Before your advent into politics, you were a successful lawyer, an international person, a technocrat; a world-class professional but traded all these on the altar of politics. Did you think you did the right thing?
These things are not what we planned. They are God’s plan and God’s plan is always better than man’s plan. I graduated from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in1983, went to do my BL (Barrister at Law) in the Law School in Lagos, qualified as a barrister, and I ventured into private practice, business first and private practice. And I made my mark by essentially practising International Aviation and Corporate Law, and I traversed the length and breadth of the world, America, Middle East, South East Asia, South America, Europe all over the world, really, practising International Corporate and Aviation Law. And somewhere along the line, I was invited by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, then governor of Katsina State, to serve as his attorney-general and commissioner for justice. I reluctantly went to do that job. Simple, because I want to give back to my community, to my state, to my country what I have learnt as a practising international lawyer. And I served for four years and appealed to late President Yar’Adua to let me go back to my practice because he wanted me to stay back and take another job as secretary to the state government but I don’t want to stay, I wanted to go back to my practice because I was doing well in it. And somewhere along the line, Yar’Adua insisted that I must keep in touch and stay in touch with politics. He did everything possible to make me remain in contact with political activities in Katsina my state and the nation at large. I was asked to be part of the Oyinlola panel then on Anambra Crisis, the only non-governor on that panel. I was part of the committee that reviewed that PDP Constitution then and I was sent to represent my state in National Political Parties Conference and I was picked to be the deputy national chairman of our party representing the 19 northern states. I metamorphosed into a candidate for PDP in Katsina for governorship election in 2007, which I won with a landslide victory and I re-contested again in 2011 and I won with landslide victory and for the first time in history of PDP in Katsina State we got 30 out of 34 members of the House of Assembly and we beat the opposition party with almost over half a million votes. So in essence that was how I ended up being a governor in my state and I give gratitude to Almighty God for eight years as governor and the next couple months my job in Katsina will be done and by the special grace of God I will move on with my life. I am grateful to Allah, I am grateful to people of Katsina, I am grateful to Nigerians for their support and the support I received from all quarters and corners of my state and the country.
Can you explain some of the reasons that made late President Yar’Adua to insist on your coming back to serve in the Katsina State repeatedly?
How could I know? He must have seen something for him to keep asking me to come back and do things with him whether in politics, in management…
And you accepted knowing there’s no appreciation in politics?
Of course. Politics is a thankless job but politics originally was not my priority because people led me to believe that unless you know how to lie, you know how to cheat, you know how to deceive, you know how to backbite you are not a politician. So I rememeber one day when we are holding council meeting here in Katsina during my tenure as the attorney-general and late President Yar’Adua, then as governor, said all political heads should remain behind, that all non-politicians in the council should remain in the secretariat, but the commissioners, special assistants should remain behind. So I started packing my papers because he said all political heads and he asked me, ‘Alhaji Ibrahim where are you going to?’ I said Sir, you said political heads and he said and ‘what are you?’ I said I will do that but I am roadside politician. Everybody laughed in the council chambers and he said ‘sit down my friend’.
So in any event politics was not my priority, but you see if you allow all manners of people to lead you or lead their communities then you have yourself to blame if things continue going wrong. That is why credibility, credible people must come in and join the political landscape of Nigeria for this country to get to the destination to be a great nation, among nations. Of course it’s a job that you do that your integrity is on the line, your self-respect and honour is on the line, your health is on the line, your family life is on the line. Everything is at stake. But what you need is dedication, commitment, fear of God, and understand that politics remain a vehicle to delivering service to the people to the best of your ability, and once you do that you are home and dry. Nobody will say thank you for what you are doing but God is always there for you. Once you are doing things correctly, doing things rightly, you are meeting the needs of your people and meeting them in the best of your ability, I assure you God will stand by you. That’s what I have seen in my career as politician. Once God stands by you just forget about the people that will not stand by you. Of course in politics, what you require to win an election or to be there is 51 per cent; 51 per cent even in exams you have passed. The 49 per cent who don’t like you or who are in opposition party, if God says you will put them in your shoulder, you will still carry it. After I became governor in Katsina, if I’m selling fertilizer, and discounted it to people in PDP I sell to people in opposition party as the same; if I’m providing free education to children of people in PDP, the children of every person in be it APGA, and what have you politically, they will enjoy the same percentage because they are citizens of the state and resources of the state belongs to all of us. That is why there is no discrimination or segregation in our administration. And if we are building a project or putting in borehole or building road or doing desertification, we balance it and make sure all the three senatorial districts in Katsina, namely: Funtua, Daura and Katsina senatorial districts get equal share and equal treatment. We connect to people of Katsina and they understand what we are doing for them, that is why despite all the challenges we faced in 2011 from the opposition CPC we still came back strong, we still had 30 out of 34 members of the state assembly. We won the seats and we won the governorship election hands down. We beat our opposition hands down. People really are beginning to appreciate that politics is service. Sometimes, like now as political temperature of Nigeria grows, and the political environment becomes more sophisticated, you find that people appreciate the person they want to lead them whether it’s councillors, local government chairman, governor, president, they identify with the kind of a person they want as a leader. So if God gives you an opportunity, you do your best to use that opportunity to deliver service to your people and God will stand by you.
