Factors that may determine next president —Tambuwal

Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors Forum and governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, gives an insight into why military onslaught against bandits in the North-West appears not totally effective, constitutional amendment and Electoral Act amendment bill 2021, his days in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and others. KUNLE ODEREMI brings excerpts of the interaction with journalists.

 

You operated at the national level as a speaker of the House of Representatives and now, you are the governor of your state; what is the experience like being at the national level and coming back home as the governor?

It is like you are talking about two different worlds: the House of Representatives at the National Assembly and then Sokoto State. In the House of Representatives, you have representations from 306 constituencies of Nigerians, who are from different and diverse backgrounds. Coming with them are different degrees of experiences; some definitely older than you; some with more academic laurels than you; some richer and wealthier than you and some younger than you. But all are holding equal mandate representing their constituencies with different worldviews and perspectives on issues and all of that. In Sokoto, one can say that the people in the state are largely from the same background even though you have the Fulani, Hausa, Zabarmawa, some Kanuri and other Nigerians that are living with us. It is not the same with what you have at the National Assembly. When you talk about leading the two, where, by the grace of God and the support of my colleagues, I served as the Speaker of the House of Representatives and in Sokoto that I am serving currently as governor in the last six years, they are different. First is the constitutional role and second, you are dealing with two different sets of people, if I may put it that way. Yes, even in Sokoto, some people are richer than me; some are more educated but in terms of close contact and micromanaging, it is a different ball game. At the House of Representatives, you are first among equals as the speaker but in the state, it is not the same scenario. In the state, you are the Chief Executive, so it is a different scenario and not as if you are just first among equals. That alone tells you that the experiences are not the same.

As governor, I can say you deal more closely with the minutest of issues. As governor, if somebody’s wife has a stillbirth, they say it is you; if their tap is running, they say it is the governor. So, it is not the same experience, either as a parliamentarian at that level or even as a speaker. That is why I said they are two different worlds and experiences. That relationship, solidarity and working together like school mates exists at the House, unlike in Sokoto where I am the Chief Executive. Virtually minus my deputy, who was elected alongside with me, every other person is my appointee. It is part of what I am missing and of course, the debate. Most times at the House, you are always talking about national and bigger issues.

 

Security is gradually becoming an issue in Sokoto which hitherto used to be one of the most peaceful states in the country. What is really happening and what is your administration doing to curb the menace?

Before you ask me what is happening and what I am doing to curtail it, I will give you a background of how we got to where we are at the moment. Unfortunately, Zamfara State has been the epicentre of banditry and kidnapping in the North-West. Most of the states, including Niger really are getting the heat from Zamfara. And what is the distance of Zamfara to Sokoto? Almost about 14 local governments are either neighbouring Zamfara or Niger Republic. And what is happening in the Sahel region, which of course includes Mali, Niger and Central Africa, is permeating and creeping into Nigeria. Talking about banditry, ISWAP and all of that, all these agents of instability that are carrying out activities in the Sahel region have a way of finding themselves through our porous borders into Nigeria. So, part of the problem is that we are neighbours to Niger Republic and Zamfara which is the epicentre of banditry and kidnapping in the North-West and that, recently, to a large extent, the security agents or agencies are unable to coordinate their efforts and operations in Zamfara against our own advice as governors of eight states. We have met President Muhammadu Buhari several times in the last three or four years. We even advised Service Chiefs that whenever they undertake this large scale operation, let it be simultaneous, that is, have a blocking force in parts of Kaduna, Niger, Kebbi, Katsina and Sokoto and carry out the operations simultaneously. They did not do that. Second is the timing for operation which is at the peak of the rainy season. At that time, the issues are that the forests are thick; two, the military and other security agencies do not have the equipment that can move into those difficult terrains. So, whenever they carry out an operation and attack on the bandits in the camps, they pander towards states that are close to Zamfara. Instead of the security agencies to get them and do away with them in Zamfara, they disperse them into our state. And most of those that came in to attack our people are as a result of those operations recently. Another issue is the fact that as I said before, they do not have enough manpower, firepower and equipment to carry out the operations. So, it is not as if it is about the people of Sokoto State. It has more to do with the situation of our neighbours.

Then, when you talk about what we have done. There has been a lot of synergy among the agencies in Sokoto State. I must commend the security agencies. We have been working together with them with regards to addressing the challenges. We do the much we can and we are still doing a lot because there was never a time any of the agencies approached us for support without getting it. In the last four, five years, we had given out not less than 500 vehicles to security services in Sokoto State. It is on record. How many states have done that? And as I said, we pay them their allowances from our coffers; we are up to date in paying those allowances. I believe you can check: we have refurbished all the divisional police headquarters. We are building about 12 new ones for them. So, we have given them every support. We are not sleeping; we have a standing committee that was established under His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto (you know he is a retired Army General) that is also working on the issue of security in the state. We hold regular security meetings. Even two, some days ago, we held one (meeting) when we took a decision on outlawing self-styled vigilante groups because they were part of the problems in Zamfara State.

