Aminu Bello Masari is the governor of Katsina State. In this no-holds-barred encounter, he tells The Interview why he had to escape the former ruling PDP; the rot he discovered on taking over in Katsina and the issue of empowerment goats costing N142, 000 each. He also debunks the insinuation that former President Olusegun Obasanjo always bribed the federal lawmakers to get their consent. He also has words for Niger Delta leaders and many more. Find out!
You were Speaker for four years and have been state governor for 14 months; what qualitative differences have you noticed?
There is a world of difference because you oversight functions. There you have the power to make money available but you don’t have the power to spend it. So, on the part of the executive, they are on one side, completely different from the legislature.
But for the ordinary person, hardly will he understand the difference. That is why people are asking legislators to construct boreholes and provide other amenities. These are not within the purview of the parliament. It can make provision for these in the budget, but in terms of implementation, it is entirely the responsibility of the executive. So, you can see that there is a huge difference. Complications come because we are a developing nation, a developing society and large followers coupled with the level of poverty and education.
You were Speaker on the platform of PDP and later jumped ship to CPC/APC where you first contested the governorship in 2011 and lost before you won at the second attempt in 2015. Why did you jump ship?
You know, I started having problems with the PDP since when I was Speaker, especially during the amendment of the 1999 Constitution. That time, some people in the ruling party thought that we, presiding officers, had the power to manipulate and force their positions on the people, of which we categorically said no. And then for those of us who had ambitions, roadblocks were put in place to the extent that some realized the futility of it and withdrew. So, we came together under the leadership of the former Senate president, Ken Nnamani. The intention was first to amend the constitution of the party, because then the constitution had been so panel-beaten that in terms of who would become the chairman of the Board of Trustees, what the constitution didn’t do was to put the name of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, but all the roads led to him. We objected to it. And you know, at that time, there was pressure for Ahmadu Ali to deliver all these. Eventually, there was a convention and some of those portions of the constitution were amended. We were suspended from the party and later on we were re-admitted on the condition that the vice president then, Namadi Sambo, would chair a meeting between us, the Leadership Reform Group, and the party to reach some agreement. We agreed with the principle of reform as captured by our group. For the chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT), Obasanjo prevailed and it was unanimously agreed that there was the need for reform. But the BoT is an advisory body, so it advised the National Executive Committee (NEC) to accept reform and implement in order to save PDP. But the governors were against reform because that would free the party from their stronghold. So they ganged up under the leadership of Bukola Saraki and directed that state chairmen, who are members of the executive ex-officials, are also members of the NEC, and so many people in the NEC were under their influence. So when we came to the NEC, when the issues were tabled, it was flatly rejected and we were called all sorts of names; I was there.
It was only one member, Ahmadu Ali, who said, ‘Look what we came here is to agree and fight the position taken by the BoT. Somebody said that the BoT was only an advisory body and that he, Ahmadu, had no vote.
Who said that?
A state chairman, I can’t remember who now
But Saraki was among those opposed to your position?
Saraki was there and he was opposed to it. All the governors were opposed to the reforms, all of them. So we were thoroughly disgraced. I was representing the reform group, and then Senator Ken Nnamani was out of the country. When I came out of the meeting, I called to tell him what happened; that the entire reform was rejected and that we were called all sorts of names. Well, that made my problems with the PDP four.
What were the three other problems?
One was the one I told you that we pushed the party to hold a convention when it didn’t want to.The second one started in the House with regards to the amendment of the constitution.The third one was my stand that the constitution must be respected when the late president was sick. There was even a demonstration in Kaduna. They even went to the extent of mobilizing of the PDP in my local government, who came out to say that they didn’t send me. But by then I wasn’t holding any position and was an independent member of the party. What I did was purely based on principle because what I did was what the constitution said.
And the fourth one was championing reform?
Yes. And from there I knew I had no future in the PDP. I was not looking at any position that I would be prepared to compromise at all costs to be accommodated. And I knew the characters, the vindictiveness that was associated with some people in the PDP, that even if I had stayed, whatever ambition I had, they would have worked to make sure that it was never realized. So, on principle I left the party. The Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) was in its formation stage and I joined. And again with the interference of the PDP, the primaries werescuttled; it was the courts that determined the primaries of the CPC, which even the Supreme Court said ‘who gave the court the power to entertain the issue of primary’. In the end, it was only five days to the election when the Court of Appeal said I was the candidate. So the group that was working with PDP moved and joined the PDP. The party that won three senators, you couldn’t say that party lost. Without mentioning names, the leadership of the country who were in the security and INEC, they all didwhat they wanted. So, that was the reason I had to leave the party. And I think if it were a responsible party, they would have sent an apology letter to us – that what we predicted would happen without the reforms had happened.
