Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State is one of the few serving governors going into voluntary retirement from politics by May 29. He’s made it clear that he has seen all in politics and nothing left to ask for. The former Speaker of the House of Representatives sat with select journalists for an interview recently. LEON USIGBE brings the excerpts.
How are you able to cope with development issues given the level of insecurity?
The issue of insecurity in this country was not a creation of APC. If, and I say ‘IF’ with capital letters, it was a creation of the government, then we didn’t create it, we inherited it. The past state of insecurity was handed over to us by a PDP government, who managed the affairs of the country for 16 years. And this issue of insecurity is not only in Nigeria, it is not only in sub-Saharan Africa, but it’s a global issue. The meltdown economically also threw a lot of people out of jobs internationally and locally. So, you have a large army and again, here in sub-Saharan Africa, lack of education, which resulted in lack of skills for meaningful engagement, also created an army of unemployed youth that are easily recruited for Boko Haram, other insurgencies, banditry, name it. So, despite all these challenges, we were able to record meaningful, documented developmental projects that are key. But we emphasise education, because for us, we believe the best way out for Katsina State is education. The state has been known for education since the coming of the colonial government, which is western education. Prior to that, the state was a centre of Islamic education. If you go, you will see evidence dating back over 700 years of the presence of an Islamic institution that was imparting knowledge. So, Katsina is a state built on education and commerce.
We’re very happy today. What we met on WAEC was 11 per cent while what we met on NECO was 19 per cent. But today, on WAEC, we’re getting 63 per cent good performances, which includes both English and Mathematics, minimum of five credits. Sixty-three per cent within a record period of seven years and we have recorded over 80 per cent of those who passed five credits in any subject. So, we are happy with the investments we’re making in education and we are also happy with the policies that we introduced in education. They are yielding results and so, for that, we thank God.
I’m happy today that we have given the General Hospital (Katsina) new structures, new look and new equipment. In fact, this General Hospital can compete with many teaching hospitals in this country. So, we have invested heavily and it’s not the only one. We did similar things in the Daura; we did similar things in Baure; we did similar things in Kankia. The one of Musawa was commissioned. We did one in Malumfashi; we did one in Funtua. So, we were all around the state. What we are doing is taking projects across the three senatorial districts and distributing them as much as we could. So, we use local labour. It is cheaper when we use local contractors and you’ll get the result of what you really need. So, we addressed our needs and left our wants because wants can only come when you have surplus. But we tried very hard to address our needs, meet some of the obligations and the promises we made to the people.
What’s your level of investment in security?
We have invested heavily in security, heavily because without our support and investment in security, it would have been impossible for the military, the police and the Nigerian civil defence to have moved at the pace they have moved and we are lucky now that what we were hearing before: bandits invading communities, invading villages, killing and kidnapping. Today we still get some flashpoints, but it is not even up to 30 per cent of what we used to have. Now, we’re accessing almost all areas and I do believe, at the rate we’re going, this will be part of history, not only of Katsina State, not just of the North-West, but of Nigeria. But in nation building, you’re going to come across many challenges. After all, what is leadership without challenge? The difference is those who have the ability, the capacity to challenge and confront issues and solve them; that’s what makes the difference. So, leadership is not supposed to be an enjoyable position. No, it’s not supposed to be. So, we refused to play to the gallery. My style of leadership is I don’t play to the gallery. I play to the will and wish of the people that I govern. I do my best with available resources to deliver on what I have been elected to deliver. I’m not a saint, neither am I a puritan. I am an ordinary human being like you, like any other person. But what I do know, what I hope is that I will leave Katsina better than how I met it and I will restore faith and confidence in leadership because this is critical, most important.
When we came and people were complaining, we talked to people…people don’t believe leaders. I said why should people believe? In this country, we have seen and we have heard presidents lying. We have seen, we have heard governors lying. We have seen and heard ministers lying, principal officers of government, distinguished people by our own definition of a distinguished person, they have told stories that are not true. So, if people now say they don’t believe you, you shouldn’t be surprised because they have no power to go right inside you to know what is inside you and what you can do. It is only when you deliver, then they’ll be able to differentiate and separate the chaff from the wheat. But believe you me, I have four months to go, I wouldn’t pray that I should lose even a second of my life. But if I can draw these four months to be one week, so that I can leave, I will do that because as you see me here, I’m eager to leave. I’m tired and if there’s another opportunity for this kind of office, if you give it to me for free, I won’t take it.