Again, you know the limitations of every governor in Nigeria. I have not seen any governor who has taken a machete and not to talk of a gun and pursued a bandit or Boko Haram in the bush. At best, it is to support the security agencies and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

 

Are there plans for a regional outfit to contain the insecurity situation?

I told you that over the years, four, five years ago, we had the northern governors’ meeting and we had the Nigerian governors’ meeting and we have had sub-regional meetings. At a point in time, each of us contributed N100 million for operations to be carried out in the affected areas. And we have also been having meetings with our colleagues from neighbouring Niger Republic; we go there and they come here. So, it is not as if we have not been having regional cooperation. On the issue of forming a regional outfit, we have not discussed that because of the perception problem associated with that. But what we have done and we are working with the security agencies is that we try to strengthen our vigilantes at every state level and allow them to work with the security services. The Amotekun or EbubeAgu are not better than the vigilante groups. They are just a similar version of the vigilantes. What we are doing is putting them under some training by the police and then supporting the security services.

 

What is your view on the direct mode of primary for the selection of candidates by political parties as contained in the amended Electoral Act 2021 generating a lot of public debate?

Direct or indirect, I am for either. But let me tell you, it is nothing about governors and the National assembly. It is about our democracy. It is about our country. As it is, can we really say that INEC and other agencies can conduct direct primaries in Nigeria? Have we looked at the implications? Another issue is that there may be violence. Do we have enough manpower from the INEC to monitor the direct primaries in all wards across the country? Do we have enough security personnel to man them? Do you have the resources to fund it? Is it really feasible? I don’t want to mention names but I may be compelled by this question to say: how many votes did President Buhari get during the APC direct primaries? How many did he get in the general election? Take the example of Kano State, where he got three million votes from APC’s direct primaries. How many votes did he get at the general election? He got over a million votes in Lagos APC direct primaries. How many votes did he get during the general election from Lagos? These are the two most populous states in the country. It was the same experience in Anambra State: 237, 000 votes in direct primaries; less than 50, 000 votes in the general election. What happened to the 70, 000 voters? Where did they defect to? So, these are the issues and we must consider the general situation of the country: the economic downturn, can we fund the security issues and monitoring by the INEC? Therefore, the whole matter is not about governors and the National assembly. if some members of the National Assembly believe that if they go by direct primaries, they may get it, they should also be reminded that they will be facing two elections; one a semi-general election and the other one, the general election. So, I’m talking about the cost and the logistics. Therefore, it not about the governors not supporting the direct mode of party primary; it is not about the National Assembly fighting the governors. That’s my opinion. Let’s be objective; let’s be dispassionate; let’s look at our democracy; let’s look at our country. Even the cost of general election alone is humongous on the government. How much more of funding the primaries of 18 political parties through direct primaries by INEC to monitor? And with the potentiality of maybe in one day, two political parties are doing primaries in the all the wards across the country. For example, if you are doing direct primaries for presidential tickets and two or three political parties are doing their primaries at the same time, INEC must deploy in the venues in all the wards; police and other security personnel must be deployed. It not about the governors not wanting direct primaries, no!

 

From reports available to us, you do not owe and projects are going on. One is tempted to ask: how are you getting the resources? 

As I said initially, the key to the whole thing is planning; we plan how to raise money and part of it is the management of what we get from IGR and with augmentation from some loans that we have from both banks and other financial institutions. And, most of it, are payable within the lifespan of this administration. You know that banks and financial institutions would not lend money to you unless they are sure that you are healthy and that you can carry it. In any case, they would do the background check to assess and even agree to endorse your request. So, it is a combination of the resources from the FAC, IGR, loans from banks and financial institutions.

 


Is there a reason that you have consistently allocated more funds to education and health sectors of your state?