Were you not surprised when the same governors led by Saraki staged a walkout during a PDP convention?
I have no sympathy for him, so when it came to him, I laughed.
Why did you laugh?
Because he was the one referring to me then as ‘one Aminu Masari’. I was Speaker, more than the position he was occupying as a governor. He should have respected the institution and not my person. And nobody could say in Nigeria that I was unknown even at the time; he was just trying castigate us. So, when it caught up with him, I laughed. I had no sympathy for him because there was no reason for me to be.
So, finally in 2015 you won. Some have said you owe your victory more to the Buhari factor than to the party; do you agree?
Let them say what they want. There has to be a reason for one to win. Clinton is contesting because her husband was a president and a successful one. I wouldn’t want to go back to those issues. Yes, I won because of Buhari.
But Buhari played a great role in your victory
I think it’s the whole Nigerian politics
So, perhaps if Buhari had been in the PDP he would have won?
My belief is that Buhari would have won under any political party. If you could remember in 2011, despite the manipulations of the PDP, he won over 12 million votes. Tell me of any Nigerian standing on his personality who can garner 12 million votes with a party that was only formed 10 months before the elections. So, Buhari could have won in any party. At the time he won, everybody knew that the PDP was no longer in charge, was no longer capable of salvaging the country.
Looking back now, do you think the APC is capable salvaging the country?
Yes, of course.
Why do you say so?
You were in the country before the general elections; can you compare the level of insecurity that was in the country then.
But there are new security challenges…
It would soon be overcome because it is not as serious as a situation where some people were hoisting flags in places and claiming that those places had become territories that are not Nigeria.
But kidnapping is becoming a fast growing industry…
It is a fast growing industry but not to the level of some people saying they have taken parts of the country. Kidnappers are kidnapping and are very serious. For Niger Delta Avengers, since the struggle that was started by the late Ken Saro Wiwa, it has been given so many names. Today it’s Avengers. But it is a situation I know the federal government definitely has the capacity to deal with. The fundamental problem in the Niger Delta is that the leaders there are not ready for the truth.
What is that truth?
The truth is that since the beginning of the 13 per cent derivation, the creation of the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta, if you total the amount of money given to the states, the local government areas and you go back to the area and ask if these monies are being well spent. It is only when these hard questions are answered - that yes, the money is being well spent but it is not enough.So, are we ready for the hard facts? The leadership in the Niger Delta must come clean. It is my opinion that the federal government should publish the figures -how much each of the states has received from the beginning of the 13 percent derivation up to today. The constitution is very clear; the constitution says at least 13 per cent, not maximum 13 per cent. So if there is a need to adjust the figures, then we adjust the figures, but let the adjustment come with facts. But if you continue to adjust the figures, even if it is 100 per cent and the people collect 100 per cent, but instead of developing the area, they develop themselves. For six years we had a Niger Delta president; let us see the difference that he made in the six years he was president. When the excess crude account became a pocket that was spent anyhow, how much of the money went to Niger Delta? Like I said, these are hard questions.
Until you changed parties, you were also a member of the ruling party; what were you telling them?
The 13 per cent started during our time. I was a member of the House Committee on Environment and I visited the Niger Delta. The issue is, the money was appropriated. My stand is, let us look at what was appropriated, what was collected, how much of it has been used and relate what was collected to the development in the area. If the money is too small, we’ll say, ‘Okay, this money is being judiciously used but it is not enough’. What I am saying is that some of the leaders of the Niger Delta have created this problem so that the ordinary people will not look at them, will not ask questions.
Did you challenge the party leadership on what was happening at that time?
Go and see the records of what happened at the time. I think the House of Representatives has been friendlier to the people of Niger Delta than any institution. If you could remember, we had to override the veto because the president vetoed the Bill that gave the NDDC more money, and it was led by the House of Representatives. You look at everything about the Niger Delta including the environment, the House of Representatives, I think, more than any other institution stood by the people of the Niger Delta and I still believe the House will continue to stand by them, but let the right things be done.