What will you want the people of Katsina to remember you for?
As somebody who came from a village called Masari, he was here, he governed, he saw, he did the best he can and most importantly, we brought simplicity in governance. We have proven to the people that it is possible for anybody to come from anywhere, once he has the requisite qualification, determination, capacity, political will, to come and govern. It is not magic. We don’t need magicians; we don’t need miracle performers. We need human beings like us because some are stronger in character than others. Some are more endowed with the capacity to deliver than others. So, we hope, my prayer is that the next Governor of Katsina, should be better than me because I want Katsina to progress. So my successor, who happens to be from my political camp, I know his capacity. I took him to SMEDAN. He has been with me for 20 years and I know he can do it better than what we are doing today. That’s my prayer for Katsina, something better will come after us.
You have spoken of your efforts in the state as governor but after almost eight years in the saddle on the platform, do you think APC can win the next elections?
Then what is the purpose of commendation? All we’re looking for is if we can get 60 per cent to 70 per cent, we’re home and dry. Look, prophets of God, who were taking directives from God, not from ordinary human beings, up to the time they departed this world, there were those who didn’t believe in them and they were the best of characters and still some people did not believe in them. So, why do you think I expect that the whole Katsina State will be on the same page with me or will support what I like? I want the majority of them to support APC and APC has delivered. APC has laid a foundation. If we make the mistake, not only in Katsina, in this country, of returning those hawks, we’re finished. Muhammadu Buhari has laid a social security system foundation for this country.
In Katsina State, we have 148 vulnerable families that are on direct cash transfers, for example, only from local governments. We are feeding 863,000 school pupils. When we came, the enrollment was 1.1 million. Today, the enrollment is 2.2 million for primary education. We have 10,000 cooks that prepare local food and feed these children. We have N-Power; we have Market Money; we have Anchor Borrowers, name all these programmes, they are programmes centered on the people. Develop a human being, he’ll do everything for himself. Look, as the governor here, if I build the tallest building, if he comes as the next governor, he puts two steps over mine, mine will be dwarfed. But invest in the people. Why do you think after we lost our first generation of leaders in 1966 -from 1966 to date, we’re talking about 58 years- people are still talking about them? Why are people talking about Awolowo today? Because he invested in education. So, the people whom he invested in also invested in their children; children invested in their children. This generation of regeneration, in terms of investment through education, is the best way to go. Jakande invested heavily in education. These are names of people that you can never forget. Forget about how long your road is, forget about how tall your buildings are, no. People. That is the one on the vision and manifesto of APC: develop the individual, human capital development. That’s what the APC has done.
Like the president has said several times, and even you here, when we’re discussing, you appreciated that between 2015 to date, we had many challenges that affected revenue. And if you look at the 18 years of the other party, getting 2.1 million barrels per day, at an average of $100 per barrel, compared to what we were having… at a time between 2015 and 2008, we were not producing more than 500,000 barrels because of vandalism and sabotage and still federal government was able to pay salaries, did not retrench anybody. We had a president here who downsized and it happened in this country. Did Buhari downsize? Did APC downsize? What are we talking about? I hope people will be sensible. The elite should be bold enough, should be courageous enough to look at the nation, not themselves.
