ThisDay Interview: AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq: How Lai Mohammed Dehumanised Me
In his first media interview, the usually reticent Governor of Kwara State, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, opens up on the decay he was confronted with when he assumed office, his durable efforts to change the state of affairs that are beginning to yield results as well as the reason he cannot share the same political space with the immediate past Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and the humiliation he suffered in the hands of Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed. Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha bring the excerpts
From most of our interactions with some of your aides and ordinary folks around the state, everyone agrees that you are very humble. Some of them are concerned that you may be taken for granted or at worse, come to some harm. Do you share this concern?
No. Really, I don’t share the concern. I think we have to go back to the context of the political environment, where we’re all coming from; where we’re going, our perception. In politics, everybody has his personal interest. What is propelling you? That is me. I am not making it up. It is who I am. If it is a veil, it will be removed one day and people will find out the real you. Those who take me for granted discover late that they made a wrong judgment about me. I have no reason to think I will come to any harm. From who? If your dealings with people are fair and transparent, you have no reason to be afraid. However, it is foolhardy to attempt to please everyone. There will always be those who do not see anything good in you. The important thing is to be true to yourself. As far as the office I occupy is concerned, I took an oath to serve the people of Kwara State. I am focused on service delivery to the greatest number. To serve well, you have to be a good listener and that is one of my strongest attributes. I talk less and listen more. It takes a humble person to listen, but I am not doing it for the cameras. This is who I am.
What are some of the challenges that confronted you on assuming office?
I started with the Fourth Republic in 1998. We were in the Peoples Democratic Party then. Everybody else (in Kwara) was in the All Nigeria Peoples Party with Saraki. At that time, nobody would go against him politically. Even as of today in government, those of us that did not play Saraki’s politics are not more than 10. Most of the people that are with us, are persons who have either never been into politics or were on the other side.
The interesting thing about this administration is that in our House of Assembly, only one person has been in politics before. In the cabinet, only one person. So, it’s like a new awakening. We have a lot of lapses because we’ve not been in government. It has been a huge challenge to train civil servants. Yes, they have the zeal to do the work, but there was lack of investment in them. The salaries were not being paid or were paid in percentages and were late. Pensions were not paid, gratuities were not paid, running costs of ministries were not paid. Therefore, morale was totally down.
Even if I say it myself, we have tried, but it is politics. We’re not shouting about what we’re doing. So that’s why it’s like we’re not doing anything, but the people are feeling the impact. I started with where we’re coming from.
The last administration was very good with the media, exceedingly good, the best in Nigeria. I can tell you that they were the best in Nigeria, when it comes to media, because we did our manifesto and programme, thinking we were coming to inherit something good. What they were saying was not what was on ground. We were not allowed into schools and hospitals to campaign or see what was going on, so we really didn’t know the depth of the challenges. It was when we now got in that we found out that the manifesto is useless.
In education, Kwara was blacklisted for six years…
Take education, for instance. Since 2013, we were blacklisted by UBEC. Between 2013 and 2019, that’s six years of no investment in education. What is UBEC about? They give us N1billion, we bring N1billion. That means you have N2billion guaranteed in that sector. What happened in 2013? UBEC offered us N1billion and said put your N1billion in the bank before we place our own. The previous administration went to the bank, borrowed N1billion and said UBEC, take our money. UBEC dropped their own N1billion. They paid the bank back their own money and they shared UBEC’s money. So UBEC waited for a while and then blacklisted Kwara. They said “you must refund the money before we can move ahead.”
When we came in, there was a backlog. I started paying gradually. Because of their political strength, UBEC could not go to EFCC. When we came in, there was N450 million left, we promptly paid it. Between then and now, there is N7billion available to us. But we also have to look for another N7billion to match it. That’s where we are gradually taking it now.
If you’ve not invested in education for six years, you will have total collapse. In your own personal house, if you leave the house, the roof will cave in, and it’s just like that. Schools’ infrastructure had collapsed, there was no furniture in schools. Thirty percent of the schools don’t have roofs. With the kind of funding we have available, it will take close to 20 years to bring the schools back, because we have allowed it to go completely bad. Schools in Lagos are doing whiteboard, we were still doing blackboard and chalk. There was nothing to build on in education. We are reinventing, going back to the foundation. Teachers were promoted, but it was not backed with salary; that’s not promotion. We have three colleges of education. When we came in, they were on strike. They were being owed N750 million.
We paid it in three months. And not just that, they had lost accreditation. To bring them back up to accreditation, you are talking about N300 million. Our School of Nursing lost accreditation, we had to bring those ones back too and start fixing those schools. To add insult to injury, we got another letter from WAEC, that some schools cheated in Kwara, that we should pay N30 million, or else we will not do WAEC the following year (2020). So we had to pay quickly. It shows you the depth of the rot in the system. Kwara used to be number one in education in the north, we’re now at the bottom, trying to crawl our way up. You can criticise us about what we found, but what are we doing about it?
We started with teacher hiring. They were insulting me from my own ward, Adewole Ward, here in Ilorin, that I’m not employing people from there. I said no. If we want to bring this education on, we have to have the best. Let everybody go online and do this. It was done and we got accolades, even from the opposition. We had at least 50 First Class graduates, who are now teachers, even those that lost out, agreed that it was done properly. Then we started training the teachers, not only training, but we made sure we paid all the salaries they were owed. Their promotions come on time now.
Let’s face reality, the salaries we are paying in Nigeria is not a living wage. A teacher earning N50,000; that’s one bag of rice. By the time he buys tomatoes and vegetable oil, it is gone. He has children at home, he has to transport himself to work, he has associates, family and dependents.
In education, our focus is to lift the state up. We’ve contacted the Bridge Academy. We’ve been talking to them for one year now. What they have done for Edo is successful to the extent that seven months ago, the World Bank gave Edo $72 million for the programme. They put their weight behind it and put Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State on the board of a World Bank committee, based on this programme. We felt that’s the direction we should go.
We will start it next year. We brought them in, did some random sampling in some of our schools, in four local governments, and they found out that teachers absenteeism in the four local governments was 40 per cent, student absenteeism 35 per cent; and that is from just sampling. We have a huge deficit. We have a lot of work to do. We have to get out-of-school children back to school, get the right teachers to teach, and get the school infrastructure back in place so that students are not sitting on the floor in dilapidated classrooms.
Education is one of our biggest challenges. With education, it’s not like what we call a low hanging fruit. You do not see the benefit of education for 20 years, when the products of those institutions graduate. In Edo, they are beginning to see it, because WAEC is improving for them and WASSCE is improving for them. We can see migration from private schools to public schools. So, it’s working well. That’s the way we are going. Improve content, fix infrastructure in schools and bring in the right furniture. People don’t really understand that there was a complete collapse of the education system.
The 2019 election was not your first. You made a previous attempt to be governor, so, why do people still talk about you as one who has no political structure?