You are one of the governors that is being celebrated but despite that you are still your humble self…You don’t have airs around you.
You see, there is philosophers insist and it is the truism of life, when you are in need and you don’t have, learn to be patient and pray to your God. When you have everything in life you need, you have to be humble and humane. The person who has everything that fears God will be humble. But because power comes from God Almighty, nobody gives you all things except God. So if He gives you power and you decide to be arrogant. God that gave that power may be angry with you and may take it away and you put yourself in trouble. But if you do what God says you should do when you have every person at your disposal, the opportunities or privileges of the office of a governor and you decide to use it arrogantly that is not my concern anyway. At the end of the day a person with proper background and upbringing will not trample on people simply because he has opportunity. You will look at people with dignity and respect, you treat them fairly and equitably, and you respect them because respect begets respect. So if you respect them, they respect you back. This is how I operate. This thing is transition; this whole life in fact is temporary. Nobody is in this world forever. And political power is not permanent. It comes to you and the moment you get involved with political power or opportunity, keep it in your head all the time 24/7 that you are going to leave that job sooner or later. And if you do that then you have no need to be arrogant to anybody; you have no business to insult anybody. All you do is try your best to use the opportunity God has given you serve people and to serve your country. And once you get that done, what is the reason for fighting or quarreling or arguing or stepping on toes. Of course when you have opportunity, it is difficult to please everybody; in fact you can’t even please everybody. But do your best. Try to be fair and inequitable.
When you were designing the new Government House, were you conscious of the time left for you to stay there?
Of course I know. If you go there development is still ongoing because I didn’t build that place for myself. I built it for seven million people in Katsina State and when I finish my tenure there, I’m not going to take it to my village. And whoever comes to stay for the next 100 years cannot take it to his village either. I built it for the people of Katsina State and I built it not from revenue from Federation Account, I built it not from IGR in the state, I built it from special investment proceeds, which we are handling through banks, treasury bills, purchase and sell, small interest on our deposit accounts until we built over N10 billion profit, which I took N400 million and built this Katsina Lodge in Abuja. It is test case on how we will utilise the money from profit made, and the profit we didn’t make it from government’s money just sitting in the bank, no. What we do is that we don’t award contracts in Katsina State since I became governor, unless we have money to pay for it. If I award a contract for N1 million, I must take that N1 million and keep aside. And I will give the contractor N400,000, 40 per cent advance, he gives me bank guarantee bond and I have N600,000 balance. That balance I give to my bankers to either buy and trade in treasury bills or to fix for short term. That way you know money will be generated. By the time you finish your job, you will come for your N600,000, I take it to pay you; you find out that I might have made maybe N100,000 profit. So that N100,000 I opened a special account with UBA and we deposit it until I ask for the statement and I find out we have N10 billion cash as profit. So that N10 billion if I take it and put it in our main account, nobody will know we made it as profit, nobody will learn that government funds can actually generate money by itself. So after we found out the large amount of money we made, this house was actually collapsing, the building that was here was collapsing. It was built long time ago. Old and archaic architecture, grass every where, so I pulled it down, designed this and put a facility that is modern and can stand the test of time. When we tested the ground and see how far we have gone and see how it worked for us, we decided ok what next. Now Katsina has some ancient place that our governors are staying in, roof is leaking everywhere, the buildings are so old, the houses belong to DO (district officers) in those colonial days. So I say let’s design something befitting for a state like Katsina. After all Katsina has produced presidents, so many No 2 men in military regimes in Nigeria. The first chief justice of Nigeria from the northern extraction, two inspector-generals of police, MD Yusuf and Ibrahim Coomasie; first director of SSS in Nigeria, Rafandadi; director of NIA in Nigeria, Zakari Ibrahim. There are so many, those eminent personalities are from Katsina. You know, you depict the state in that quality, in that stature so that is why I felt we can put a facility that can befit a state like Katsina, and we put up a Government House that myself and my family will not use for more than one year in the eight years we served. And we are very happy, very proud we are leaving behind a befitting Government House for the people of Katsina State.