Just now I was telling somebody who was a witness that I spent over N40 billion constructing drainage in over 300 communities across the state. That’s why throughout the heavy rains of 2022, there was no recorded major flooding in Katsina. We didn’t lose lives; we didn’t lose properties and we didn’t lose our roads or bridges or culverts. This is money that was spent on ordinary people. The Revenue House that the President (Buhari) commissioned, it is only in Katsina State that you’ll tell somebody ‘I built that with only N800 million’ to believe. It was only N800 million. So, if I take N40 billion and start to build all these things, Katsina would have been littered with all these kinds of buildings. You would have been hearing ‘hey, Masari is working,’ when my people are dying, losing their lands, losing their houses. That’s why I say leadership is not about how well you dress, but how well you deliver, so that at the end of the day, after how many years you put in office, you will be able to sleep with your eyes closed. I don’t blame some people so much because society seems to be recognizing, in most cases, bad people. They are heroes because they are doing things which they’re not supposed to do and yet you say they are heroes. By May, Buhari will be eight years in office, but for me as his governor, I have never been to Abuja to ask him to give me one naira to support Katsina. I will not do it. He is the President of Nigeria, not the President of Katsina or President of Daura.
Any unique treatment for Katsina as the home state of the president?
Except the expenditure, whenever he visits. You see that’s what we missed. That’s how our leaders here were. If you’re a leader, you’re a leader for all. The Oaths of Office did not see where you come from, did not see your political party, they saw Nigerians. To those who elected you or who didn’t vote for you, you are ultimately responsible and liable. That’s how I put leadership.
You said if you have another opportunity like this office, free of charge, you won’t take it. Why do you feel so strongly against another political office?
Why not? I have been in public office since January 1992, as the Commissioner for Works, Housing and Transport, in between, Health was added to my portfolio. I went to the House of Representatives. By the grace of God, I became the Speaker of the House and I thank God, I finished well. Let me remind you. God has blessed me, coming from a very poor background, from a village, that I was able to enter all the offices in this country. I was privileged to have visited, I can’t even count the number of times. The highest office in this country is the Presidency. I’ve been here since 2003 to date, and had every opportunity. I had the opportunity to call ministers, Governors of the Central Bank, heads of extra-ministerial departments at the federal level. So, after this, tell me what is there that impresses me. To be a minister so that I can be summoned by the House? I’m not saying that I will not provide service to the people. No. I’m not saying that. But what I’m telling you is that I don’t see anything that really will just make my head roll or start looking for one office or the other. Which office? The office I would have looked for, I was not destined to look for, is the office of the President. Certainly my destination is not there. Whoever becomes President, after eight years, I will be over eighty years. Imagine at 80 years, running up and down this country looking to be president. Am I crazy?
As you leave office in four months’ time, what would you say gives you the greatest joy and what gives you regrets?
I think first of all, like I said earlier, challenge is part of leadership, but actually what gave me sleepless nights here as governor is the issue of banditry. We never bargained to have the kind of situation we found ourselves because our own in Northwest and especially in Kaduna, is unique in the sense that these are the same people, professing the same religion, the same tribe, the same culture and yet they’re killing themselves. People who were sharing the same market yesterday, who were sharing the same worship place, who were visiting each other, attending each other’s ceremony, suddenly found themselves killing each other. So, it makes you wonder why. The only consolation is human beings, what they are, you can never fully say.
I’ve been telling Mr. President that I don’t envy him because when he came as Military Head of State on 31st, December, 1983, essential commodities had started, in so many places, disappeared completely from shops and supermarkets and there was a global downturn of economy, there was near-collapse of everything. That was the time he came. He was taken out when things were getting better? But again, he came at a time, in 2015, when there was Boko Haram, falling revenue, terrorism, banditry, COVID. We have survived all these. So, we got leadership at our most difficult, trying and challenging time. But like I said earlier, what is leadership without challenge? Leaders do not come from parties. Leadership is born out of sincere and honest struggle to better the lives of others while sacrificing your own in the process. If it means ultimate sacrifice, so be it. At least, you wouldn’t die in vain. It’s not how long you live, but how well. The reality is, our life here as governor has been mixed. The only consolation we are seeing, what is making us a bit comfortable and happy, we are seeing that those factors that are retarding the growth of this country are disappearing. Number one, insecurity. We are seeing an improvement in terms of oil revenue and we’re also seeing the unbundling of NNPC, which was long overdue because most of the oil producing countries that had a similar outfit and started at a similar time… I can remember Norway very well. What is the position of the oil company of Norway today when you compare it with NNPC? Probably this stock-taking will free the sector so that we’ll be able to be a major player, at least in Africa because we have experience, we have the people.
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