You know that the indices on education development of Sokoto State are not encouraging. By the time we came in, we had about 1.6 million out of school children. Also, the indices in our healthcare are not good. So, we did that as a deliberate measure to upscale the quality, numeracy of education in the state, and to address the challenges of Almajirai and out of school. Yes, because, it is when they are out of school that they engage in all forms of criminality. It is because of this that we decided as a government that we must give priority to education and human capital development. Second, healthcare is of paramount importance. Without a healthy society, you cannot go anywhere. As I have said, the indices have not been good. At a point in time even before I came in, so many of our development partners had written us off because of their experience with the immediate past administration in terms of collaboration, partnership in working together to address some of these challenges in healthcare. By the time we came in, they saw that we are people they could actually do business with. They came back and we assembled experts both in education, healthcare and agriculture. In dealing with our tertiary institutions under education, we set up a committee under Professor Attahiru Jega who advised us on the way to manage our tertiary institutions. So, the reports from these committees guided and are still guiding our steps in the education sector; be it at basic, secondary or tertiary level. The same thing happened and is happening in healthcare and so also in agriculture. So, we saw the gaps and challenges and the need to really do more in education and healthcare. That is why we have been consistently prioritizing education, healthcare and agriculture in that order.

Southern governors met and said that the 2023 presidency should come from the South, and we know that you may want to join the race in the next general election. What is your view on that?

Let me tell you this; I think we need to get this clear. When you look at my history, I find it difficult to talk about zoning. First, when I got to the House of Representatives in 2003, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) caucus was not comfortable with the leadership style of the then leader of the caucus, the minority leader of the House. Sometime in 2005, there was a change in leadership and at that time, the ANPP had zoned the four principal officers’ positions as follows; Minority leader Kano, Kaduna; Whip Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara; deputy leader Borno, Yobe because that was where you had the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP); and deputy Whip to South-South. We had Don Etiebet from Akwa Ibom. Based on that arrangement, the leaders of the ANPP caucus emerged. When members felt they were no longer comfortable with Dr Salik Ahmed Salik and there was a change, they themselves altered the zoning arrangement. Don Etiebet, the then chairman of the party issued a statement disagreeing with members of the House of Representatives that they must go back to zoning. Meanwhile, the rules of the House provided that the leadership should emerge from among members. So, relying on that, nobody carried out the change of guard and I came; even though I came from the bloc that was supposed to be the Whip of the House by the arrangement of the ANPP caucus, I became the leader against zoning.

In 2011, the PDP zoned the Speakership position to the South West but members of the House of Reps came together to say look, we are looking for a speaker with so and so qualities. They approached me and all that went on, and I emerged the Speaker of the House; not from the South-West. Clearly from the two scenarios, based on the assessment of members, and in their own criteria the type of leader they were looking for, I enjoyed those two privileges in the past. That is why I said that based on my history, I find it difficult to talk about zoning. But when you talk about what my brother governors from the South said, they are entitled to their opinion. When the Northern governors met in Kaduna, they said their own. But, it is now for the political parties to sit down, look at the issues and plan how to win elections. The bottom-line for any political party is how to win elections. When you are talking about democracy and elections, you must think about demography; where are you going to get the votes.

 

Will you again join the presidential race in 2023?

Why are you asking me that question? You know that in 2018, I participated in the PDP primaries that held in Port Harcourt and I thank God that I came second. Several people are talking to me to give it a trial. At this moment, what I can tell you is that very soon, I am going to commence my consultations and whatever is the feedback I get and with prayers, I will let my position be known.

 

By January/February?

Somewhere along the line.

 

You have been in the APC and in the PDP, can you compare both?

It is on record that the PDP, even the name, has remained PDP right from 1998. The APC was formed as recently as 2014 and it is the amalgamation and coming together of about four or five political parties the CPC, the ACN, ANPP N-PDP and APGA with the sole objective of taking out the then President Goodluck Jonathan. Almost immediately after 2015 elections, problems began to manifest because the relationship was not cemented. I can tell you that virtually all the groups were still seeing themselves as what they were within the APC and even possibly until now. We don’t have that in the PDP; it has remained as one political party, whether you go in or out of it. It has not merged with any political party; that should be noted. And in terms of building political culture, we can at least say that the PDP has been there since 1998 with its positives and negatives, ups and downs, highs and lows. You cannot say so of the APC.

 

The PDP has only 13 states and APC has 22 states, yet people are still moving out of the PDP, will this not affect your party in the presidential election?