Are you saying that you did not borrow money for that Government House?
I did not borrow one kobo for any project in Katsina State since I became governor. Not one kobo. Everything you see in Katsina…I have been paying the salary of my workers fro 22nd and 23rd of every month since I became governor. I made education free, absolutely free, primary school is free, secondary school is free, tertiary instititution students are on scholarship, medicare is free for women and children. For children from 0 date of birth to age 5. Dialysis patients get treated free, malaria patients get treated free. Accident victims get free medicare for the first 48 hours. We built over 200 new secondary schools, over 100 high-rise buildings for primary schools, we have built over 58 road projects, we have never defaulted in the payment of monthly pension since N240 million. There are no area of payment that I have not touched.
And you didn’t borrow money?
I did not borrow a kobo for Katsina State. The Debt Management Office seems to have a record, which is contestable anyway. That Katsina State government owes about $73 million. This is not clear because these are debts that the DMO are insisting that states are owing since 1965. I met it on ground and the federal government has been deducting money from my account, from my resources. Every month they take about N73 million to service that debt. So they are taking money from our resources, from our allocation monthly to say they are servicing that debt. I have no business with it but I’m suffering paying for it and I didn’t collect it but I have to pay for it. There are one or two multi-lateral or bilateral debts that was taken at the national level and are shared among us like HIV, I think during the administration of late President on EFAD or something like that. These are $2 million or $5 million but I said those ones came for one reason or the other. But I on my own did not borrow from local of foreign institution to do any project to date.
Are you conscious that you need a lot of money to live on after power?
You don’t actually need a lot of money to live your life. I came from a background of practice or a professional lawyer in international practice. So I know how to make money, I know how to build my life, my family life, my professional life. I didn’t come from nowhere in the sense that I had a job. You see politicians have huge problem when they don’t have second address. You have huge problem when you don’t have any job to go back to. But I can go back now and even if I can’t continue going to court both locally and internationally, I can do any other practices if I want to. And that tells you the difficulty most politicians have is that they find themselves in high-profile public office, when they leave that office there is nowhere to go to and nothing to do. But I as a professional lawyer, you know can do anything to survive in my chosen field of profession. And therefore, it doesn’t make any difference to me; the difference it makes is to release me from so much pressure at the end of the day. Because let me tell you something I discovered in the job, anybody who is genuinely and sincerely interested in serving people will not be in a hurry to rush into political business. Let me tell you some politicians today are into sharing money not working. Some people don’t care if you build a bridge from here to the end of the earth, they don’t care of they didn’t get money in their pockets. So it’s so much about stomach infrastructure or politics of stomach infrastructure, politics has become so much about pocket and stomach. And as long as Nigerians will not shift from that base, they cannot continue to argue against the leaders they push in that direction. They now come and cry foul that progress and developments are not coming their way. Most politicians that even get accused of stealing money I tell you, since the 1999 political dispensation, they are accused because they are busy trying to maintain our so-called political infrastructure. And they misuse the funds, they spent the money thinking that the right thing is to share the money, and you see, there are lot of pressure on you as a councillor from your ward. If a councillor has an opportunity to share money, and another councillor does not, he gets abused by his people. If you are appointed a commissioner in a state, if your ministry has jobs to give, another person has a ministry that has no job to give, that one with small job in contrast to you is making small money, gets more praised by his people. They will say this one is stingy, he is not giving money to anybody because he has no money to give, no contract to give, no deals to cut. The bottom line is that it’s a very difficult terrain. Somehow Nigerians will have to find a way to make politics become politics of issues, politics of development, rather than politics of individuals who have no interest in government and only want to have access to resources of government. True there is patronage in government all over the world but patronage should not supersede or over-ride the interest of the majority in a society. And that is the way I believe politics should be. And because we are just learning in Nigeria, 16 years old down the line since the inception of democracy, we cannot pretend to be the same with democracies around the world, that have been around for over 250 years. We are making our mistakes and I believe we should have the common sense of correcting them and moving forward and allowing our democracy to thrive and grow, and the rule of law, and good governance and transparency and accountability. These will come as time goes on, we can’t achieve these overnight. But we have to be deliberately conscious as politicians that we need to make certain critical changes on how the system is run. In such a manner that the democracy we are trying to build and grow can lead Nigeria into the height of development and competitive democracy in the world.