I have never granted an interview before. Never. You cannot say you’ve seen me on TV. But what the media people say is that if you don’t tell your story, somebody else will tell it and you may not even like it. I’m reserved. I keep to myself. People blabber what they want. When this republic started, everybody was with Saraki in the ANPP. Just a few of us were in PDP then. We launched the party, very few of us. We knew our goal, to remain in opposition and remove these people from power. That’s our goal from then up till now. If you stick to something you are deliberate, and God knows your conscience, you will succeed.
I’m not saying we got here because we were tough, or more intelligent than others. There’s something divine about getting here, because all their institutions; traditional, religious were all stacked against us. Along the way, they started pulling out, because most of them saw that they had a glass ceiling on the Saraki side. They started pulling out. We started in 1998. Where was Lai Mohammed in 1998? He was in Lagos. He came in 2003 to contest and went back. The other guy that was shouting was with Saraki. We remained here deliberately. We did not ask for anybody’s structure.
We had people like Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, as well. He was with us. He was the first Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP. He has never been with Saraki. There were less than 10 of us. We deliberately continued to build our structure. In 2015, when Saraki moved to PDP, we left, because we will not be part of it. We left the party for them. I moved out. I never contested for office, I was sponsoring candidates and building a party. I was even offered the position of Board of Trustee of the party. I refused. I said I have my business.
Our goal was to change the system in the state. It was not until 2011, that we found ourselves in the ACN, but then ACN belonged to Asiwaju and Lai Mohammed was his front man here so since they had their candidate. We said let’s do free and fair primaries, but they refused. Eventually, they threw us out and picked their own candidate. We moved to CPC.
In CPC, we built the party up. We did our best. Those were the days INEC was just nothing. Today, INEC has been cleaned up, it’s difficult to just write results anymore. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but very difficult. But in those days, they just wrote results and that is it, it stands. They shout the results and everybody goes home.
People didn’t understand the appeal process of the INEC; you’ve lost, go home. From CPC, it was still deliberate and we hung in there. We were there for 2015. Saraki left PDP and we moved to PDP. In 2015, I contested for Senate; in 2011 I’ve considered governorship because not that I wanted to contest, the person, Senator Lola Ashiru, the senator now for Kwara South, we moved together from ACN to CPC. And I said he should contest and he agreed to contest but when he looked at it, I believe he saw that it was just impossible for the party to achieve anything, there was no funding from Abuja. We had to fund it.
So Bukola’s father wanted the daughter to be governor. So they found ACPN. Senator Ashiru went to join them and left me alone in the CPC. He joined them because he was promised some funds. I was left to fund the entire CPC, but it was a good experience. It made me understand a lot of things. In 2015 when we now found ourselves in PDP with Jonathan, Saraki had left. I wanted to run for governorship but I looked at it, the number of people contesting, the odds were difficult. Nobody wanted to step down. In Kwara South, they had seven local governments, and two candidates. Kwara central had about eight candidates in four local governments. So how can we defeat? I did the calculation.
And in politics, people are not realistic. I even went to one professor’s house, just to say hello, and when I was leaving, I saw some people running behind the mosque. I asked the driver if he noticed some people running and he said, ‘yes.’ He said those were the people with us in the afternoon; the delegates that were with me in the afternoon, they were the ones hiding from me.
The delegates were playing games so I stepped down to contest for Senate. I contested against Saraki. I believe they rigged the election. Even at the tribunal, they went to do nonsense in the tribunal but we left it and walked away. I was convinced that our day would come. When I look at it, since I’ve been contesting or donating money to people for election, I’ve never lost money. Within three months of every election, I get my money back in business.
Yes, I spent time, but financially I have not lost. So coming to 2019, we found Saraki going into PDP again. And they told us in Abuja that it is Saraki that they recognise, so they are handing the party to him. They don’t know us. How can you not know us? It’s okay, if that’s the case, we’ll go back to CPC. We had merged to form APC and then Lai came and said that we have a new leader from Abuja and they had handed over the party to Saraki. That’s the APC.
I said that it was the end of the road. We left, but some of our CPC guys stayed in. So we moved out. In 2018, when we moved back to PDP, and they had problems in Abuja, naturally we moved to APC. In moving to APC, they invited all of us because Saraki had vacuumed everybody out. It was us from PDP that came and took over the party.
Lai Mohammed that is out there shouting didn’t have anybody. So we came and took over the party and we were in two factions, but we overwhelmed them. From the first meeting, I just knew the direction we were going. They called us for a meeting in Abuja and after the meeting, they set up a committee for Kwara. Oshiomhole was there, a working committee member, the deputy chairman of north and south were both there. They announced that the chairman for the committee for Kwara would be Niyi Adebayo. The deputy chairman south. It looked odd because Kwara was considered part of the North. When you give me Adebayo then there is a southern game being played. We understood that and then we now saw Lai being the minister, the highest person in political office, he too taking charge.
It is a game of numbers, these primaries. It’s about working. I’ve had the experience for almost 20 years. I’ve people in every ward. Because of my nature, I don’t talk. I can sit with you for 10 days, I won’t say a word to you. Because of that they underestimate you and your capacity to do anything. But when you are deliberate and calculating and you know where you’re going, then you laugh at them, and just keep quiet. We built our own structure around the state.
For example, a few months ago we had some peace meeting with Lai Mohammed at the Governor of Niger State House. It was the first time Lai Mohammed would meet the Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly. Is that the kind of person who is making noise about politics and governance in Kwara and you want me to waste my time responding? The Speaker was with me when I was running in 2011 for CPC, so you can see it’s deliberate. Lai Mohammed knows only one member of the Kwara State House of Assembly. How did these state legislators emerge? They say we don’t have people. All the members apart from one is with us. All our National Assembly members apart from one is with us.
We are in the same group. And then they say you don’t have people. I don’t understand. Because we were deliberate and calculating, we knew where they were going, we knew. Even the National Assembly member we don’t have, Lai Mohammed came to beg me to accommodate his own candidate because he lost the primaries. He lost to our own candidate. It took a lot of pleading and we allowed him and that’s the only one member in the National Assembly from Kwara who is not with us. The only one in the state assembly did not even contest.
I allowed him, Popoola. He did not contest for the state assembly. He contested for the House of Reps. But after the primaries, the Senator, the person that won the Senate and the House of Reps were from the same town; Offa. It won’t work. We asked the community to decide. Obviously they will take the Senate. So, what do we do with the guy that won in the House of Representatives? We had to send him to the State House of Assembly, which he did not contest. He did not buy a form from the assembly. Those are the only two people, but they will say we don’t have people. They’re noisy in the media, not on ground.
Lai cannot win an election in his ward. They’re good with social media noise. That’s all they do. But nobody’s asking how each member of the state assembly emerged. How did they manipulate their way to win their seats? There was no godfather, putting people in place, everybody struggled to emerge. We would network and work with each other. No godfather. Everybody struggled in their own way. Yes, I gave money, and they also sourced money for themselves.
