Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State, in this interview with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, bares his mind on key national issues and how he is redefining governance in the state.
The clamour for the restructuring of the Nigerian state has refused to die. What is your take on the clamour?
Whenever I am asked about my opinion about the call for restructuring, I always begin by asking a question which is: those who are asking for restructuring, what do they mean? We need to understand what they mean. Are they talking about state structure like say the bureaucracy is too large or what are they saying? Well, I think the country is on the part of restructuring itself because; most of the people that are agitating for restructuring the country base their arguments on revenue. The issue of derivation centered on revenue and now with the fall in oil prices globally, with low production for us in Nigeria because of the activities of militancy in the Niger Delta, if you look at the contribution of oil today to our economy, it is declining. So gradually, we are moving to a situation where for states to meet the basic requirements, they must start talking about other sources of revenue. For me, if you ask what should be done, I will start with primary and secondary education and my view is that the federal government should hands off primary and secondary education.
Don’t you think that there is so much power, concentrated in the centre thus justifying the call for restructuring?
Is it power or authority? It is not power. The federal government hasn’t got power over the states.
Even when it controls what the states get as revenue?
It is the revenue allocation formula which is driven by the constitution that controls allocation. That is why I am saying all we need to do is to take primary and secondary education to states and local governments so that we will have no need for SUBEB. All the money for education should go directly to the states and local governments. The federal government has no business in building primary health care units also. It can own properties but essentially the provision of houses should be a local government and state affairs. Like the issue of policing, most aspect of it should be a local affair because why are we now treating vigilante like semi police in most of the states. States are forming outfits that perform functions of security services that handle traffic control. So there are so many areas which I feel should devolve from federal to state and states to local governments. If you are talking about devolution as a means of restructuring, fine but certainly, if you are talking about tying it down to revenue, in the next few years, we hope with the massive diversification, especially in agriculture and solid minerals, each state of the federation will be able to stand on its own. So every state in this country is endowed with one resources or the other and above all, is the land for agriculture.
Before independence and even shortly afterwards, Nigeria was walking almost ahead or at par with nations like Thailand, Malaysia, Brazil and others. But now, most of these countries have gone way ahead of us. Where did we get it wrong?
It was failure of leadership pure and simple. From 1960 to 1966, whatever you will say about that leadership, was it the same with what we got after? And these countries you mentioned have much more sustainable system. If you look at Indonesia, how many years did it take them to move continuously with no interruption? If you are talking about Malaysia, it has never known any system except the one handed over to them by the British colonialists. You look at India, Singapore where Lee Kuan Yew is still the one. So consistency of policy is the thing. By 1975 to 1976, Nigeria was ahead of all these countries that you mentioned but if you look at countries that suffered the same fate with Nigeria, inconsistency of leadership and policies, you will see the difference. So we have failure of leadership and inconsistency in policies. We have not identified national priority project and policies, and continue with them irrespective of whoever comes to power.
So can we confidently say that politicians have failed the nation?
It is not about politicians. It is about leadership. The military ruled this country much longer than the politicians. That is why I am saying collectively, it is the failure of leadership. In some countries, the military did it. After all, military built Egypt and up to this moment; it is the remnant of military establishment, established by Naseer that is still ruling Egypt. So we can see consistency in policy. Name any African country that is consistent, you will find that it is more stable and is moving speedily. Unfortunately for us, we had disruptions. Prior to Nigeria’s civil war, our system was working. Everything was being based on what the country was able to produce. But when petro dollar came, which is not surprising, because managing riches is very difficult. What every human being can do better is to manage poverty not prosperity because it requires much more competent leadership to prepare and remind you constantly that this is not something that will last forever so let me make investment for rainy days. This is what we did not do as a nation. It is about putting certain structures that will stand the test of time and that will generate revenue. That is what we failed to do. We did not develop agriculture. Isn’t it sad that we are still depending on imported food? This is because we have failure of leadership. Since we lost it in 1966, the quality of leadership has been going down. The only time we had the opportunity to revert back was when Buhari and his team came and because of the way the country was going, that was terminated. From that time to date, we have been going deep down.
With 16 years stretch of democratic rule, do you think the quality of leadership has improved from what it was before this democracy?
Well I think democracy may not produce the best leadership but it is the best system. What makes democracy work are the judiciary and the media. Judiciary is the last resort when there is absolute rule of law. But unfortunately, our judicial system needs complete overhaul.
In that case, what is your assessment of the judiciary and the media in the last 16 years?
The judiciary will tell you they are handicapped by some laws. And unfortunately, we are not looking at the positive side of any legislation; rather we are looking at the weak side to abuse it. Any law that is made by human beings can never be perfect, and a clever person can find a way out. But really, from 1999 to date, do we have any celebrated case? There are cases that are political and criminal in nature that are still pending in courts. Even people prefer to be arraigned, go on bail and that will be the end of the story. The recent dismissal and even the directive to the IGP to prosecute a judge shows us what rots there are in the system. But then of course, one cannot say the fault is entirely that of the judiciary or the media, or the politicians. The nation needs some shock treatments for everybody to stay where he should stay. Sometimes it’s very difficult to single out any one institution and say it is responsible for where we are.