How many states was APC having in 2014? ANPP was having Zamfara, Borno and Yobe; n-PDP was having Sokoto, Kano, Adamawa, Kwara, ACN had Lagos, Osun, Oyo and Ogun; Ekiti was lost half way and CPC in Nasarawa and then APGA in Imo making it about 14 states against 21 states. Now, it is 14 against 22. Yes the gladiators have changed, dynamic and variables might have changed also but you can use the Anambra example as a test case, you can also use what happened in Edo, and here in Sokoto. As governor of Sokoto I could not deliver the state to the PDP to the presidential and National Assembly elections, Akeredolu in Ondo could not deliver his state to the APC, Obaseki with Adams could not deliver Edo to the APC so it is not about sitting governor delivering the states, it is about what the political situation is in the country and the given states and that is why I said PDP should be talking about how to win elections and not zoning. Not only how to win election but also coming up with leaders that can do the job. In Sokoto the difference between President Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was between 120,000 and 130,000 votes. Within two weeks, the dynamics changed and I won; yes, with a slim margin but I won, which means we covered the over 120, 000 votes difference, This is Sokoto that is largely seen and perceived as politically docile. So the dynamics may change. But when you are talking about presidential election, you must also consider demography. How are you going to get the votes? Who are you fielding that can bring you the votes? That was what APC did. The APC believed that President Buhari was having 11 million votes and it was part of what was used to convince the leadership of the APC that we should go for Buhari. So, you need to factor all of these; it is not about the political party. The APC won not because it was APC; certain factors were in place; certain variables were at play; so many things added up in favour of the APC. Therefore, 2023 candidates are going to play a very important role in which party gets it. And you must also remember the young people; they said they want a leader of their own generation, ‘sorosoke’.

 

Are you happy with where Sokoto is on the FAAC table, if you’re not, where will you like to see it?

No state is happy with where it is, not even Rivers and Lagos. So, what do you want Sokoto, Nasarwa and Gombe to say? We are all looking for resources, not even the Federal Government is happy with where it is. It is not about Sokoto; it is about what people have been talking about: restructuring and devolution of power. We must review the structure, I said it at a PDP retreat recently. It is our pathway to stability. The Federal government must shed weight and devolve more powers and resources to sub-nationals, where the people are: states and local governments, and that will give less attraction to the centre and we will have more stability. The Federal Government be dealing with issues of immigration and normal issues that a federal system should be concerned about. What is the business of the Federal government with primary health centres or primary schools, not talk of building roads? We must look at all of those issues and that is why in our attempt at the constitution amendment in 2014, we proposed, as a House of Representatives, certain amendments that could have addressed the challenges of either devolution or restructuring; that would have settled a long time ago. In that amendment, we said that the offices of the accountant-general of the Federal Government should be separated from that of the federation. That would have engendered transparency and more fiscal responsibility and openness. The system now is opaque, fraudulent and people at the centre are taking advantage of it. We said the office of the attorney-general of the Federation should be separated from that of the minister of justice, because minister of justice is a card-carrying member of a political party and an attorney-general of the federation is supposed not to be a partisan individual. It is not rocket science. We said certain items should be shifted from Exclusive Legislative List, including power, railway and prisons to Concurrent so that if the states of the South-South, for example, want to have a rail system within the South-South, they can. In Sokoto for example, we have not less than four or five sources of energy, solar, wind, gas and hydro. If you get 20 megawatts energy-mix of each, that is 80 megawatts. We don’t need up to that. If we generate, why must you transmit to the national grid? If a village can come up with their own electricity system based on solar and service themselves, why not? So, we have not sufficiently unbundled the power sector and it is part of restructuring. Unless we are able to do these, we can hardly really unleash the potentials of this country. With the number of able-bodied young men we have, when we talk about security even to recruit is a problem. As I have said before, must we wait for America to recruit? Are we waiting for UK or Russia to recruit and raise the capacity and strength of your armed forces when we have millions of unemployed youths that are ready and willing to join the service? Unless we are able to look at this and do the right thing, we can hardly get it. So, it is not about Sokoto getting lower FACC allocation. If we do what is rights, states in Nigeria can actually generate revenue to run their states. That is our target in Sokoto with the reforms we are introducing in governance.

 

You’re promising this if you become the president? 

Look, if I become the president of Nigeria, we will drastically move away from the current system and it is all about leadership. Do you imagine what it means if tomorrow, President Buhari takes a bill to the National Assembly on State Police; If by himself, he takes a copy to the Senate and a copy to the House of Representatives and addresses them and say ‘Please, in the interest of this country and for us to engender security, I want us to devolve issue of security and loosen up through state police? He should be the chief advocate of his police and his programmes. It is about reaching out. If for example the president decides to go round every state of the federation before the budget year, sits with stakeholders in the states, including members of the National Assembly from those states, identify the priorities of that states and come up with a plan; the ones that can be finished within one year takes off and those that can be finished within two-three years in collaboration with the National Assembly members irrespective of the party because we are not talking about party; we are talking about people after winning election, do you know what that will do to this country, if the president identifies the issues and comes up with a national plan on those issues; the one that they can do they do; the ones that the state should do they take to state; the one that is for local government they take to local government and devolve and give funding. It is all about building trust and engagement, as well as providing leadership. And it is achievable.


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