The speaker of the House of Assembly said they had never had any issue with you and mentioned that Shema has become a movement. How did you make it happen?
I’m very lucky with the two arms of government and the civil service force in Katsina State. I have a very responsible legislature. Legislature that I can tell you and I have been saying this to anyone who cares to listen, this legislature I know in Nigeria…maybe because I know them, this legislature has never come to me with issues other than issues pertaining to their constituencies. They need roads to be constructed, they need boreholes to be constructed, they need school, they need this…but these ones have always come to me to chase the demand of their people. They are highly responsible. And that’s why we never had any issue with them because they think like me. They think in terms of delivering services and democracy dividends to their people. So we work in the same page. And then the judiciary too, since I came into office we have never had any issue with the judiciary. And besides, Katsina State, you know, gives independent financing to judiciary and our legislature. We don’t tamper with their funding, there is provision in their budget and we give it to them to do what they want to do with it. All these hullabaloos we hear about judiciary saying that government of the state should give them independence of financing, we have already being doing it in Katsina to the judiciary and to the legislature. And then I have a vibrant civil service force, everything we achieve in Katsina we achieved in conjunction with these other arms of government and the civil service force. And we have very vibrant and productive civil service force. That is why whatever we do we try to carry them along, we try to accommodate them and we don’t have issue with them. We have competent team, we try to maintain that standard and we work with them to achieve the level of development we try to achieve in Katsina. We didn’t achieve them as politicians, no. We achieve them in conjunction with the civil service force and that’s why we don’t joke with the salaries of our civil service. Since I became governor 22nd or 23rd of each month for the past seven and half years or so we have always paid our staff. Primary school teachers, secondary school teachers, civil service force in the state, in the local we have never failed to pay, you can go and ask them. And then pensioners get paid monthly. There are quarterly pension accruing to us and accounts will pay. Sometimes up to N750 million. So at the end of the day our investment in the civil service is yielding results. And Katsina may be the only state in Nigeria that gave civil servants without exception, whether in the state or local government, one-month salary bonus. I don’t know any state that has done that but we did it. In other words the legislature which you asked about has been responsible, productive, co-operative and has been dedicated to the needs of their people in Katsina.
All projects started by your predecessor, President Yar’Adua, were completed by your administration. Even the speaker of the House of Assembly stated that if leaders were like you there wouldn’t be abandoned projects in Nigeria. What lesson is there for others to learn of how you managed the transition, especially in the area of project completion?