So everybody struggled to win this thing. But some people will sit down and say that it is their party. It is this or that, that I don’t have anybody. If I don’t have anybody, I have all the legislators with me. Is that not something? Let them tell me, they have people. How many legislators do they have both in the state and National Assembly on their side? It’s just a whole lot of media hype. Lai came a few months ago to make noise that he sponsored the campaign, did this and that.
He made a lot of noise and pushed it to NTA. When the House of Reps member from Omu Aran died, there was a by-election, six months before the general election. We needed to fill the candidate. The person who won the primaries then Ajulo is still the House of Representatives member. He was trying to raise money. He got money from governors, they gave him N100 million. Lai now said the money must come to him. The boy came to me and I told him, you have to do the right thing. Are you doing the election for yourself or for Lai? Lai put pressure and collected N32 million from the boy and took off to Lagos.
Yes, from the day I refused to hand over money to them, the APC leaders in Kwara boycotted my campaign. They did not take part in my campaign. They were sitting at home watching DStv, till we finished the Presidential election and the governorship election was postponed by one week. A few days to the election, I started seeing them showing up. Before the election what were they saying? That they will decide after the presidential. They never thought we would win. So they thought that being the minister, Lai is the leader of the party in Kwara. And when they are sharing posts that he will be the one to share it.
They totally dealt me a bad card. The party decided that where there is no governor, the candidate will be the President’s coordinator. They didn’t allow me to operate. They frustrated me. Even when the President was coming, I set up a committee for the president’s campaign, they set up their own committee. I know where I’m going so I disbanded my committee and let them do it. Even when the president arrived they put me at the back of a Coaster bus. It was when we got to the Emir’s Palace because it was from the airport to the Emir’s Palace then to the campaign venue, that the president’s ADC tapped my back and said are you not the candidate? I said ‘yes.’ He said I should be riding with the President.
I stayed where they put me. He said I should wait, then went to speak with the president. The president said I should ride with him. Then Lai Mohammed got up and went to speak with the ADC and said he wants to ride with the President but the ADC said Mr. President has spoken unless you go and meet him. Lai Mohammed went to meet the President and said he had something important to tell the president, that could he ride with him. The president said okay. So when we finished the event, one security guy on the president’s team just said I should sit in the car, opened the door and I sat with the president. It’s this sort of thing they were doing. Lai sat in Abuja. All the money donated to the party in the state, he never accounted for them.
For example, the Chief of Staff to the Kaduna State Governor called and said Lai gave us an account but it’s not going through, “can you give us another account so we can send you the money?” But I was going to campaign so I said fine. I came back two days later and remembered, and I said they should call him and give him an account number. When we called, he said Lai had sorted it out. That one and several. Until today, as we speak, he never told anybody that he collected money.
There’s a businessman from the South-east. His banker came to me and said his Oga wants to speak with me. I spoke with him and he said he was sending money to me. I said, thank you very much. After the election, he called me to congratulate me. When he saw I was just saying ‘thank you’, then he asked if Lai didn’t deliver the money, I asked him what money? He said N100 million.
I said, no, but thank you. So he said no, it’s not thank you, that he will call Lai up and please let me know when you are in Abuja, we will thrash this out. He said I should stay on the line and speak to the former Senate President, I spoke with that one. That one said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. N100 million? Somebody gave you the money and someone pocketed it? I said, we’ve won. It’s not just that case. I have many on my phone. So many on the phone that they’ve sent money Lai collected it.
I got to one governors meeting. They said I’m not grateful that they did this and that for me. I didn’t see anything. Everything that was donated, Lai Mohammed did not declare to the party, or to me. Some were direct donations to me. Some were sent to Kwara APC but there’s no governor, no minister. He was sitting there in Abuja, he did not know how we held the election.
He did not know how we campaigned. He was in Abuja. Ask Minister Lai Mohammed, how many times he comes to Kwara? Our two ministers don’t come to Kwara. They are in Abuja. Both of them. Lai goes to Lagos. That’s his home. That’s where his son is a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly. That’s where his family is. He has no house here. He doesn’t come here. As our minister, he doesn’t come home. Same with Gbemi Saraki. She doesn’t come. So it’s like we don’t have a minister. That’s why the pressure is on the governor. In other states, you have ministers relieving that pressure. Everything coming to the state, they stay in Abuja and hijack it. They are running from one ministry to the other to try and hijack things from Abuja. In terms of resources, they just took everything.
I have been sponsoring candidates since 1998, so I did not need anybody. I plan my own campaign. I have one or two friends who donated to me. I plan my election, not with the money donated to me. It’s not part of it. Lai Mohammed came a second time this year to do a press conference, because somebody launched a book on ‘O to Ge,’ and they invited me.
The Deputy Governor represented me and read my speech. I said at the right time, I will say what happened to the processes and the funding. I think that got to him. He started saying that he is the one that funded the party. What did he do? What was his visible contribution? He bought about 30 used cars and 200 motorcycles. That’s all he did. And even at that, none got to me.
Not one motorcycle. They had ostracised me completely. They just picked people from a group called Lai Mohammed Campaign Organisation and that’s what he used for his campaign in 2003. Those are the people he gave to and maybe one or two senators. He gave one to the senatorial candidates from south and north. Finish. Asides from that, our assembly members, zero. They did not get anything from him. When he now made this noise and came and insulted me, on two occasions I tried to say something and Asiwaju said I should forget this thing. I shouldn’t talk and I should forget it.
That’s why I’ve not answered him. They create the impression that they built the party and I just walked in. We planned this thing. We stayed up late, we knew the people to meet. They were against us. There was a lot of work. We were not sleeping, unlocking traditional rulers, but what helped us is not that the people loved us to put us in, it is because the other side lost their mandate. They were not getting water. When we got in, no water works were working.
The water workers were on strike. When we got in, radio stations were on strike, no radio station was working, and everything was dilapidated. When we got in, the TV station was down. And today you see one popular private television channel abusing us every day. But we looked at the record and saw that that television channel collected a N500 million contract. But there’s nothing to show for it at our TV station. I asked for the file. It has been stolen, like so many files. I asked the former commissioner during that time, Raheem Adedoyin, what happened. He said, I have one or two letters to show that there was a contract with that television channel, but the whole file was in Government House. They did it from the Government House. There were no file, like many contracts disappeared.
It shows you the extent of the rot we met. Even the Herald Newspaper was dead, electronic media dead. Everything dead; no TV, no radio. We had to buy new consoles and build new studios for the radio stations. We’re building a new radio station in Kwara North. It was a difficult challenge for us, we’re just rebuilding the state completely. Like I said, we’re deliberate and calculating. They lost it because the state had collapsed under them. Their system of politics was simple. Take money, give to the gatekeepers, traditional rulers and clergy.
But while you were sharing money, the empire eroded because the structures of the empire: human capital development, infrastructure, and so on had started collapsing. In the whole of Ilorin, there was no water. Workers were not getting paid. Some were just on 50 per cent salary. When we came in, we had to clear all that one. Even judges’ work allowance was not paid in 10 years. We cleared all that. That was why they lost the election. It was not a competition between us and them and who had the best manifesto. They allowed the state to crumble.
