Governor Aminu Bello Masari, in this interview, bares his mind on issues bordering on governance among others.
You are obviously seeking re-election. What are those things you believe will endear you to the people, those things you have done over the past three and a half years?
When we came in, in 2015, the election was full of anxiety and you know that those who had the means then had left the country thinking there will be violence. But the election came and there was no violence; in fact it was the most peaceful election ever held in Nigeria. It was an election where the incumbent president did not contest the outcome.
He accepted defeat even before the final result was announced. What we met on ground; you know the state of insecurity across the country then as a result of Boko Haram insurgency. And oil price started going down to a point where it reached $27 – $28 per barrel in November 2017, leading to a reduction in the money accruing to states and unpaid salaries. And before we came in, there was an incident in one of our local governments that claimed 240 lives. Cattle rustlers came and killed herders and goats. Cattle-rustling was an everyday affair. Five, six or even ten persons were killed every day. Even in the Niger Delta, some people thought the crisis there will stop oil production but it didn’t happen.
Today, we have not completely eliminated Boko Haram, kidnapping and cattle rustling but they have been brought to a level that they are no longer a threat to normalcy. We inherited unpaid gratuity of over N11 billion. They (previous govt) killed schools, hospitals, everything and one was wondering what government, with all those resources they had, was doing in Katsina State. In the main salary account, what the previous government left behind was about N8.75million. We met about 3,200 workers whose names had been removed from the payroll without reason. Meanwhile they had secretly employed another 1, 000 workers after they had lost election. Their plan was that in three months, the state will collapse and we will not be able to pay salaries. When we were campaigning, we promised the 3,200 workers that we would look into their case. Teachers were not promoted for over eight years and we didn’t have up to five consultants in our hospitals. That government inherited up to 1,140 nurses but, when we came in, there were only 142. The state population was increasing but the number of nurses was decreasing. The administration inherited over 150,000 doctors but by the time we took over, they were less; no consultant was willing to come to Katsina. The foundation of education, which is primary and secondary school, was in total mess. In most of the schools, there were over 100 pupils in a class. The deficit of classrooms was about 13,000. That’s why we said our mission is ‘Restoration’, to restore the honour, dignity and pride of the people of Katsina. Education in Katsina was what made the state prominent. When the colonialists came, Islamic education was second to the one they had in Timbuktu. That is why the colonialists established the first post-primary school in Katsina. For those of you who know the history of the first, second and third republics, even of the military officers and police officers of northern extraction, 90 per cent either schooled here in Katsina or are natives of Katsina. A former Chief Justice of Nigeria is from here. Justice Mamman Nasri, a former President of the Court of Appeal, and President Muhammadu Buhari are natives of Katsina State. So we have history. And our people are willing and ready to learn, but opportunities were not given. In the ratings of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and National Examinations Council (NECO), Katsina was 33. We were better than only three states. What we found when we came in, in 2015 actually in public schools is that what we were getting was not up to three per cent. And most of the teachers in our private schools were being hired from public schools. Health services did not exist. Water supply that was commissioned in 1974, and the treatment doubled in 1981, was not working. When we came in, power system there had broken down. The situation was so bad in the sense that the local governments and state government got huge money; we saw the figures but did not believe what we saw on ground. In the eight years of the PDP administration in this state, they collected about N982 billion.
When you came in and saw the rot in government, what were your feelings? Did you feel like running away from Government House?
We never really knew it was that bad. Why should I run? You see, leadership is about having the courage to face the most difficult task. I did not run, but I felt bad. If I run away from Katsina, where should I go? My relations, siblings and my people are here. Do I run and leave them?
What kept you going?
I have faith that it is doable and I have to do it. What is required is a lot of sacrifice. And we are lucky. Up till now, we are among the states paying salaries, not from the money from the federation account. And what we were able to achieve in the area of education, agriculture, water supply, security and health in the three and a half years, they could not achieve it in their eight years. Today, we have completed schools’ rehabilitation. Pupils are no longer 100 in one classroom. We have done about 2, 082 classrooms in 746 primary schools. For our secondary schools, we have completely remodelled, upgraded and improved them.
Women are an integral part of the society and constitute the large chunk of the electorate. What programme do you have for women empowerment?
The local governments have done the kind of empowerment we have done in the state for three years. One of our leaders provided 300 motorcycles and ten brand new cars from Dubai for our people. My wife has disbursed over N200 million cash to empower women. Empowerment for us is routine. What we do here is that when we map out empowerment programme for ten people, we give six to women and four to men because when you empower a woman, you empower a family.
As governor of the home state of Mr. President, does that exert pressure on you to do more or do you see that as an advantage in whatever you are doing?
This President is a person I knew before he assumed office and before I became governor. We are not new to each other. I know him as a straightforward person. For the fact that he is from Katsina, he has not given us anything extra. And he has not influenced anybody to come to see us. If I brag, people will know I am bragging. The pressure that I know is in what we do here in Katsina because 80 percent of people around him are from Katsina and not every one of them is our friend.
What are you offering the people to ensure re-election?
What I am offering them is still based on the promises I made. The fundamental issues in the last three years and a half in Katsina have remained education, health, security and making water available for the people. On potable water supply, the figure I have, as of last year, was about 786 boreholes across the state. Since we started, no local government has had less than 100 boreholes. We created a caretaker committee that we give N10 million every month to do small things from what we get from the federation account.
What is your Internal Generated Revenue IGR like?