Public funds and resources are meant for public use. If an administration starts a project, and before it completes the project their time is up, it’s the responsibility of the next administration to justify their being in office to complete those projects because these projects if you don’t complete them, that means you have taken large chunks of public funds and throw them into the waste bin. Nigeria since independence, has been confronted by this uncompleted project syndrome. Everywhere you go they litter the ground. And that is why we have not been able to grow as a nation especially as we should have with abundance of human and material resources that we have. Our airports that we built since independence have practically remained the same except now new airports are coming up because of dividends of democracy. The seaports that we have, have not changed much. The Trunk A road networks in federal roads that we have, have not changed much. The communication systems, the radios, the telecommunication, except with the coming of GSM, no one is using NITEL now, they no longer exist. Infrastructure that we didn’t pay attention to are what caused all the problems we are facing today. The electricity system, power supply that we had since in the 70s had remained practically the same. The nation has grown, the demand for services has grown, population has grown, but yet we remain in the same system. Our power generation, transmission and distribution have remained virtually at standstill. How can you grow as a nation? But if you now look at these projects and build upon them, if regime after regime like other nations have been building their power resources…but if you don’t grow your facilities will dwindle, they will deteriorate. So it was very important for me when I came into office, I made a vow to the people. My first outing, I told them, I said I’m not going to start a single project until I finish every project started by Yar’Adua. There is no single project started by President Yar’Adua that has not been completed by our administration. We committed over N52 billion close to N60 billion paying for projects we met on ground. I took 18 months of my being in office for the first time to pay for every project and I didn’t cancel any contract. No contractor had to come to us seeking for payment; all they needed to do is complete your project and get your pay. And that is how we completed each and every project started by President Yar’Adua. And after we commenced our own. And we have done lots, even the ones we did and on top of that we meandered into projects started by the military and abandoned. Like the stadium, 35,000-sitting capacity stadium was virtually at the foundation level. Everything has gone comatose. I picked it up, cleaned it and put it together. Now I have a 35,000-sitting capacity stadium nearing completion in the next few months. So it is important for leadership in all strata in Nigeria to appreciate the public resources that are put in whatever project needs completion so that people who it is meant for can use it. Can you imagine now the airport that Late President Yar’Adua started if I had abandoned it, can you imagine what would have happened? Can you imagine the state university that the late president started barely two years before I became governor, 27th of March, 2007, President Obasanjo came to lay the foundation of that university. By April election conducted, by May 29, I became governor. Eighteen months later the university is up and running. If I had abandoned that university what will be the story for Katsina children?
There’s a Child and Maternal Hospital started by President Yar’Adua at the same time and I completed it and furnished and equipped it and recruit staff in it. If I had refused to do that where will women and children go to for hospital? There is no such facility in the state. We have general facilities but that hospital meant for women and children were never there. Everything you see me complete, I completed numerous projects, water project, rural electrification project, I completed every one of them before we ventured into our own. So basically, the lesson here is that public resources are meant for public good, and continuity in government is what makes other nations successful. If someone becomes a president in America today, after Obama has left, there is no critical project…it will be unthinkable for any president coming in to say because Obama started this…,even if it is from another party if it is going to be good for Americans. It will be unthinkable for anybody coming in to say because Obama started this I will not complete it. So long as it will be for the good of the nation because once you start chasing cheap political points you lose bearing of your responsibility as a leader. Some people don’t think it is important to do this but I believe it is important and I have been able to achieve what I set out to achieve. I completed every project started by my predecessor and completed my own, even take on the ones started by the military before my predecessor started in office.
Where did you get the idea to establish the Craft Village and have you been able to market the idea to other governors especially your fellow northern governors, considering the fact that youth restiveness and insurgency has been caused by unemployment and poverty?
The Craft Village idea emanated in my conceptualisation of the need to get our children off the streets. And of course my extensive travelling and mixing with all kinds of people from all parts of the world, from all the nations of the world, helped me to understand that everybody cannot depend on government to get a job. You have to grow entrepreneurship; and entrepreneurship is the foundation of advancement and growth in the economic sub-sector especially for growing nations even for developed nations. To grow and develop, you have to really encourage people to learn how to stand on their feet, not to depend on getting jobs all the time. They can create job, they be job creators too. So when you find young men even graduates who have finished university degrees or polytechnics with diplomas or whatever sitting at home, hanging out doing nothing, then if you are resourceful leader, you have to think of what to do with them. And I said ok, you have a degree in Sociology, in Political Science or this and that, even if you have a job…so I say we will set up this Craft Village for those who have even graduated and even for those who didn’t go to school and what are trades we offer there. We invited Cisco, local representatives of Cisco Computers in Nigeria to partner with us and train our kids on how to break and make computers, how to repair components in computer. And we brought some chaps who are very good with GSM repairs to train our kids on how to maintain GSM. The GSM telephone handset is here to stay with us, so if you don’t know how to get somebody who will know how to fix it, then you are not building in the right direction. And then we said there are people who want to trained how to make leather shoes, bags; there are people who want to be trained as auto mechanics, there are people who want to be trained for film and photography, we invited the Nigerian Film Institute, Jos to be our resource persons to train our kids on how to make films and how to use photography. And we give them stipends. And we decided to engage those who are training them on how to do fabrication, iron welding, ironmonger, carpentry and pottery. The kids from the Craft Village actually are the ones who built all the poles carrying the solar streetlights. They were trained there and if you go ton the centre, you find them constructing those poles. So in nutshell, we are training people to stand on their feet and to learn to be themselves. Some of them that did not go to school can actually learn how to repair telephone handsets, auto mechanics or carpentry, and when they finish we give them set-up package to go and establish their businesses. Lots of kids have opened their own shops. If you go round the capital and all local governments headquarters, you hear them say GSM clinic. We have trained over 5,000 kids and you don’t just focus on those 5,000 kids. Those 5,000 may end up training 10,000 or 20,000 more when they open their shops. So it will go on and on and people will learn how to stand on their feet, how to go out and do something important.