Grandstanding now doesn’t serve any purpose. That’s what they are doing. The people know that there are changes, and the changes are gradual and dynamic. We are getting water now. We thought it would be a stage where we’ll expand on the water network and start building new water works. What we met there had collapsed. We have to bring everything back. When you ask us, “where are your legacy projects?”, we’ve invested the money of our legacy projects to bring these things back to where they should be.
Is there anything personal between you and Dr. Bukola Saraki? Why can’t you work together, he comes into a party, you move out. He is somewhere, you walk away from there? Why can’t you be in the same space?
We can be in the same space, but their own space does not accommodate anybody. There’s a glass ceiling in their space, which means you cannot rise up beyond a certain level. And then he is authoritarian, which is to say there’s a leader. As you can see in APC today, there is no leader, everybody is throwing banters and doing what they want. That’s democracy. It’s rowdy with democracy, but when you’re in their own space, there’s only one leader.
I’m not there to say, one person is my leader. When we joined, Lai was the leader because he was the most senior person in government. Normally, politics in Nigeria, in the state, the governor is the leader unless. I don’t argue with Lai, but he has done a lot to dehumanise me. The treatment he gave me shows that he does not have leadership qualities. Leadership is not what you buy. You earn leadership.For example, a few months ago we had some peace meeting with Lai Mohammed at the Governor of Niger State House. It was the first time Lai Mohammed would meet the Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly.
Is that the kind of person who is making noise about politics and governance in Kwara and you want me to waste my time responding? The Speaker was with me when I was running in 2011 for CPC, so you can see it’s deliberate. Lai Mohammed knows only one member of the Kwara State House of Assembly. . I can’t contest for anything unless they say so. So they pick who contests for the election, but in APC, we say everybody just go and find your space. That’s the difference. We were very close friends when we were younger.
You have been put on the spot a couple of times trying to quench small fires like the Ile Arugbo and Hijab controversy, the corporal punishment to Islamic students, people digging up water in a distressed community, how do you manage these things?
Most of them come with disappointment, but then I take a step back and say, what’s the issue here? Like the one about digging for water, it didn’t faze me. Yes, disappointment that in Nigeria today, people are digging up water. It is not my issue, it’s our global issue. It is happening like that all over Nigeria. It is not limited to Kwara, but the irony of it, which is not out there, which nobody is talking about, or know, is that their representatives are people who were there for 16 years. The House of Representatives member from that community was the Chairman of the House Committee on Water Resources for 16 years, until this election when we voted them out. His name is Ahman Pategi.
He was their representative for 16 years and he is from that community, and House. That happens there, then they take the video and ask the media boys to blow it. That doesn’t faze me. My reaction time to that village is important. The mistake they are making is they should wait till the election is close and start highlighting those, because once you highlight those, I’m rushing there to fix it. Once I fix it, I will make it known because you should have fixed it. You were there for 20 years before we came. How come that village is still like that? They intend to use it to blackmail us and say you’re not doing anything, but I’m saying, you were there for 20 years, you had a committee chairman for 16 years in Abuja, and then you do 1000s of constituency boreholes all over.
Saraki was Senate President, commissioning 1000s of boreholes in the whole of Nigeria but that community does not have water. They don’t have an answer.
The flogging one is a national problem. It’s just because it’s highlighted, it’s happening every day. It’s a cultural thing. It’s a private school, it’s not a government school, but we give the license to the schools to operate. Do you take their license, because of flogging students? If you do that, you will rusticate 300 students. The father of the girl that was flogged was standing there. He insisted she should be flogged. He was standing there watching. It’s a very bad thing. That’s why we set up a committee to look into it. The committee also has to look at how we will deal with these issues in the future, and how to communicate to these sorts of schools on human rights abuses.
One of the challenges we have here is, if we take this matter to court, we’ll have no witnesses. The victim because she said she deserved it, because she did bad and committed a sin. The father will not be a witness. What witness do we have? The video clip? Yes, we can push them to the court system. But the important thing is without witnesses, we can’t get something out of it.
They will argue that it is a fake video. Whatever the argument is, the important message is to get into the system and say, this must not happen again and wherever it’s happening, they should stop. There will be sanctions. We will withdraw the licenses of any school that does that again. So I won’t want to preempt the committee, but they have eminent jurists and Islamic leaders. They will give us a report, which we will now debate and act on. Going forward we will react and manage these fires as they come. That is important. Some of them will be deliberate, some of them will be used to show that the state is out of control, creating perceptions, and so on.
Why are there these things? It is because they erroneously felt that we used propaganda to get them out, forgetting that people were not getting water, children are sitting on floors in schools, they’ were not getting reading materials, the system has collapsed. That was why they were voted out. They think propaganda is what we use. They believe they will use propaganda against us. It’s not working.
There are areas we need to step up, like the central issue of stomach infrastructure. We need to step up our game in that area because there’s inflation, possibly due to the exchange rate, partly due to post COVID-19 issues, where farmers have abandoned their fields and so on and economic issues. It’s not an issue created deliberately by the government, it’s just part of the economic processes. There’s no country in the world that doesn’t have this inflation. It’s all over. It’s all over Nigeria, not just Kwara. We already started food distribution on a non-partisan basis in every local government. That is going on. Some people just want cash in their hand, but we believe the important thing is to feed yourself. So we’ve started with food distribution across the state.
Kwara is in the centre of Nigeria, which means you have borders with many states. What kind of challenges do that pose to security?
Some people say we are the northernmost southern state and southernmost northern state. Security challenges are huge, especially with insecurity in the North-west, and the declaration by Southern governors to ban open grazing. Once they pronounced it and set a date, we saw a migration of herdsmen coming in to the extent that if you go to Kwara south, Kwara north now, in some villages, the Fulanis have moved in. They are more in population than the indigenes. Many times, I’ve engaged with the traditional rulers, especially to say, let’s be accommodating, it will soon pass. The ban on open grazing is a law that cannot be enforced.
It’s about fundamental human rights; the right to free movement. It is enshrined in our Constitution. You can try to minimise it. It is about equity and planning properly. In Europe, if they want to ban open grazing, 10 years from today, they will name the date, the date comes and they will stick to it. Within those 10 years, what do you do? You plan on how to resettle these people. They have a business plan, a business model: grazing and water. That is it. Grazing free, water is free.
But now you’re saying you have to buy your food and water from next month. It’s not going to happen. In terms of ethnic groups across Nigeria, in terms of literacy, the Fulanis are at the bottom. When you see the herdsmen, they are children, herding the cattle to the bush. Those children don’t understand. They are illiterate. You’ve gone to the bank to collect money to plant maize. He sees food for his cattle. You see maize, that you want to cultivate, sell and pay back your loan.
But he sees food for his cattle and he passes through your farm. What you also forget is where he is passing may be a grazing route from the colonial era. They maintained that route. We don’t know it, they know it. It is like a federal highway. It’s been there. The British colonial administrators created those routes; they put veterinary officers and tax collectors at certain strategic points. They were collecting tax and vaccinating the cattle and all sorts of things. The routes were there like the federal highways. With the advent of oil, like cocoa and palm fruit, we abandoned everything and followed oil. Aso Villa today is built on a grazing route.
