Former Speaker of House of Representatives and now governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari, has blamed the ongoing face-off between the executive and the National Assembly on mutual mistrust and thinks there may be no solution till the end of the present dispensation. He spoke to some select journalists. LEON USIGBE brings the excerpts.
YOU had an investment summit recently in the state. What level of response have you received from potential investors?
I think so far we have received about seven applications for land. Among them, three are serious. We have already given allocation to a company that will do tomato processing and also Toyota Assembly Plant and also about 2,500 hectares of land for tomatoes and other vegetable production. We have received no less than seven but three are very serious because they are already on ground in Katsina. And for others, we are processing their applications but we normally process those applicants that show interest. It’s not just about applying for land; you have to show that you are ready to invest. But if you are just taking the land now waiting until six months or one year, we don’t consider it to be serious. But certainly, some of them are serious and they have demonstrated that seriousness.
With a monthly wage bill in billions, how have you been able to cope in these days of dwindling federal allocation?
Well, we have been able to pay state government staff as and when due, but we are having serious challenges is the local government system and we are now working on local government staff verification. We believe that by the time we finish, we will be able to be paying local government workers also as and when due. Our major challenge is that we are only paying salaries and we don’t have enough to invest. But luckily, with the budget support from the president, we will be able to settle our salaries and overhead and probably have some amount to invest.
But so far since we came in, we have drastically reduced the cost of governance and we have also made sure that wherever we are spending, we are spending for good and we have cut down by more than 70 per cent the frequency of travel. In this state, we don’t travel out of the country. Since I have been in office, I have only been outside Nigeria once or twice but not directly with government funds. So, really, we hardly travel out here except on sponsorship. If it is on sponsorship, we nominate. But from government resources, we have not spent a kobo to travel outside Nigeria.
The local governments don’t appear to be working and you have been known to express worries over their existence. Should they be scrapped?
I think it’s not about scrapping local governments. You know, there is a lot of overstaffing in the local governments. If we can address the issue of overstaffing and then make sure they have compact staff and at least be able to save up to 40 per cent of their funds for investment, and I believe it’s possible, they should do better. So, scrapping them is not the solution. Even at state level, there is overstaffing all over the county because government remains the only employer since the economy has not even grown for a long time. So, no new jobs are being created. So, government is the only employer. It’s not about scrapping local government. It’s about making sure that those who are not adding value at local government level are removed from the service.
You have launched the sale of fertilizer to farmers. What measures have you put in place to ensure that the fertilizer get to the farmers?
You know in our own case, we sell per polling unit and everybody is known in the polling unit and in this state, we no longer give big men fertilizer. Big men have big money. So, let them go to the market. The little we can afford, we take them to the farmers at polling unit level. We have committees in each local government. We don’t leave it in the hands of local government officials, we don’t leave it even in the hands of Ministry of Agriculture. We leave it in the hands of committees headed by independent persons whose integrity we are sure of and they know the number of polling units in each of the local governments. So, we distribute fertilizer directly to the farmers. We have no allocation for large scale farmers. We cannot subsidize large scale farmers as much as we want to but we cannot because the resources are not there.
How can Katsina State government key into the potentials of the mineral resources that are found in vast amount in the state, like kaolin for instance?
You know solid minerals exploitation is capital intensive and it’s something that takes a long time to plan. It’s not like agriculture where you can plant and in six months, you harvest. But investment in solid minerals which are many, we have gold, diamond, kaolin in the state, but this is investment that requires one, a lot of money, it takes time and anybody who is coming to invest knows he will be in it for a very long time. So, it’s not something that you can get its results immediately. There are some investors who have shown interest. But you know part of the problem is at the national level. Not here. Ours is only the land and the mining license. Exploration is given by the Federal Government.
As a former principal officer of the National Assembly, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, how would you advise that the ice between presidency and the Legislature is broken?
Well, you know anything that does not start well is bound to create serious problems. The emergence of the leadership of the National Assembly did not start well. So, that is what is giving the problem up till now. So, it did not start well. There is mistrust on both sides. All the contentious issues are before the court of law. So, it’s very difficult for one to comment on the issues that are before the court of law. But like I said, the way the leadership emerged is what is responsible for what we are seeing today. And we may likely finish four years in this kind of situation. It is possible.
Are there specific steps you think can be taken to resolve it politically?
At this point in time, all the issues like I said are before the court of law. Since they are before the court of law, one can only say we hope that the judiciary will give the matter the attention it deserves. We have passed the level of opinion on these issues because the issues are before the court of law. So, it’s no longer a matter for opinion.
What advantage does the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari comes from your state confer on you as a state government?
Well, we are running a constitutional government. So, whatever comes to the state in terms of revenue is on the basis of revenue allocation formula. So, we are not expecting the president to bring in extra money to the state. This is not a military regime. However, because of the fact that he is from Katsina State, there may be some influences with regard to siting some projects. That is about as far as you can go. It’s not a military regime where the president can dole out money outside the budget. He can’t do that.