There are those we trained how to make paint, they have set up their paint-making small cottage industries. We have trained some on how to make chalks for schools, and they are doing well. So it is critical for Nigeria as a nation to focus in this area. There are those we are training in building trades, plumbing, POP making, bricklaying and these are done in BAT status; but bottom line is we must think as a nation to grow. There was an opportunity I had to travel to Germany in the delegation of Nigerian Governors’ Forum, and that was about a year and half ago. I was pleasantly surprised when we went to the former Eastern Germany we find a facility of the same replica, the same way as the Craft Village. They are training their young men on how to develop skills. There are certain aspects of activities of skill that Nigerians are lacking, even foreigners; Benin Republic people, Ghanaians are doing these jobs. All our kids need to do it. And the Youth Corps members have a camp around the youth Craft Viilage, every time they come in their thousands they insist on using the craft village to learn a trade during the course of their camping. We set it up with good intentions and it is proving worthy and we have now passed a law in the state Assembly to make it into an institution so it can stand on its feet. So after I’m gone the system will not collapse. It is established by law and it will be guided by that law, and it will form part of Department of Science and Technology, and these kids will be continued to be trained. We see trainees from Niger Republic, Borno and some northern states, and the training is free of charge. They get accommodation, stipend, feeding, training and they get set-up package for free.
The United Nation teams have come to visit us because of this concept, USAID has come to visit us, Chinese University from Hong Kong has come to visit us, young students from Commonwealth nations of the world have paid us a visit. People have come to look at it and appreciate it and there’s nobody I know that came here and did not appreciate the Craft Village to be establish across Nigeria but also West Africa.
Why did you establish Condition Cash Transfer, CCT, for girl-child’s education?
Girl-child education in northern Nigeria needed a lot of attention; because girls get pulled out of school for social and economic reasons. And we felt we needed to encourage girls to be in school. In any event, education has been my administration’s number one priority; since I came into office I made it my number one priority. That is why since 2007, primary and secondary education have been absolutely free. We pay for WAEC, NECO examinations for all our children in public school since I became governor.
And then we give them scholarships to go to tertiary institutions. So education is the centre point of our administration. A society that is educated certainly has a lot of opportunities going for it. And that is why I felt every child of school age should have access to education. And a person may have 13 or 20 children in our society; he may have no income or low income actually. How does he send all those kids to school? But when there are access to free education, everybody will be in school. Our schools are free to the brim. We started with over 250,000 population of students in schools but now we have over two million children in school. And I had to hire more teachers, I had to increase salaries of teachers in primary and secondary schools, TSS; I had to increase salaries of teachers in tertiary institutions, I have to keep this kids in school. For the girl-child, we maybe the only state in Nigeria to set up special department for the girl-child. We call it Girl-Child and Child Development Department, headed by a lady and we encourage every local government to set up one primary school each for the girl-child to start the foundation. And those schools are filled to the brim and these kids are being given opportunity to go to school free and by the time they qualify to go to tertiary institution, we introduce the CCT, (Conditional Cash Transfer) card. And how it works is that there is an amount of money that are set aside; we are receiving support for other donor agencies, international donor agencies including UNICEF and others like USAID and DFID. And with our own money, whatever they bring in, we now pay these girls some special allowances in school. On top of that we give the parents of the girl …because sometimes, parents don’t have any income. So they will send the kids to go and hawk or sell something to earn small, small pennies. So instead of doing that we gave the mother of the girl who is in school some stipend every quarter, every semester to encourage her to allow the girl to stay in school. And that has helped. They are keeping so many girls in school because of the CCT. Sometimes it is poverty, so you have to find a way to cushion the effect of poverty, and that will help the children to grow and we have sent over 700 students from poor backgrounds to foreign nations to go and study Medicine, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy, Dentistry, Marine Engineering, Environmental Engineering and name it. And we send a child to go and read Medicine in the country, for example, we pay his entire course fee for the entire five years upfront to the university. We pay the school fees, the stipend, accommodation, transportation and pocket money for the entire five years. And now a lot of are starting to graduate and come back because I started it since 2008, and some have finished four years, some five years course and some are just going so we have a lot of them coming back. Graduates in Medicine, in Pharmacy, Marine Engineering, it’s very interesting; and these are children from poor backgrounds. And we feel satisfied that the way we are supporting education in the next 10, 20 years, Katsina exactly will be a changed place.