Go by Aso Villa in Abuja, you will see cattle passing because they know their routes. It is something passed down to them. In Kwara, we have about four or five grazing reserves we inherited from the colonial era. They are there. We’re going to take them and develop those reserves. They have been gazetted since, they’re not new. We will develop them. And that’s where we want to move these people.
You have the Fulanis all over; Oyo, Ogun. They’ve been there for over 100 years. They live on the outskirts of town, Ilorin everywhere. They never bothered to take C of O. They just believed it’s God’s land, that God gave it to us. But with localisation, global warming and urbanisation, things have changed. Global warming means less water, less vegetation, desertification and therefore, smaller space, they have to come further South to graze. Urbanisation means that you’ve built on their grazing routes, where they used to graze 50 years ago for free, somebody else has a C of O on it now. He’s doing his own plantation for maize. But maybe from somewhere in Yobe, they’ve told the boy where to go, and he’s followed his father there before, so he knows where to go and forage, but when he gets there, corn is there, but he knows that is where he used to come for food, but it’s now a farm. In terms of literacy, he doesn’t understand that. He knows that this is where he comes to play.
It’s his area. When Yar’Adua came in, he had a challenge: militants in the Niger Delta, production of petroleum products was reduced to less than 500,000 barrels a day from 2.2 million barrels. What did he do? He sat down and did the amnesty programme which today has cost us about N1 trillion. Do you see any factories? Do you see anything? But we don’t care. We know we used the money to buy peace and oil has been flowing well since then. Tompolo, everybody benefited. But we bought peace. Now, we’re having a cycle of violence with Fulani herdsmen.
There are three types of Fulanis: the urban one like Buhari, the Emir of Ilorin, civil servants, they are urbanised. Then the rural ones; they don’t stay in town, they stay on the outskirts of town, they live there permanently. Then the herders that come through. When the herder comes through, he eats the crop, damages farmland, and goes. The owner of the farm reports to the village head who summons the Fulanis that live around them. They will complain that whoever caused the damage would pay N2000 in restitution, they negotiate.
In those days, he just needed to squeeze milk and sell to pay. These days with a 20 per cent interest rate, add ground money, the damage he caused is the cost of two or three cows, no longer the cost of milk. So, he doesn’t want to pay. How can he pay two or three cows for that? He either tries to escape or negotiate something that is not acceptable. If the owner of the farm doesn’t get his money then he waits for him, or the next cattleman. He too will react violently, because you are ruining his life. He’s borrowing money to do something. So there’s a cycle of violence coming from there. If you notice today, it is the children that rear the cattle. They will just call to say that they have attacked us. He won’t say that he damaged somebody’s farm and they are in dispute. He will say they attacked us for nothing, they cut me or they killed somebody. They too will make a phone call and before you know it, people will come in 20 motorcycles and devastate that area.
From that, kidnapping has come in. You have to understand the psychology of a man that rears cattle from Yobe to Oyo, and back. They trek, not to sell their cattle. They trek to feed the cattle, and some will give birth on the way. If he leaves with 50, he might go back with 60. It means that he may have sold five, and then the newborn ones are taken back. Don’t forget the cattle he is trekking with, maybe only two belong to him out of 50. The civil servants, soldiers in Abuja may have given him cattle to rear for them. Really, there needs to be a proper roundtable to understand this. Before the southern governors said they were going to ban open grazing, the northern governors had met to say this thing cannot continue forever. In America, cowboys were roaming all over the place, that’s why they call them cowboys, but the US government came, deliberately and gave them land mostly in Texas. And they settled and changed their business system. We’re not offering these Fulanis anything other than the bullets. That’s the truth of it. What are the options? We say we ban open grazing, so what option did we give them other than move out of our state, we have banned open grazing? They are Nigerians who have rights to freedom of movement. If you ban open grazing, you have to give them an option.
Northern governors agreed in principle that this thing is not sustainable forever. They said it will be sedentary but they need to set up committees to find out how to do it, to the extent that even Kano State said all the Fulanis in Kano should remain, they should not move out. So a committee is going to be set up to look at how to mitigate these issues. To say, those that have land should give them land. But even with land, it is a big issue. They say state owns land. State does not own land. If you take a piece of land, you’ll have to compensate the original owners. The state has to buy the land, so we will have to buy the land, and then give it to the Fulanis.
There are so many options being looked at, which is to say, some of them will give them C of O to land, some put them in the grazing area and make sure it’s a well-managed grazing area. If you have 10,000 hectares, you give 2,000 to a commercial company, that will run the whole thing, and the Fulanis will be on the remaining 8,000 hectares. It will be a full company that carries out agro- schemes with them; milk collection, cheese processing, they will buy their beef and so on but in return, they will do water ways, boreholes, and provide feed for them and veterinary services. Those are the modules being looked at.
And that’s why some governors are saying that the federal government needs to put money in this programme, the same way Yar’Adua invested money in the militants issue. Let’s begin to settle them. Apart from the National Livestock Transformation Programme, there’s no real effort, other than to say, stop this. We need to open an avenue for them to say, Okay, we want you to stop this, this is how we mitigate and compensate you. Some people might say, why should you compensate them, sebi it is their business, but they’re transitioning? You need to either compensate them or give them enough time to change because the cost of beef has to go up, because they’re now buying food to feed the cattle, instead of getting it for free in the bush.
Going back to the main question, security issues. In Niger State, Sokoto State, many of them moved to Niger because of cattle rustling. They were stealing cattle so they moved to Niger. With the militant issue and kidnappings in Niger, Niger state set up a vigilante group, so we have had an influx of Fulanis and their cattle from Niger into Kwara. We are also having an influx due to the southern governors ban on open grazing. We are inundated on both sides. The stock of Fulanis has quadrupled. The challenge for us is appealing to the domestic population, to say don’t take the law into your hands. It’s causing food insecurity issues. There are minor conflicts here and there. Some farmers are refusing to go to their farms. There are issues all over the place and you see that Kwara is peaceful compared to other states. Why is that so? We believe that the very bad ones in the state are hiding.
We’re working with the traditional rulers. If they see like five people passing on a motorcycle, they immediately call us and tell us that five people have passed. So we investigate. There was a case where 35 passed on motorcycles. The army quickly moved into the forest. I think they heard the army coming, and we saw pictures of their camp, and they quickly moved out again. They got one motorcycle. It had a gun under the seat and all the registration documents of the motorcycle were from the Republic of Benin. We’re not sitting down. We’re spending money. We’re pushing. We have a good relationship with the security agencies, they too, are not sitting down. Any commander that comes in, sees the record.
He doesn’t want things to go bad under his watch. In the last one month, the Chief of Army Staff has been here, the Inspector General of Police has been here. It shows you also the seriousness they attach to security in the state and we will keep shouting, we won’t keep quiet. In this state, when you hear of one kidnap incident, they blow it up. They should go to Plateau, we are talking about one kidnapping incident in one month, they’re talking four, some days, five. Our people are used to being secure and we want to keep it that way.