How do you have good IGR when people don’t have businesses to run? We have now improved the situation to get more IGR. But here in this part of the country, IGR is dependent on how much you get from the federation account, from contractors among others.
Anytime you hear that the price of oil in the market is dropping, what comes to your mind?
If we survived the economy when it was $27 per barrel, we will survive any situation.
Security has been a major concern in the northern part of Nigeria with the emergence of Boko Haram. How are you dealing with the situation?
We are still fighting insecurity here seriously. We were able to contain cattle rustling and kidnapping within the borders of Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger Republic and the forest area. It is regular patrol to safeguard the nine local governments in Katsina. The forest area between us and Kaduna, Zamfara and Niger Republic is so vast. That is why it is difficult for us and adjoining states to take care of our borders to make sure that cross border banditry is reduced. The police and the military are also helping.
Having seen how you managed the challenges facing your administration, where should we say you draw the courage to do?
It is from God. Really, I lost my father when I was only 14 years. Practically, I was brought up by my mother. I have never been afraid of challenges in my life, probably because I grew up knowing that I have to fight my way through. It has helped in making what I am today. But the reality is a question that I cannot answer. I can only tell you that it is from God.
We have members of the opposition defecting to the APC. What is your position on this?
First of all, all the political parties in Katsina are from one source: ANPP, APP, CPC to APC. We know each other. Those who were doubting, in 2015, have come to realise that we are doing what they could not do. We are giving leadership that other leaders were not able to give them. In my administration, Commissioners do not come to my office anyhow. They are busy doing their work. They can spend up to three months before they need to see me. We run an open administration. Since most of them are our friends, either in politics or in governance, they realise that this is where leadership is being provided.
North-West is the stronghold of the President and PDP claims popularity here. What’s your own assessment?
They are claiming popularity, where? Where…and who? Do you mean this zone? No! Who are the people driving PDP here in the North-West? You might point at Governor Tambuwal or Senator Kwankwaso. Our politics is not like that. Tambuwal has his own seniors even in PDP in Sokoto. I have my own seniors here in Katsina. I cannot totally and singlehandedly claim ownership of APC here. The reality is that if you say there is PDP in North-West, where? Or is it Kwankwaso with his 87 votes in the Port Harcourt PDP presidential primary. Even PDP delegates from Kano did not vote for him.
How do you relax noticing the hordes of activities and human traffic that flood your office from Monday to Sunday?
Really, Nigeria does not need sleeping governors this time.
As a former Speaker and now governor, what’s the difference and how do you reconcile both and what are the lessons that help you to work in the new office?
People who served at the national level, from my experience, have better understanding of the country than those who spent most part of their lives at the state level. Because of that exposure, in most cases, people who served at the federal level are better than those who don’t have that kind of experience. Anyone who has seen views from Badagry to Borno, from Calabar to Sokoto would laugh at someone who had knowledge of only Katsina to Daura. Because of this wider exposure and knowledge, his perception of issues and management are better. The difference between a governor and a House Speaker cannot be compared. The governor is an executive who has direct access to resources and can construct roads, houses for you while a Speaker cannot do that. The best he (Speaker) can do is to have interest in a project and lobby the President or the ministry in charge for implementation. Again the pressures are different. The pressure in the House is more intense because every of the 360 members is qualified to be on your seat. So you are only the first among equals. To balance and take your colleagues along is not easy, especially in the House where all the people there are politicians on the move, while the majority of senators are on retirement. So you can see that it is like a new river when it is eroding, corroding, bringing down everything to move, different from when it reaches the end, when it will be very slow, calm. There’s a world of difference in terms of pressure.
You were Speaker during Obasanjo tenure and you just said you knew Buhari before he became President. What’s the difference between both of them?
They are both human but Obasanjo is not a saint. When we talk about election, even the beneficiary of a presidential election conducted by Obasanjo admitted that the election was fraudulent during his inauguration. So, what qualification has Obasanjo to lecture people about election? I was there as Speaker and I saw it. He is only being promoted by the media. The presidential election where I voted here in Katsina was on a piece of paper. The ballot paper was like A4 paper. No serial number no nothing. Who is he to talk about election and which election did he conduct that was free and fair? He ran this country when the country was at its best time and what did he achieve apart from talking? He cherishes condemning every government since he left office. If he is a saint, check out his library in Abeokuta, nobody has built that kind of library including Presidents of the United States of America and Prime Ministers of the UK. What he is doing is not right and he has no respect for his age.
What’s your take on restructuring?
When somebody talks about restructuring, I ask him what he means because it means so many things to different people. I will support devolution of power in such a way that does not make the Federal Government weak. We have seen instances like Boko Haram, militancy and cultism. If you have a weak Federal Government, you will have problem here. But, certainly, like I was telling you, what is the business of the Federal Government constructing borehole or building primary school? There are so many things which are not federal, just like there are so many things done in local government level which are not local. We have to devolve powers and things will be better for us. The kind of restructuring that people are clamouring for, we started it with three regions in this country to 4, 12, 19, 21 and 36 states and still people are clamouring for more. It’s not the creation of states or local governments that will solve the problem. What will solve it is devolve, reallocate resources and allow people to pursue their development on the basis of their culture and understanding. During the first republic, a Sokoto man became a mayor in Enugu. It was not an issue but the fundamental issue is leadership. When you have a just leadership, people will stop asking you where you come from, and you will be doing what you are supposed to do. For Buhari, he has never brought anything to Katsina as President from here.