At about 4:00 P.m, Alhaji Ambrusa, the Honourable Commissioner for Information and Culture, ushered me into one of the tastefully furnished rooms of the Kebbi State Liaison House at TY Danjuma Street, at Asokoro, Abuja with group of journalists that had been waiting anxiously to interview the Governor. In no time His Excellency, Alhaji Muhammad Adamu Aliero entered the room in the company of His Special Assistant on Media and Press Secretary to His Government. The Governor Apologised for keeping the journalists waiting and explained that he could not extricate himself from other State matters he had to attend to earlier in the day. With all smiles, he told journalists that he was prepared to answer their questions.
EXCEPTS OF THE INTERVIEW
You do not look physically older but it is certain that you have grown wiser in politics in the last six years. Could you share with us some of the highlights of your experience since you became the governor of Kebbi State?
From the beginning of my involvement in politics, I realise that it is a very delicate and a demanding career. Unlike other walks of life, politics does not tolerate or brook mistakes. Take for instance the political terrain in Kebbi on the eve of the gubernatorial elections in 1999. The PDP won most of the local governments in the state because our party APP took things for granted. We however quickly reorganised and employed more purposeful and pragmatic strategies. We knew that the local government elections did not reflect the true strength of our party in the state. That result was however a wake up call for us and we put all hands on deck. Even though some people expressed surprise at how I won the gubernatorial elections, most of us in the party were assured of victory. I am sure the lesson from that is that like all other competitive endeavours, wining trophies in politics entails hard work and detailed planning.
What is certain is that there is never a time in politics when you can say that you have done your best. You are always as good as that which you have done today. Winning and sustaining the support and loyalty of the people demand a reciprocal loyalty and commitment to the people. From my experience, it is totally impossible to succeed as a leader without the support of the people you are leading.
That is why I endeavour to get my people along in all that I do. I let them know and get their consent and approval in all that I do. It is easy to be carried away by the mirage of office if one failed to understand that the office and its powers are held in trust for the people. It is this realisation that power and indeed the resources of the state belong to the people that has assisted my administration. My total dedication to the will of my people has been consequential to the achievements that my administration has made.
I have in the course of time realised that the best antidote to feuds, crisis and conflicts in general is justice. Any leader that is just and fair to everybody under his authority should not have a leader can achieve under a condition of strife. Kebbi State is the most peaceful state in Nigeria today. I can say with all modesty that we have been able to secure and protect that record because of the even way we have distributed the political and socioeconomic gains of the state. Go to every part of the state, what you find in one place be sure that you will find it in another place. Our administration does not discriminate against anybody. Ours is a land of equity and we strive to live by that. We strive to get our priorities right. We pursue projects that in consonance with the needs of the people of Kebbi State.
Talking about achievements, you seem to have won over everybody in the state to ANPP. How did you do that?
As I said earlier, my administration stopped the politics of we- and -them the moment we won and assumed office. Although I won with the ANPP ticket, I was elected to govern Kebbi State. I took the oath of office to be the governor of everybody in Kebbi. My religion and understanding of the purport of my office forbade me from playing the politics of double standards. Besides, for me to be effective, I need to work with the best hands and all those that assist me to reach my goal. That is why appointments into political offices and positions in the state cut across party lines. Take my Special Assistant on Media that is sitting by you is from the PDP. If you asked me to tell you in one word how I am able to unify political energies in the state, I will simply say that I have been just to everybody and the people are rewarding me with their total support and loyalty.
If you have a united and peaceful political class, you should not have too much crisis in your state. I was elected to govern a state that has proud cultures of equity, justice and fairness. Thanks to Allah, I have been faithful to the cause of my people and like I told you, my people have been supportive and understanding.
Kebbi was one of those states that were created to take development to the grassroots. How much of this have you achieved
in the past six years?
This is a very wide question. I will summarise what we have been able to achieve so far. We have achieved a lot in the area of education. By 1999, Kebbi State had lost the educational glory it enjoyed when it was under Sokoto State. The average success rate in public examinations in the primary and secondary schools was 4%. We could not tolerate such a dismal record. We gave education a priority in our first development master- plan. In the first budget we allocated as much as 40% to education and maintained it around 30% in the next three budgets. We still give education a priority. We recruited and motivated teachers by paying them 30% over and above what the other civil servants earn in the state. We renovated expanded, furnished and stocked schools with books, computers and laboratory materials. We made education from primary to JSS3 compulsory. We also made education free at all levels including tertiary education. We award scholarships to universities for undergraduate and postgraduate education. We have by so doing been able to lift the state from the position of the second most educationally disadvantaged state in the whole of northern Nigeria, to one with the best educational records in the country today. The success rate of the state at public exams is now over 75%. The state is now forced to build new schools and a university to cope with the upsurge in enrolment and qualifications for university education. This success cuts across all the four emirates. We surpassed the all criteria set by the millennium development goals in education. The girl child has as much encouragement and access to school as the boy child. In the near future, Kebbi State would set standards that others would be judged with.