Shortly before the 2015 election, Festus Keyamo reopened the allegation that you did not attend Middlesex University and that your certificate was forged. Shouldn't you ask the university to release your record to the public once and for all?
Don’t mind them; they have got the records. Don’t mind them; he was hired.
He was hired by whom?
By somebody who was contesting the primaries with me.
Who was that?
Do I need to mention names - because we are now friends. You could remember when we started having the issue of amendment in the House, many people tried to say things like that. They sent them a fax message of the result and they kept quiet. What we are going through in this country, at least within the PDP circles, if there that been kind of lapse, we wouldn’t have survived it. At least by my age and my experience, you should know I know the Nigerian constitution. What the constitution said is First Leaving Certificate, and by the interpretation of the Supreme Court it means the primary school. Are you saying I have not attended primary school or are you saying I am below 40 years. What are we talking about? I think you lie for a benefit.
The illness and death of former President Umaru Yar'Adua were very trying times for Nigeria. There are even some who say he might have lived longer if Obasanjo had not dragged him to become president. You knew Yar'Adua and were Speaker under Obasanjo. Was Obasanjo unfair to Nigeria by dragging Yar'Adua into the race? Or should Yar'Adua have taken a pass?
Actually, I don’t think there is any purpose to delving too much into this. Obasanjo said he didn’t know the enormity of his sickness.
But do you believe him?
Umaru knew his condition more than any other person and I think that, as the rational person I knew him to be, if he had known that the situation, probably he wouldn’t have taken up the job.Where I come from in Nigeria, we believe that when your time is up, whether you are sick or not, you will die.
There was this so-called cabal that wielded power during Yar'Adua's last days and literally cut him off from everyone else. As a politician, what would you say were the lessons you learnt personally during that period?
You know,power has this characteristic that those around you would always want to monopolize you.It wasn’t Umaru alone, it wasn’t Jonathan alone, it is not Buhari alone; it also includes us at a smaller level. So, it is up to the leader to see beyond the crowd. We as politicians, when we come for either the election or when someone is duly elected, we have to go beyond the circle. But the tendency has been there even before what we call democracy. The inner circle of the chambers of the Emirs, the Oonis,the chiefs and people, who ordinarily are benefitting from them, will always want to make sure that they get the best out of them. Only very few of them will have the sense to say it is better to eat small and last long. Instead, they eat too much and their belly burst.
It was widely reported that Obasanjo wanted you to line the House of Representatives behind his bid for a third term and you refused. Why?
You know these things happened long ago but to summarize it, what I am going to say is that there was an agenda to meddle with the constitution and as the presiding officer I acted in accordance with the rules of the House.
You are giving us a political answer…
No, I’m not. You see, whatever anyone wants, if it is not within the laws of the House, it is very difficult to get.
He asked you for a third term?
I am not answering you yes or no. We’ve been told several times, as the Senate president told the party then, that in this business of amending the constitution, everybody would have to answer his father’s name. There is nothing wrong for anyone to want to bring amendment to the constitution. There is also nothing wrong for you to say you are not in agreement.
That must have been your fifth problem, you know you had mentioned four problems already…
That was the position we maintained, both the Senate and the House. And we went with the positions of the chambers because our survival depended on the chambers, not upon powers outside the chambers. Let’s say we knew it would be difficult to amend the constitution to make provision for that. Those who were against the amendment had already gone to the marketplace and captured the minds of the people and the members must relate with what people of their constituencies want. And the majority of the members of their constituencies had said no.
Can you share your experience on your first day in the Katsina State Government House with us?
There was not much difference because, in terms of my surroundings and associates, they had always been there. I had friends of over 40 years who are still friends and they visit me almost daily. They are the people I spend my evenings with. But coming in as a governor, immediately I was faced with the stark reality of the state. The first day, while going through some of the documents,I started thinking to myself, ‘How are we going to get out of this?’ We knew it was bad but what we didn’t know was that it was that bad. I toured all the local councils, every nook and cranny when I was campaigning, so I knew the deplorable condition of the infrastructure. And when I became governor I knew that the responsibility was now on my head. To be fair to the late president, he did so well in his eight years as a governor, especially in the area of education and empowerment, creating opportunities through the local government. But after he left, everything collapsed.
You said in 2013 that "alienation and deprivation" could spark the equivalent of Arab Spring in any country. Given the current hardship across the land, are we on a threshold when, to use your phrase, "something must give way?"
