committee that will look at these assets and see how we can revive them and make them productive. We shouldn’t go and sell a government property for 20 million to a person or organisation while the organisation will turn and sell it at 500 million to a third party. If we are going to sell anything, it must be at the genuine price and the man buying must know where he will get his money, not that he will come and be depending on government for bail out again after he has bought the assets. Personally, I am against selling government assets as a way out of recession.
Some Nigerians are afraid that the militancy in the south-south, Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes and other vices that are springing up daily are a prelude to a nation heading towards disintegration.
Nigeria is used to facing challenges. We have witnessed the uprising in the late 60s. We have survived a 30-month civil war in this country and got out of it. You may recall the issue of OPC in Lagos who threatened everybody. We had the Maitasine, Kafanchin crises, kidnapping in the south-east and the rest. They all came up and are gone. So we will overcome these challenges too. For the Fulani clashes, we all know that the true Fulani man feeds his herds and goes to sleep. He doesn’t care about your beautiful car or beautiful house to buy. His own is to eat and take care of his cattle. Sometimes, he may not eat what you eat, he will only drink his milk and sleep. I don’t know when the Fulani man turned violent. Equally, the Niger-delta avengers need to come to the table for dialogues. Since there are elders in that region whom the people respect, they should engage their young men to see wisdom in the need to keep this country together. Yes, they have oil, but do we eat oil? They have to reclaim a land when they want to build a house. So they don’t even have land. I don’t think they have any genuine reason to engage in what they are doing now. They don’t have to destroy pipelines to express their grievances. I believe in dialogue and it is only through peace that you can resolve any issue. This applies to any insurgency, even when this boko haram started some five –six years ago. We met as governors of northern states and advised government to go into dialogue with them but they borrowed the American language and said, they will not negotiate with terrorist until it became a problem. Now we are dialoguing. We are using the military to defend the land and people and are dialoguing. I always believe in peaceful resolutions.
The Sultan of Sokoto and president of Muslims in Nigeria said herdsmen should be treated as terrorists. Do you support such calls?
If anybody comes out with arms to hurt you, you must fight him back. But I believe in peaceful resolution of conflicts. Let’s find out who they are and what they really want because even animals have leaders among them. Let’s see who their leaders are and how we can resolve it amicably to bring an end to these violence. I don’t subscribe to killing of Nigerians by Nigerians for any just cause. Peace is good for all of us in Nigeria, whether you are an avenger, herdsman or farmer. To my mind, the government is doing the right thing by opening its doors to talk to any aggrieved party because Nigeria is bigger than any individual, any political party or tribe. Long before independence, we knew that we had different tribes and multi religion and we subscribed to work under one constitution as Nigeria. The constitution also guarantees the right of everyone, to live anywhere in Nigeria. It made adequate provision for security and right. So all we can do as Nigerians is to continue to think beyond our personal self and ethical enclave. Both the two religions, Christianity and Islam do not say, you should go and kill anybody. They preach peaceful co-existence. So we should not use religion to cause mischief.
On a lighter note, you have been a politician for 40 years, why did you decide to go into agriculture and how can you compare your life as a senator with how it used to be when you were a governor?
The only basis of comparism between life as governor and senator is that, we are all politicians, we are all public figures. A senator only represents a small section of the state, but the governor has enormous responsibility. Whatever affects the entire state from the remotest village to the capital ends at his table and he must provide the answers. In the senate, we come to make laws for the good governance of the entire country. On farming, from day one, I have loved farming. Even when I was in practice, I was practicing one farming or the other. I have orchards, poultry and now I have a whole scale farm where I intend to increase the tempo, so that I can help in the area of food production. Farming has been left in the hands of peasant farmers for long and they don’t have the capacity to provide food for this country. It is only when people like us come in that, we will have enough to feed the nation and to also export it. Believe me, my intention after being governor was to go into farming. I never intended to come to the senate but I was advised by President Muhammadu Buhari to come to the senate. I believe that being a public figure should not stop you from being a farmer because farming should be given its position in this country. We have to start supporting the right people who have intentions of doing the right thing and we need to do it the way advanced countries are doing it all over the world. It is only farming that can absorb the teeming youths we have. No industry can employ, at most a company can employ may be a thousand. But farming should be giving top priority.
Are you worried with the state of the economy?