We have opened up all the nooks and crannies of the state. We have built roads interlinking all the major towns in the state. We have built and rehabilitated a network of roads of about 1000 kilometres. We have built township roads in all the major towns in Kebbi. We are modernising Birnin Kebbi, the state capital as well as the headquarters of the four emirates in the state. There is hardly any town or village in Kebbi that we have not provided with water and electricity. If there is any then work must have been going on there. What is certain is that there would be no town or village in my state without portable water and electricity by 2007.
We exerted similar efforts in Health and Agriculture. We have renovated and equipped all the general hospitals in the state. We created more health centres and have upgraded some to general hospitals. Like in the area of education, most over- the -counter medicines are free. We have built and established a nursing school in Birnin Kebbi that is second to none in the country. We have built a kidney dialysis centre. The only one in the Northwest. Except for those that have gone beyond redemption, we may not have blind persons in Kebbi State by 2007.Our VVF Centre is one of the best in the country.
Our efforts in all sectors and departments are evenly distributed and if could find time to visit the state, you can confirm this. My ministry of information has employed a documentarist that has been working on all of these since November last year. Very soon Nigerians would have the opportunity of seeing what contribution we a making to justify democracy.
Kebbi is not a particularly rich state. Where do you get the money to do all that you claimed to have done?
Yes Kebbi is not rich. We get just about a billion naira a month. We have a monthly salary bill and recurrent capital of about N600 million. We have been able to make the achievements we made through prudent management of funds. We plan thoroughly and meticulously before making or embarking on any capital expenditure. All our contracts pass through a tender’s board and we award contracts purely on merit. That is why non-indigenes are competing favourably with indigenes. Our equitable policy of fairness is helping greatly in what we do. We do not owe contractors and we do not allow any contractor to mess with us. Because of our transparency and best practices contactors do not jostle over jobs in Kebbi. Contractors know that they do not have to bribe anybody to get contracts in my state. They are aware of our commitment to the due process and those of them that have gone through it know how fair it is. We do not have abandoned projects in the state. We know how limited our resources are and we do not toy with them. We do not borrow and will not borrow a kobo before leaving office. What is certain is that the next administration will meet money in the coffers and will find thriving money making ventures in place.
How come some of your commissioners were said to have stolen N900 Million from the state.
The matter is in court. I will therefore not go into specifics. All I would say is that one can never run a foolproof administration. As a state Chief Executive, you have to work with people you trust and believe that they share your vision. But then treachery and betrayals are common in politics. Some people are not morally strong enough to resist the temptation to steal public money. The gentlemen in question were in charge of the ministry of finance and were therefore able to devise a successful racket by which they were able to steal that much. But for the courage of a patriotic individual it would have been near impossible for me to detect the fraud.
But I think Allah saw what we are doing, that is why He exposed them. Certainly we will now have more funds with which to pursue and execute our projects.
Are they the only ones that you have caught so far?
There have been some incidents here and there and we have treated them expeditiously. We have been having our anticorruption crusade long before now. We are happy that Mr.President is giving it the attention and determination it deserves.
Does that mean that you support the President’s anti-corruption crusade?
How will the fight against corruption succeed when Governors and other public office holders are insulated by constitutional immunity?
I agree that the immunity clause is being abused. That is most unfortunate. I think the idea of inserting the immunity clause is to shield public office holders from frivolous distractions. It is believed that without immunity from prosecution, some cranks out there would make life unbearable for Governors. But I believe that the corollary to immunity is moral commitment to the larger spirit of the constitution. I think it is a shame that one would flaunt immunity in the face of obvious criminal deeds. The good thing is that immunity is not absolute since a perpetuator can always be prosecuted after leaving office.
That is why I believe that the institutions that have been empowered to fight corruption should not be deterred. They will always have their day in court. I also think that they deserve our support. The EFCC is doing very well and by the time everybody accept the fact that what they are doing is good, they would be more effective and the country will be better for it.