You are absolutely right. I said so and I still maintain that. You know, if hardship goes without inequality, then people will know they have thesame opportunities. That we have hardship now, the problems we are facing in Nigeria now are one. Beginning from 2015, we inherited a country torn along religious, regional and tribal lines, with a murderous organization called Boko Haram taking part of the country, hoisting their flag. This situation was further supported by a government thinking it was the people’s problem, forgetting the oath of office they took for entire country. The keyword there, without affection or ill-will, you will do justice to all manner of people. From 2014 when it was $114 for a barrel (of crude oil), and even by the time the government left, it had become about $48, yet the spending habit did not stop. In our own case, it is the global fall of oil price whichaffects not only Nigeria. It is affecting all oil producing countries and I think I can say we are very lucky compared to Venezuela, which has to go to the neighbouring state to buy food items. Go to Saudi Arabia; 80 per cent of their capital projects have stopped because the price of oil has fallen. Now,if it is a common knowledge that the price is now a certain amount and that the money realized is being judiciously used, what will trigger what you said I said is if the money is not judiciously used. But when hardship comes our way which is not my creation and not your creation, hardly can that can spark problem.
Also three years ago, you said in the same interview with Vanguard, that it was a mark of the incompetence and callousness of the Jonathan government that a 50kg bag of fertilizer was selling at N5,000. Today it sells at between N7,500 and N8,000 in the open market. Do you regret that comment?
No, I stand by it. What was the dollar in 2012 and what is the cost of dollar now? You have to compare the two. Then naira was about N150 and now it is N380. Can you relate the two?
Soon after you took office, you set up a panel to probe your predecessor for allegedly mismanaging local government funds to the tune of N70bn. The former governor got a State High Court order to stop the probe indefinitely. Why haven't you appealed the order of the court?
We set up a commission of inquiry after the report of the transition committee.The governor gave us his own handover note. It is the same handover note we gave a transition committee. The same committee we had wanted to work with their committee in order to come up with a better handover note but they resisted. They gave their own handover note on May 29. So, we subjected the handover note to our transition committee. Our transition committee made some observations and it was based on the observation made that informed an independent committee to look at the report and go deeper. We had committees for local government, SURE-P. After they finished, we discovered that the signatories to the joint account operated by the governor on behalf of the local government were the permanent secretary, Ministry of Local Government;commissioner of local government, and the accountant-general of the state.Then the governor gives the final vote.
Then we discovered that the local government joint account would say, ‘Go and do capital project in terms procurement of either equipment, drugs or feeder roads for N10bn. Actually the job would have been done with N7bn but the governor, based on the recommendation of his commissioner of finance, would approve that 30 per cent of the N10bn be given to ALGON (Association of Local Government of Nigeria). ALGON would now go and cash this money; we saw evidence from the bank of them cashing the monies in tranches of N9.5m just so they don’t reach the N10m benchmark. The bank statements are there. We then discovered that they had collected over N9bn through that method. We also discovered that the permanent secretary, through the cashier, had made cash withdrawal of over N9bn - that is; under the joint account. Throughout the duration of SURE-P in Katsina, they never issued contract. They never purchased from any company. They never issued cheque. All the monies in SURE-P were withdrawn cash. So, today you cannot even find a single voucher; you cannot find a single tender document. The only documentation is, ‘This amount of money has gone in and this amount is out’.
Then a parastatal in the name of KASRMA was created. Its purpose was to do what FERMA is doing at a smaller scale. They also transferred so much money from SURE-P to KASRMA. The Act of KASRMA clearly said that the head should be a managing director but what we met in place was a general manager. Then we found somebody calling himself special adviser for Almajiri Schools collecting hundreds of millions monthly. It is not that we are probing contracts. There are so many cases in the EFCC, you know how they operate. We said since we want to go for recovery and possibly criminal prosecution, let’s have a judicial commission of inquiry. Now, there is an allegation made by the government against these people. We said let’s have a commission of inquiry. Let us get someone who is not expecting promotion from us. We invited him and he said he would come, provided we would not interfere. How could we interfere? We wanted to ascertain how much we could get from them out of the N72bn before going for prosecution. So, he went to court to stop the commission, but the court asked him what was wrong with the commission and that the Constitution has given the governor the power to form it. And that you can’t take away what has been given under the constitution. And that they did not say you are guilty, only that you should come and defend yourself.