Every Nigerian should be worried, but instead of worry I will say ‘concern’ because the economy determines what we get and what gets to us. The economy determines what service the government can provide for the citizens. I pray that Almighty Allah will show us a path that will get us away from this recession. Already, the problem started a long time ago. The revenue was not properly managed and we were not doing enough to diversify the economy. Even though for a decade or two, most Nigerians believed that our economy was being diversified because no economy could have the effort to live so long on a single commodity. We need to come to terms with what has happened and how to solve it. For example, the government is talking about diversification by investing heavily in Agriculture. It will not only reduce the burden but it will generate employment for our teeming youths, thereby reducing urban drift. Nigeria also needs to focus on its solid mineral resources. It is an untapped avenue that if fully harnessed, can establish us on the path of greatness and bring more sources of income. Another special area to complement our income is tourism. Take for example countries like Egypt and other countries. They developed their tourism sector and it is generating income for them. Accepting that we have a problem is the beginning of solution for us and I am confident that as a nation, we will soon come out of this situation. We will leave the economy that our children unborn can inherit and be very proud of us.
But what has changed, since APC came, from where we were to where we are now as a nation?
I can tell you that there has been much change from when we took over to where we are now. Nigerians didn’t actually know the actual situation. It was when we took over that Nigerians knew the truth of the damage that was done to the economy. Every Nigerian now knows that we have a serious problem in our hands. The APC is just over a year but the damage done to Nigeria runs into decades. Before this government came in, Nigerians were kept in darkness. We were told that we were the fastest growing economy, there was a fake capital market, sovereign wealth funds, and the rest. We were even told that we had enough and surplus. Nigerians believed that and the spending was enormous. Suddenly, when this government came, the truth came out, but now Nigerians appreciate the enormity of the concern and are prepared to solve it. Government has now made us to believe that, we Nigerians need to make the change necessary to transform our situation. They have also ensured that we are secured because without a secure environment, no development can take place. Before the administration came in, people, both Christians and Muslims were afraid to go to church and mosques but today, people can fellowship in their places of worship. Fundamentally, the awareness of the problems and the president’s determination to end them cannot be over emphasised. Equally, the citizens have now seen how a few Nigerians were able to bastardise the economy through stealing. I don’t think anybody will ever allow that kind of looting to take place. As lawmakers, we are also determined to do our oversight functions diligently to ensure that there is accountability. We are also going to work with the executive to ensure that solutions are practicable and result oriented.
Are you in support of calls for restructuring?
I believe the call for restructuring is an issue of definition. If they are saying that Nigeria should be restructured back to regionalism, I will say no. If they are saying we should get additional local governments or states, I will say no. If they are saying Nigeria should be balkanised into different parts, I will say no. Our diversity should be our source of strength not underwire. At the stage we are now, we have created enough states and local governments to ensure that, every community has its voice. So those calling for restructuring must come out clearer and tell us what they want. What do they intend to achieve by it so that we can discuss it. As far as I am concerned, we don’t need more states or local governments. What we want is good governance at the state, local government and federal levels. We want a situation whereby we take custody of our affairs as Nigerians. We should not be looking for experts from Europe or America to solve our problems. In 1914, we were amalgamated, there after we had regions, after which we came to states and today, we have 36 states including the FCT. I still think we have gone far.
Is federalism working in Nigeria?
To some extent yes but much more needs to be done to ensure that it is working. I don’t subscribe to the idea that we must copy everything that is done in Europe or America. We have to respect our cultural challenges and peculiarities. True federalism is good. If it is practised through a long period of time, after trials, challenges and overcoming them, it becomes better.
As a former governor, will you subscribe to another bailout for state governors?
I think it is a must for states to ask for bailouts from the federal government. Already, the federal government is the custodian of all revenues except for local internal revenue generating as tax at the state level where it is negligible. States do most of the required work at the state level while the federal government takes a big chunk of the allocation accruing to the federation account. Part of it goes to states and the local governments. But to me, most of it should go to states and local governments because most of the work is done by them. Most developmental work should be left to the states while the federal government should take some serious issues like policy guideline, security and the rest but they should create a strong mechanism that will guide the state and local governments. I don’t know why the federal government should go and be creating a borehole. I don’t see the reason why the federal government should create a family health centre in Yenegoa or Gusau or in Kano. All these should be left to the states. Some of the challenges that states face are not only salaries, the security services at the states are being funded by the state government. The federal government only pays their salaries, their logistics are being borne by the state government.