The main thing is that we have been in communication with the Fulanis. I met with them last month, with all the leadership, to ask what their problems are. We have a state assembly member who is an ethnic Fulani and a member of Miyetti Allah. He is from Kaiama, a town called Bani where 90 per cent are Fulanis. And then Audu, the chief of Fulani here was kidnapped last year. Why? Because he was cooperating with the government. Between the Fulanis, they have a civil war going on. The young ones are very militant, the older ones are conservative. They know where they’re coming from. They know the challenges. They’re the ones pulling back the younger ones, but in some cases the younger ones attack and kill some of their leaders and elders. It’s being managed. I think it’s a passing phase, which has been escalated by this social media issue. When something happens, everybody just posts without verifying what happened. With time, it is a passing thing. But it will not just pass, if we don’t have solutions. Whether it’s a wrong or right solution, you really need to have a solution to tackle the issue.
Local Government System is on the Verge of Collapse…
People create secondary slots in the civil service so that they will be able to earn 100 instead of 50. That expands the base of the salary to the extent that in local governments today, by the time you pay salary there is nothing left again from what is sent from Abuja. Salary is a first line charge. There’s nothing left after that to do any meaningful work. The local government system in Nigeria is on the verge of collapse because all we’re doing is paying salaries.
This season, we’ve had the highest rate of cholera, but nobody will admit it. Not just in this state, all over Nigeria. But the government would like to keep it down. And why is there cholera? The primary health care is with the local government, motor parks are with the local government, markets are with local government, the Water Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programme is primarily with the local government. Once they pay salaries, there’s no money to take care of anything else. Even waste disposal is with the local government.
We all have to come to the roundtable to decide what to do with the local government. How do we fund them? Why is it that all the money is going to salary and we’ve not been able to do anything else, other than that?
If the local government is on the verge of collapse, isn’t the fault of Nigerian governors in many ways?
First of all, APC set up a committee; their commendation — even though it’s not been adopted or submitted —an evolution of the third tier of government that will allow every state to come up with their own novel idea of the third tier. If you are a state with 20 local governments and you want to come up with only four, it is your business. If you don’t want to have local government at all, it’s your business. That’s what the committee recommended. Rome was not built in a day. And to bring down the Wall of Jericho, they didn’t just go down and shout hey! and the walls collapsed. No, they were consistent. We inherited this problem. It is something that’s been snowballing. When the Fourth Republic started, you had about 40 per cent of local government funds as salary. That was when local government chairmen were going to Dubai.
They were building houses and governors too were looking, ‘ah, what’s going on here?’ So, governors too started saying these people have money because the local government chairmen were living large. Governors started saying, let’s have joint accounts, bring your money, we will do projects together. So state governments were taking their money. What happened? This 40% started creeping up to 50%, 60%, 70% 80%. We’re now at 90%, and in some states 100%. Because when the local government now saw how Oga governor is taking everything, when they employ local government workers or teachers, the local chief will bring three names, the local government chairman’s wife will bring three names, the local government chairman will bring two names; so they too started loading the salaries, rather than allow the governor to take everything, so they were loading the salaries. Today we find ourselves at 90%. All over Nigeria.
What is the situation in Kwara?
It is the same situation that over 90% of local government revenue is spent on salary. We are trying to do biometric, but they are refusing. We said we will do headcount. Then hotels started filling up, people are coming from all over Nigeria to come and sign and then take off. Recently, you saw the NLC strike against Kaduna. All the governors agreed with the Kaduna Governor. We have to right size. But the problem is, do we right size now coming out of COVID or still being under COVID and recognising that we’re running a social service, not a civil service? We have to recognise that. Since March, last year, many of my workers in the civil service are still at home. It is only permanent secretaries and essential staff that have been working since. But we have to pay them their salaries.
They collect their salaries. We pay salaries on the 25th of every month. The system is working. What does that show you? What Kaduna is saying is that right sizing is right. What we are running is a social service, not a civil service. We have to recognise that if everything goes on salary, there’s not going to be any development. So, if they’re not able to make investments, then it’s going to drag the nation back. When people say the state governors are taking the local government money, the governors are laughing because after the first line charge there’s no money to take. There’s no money to do anything.
Do you take local government money in Kwara?
Not at all. I’ve never met them or sat with them in a meeting. I’ve never. Once the money comes, I tell them to make sure they pay salaries. That’s the instruction to the local government chairmen to make sure they pay salaries first, which is the first line charge, including the 5% reserved for traditional rulers. Make sure that goes out. Things have improved a bit now because the exchange rate has gone up with CBN, and so we’re getting a lot more money. But before the exchange rate went up, we had to take money from the state to loan the local government, so that they can pay 100% salary. And when things improved, they paid back. With that scenario, what money are you going to take from the local government?
Have you met with local government chairmen in Kwara?
Don’t forget there’s a party structure, sitting on their head at the local government level. The ward and local government chairmen are there to serve as a guide for them. So, for example, they deal with the DSS, police security agencies at that level. They deal with the local government party structure at that level. They are tied to that structure. I deal with the party structure. It’s not like there’s a disconnect, if there’s anything going wrong, the party chairman will let me know. They’re always meeting at the party level. It is the party structure that puts them up. I meet with the chairmen of APC in the local governments.
It is the elected local government chairmen that I have to be careful with. They are elected too like me. I do not want to be accused of dictating to them. But my meeting with chairmen of the APC in the local governments is frequent. We meet to strategise all the time.
But again, it’s a different tier of government. I will not go to the presidency or federal and meet with the president and direct him on what to do. Same thing, the president will not come to Kwara and say this is what you need to do. Don’t forget, at that level, they are voted for and take charge of what they need to do, not that the governor should instruct them on what they need to do. Also remember that they have their own civil service system that has civil servants, so the structure is there. It is just the chairman and his team that are the politicians that come and sit on top of them. Like the state government, the civil service is there. The only person that goes on to the ministry, a ministry with 2,000 personnel, is just one person. One civilian, commissioner, everybody else is a civil servant, and the commissioner is representative of the governor there in the ministry. The local government chairman is not a representative of the governor.
He is a representative of the government with a different mandate. I don’t even interfere. I don’t want to know what they do with their money. We had an incident the other day where they knocked off Saraki’s library. I was just landing in Abuja when I heard. I saw it in the news. I wasn’t aware of it. Ordinarily, I should know. I called to know what was going on. I called the commissioner and he told me he will get back to me. He later reached me and told me that the library was built over 10 years ago and had become dilapidated. It was named after Saraki, built by the local government. They demolished it so that they could rebuild it. They will maintain the name. I said okay, fine. That’s it. But why would we want to interfere with local government administration? The report I am getting is that they’re doing well. There’s no reason for interference. The same with the president. He will not come and interfere in the state.