Would you support the removal of the immunity clause from the constitution?
Yes. But I advise that something is put in place to avoid frivolous and vexatious litigations. Stiff penalties should be made for cranks that may want to seize the opportunity to embarrass or distract public office holders. The office of the Chief Executive of a country or state is very delicate and would be made precarious if it is not in some way insulated from malicious and mischievous characters. Equally, public trust should not be left to absolute whims of the Chief Executive. As you would have notice, there is the general cry that those who
are betraying that trust are provocatively shielded by the immunity clause. No matter what, the public should not be made to regret what it did at ballot box. There are countries with limited immunity for their Chief Executives and they are faring well politically. So if you ask me, the heavens would not fall if the immunity clause were removed.
You seem to be enjoying a rosy relationship with President Obsanjo, would that not bring about a conflict of interest since you are not in the same party?
President Obasanjo is the president and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. It is therefore sensible to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with him. I see nothing wrong in my official relationship and interaction with him. Besides, I am a committed member of my party and by the grace of Allah I will commit my energies to the party at all times. If President Obasanjo extends a hand of fellowship to me because he knows that I am doing well and what I am doing is in the best interest of the country, why should I not reciprocate the gesture?
How prepared is ANPP for the 2007 elections?
If you understand what politics is all about then you will realise how pre-emptive your question is. What I can tell you for sure is that some of us still have a scared mandate and would not want to be distracted. Wait for the right time and you would see for yourself that ANPP is fully prepared and ready to take its pride of place in the politics and history of this country. The nature of our presidential system makes the opposition less visible in the political arena. That is not to say that the opposition is barred from agitating against constitutional breaches and abuse. You can see that our party chairman has been vociferous on issues of security and elections. The most important aspect of democracy is election. It is at elections that the people express their power. It is though the instrumentality of elections that the people reward, discipline or punish political actors. It is though elections that the people assign sovereignty to the government. No leader can enjoy legitimacy without going through free and fair elections.
ANPP would therefore continue to agitate for a transparent and credible electoral commission. We do not believe in INEC as it is currently structured and constituted. The situation whereby card-carrying members of PDP are made Commissioners of INEC is totally unacceptable.
What is your position on the Proposed Constitution Amendment? Some people are fearful the exercise is meant to actualise Mr.President’s third term agenda.
I do not have a personal opinion on the proposed amendment. I however do believe that there is need to effect concrete changes in the constitution. The changes should be those that would enhance the capacity of public officers to be more productive and at the same time more accountable to the people. There is a lot of rascality going on. The people are hopelessly denied their sovereign power to hold their leaders accountable. The electoral process is flawed and it must be made democratic and transparent. The people must be empowered.
I am also anxious to see a Nigerian seeing himself as a Nigerian first before his ethnicity. A lot of energy is denied the nation by the myopic allegiance to ethnic, religious and cultural affiliations. The world has moved away from that. What is in vogue and what has made countries to progress is the collective commitment of the people to actualise rewarding economic goals.
I am hopeful that the proposed amendments would seize this opportunity to find a lasting solution to Nigeria’s problems. I am anxious to see Nigeria attain its rightful place in the comity of nations. That is why I am doing all that is within my powers to justify the confidence reposed in me by my people. I believe in Nigeria and I trust that we Nigerians are capable of finding and would indeed find solutions to our problems.
History is taking notes of what we are doing and if I must say it our succeeding generations would judge us unsympathetically if we allow a few individuals to use the amendment to rob from the people the right to have a final say on who rules them at any point in time.
You do not seem to be talking to the press that often. Don’t you think that you need to tell the world about what you are doing?
Journalists have free access to me. A journalist does not need a patron to see me. I give audience and attend to all journalists that gain access to me. What I think you are referring to is the fact that I do not seek publicity. I have been working and I think working and talking do not go together. I have things on the ground that are talking for me. I am now enjoying the appreci
ation of even the worst of critics. There is no journalist that visits my state and do an on the sport inspection or investigation that does not sing my praise. Some are cautious because they do not want to be seen as sycophants. I respect journalists a lot and I appreciate their constituency. I believe we can work together and I in that wise, I am available to any journalist that wants to interview or talk to me. Journalists have a big role in bridging the information gap between the north and the south.
I am happy that many media houses have stationed reporters in Birnin Kebbi. My administration would do its best to make those reporters comfortable. Thank you. I have to attend to visitors waiting for me in the living room.