There is this recurring call for secession by the people agitating for the independent state of Biafra. Don’t you Nigerians can really go their separate ways?
I am not saying it is impossible, but what I believe is if there is a referendum in the south-east for secession, it will fail because if you traverse this country from Lagos to Borno, from Port Harcourt to Sokoto, from Benin to Jigawa, and you are assessing investments, you will find that the Ibos have the highest number of investments scattered all over. If you take sample of people who are living in areas other than their own, Ibos are the highest numbers. If you look at Abuja, if you say the Ibos own nothing less than forty per cent of Abuja you may not be wrong. But the people, mostly young men who don’t even have the idea of the way the country is are those making this noise about secession. Nigeria has been as country for more than 100 years with relationship built over the years. We depended on each other and there is massive movement of people, goods and services. Imagine someone who is married for 40 years breaking up the marriage, just imagine the consequences. I am not saying it is impossible but it is not good; it should not happen and should not be supported. If there are genuine agitations, then the best thing is to sit down and understand the agitations and address some of them.
There are calls for part time legislature because Nigerians feel the nation is spending too much on the National Assembly. How does the call appear to you?
You see, people fail to understand that it is not the full time or part time that caused spending so much money. It is about what members take as remunerations, or as funds to manage their constituency offices (because every lawmaker is supposed to have a well-equipped office in his constituency). It is about looking at how much are we spending in terms of money, not in terms of time. Because if you insist on part time and the lawmakers say ok, we will come twice in a month but we will earn what we are earning now, will that solve the problem? Addressing the fundamental issue is to ask: can the nation afford to service the National Assembly at the cost we are doing now. If not, what will be the appropriate option? And you can see that from the coming on board of this administration, there has been a huge drop in what members of the National Assembly are taken as allowances. So it is not entirely about part time or full time but about how much can the nation afford in sustaining and maintaining the National Assembly.
What is your position on the back and forth argument over the sale of national assets to raise money to reflate the economy out of recession?
I don’t think selling the assets will ultimately rescue the nation from recession. We have to assess the privatisation policy and other issues that are somehow related to selling of assets. What are the implications? Are they positive or negative? Should we take the country and its assets and sell it to either our enemies outside or enemies inside so that the country becomes hostage to some few individuals? If those few individuals that are Nigerians have these monies, why can’t they bring it and take bond. I don’t understand clearly the issue but inside me, I don’t think I should support it.
What is the special thing your administration doing to develop the state’s enormous human resources?
Even before becoming governor, I and my colleagues were looking at the state wholistically. We look at education, livestock, health, poverty reduction and agriculture among others. We came to a conclusion that there is no way one can address the challenges confronting the state without education, and the foundation education is what we are targeting. The immediate benefit of foundation education is that it is the starting point to even understand government programme and policies. And once a child finishes secondary school, with the good foundation he got at the primary school, he or she could conveniently further his education. If they can’t further, they will be prepared for skill acquisition, entrepreneurship. Their minds have been opened for creativity that even if one choses to be vulcaniser, he will do it better than someone who has never been to school. So we believe that if we are developing human capital, we have to start with education. So since we came in, we have empowered over 5000 youths and interestingly, these youths are making progress as some of the businesses we taught them are thriving. We realize too that out of those we trained and empowered, the one that are doing better were those who are educated. So it becomes easier when one have the basic education. But we are still working even on those that haven’t gone to school. We are at the verge of resuscitating even the adult education. As for the women, we are supporting them to do businesses that are in line with our culture and religion. We also introduced the component of irrigated agriculture so as to engage our youths even during dry season. In Katsina, what we are doing is that we thoroughly assess the situation, plan then execute so as to make sure that whatever we do is based on accurate or near accurate information so as to get maximum result. We want to put the state on the path of recovery, that’s why we call our project ‘Restoration;’ we want to restore the lost glory of Katsina State
What is the new governance direction that you have brought governing Katsina State, such that even when you are gone, people will remember that this the path Governor Masari took?