But again you know, they say the law is an ass; it has ruled against him and he has gone for an appeal. The idea is to use the Nigerian system, drag it, and slowit down until people lose interest.
Are you going to lose interest then?
So the government is going to see it through?
Yes, it is our responsibility to see it through. We have told the people of Katsina this is what we want. They have to give account to the people of Katsina and we, too, will give our own. We have told the people that we want to have a break to this kind of thing. In fact, what we are doing is more against us than them because as we are looking at our predecessors now, that is how those coming will look at us. So, we are not probing but we are saying certain amount came in, certain amount has gone out, where is the balance?
You also accused former governor, Shema, of selling state cars worth N400m to himself as scrap. That is a really huge sum.
Really, really I think there ought to be responsibility in leadership.
Did he actually do that?
Four hundred million naira?
It is over N400m, it is about N430m
How was the evaluation done?
Who did any evaluation? For the first time I heard that convoy vehicle has different depreciation value. The oldest of the vehicles, I think, was the one purchased in 2011. All others were purchased in readiness for leaving.
How many vehicles were involved?
About 18 for the governor and probably less than 10 for the deputy governor and the least among them were purchased in 2011/12, others were bought 2013/2014.
What qualitative difference has your government made to the lives of the people in the last 14 months?
First of all, let us understand one thing; days of profligacy are past. From June 1 to December 2015, we got only N41.1bn from the federation account. From internally generated revenue we got about N5bn. That’s a total of about N47bn.
Within the same corresponding people of 2014, June 1 till May 29, 2015 when they left, they received N98bn, out of which they spent N94bn. So, we didn’t get 50 per cent of what they got but we were able to meet all our obligations in terms of staff salaries and allowances. We were able to honour the obligations of feeding the pupils in the primary schools and provide drugs in the hospitals. We were also feeding those young people at the youth craft centres and we were able to rehabilitate over 500 primary schools during this period.
The records are there and anybody can go and find out. Today, all our three major hospitals have been upgraded and you need to go and see. Our focus is to establish a teaching hospital in the next three to four years.
Again, we restored security in the state. From June 1-June 30, we spent about N1.3bn to install security because, apart from Zamfara State, Katsina came second in terms of cattle rustling. Permanently we have the military, the police, the civil defence, and the regionalteam. They are on our terrain patrolling. The border of the forest is over 230km right from our border from Niger Republic up to our border to Kaduna State. If you go to the intelligence and military units you would find that we did more than any other state. In spite of lean resources, we provided fertilizer more than the past government.
When we came, they bought fertilizer but, do you know they distributed the fertilizer all to themselves two weeks before we came into office? We were only able to get about six metric tonnes undelivered,and we stopped it.And today in the whole North West, we are among the two and three that are giving fertilizer to the people in their state.
In the southern part of the state where rains start early, we have given 100 per cent of the fertilizer we gave last year. Again, we access this issue of the CBN giving about N10, 000 and N20, 000 to small and medium scale enterprises. The bank will give us the N2bn while we pay the interest.
We gave N1m each to the medium scale businesses. In fact our intention was to give them up to N10m but the CBN said the highest we could go was N1m. Even the physically challenged were given well over N400, 000.We believe that with meagre resources we have done very well, more than that government with much more resources.
Is it true what is circulating, especially in the social media, that your government bought goats for N142,000 each?
It does not make sense. You see, these PDP people are not intelligent enough; because how can you buy a goat for N142,000, even if it is a bull. You should make sense even if you want to lie. These people have nothing to say. They cannot say we have stolen. It is an idle mind that thinks of goat at N142,000. You see, these are special breed of goats from Niger Republic because they produce a minimum of two litres of milk daily after six months. The insurance, medication and three goats is what made that amount, because we are giving each beneficiary three goats - two female and one male. We have also bought motorcycles for each ward because each goat has a number so that a person will be monitoring so that they don’t take that goat to the market. At the end of one year, the beneficiary will not give back money but four goats - one for you and three for another woman.
How are you going to monitor this?
Well, each goat has a number and each person we give is pictured with his address. The person with the motorcycle is given allowance tomonitor the goats in his ward and he gives monthly reports.Then we have a vehicle for a vet doctor so that if there were a report he would go down.
How many goats in all were given out?