We met a man at the Turai Yar’Adua Maternal and Child Hospital who attested that his pregnant wife was operated on free of charge. So why are you making maternal and child medicare free?
For the level of poverty, not only in Katsina, but in Nigeria, most men could not take care of their family. That is why we are talking about the mother, child mortality. Of course it is more problem from northern Nigeria because of lack of medical facilities or the refusal or inability of the father to afford delivery in the hospital. They are sold to the local delivery place, which they are used to. But when you make the whole package free, you see there is a catch to it. With time people who do not use to appreciate utilising medical facility, will now get used to appreciating it. And once they see the value, tomorrow you don’t have to tell them. They will go and pay for it anywhere to get services.
The Orthopaedic Hospital conceived by your administration is a gigantic project. There is no hospital like it in the North. Are you not worried about what will become of it and other projects you have executed?
Worried may not be the right word but we have been trusting in how these things will continue to succeed. That is why we have been praying for God to guide us in the choice of a successor who certainly keeps track of what we have done and probably building over what we have left. When I was coming into office, people of Katsina were concerned that what Yar’Adua has put in place, will this be sustainable, will this be continuous, and by the special grace of God, when he brought me, he gave me guidance and I have not only sustained it, we have done a lot more. We will pray and carefully select a person by the grace of God will continue to work for Katsina in this direction and even better than what we did.
Some people paid you a courtesy visit and call themselves non-indigenes and you refused to see them. What is your reason for doing that?
You cannot call yourself non-indigene in your own country. How can you call yourself a non-indigene in your own country? Why did we encourage things that divide this nation rather than unite? These are Nigerians and they can live anywhere in Nigeria. Whether you are from Katsina and you are living in Ekiti or Anambra, or you are from Anambra living in Oyo or Ondo you should know you are a Nigerian. So it is really carelessness to call yourself non-indigene in your nation. That encourages segregation and continues to deepen the things that divide Nigeria. So I insisted so long as they want to deal with me, they have to accept that they are indigenous Nigerians living in Katsina. What do you mean by non-indigene when you are indigenous to Nigeria, born in Nigeria. And just because you live in one corner of Nigeria…it is reckless. And that is why I said from that point in 2007; people should not call themselves non-indigenes in Katsina.
And Katsina by the way has an interesting history. It is the only city in the entire northern Nigeria since the colonial days has refused to set up Tudun Wada or Sabon Gari. Wherever you hear Tudun Wada or Sabon Gari, the are residents who are not originally from there. Before the creation of Sabon Gari or Tudun Wada, you find out that the Hausa man, Ibo man, the Itsekiri man are living side by side in Katsina. Even in their businesses, the shop of Hausa man is here, the Ibo man is here so that probably equally added the impetus of what I was thinking because I don’t even know much of the history but I felt no Nigerian deserves to call himself non-indigene in his own country wherever he may live. Some Nigerians from Katsina may be living in Osogbo all their lives, they don’t know anywhere…they are married there, have children there, the children have gone to school there. They don’t know anywhere in their own state. And suddenly you wake up and call them non-indigenes, it does not make sense. So I stopped it. What I have in Katsina are indigenous Nigerians living in Katsina.
You sell fertilizers to farmers at discounted rate and give them money to encourage them to farm. After harvest, you buy the produce from them at the normal rate and distribute to the community every month at a discounted rate. Why are you doing all these?