To be fair to the civilian governor from 1999 to 2007, he started rebuilding education. And that is the foundation for development. But all the investment in education was thrown away immediately after he left. Today, if you see the condition of our premier schools, you will be surprised. It is the typical picture of the collapse of the school system in Katsina. So what we are doing in the area of education is something that will be appreciated in the next 10 to 20 years. We said we are not coming to play to the gallery but that we will inform people of what we are doing. And everybody knows that we are sincere about education and we are prepared to commit all resources we have in education. We realized that Katsina was an exporter of qualified, well trained people but today, our secondary schools are performing poorly. This year was however, a surprise to us because we presented forty three thousand candidates for NECO and 34,000 of them got five credits that include English and mathematics. So if we can move at this pace, then imagine where will be in the next 10 years. So we are bringing in a new direction in education and this is a government that involves the most ordinary people. We started and we will continue town hall meetings. We want everybody to come and say his or her mind. Then our resolve in the health sector! Our hospitals were places where you will go with headache and come back with stomach ache but today, we are completely changing the scenario. We want to bring for instance, our premier hospitals to a level that they will have the minimum number of health personnel to effectively man the hospitals. We will employ over 600 medical staffs. We want to equip our three main hospitals to the extent that only exceptional cases will be referred to Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital or ABUTH. We have already commissioned consultants and we are upgrading Katsina General Hospital, the eye centre and the dentistry in Daura, we are now converging them and we have started the process of establishing our own teaching hospital. In the area of water supply, we have Katsina water supply scheme in Ajiwa that was commissioned in 1974 but since then has not undergone any major repair and so it collapsed. We are now completely rehabilitating it so as to make it produce the original quantity of water it was originally designed and then eventually expand its capacity to produce more. The reservoirs have broken down so also the pipelines and even the dam, the treatment plants and even the high lift pumps which have aged. So we are putting everything in shape as well as constructing new ones so that we will be able to evacuate 42million liters of water to Katsina while we continue with the process of bringing on a permanent basis, the supply from Zobe Dam into Katsina because that is the only way to supply Katsina with sufficient water and this is the project that will cost over N50billion. We know that to we have a responsibility to also strengthen agriculture so I asked my deputy to oversee the Ministry of Agriculture. We have conducted census of all the farmers and the next stage is to identify their acreage from which we will know the total number of arable land that will be under cultivation so that we will be able to plan, ascertain the type of fertilizer we need and the quantity we need. We are also participating in the ANCHOR borrowers programmes. So we are engaging on knowledge based plan and are approaching our programmes scientifically.
Is your administration making some interventions in the area of physical infrastructures?
When we came on board, we met about three or four road projects on-going. The contractors had stopped work because even before our coming, the previous government did not pay them. We saw certificate of valuation of over N7billion unpaid. So they have closed down and in some places, the contractors stopped coming. Our priority was how to mobilize them to go back to site and continue with the work. Don’t forget, our priority as an administration is education that is why even the N10 billion infrastructure loan, we are committing it largely to education and agriculture. So for the roads, we sat with the contractors and they have moved to site. Some other roads projects that we awarded are ongoing. As far as roads are concerned, we are working within the resources of the state to make sure that all the road projects are completed.
In what way has the drop in revenue allocation affected governance in your state?
Generally it has affected governance. We made so many promises and were it to be that we are getting up to 70 per cent of the projected revenue, Katsina state would have been a different state by now. We will have made Katsina a place to be. It is doable and we are seeing what we are able to do with the little resources. Really these things are doable. We are sure 80 percent of the work we do, will stand the test of time as nobody can fault the quality of our work.
Are there creative ideas you have brought on board to shore up the resources of the state?
What we have to do was to begin with building up revenue. We have a consultant who is currently undertaking enumeration of all taxable places of businesses and items. By the time he finishes the enumeration, we will know how much to expect and I am sure it will definitely shore up our revenue. But Katsina state being what it is, depended on salaries and allowances so we have to build the structures that will bring revenue, otherwise the tax revenue will still be dependent on federal allocation.
Throughout your campaigns, one of your key promises was that you will unchain local government areas but it appears almost two years into your administration, council areas are still in chain with no executive council in place. Why is this so?
It is true that we promised to unchain local governments and when we came on board, we discovered that 50 per cent of the mess that was done in Katsina was done with the local government funds using the joint account. We met a joint account that was empty because seven days to the handing over, the previous government distributed over N2billion. Each local government council was given N65million to spend and most of them spent the money in one week. With the fall in the oil price, by September last year, the local government councils have expenditure and other contribution which they must do of about N3.1billion. The state government was giving the local governments money running into hundreds of millions and eventually over N1.2 billion, to meet its obligations. We embarked on staff verification in the local governments, which uncovered so many ghost workers and people who are being paid for not working, even as some people are receiving allowances they don’t deserved. All these are parts of the reasons that led to over bloated wage bill that the council areas could no longer shoulder due to decline in federal allocation. What we are doing now is to ensure that we block leakages in the local governments and make sure that each local government has at least between five to N10million every month with which they can do some jobs for the developments in the local areas. If we can have N5million capital projects in each local government every month, it will add tremendous value to the lives of the people. But above all, we couldn’t conduct local government elections because we are currently in court. We dissolved the local government chairmen and they took us to court. Of course we won round one but they have appealed.
What is your take on the call by Bola Tinubu that the chairman of your party, John Oyegun should resign?
Well in democracy, you can ask anyone to resign but it is left for the person to decide whether to listen to you or not. If you ask me to resign, I will say am not resigning or ok, I will resign. So calling on anybody to resign is not the issue. The issue is tabling the reasons why someone should resign and the people will either agree or disagree with you.