Ilorin is not all of Kwara…
In the area of infrastructure, what we have been able to do is to go places that have never seen roads before. We just made sure that we didn’t concentrate everything in Ilorin, the state capital. We spread to other local governments, because Ilorin is not all of Kwara. Even if it’s two kilometres, at least, people who are in faraway places are benefiting from what the state can offer.
Our social investment programme doesn’t target APC members only…
With the Social Investment Programme, it hasn’t reached the level we want, simply because we didn’t want to politicise it. We did not say you must only give money to members of the All Progressives Congress . Enumerators are going round the state. The federal government-run social investment in Kwara has empowered 40,000 people. We have gone beyond that. Our goal is to reach 100,000.
How do you ensure that there’s no duplication; that you are not giving to the same people who benefitted from the federal government?
The head of the unit was in charge of a similar undertaking in the Office of the Vice President before the federal government moved it to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. He was in charge of this programme. We did not reinvent the wheel. The consultants that handled the federal government’s own are the ones we brought in for data capturing, wallet payments. If you go to their data room, on the screen, you can speak to anybody we gave money to, and access every one of them, see the balance in every local government, per ward, who is getting what, and you can just dial any number of anybody: did you receive your money? How much did you receive? We captured our data. We also got the federal government data.
In fact, we wanted to start quickly. So what we did was that, the first N10,000 that was released went to the ones the federal government captured, I think 80,000 of them, but they only had paid 40,000 of them. So we took some from their own list so there is no mixture. We’re very careful that we’re not overlapping and paying people twice so that it can go round. When I first heard about the programme. I just thought “what a waste,” coming from a businessman’s perspective. How can you just take billions and share it? But when the Vice President came to launch the programme in Kwara, I came with him, and I saw the genuine excitement of the market women, and I also realised that I was thinking N10,000 was too small. I’ll go to a restaurant in Abuja or Lagos, and for two people, you are talking N20,000 for just one meal in a Chinese restaurant. That’s what these people are excited about. But when you now come closer and look into it, these women carry baskets of pineapples. In that basket, all the pineapples are worth N3,000 or N4,000. That’s their net worth.
For oranges or tomatoes, it’s not more than N6,000 and they go to the market to sell that and survive on it. Some of them have husbands and children. So when you give them N10,000 to scale up their business, you’ve changed their lives; truly you ‘ve changed their lives. People don’t understand. People still criticise it, but I’m a believer in it. Then we passed a law to govern it. We will not just be taking money and throwing it out. When I met with the Minister for Finance a few months ago, she was saying, we are ahead of them because we passed ours into law. But they just put theirs under a ministry, there is no law governing it. So we have a law governing our own. In fact, she said we should send them our own law, to see what they can do with it. If that programme is done well, it can make a big impact.
With this COVID-19 thing, what saved Nigeria is that social investment programme. It started well before COVID-19 and the World Bank has turned into what they call the Cares programme. So the World Bank has adopted our social investment programme for post-COVID-19 re-emergence and replicated it in different countries. When I was campaigning with the president, when he came here, I sat in the same car with him and I told him that, of all his programmes, social investment was number one as far as I was concerned, because it gives people money directly into their pockets. There is no middleman. The president said that he knows, that when the idea first came up, it took him time to digest it.
Now, he understands that it is his best programme so far. That was in 2019. If that programme was not in place during COVID-19, there would have been challenges managing the stop work order when everybody shut down. We were able to channel money to people through that system. In fact, the system which the federal government also copied was transporters’ money. So we gave our Okada riders N10,000, because we knew that everywhere was shut and people stayed at home. They used the state wallet; you register, and your money is sent to you via mobile wallet or to your account. The federal government too picked that one up. The social investment system works.
The school feeding programme is very good to turn around this stunted growth thing. Even if children go to eat in school and go home, they will sign attendance. You have them in enumeration. The previous administration did not key into it. Only Bayelsa and Kwara were left out. So it’s just now that we are about to start it. It’s a very important project because you have to feed the school children. You have to get the right vitamins. Some children are perpetually just on pap in the morning and they don’t see any food again till evening.
How do you get the right protein and vitamins in that case? It’s through the school feeding programme. I’m a strong believer in the social investment programme. It is a safety net, which we intend to expand next year. A lot of people have been left behind, there’s a lot of poverty. People are hungry, and it’s not about bad government policy, it’s just that COVID-19 hit us and the world panicked, not just Nigeria, we all shut down. In Nigeria today, even if COVID comes again, nobody is shutting anything down. Even in Europe now, the prices of food have gone up.
There’s a total global food security issue now. In England, they’re having serious challenges. Most of the shelves are empty. We shut down. We didn’t know what to do, that has affected a lot of people. It has created a lot of poverty. You will notice that the federal government has thrown a lot of money to try and sort things out. They’ve supported state governments, at least, they gave us N1billion each to help us with the COVID-19 programme. They just announced another N18 billion loan to every state. Any state can access it.
What do they need to do to access it?
You need to show what you want to invest it on, one. You need to pass through the State Executive Council, State Assembly, and then apply and say we want to do ‘ABCD.’ But part of the reason they gave it is because, like us, about N4.3 billion, almost more than that- almost N5 billion budget support- that was taken about six years ago by the previous administration is due for payment now. Many states have a sort of budget support issue and they are due now. You can use that N18 billion to refinance your budget support, and also to see which programmes you can put in place in either infrastructure or human capital development.
What does Kwara plan to use the N18 billion for?
Well, we want to refinance the budget support, to pay back the money, because the bank is on our neck. We are paying almost N40 million a month. Now, if we refinance it for 30 years, the amount to be paid for that will be less than half. So, it allows us more space. We’ll get a lot more money. We’re paying less repayment by refinancing that, and aside from that, there is clearly a lot of infrastructure deficit. Most of our rural areas are not accessed by roads and when it rains, we can’t get access. And then, to equip some of our hospitals that we are renovating and the same thing with education, so it’s infrastructure, capital development and health care. That’s what we’re really focusing on with that, but we’re yet to apply because it was just announced recently. We’ll start the process. We might not take the entire N18 billion, but the first thing is just to get the trust out of our way; and other states, I’m sure they will do the same thing with that.
We hear that you’ve not drawn any salary since you assumed office, is that deliberate?
It’s the way I operate. Now, my background is in the oil industry. My company was the first to export Nigeria crude oil, petroleum products and everything. We were the pioneers in that. I’ve learned a lot from that. When I started, I registered my company in the UK. My banking activities were in Europe; all the European banks. Then it was easy to open bank accounts. I originally never had a bank account here, until now. I’ve never worked for anybody or drawn a salary from anywhere, up to now. I’m processing my salary. I filled out the forms two weeks ago, and I will do the biometrics because it is essential. How do you explain the tax gap for four years? I have to pay some sort of tax. You have to bring your bank statement and say, I was in this office, and so on. Even if you don’t want it, the system is such that you have to take it. It’s not like I don’t want it. The process is going on. I haven’t taken it yet, but I will take it. I’ll take it because it’s about N1million per month. Now, it has accumulated a bit.