In Katsina, more than 70 per cent of our people are farmers and you have to find a way to encourage agriculture to grow and people to engage effectively in farming. That is why in Katsina you hardly hear crimes, there are hardly no activities of miscreants, insurgence or what have you. Rarely you hear about such problems. When a farmer grows his fruit or his crops, the next biggest challenge he has is how to access the market. If he doesn’t have access to market, the grains may go to waste or the prices may crash in the market because of abundance. And he may incur losses. So we ask ourselves how do we cushion all these effect losses and how do we work with the people and cushion the effect of poverty that is prevalent all over Nigeria. All the way we came up with if a farmer grows his crop, government can buy at current market price that will encourage them to grow more crops next year. And we move the crops to consumer, it is not as if what we are doing is to satisfy everybody or feed everybody; what we are doing is simply supportive. So we buy from you and we cut the price by 50 per cent. And we sell to consumers polling unit by polling unit. The idea is the consumer gets reasonable cost for the food, and the producer gets reasonable costs for his products, and the government cushions the effect. Everywhere in the world over including advanced nations, agriculture is subsidised. It depends on what aspect you want to subsidise. We subsidise fertiliser here, so because of that we felt we have to do this in Katsina and it is working for us very well. That is why we buy grains from the farmer, sell to the consumer at 50 per cent and government incurs some costs. Government exists for the happiness of the governed. We are not there to do as we wish; we are there to make the people the happy. And that is why we think of means to support the happiness of the people.
The projects started by late President Yar’Adua were completed by your administration and some of them are named after him and his wife, that is loyalty. When other PDP governors left, you stayed and has been supporting the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, that shows integrity. How were you able to achieve that?
I have philosophies that drive my political activities. One, fear of God; two, loyalty to my source of political strength, three, patience, you have to be patience in all situations you find yourself, and four, is stay clear of public resources. Don’t be carried away by enormous resources at your disposal. Once you keep this going everything will fall into place. Yar’Adua was my political mentor, he brought me to be his attorney general. He practically inducted me into politics, and I have no reason or any excuse to be disloyal to him or to be disloyal to the party that gave me a platform to become what I am today. And our President is a president of PDP. We voted him in and He is our President and he is leader of our party. So what political sense will it make for any responsible politician that you have a party that is in power and you have a President that is a president of your party. What business have you to criticise or abuse him?
Politics should not be played like that. Have you seen this kind of thing happening else where in the world? Unless the president, chairman or governor is not doing what is right, then there is no reason why you should fight your own party. It’s like taking a knife and stabbing yourself. The Democratic Party in America has Obama as president, no matter what Obama does they will not be seen to be the ones in the vanguard, forefront trying to destroy him or destroying the system. Remember our democracy is young and growing, so we need to learn. Whatever mistakes we make is meant to correct ourselves. That is why it is essentially critical for one to be loyal to his party. I’m a party man. I was deputy national chairman of PDP before I became governor, and therefore there is no reason why, with the opportunity my party has offered me and the services I was rendering my state when I was in the party, I will start junketing from one party to the other. When people do that it’s their choice, it is their decision. They have the right to do what and I am interested in keeping my focus on discharging my responsibility as governor of Katsina State. I was elected on the platform of PDP, no other party gave me the opportunity to be who I am except PDP, and the president of Nigeria is of PDP extraction. That is why he deserved my support. What will I be doing now if I say I will no longer support the president of my party? Who will I want to support? President of another party? There is nowhere if you know what you are doing as a politician that you will try to support the opposition party against your own party.
People often say you are very stingy with funds. That you take your time before you approve any money because you will peruse the files thoroughly. Why do you do that?
It is very simple and important to understand that in political context when anybody says that you are stingy, they want you to carry public funds to put in their pocket. How can you be stingy when you provide every child opportunity to go to school? How can you be stingy when you provide everybody who goes to hospital medicare for free? How can that translate to being stingy? How can you be stingy when you have 700 kids that are not your relations, indigent children to go and read a degree in Medicine and Pharmacy, and somebody tell you that you are stingy? Where does he want you to spend the money? Because he wants you to give him the money for his pocket and stomach, and when you don’t do you become stingy. Most politicians that you hear of being accused or taken to EFCC, it is not because of the money they put in their pockets but the money they took and shared to people, substantially, trying to maintain political structure. That is what is putting politicians in trouble. So it’s better for you to call me stingy because I spend on the people, than spend on small group that have access to me. Is it my money to give? Do I open state’s treasury and start carting money and sharing to people? No government or democracy can succeed or grow on the basis of sharing public wealth to people who are have access to you. And nobody in his right sense given trust; God has place trust of public resources on your head and you just carried it and started sharing. To me leadership is about doing what is right not what is popular.