One of the things that we found peculiar in your cabinet is that you have a good number of young people and women and they seem to be on top of their game. How did you source the right people for the job?
I think it’s more about luck. Now, we’re very strong in SDG 5, women. We have the record in Africa. It pitted me against the party. But you have to look at the challenges women go through. They need to sleep with men to go up the ladder. That’s the truth of it, not 100% of the cases but there are abuses in MDGs, and so on. So, I said, well, the best thing is, let’s promote women, not just in political offices. Fifty per cent of our permanent secretaries are women. So it’s deliberate, to keep them at advantage because I understand what they go through; harassment and all sorts of things. We have to promote them. In my private businesses, the workers are all women. I’ve never had a male executive. It’s not about tokenism. If you see a man working in my private company, he was either a driver, mai guard or messenger. Everybody is a woman, and they worked.
What are the challenges of working with women? Women have their rivalries more than men; petty rivalries. But why the rivalries? It’s about space, domination, getting ahead. What are the men doing? Plotting to steal money, while women are bickering amongst themselves, men are taking money. But in terms of efficiency and delivery, I find that women deliver more than men. But our culture; the African culture, Nigerian culture, allows men to dominate the space. That’s what it is. We go to political meetings at 8p.m. and we know it’s going to run to midnight. Which decent woman will sit at such a meeting when she has a husband at home, children that will go to school in the morning? She can’t sit in the ward leader’s house or local government chairman’s house till midnight. Even her husband will say, “You have to be home at 6p.m. What are you doing there?’’
People think of female politicians who try to excel in a certain way, like they’re doing other things. You see, that’s part of the problem we have. Even in Abuja today, call a political meeting at the National Headquarters of any party, the attendance you see of women is less than 5%, but that’s not proportional to the national population. There should be a deliberate attempt to promote women. The benchmark is 35 per cent, how many states are meeting 35 per cent? We have done 62 per cent. Now, what can be done to get women in? I don’t know if you know about the SFTAS programme. It is a World Bank and federal government programme where you get rewards for meeting certain goals, that is, publishing your budget before January 30, you get $2 million; publishing your state’s account, $1.5 million, having a procurement agency, $2 million. So, we comply, and we’ll get all this money, because we need it. If you have a system like that, that says if you have in your cabinet 35 per cent women, consistently for one year, you get $2 million, states will comply because $2 million is about N1billion now. So, if you get to 40%, we will give you $4 million, get to 50%, we will give you $10 million. You will start seeing changes because there’s money. Revenue of the states is very low.
I’m doing it because from my private practice in business, women are efficient, and I find it so. I also see that they were disenfranchised because they are women. Those are the two main reasons that you have to promote women, and my experience of working with women shows that they’re very efficient and productive. So that’s why they are there. Now in terms of finding them, mostly they’re nominated by senators, House of Representatives members, House of Assembly members; they just send names in. And then we interviewed them. I don’t go to one local government and say I pick you.
I don’t even know many of them personally. The constituencies throw them up. When we chose the youth corps member who was our youngest commissioner then — she’s from Edu local government and a Christian. They brought several names to me, but I said I want a woman. Then they came up and said the only woman we have will finish her youth service next month. I said bring her, we will wait till next month to swear her in. The community brought her. Maybe it was deliberate to show that she’s in youth service, but we embraced her. And she’s done well. She’s not in the cabinet any more. We’re sponsoring her for a master’s programme in the UK. She’s had the experience but we have to also prepare her for the future. She’s had this experience. What next? We will mentor her.
Do you have similar people in your cabinet that you are helping to pursue their dreams?
We have many of them, which is part of the reason for the crack in the party. The older ones think we want to push them away and bring in the younger ones. The older ones also forget that they were in offices at that age, and they still want to remain. We have just had to strike a balance. There’s a lot of noise coming from our party. It’s finding the balance. With the younger ones, unemployment, it’s a big issue, but giving them hope, giving them a window of opportunity gives others hope that we can do it. We are truly engaging.
There’s another lady, she’ll be 25 this month. We wanted to make her a commissioner, but the law says you have to be 25. She’s a Special Adviser in Youth Development, and she’s working well. She was on our #EndSARS committee, and a committee set up by Northern Governors for youth development, to look into youth issues. We put her there. She was the only woman, out of the 19 northern states. She was 24 plus then. We found out that she’s doing exceedingly well in the youth and students community. She’s like a magnet. She has organised trade fairs for the youths in which they all came out and showcased what they are doing.
What are your thoughts about the place of Kwara in the socio-political mix of northern Nigeria?
If we go back to the colonial times, there was a commission headed by the white man, which had all the minority groups in Nigeria, especially the North-central. They presented a memorandum on why they want to be in the north or south. My father made a presentation at the commission on behalf of the Ilorin province.
The case of Ilorin Province then is such that it contains Yoruba, Nupe, Hausa and other tribes. It’s not just not one tribe dominating. With the submissions, Kwara became part of the north so it was not a South-west state. People proposed a South-west state for Kwara but it remains in the north, from colonial times to today. Our focus has been on Abuja, Kaduna. Everything we did was Kaduna, and because Kwara had the advantage of education, the civil service from the north was dominated by Kwarans and Igbos. And then the expatriates. So you had people like S.B. Daniyan, Chief Awoniyi and others. Many of them were in the northern civil service. That’s why our orientation is to the North politically, and that’s where we’ve been in the geography of Nigeria.
Kwara will continue to be part of the north, but culturally, if you go to Kwara south like Offa, you will find out we have Ekiti local government bordering Ekiti State. Even though the language and everything is the same with the people of Ekiti State, but the affinity is to the North. When we had free education in the north, everybody benefited from it. It was easy for Kwara to affiliate with the north because we had an advantage in education which employed our people. We had an advantage in access to Ahmadu Bello University when it was the only university in the north. There is a magnet for us to be in the north which remains so up till today.
Kwara is now Number Three on the transparency index, do you feel good about that acknowledgement?
Part of our transparency issue is we looked at Savannah Institute in our Abuja. Savannah Institute was set up by the present Chief of Staff to the president. And he resigned from there to join the President. We told Savannah to look at civil service structure and advise us on governance. They came, went through their processes and said, the best thing to do is to embrace this culture where the community and the people can have access to government projects. If you have a four kilometer road, the community should be able to measure it and be sure that the contractor is putting four kilometres. If it is two kilometres, the community should be able to do that. We embraced it.
The first step was to invite a CSO to join us. We took all our files and gave it to them. From tender documents to payments, there is nothing to hide. But we’ve noticed that what the opposition is doing now is to use the CSOs to attack us, because they know that they cannot attack us because they don’t have the locus to attack us. So, they are attacking the government on water, what did you do on infrastructure? What did you do? So the more CSOs we open up to, the more attacks we get from them. It’s making us to say, fine. Instead of dealing with CSOs, let’s deal with communities. Let communities take over their projects and inspect their projects. It’d be nice to become Number One on the transparency index, but it’s a tough challenge.
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