I can’t really remember but they were in thousands because we covered 361 wards, and in every ward we gave a minimum of 10 goats. I think the goats are over 10,000.
On the issue bailout, in August 2015, Premium Times published a story that you misled President Buhari by asking for a bailout of N11billion when workers' pay was, in fact, up to date. Is that true?
You see, we never applied for salary bailout in Katsina. Our papers in the Ministry of Finance were clear. What we applied for was N6bn to settle outstanding pension and gratuities, which we believe, are part of salary. I asked the president,‘What sense does it make after one has given the best part of one’s life and retires when one is weak and cannot get his gratuity and pension?’ Knowing the culture of our people, some get married after they have retired. At the age of 70, some have three and four-year-old children and somebody who lives on gratuity and pension cannot get it. So, we feel that pension and gratuity are part of salary, in fact, more important than salary. It was on the basis of our submission that other states also applied to go and pay pension and gratuity.
Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin said that "budget padding" is endemic and that has a long history in the National Assembly. That suggests it also happened in your time. Correct?
During our time, there was nothing like padding, and even today there is nothing like padding.
Can you look Nigerians straight in the face and say that there is no padding, that it didn't happen on your watch and that you didn't know it's been on all the while?
I am looking you in the face. What I mean is that he has to tell me the definition of what he means by padding, because I’m at a loss. Padding means merge this and this, and pretend they are one when they are not.
No, padding is when you add something to another to make it bigger
Go to the Constitution and look at the powers of the National Assembly. They have the powers to amend the figures; to increase and decrease. What are we talking about? They have the powers to increase and decrease the budget.
Did you do it during your own time; did you increase?
Well, we made some amendments. There was never a time in Nigeria the budget was passed 100 per cent. And we never removed items put by the executive to put our own, no. We just looked at revenue base and talked to the executive to raise the revenue base to accommodate the request from the National Assembly, that is, putting in some projects. But we didn’t take project from A to C.
How can you explain a situation where in the same constituency and in one man’s constituency, there is a project worth more than 10 or 20 more than what the others have?
That is their headache; it shouldn’t happen. Are they saying they didn’t see the details of the budget when it was read and passed? You know, some members don’t attend the House sittings; they don’t go to committees, so how would they know? The critical and most important work of a legislator is appropriation. So, throughout the appropriation period, you should be at your committee and attend plenaries. A clean copy of the budget is passed to every member before it is passed. So, where were they?
We think the complaint is about people putting in figures and, at the end of the day, removing the funds for private uses; more or less like using it to do round-tripping
The National Assembly does not implement budgets; the ministries and departments implement budgets. If the budget is blown out of proportion that the revenue cannot take it, then you go to the National Assembly. Why should you, on the basis of revenue, jerk up the budget to this figure? Where are you getting the revenue? Because for the National Assembly to pass a budget, it must be backed by revenue. I know in our own time, we struggled and adjusted in terms of projection level because we didn’t agree on the projection level given. There was a time we disagreed on the price of crude the government was proposing. But you cannot put in project without revenue.
But in this case, Jibrin has insisted that there is an underhand dealing involved which is unknown to the public, and I read your intervention in an interview you granted LEADERSHIP; you were calling for peace instead of justice, your favourite phrase. Why?
The problem is that you read it upside down with the mind of a journalist. The question is between Jibrin and Dogara, not Jibrin and the House. The two were onetime the same bedmate and co-travellers who have now parted ways.So each one is now telling how the other one was snoring when they were sleeping because they were sleeping on the same bed.
But don’t you think that is the more reason why it should be investigated?
What we are saying is that it is bringing the House into disrepute the way it is going. They are lampooning the entire House. Like you said, he said that budget padding had been endemic. We worked with Obasanjo, and having worked with Obasanjo, you can work with anybody.
Is it true Obasanjo was bringing bribes to get his budget passed?
He never did. Obasanjo to give you money? Then you don’t know Obasanjo. Even all the money that was alleged to have been given during the constitution amendment didn’t come directly from Obasanjo; maybe from some people who felt they were getting some benefits from him. Obasanjo cannot give you money.
How can the National Assembly be made more accountable to the people?
Let me take you to one thing, which is fundamental.When we said we wanted a reform in the political system, it is only a reform through the political system that will produce candidates who will be accountable to the people. That will ensure accountability because you know if you don’t account for your deeds, next time people will reject you.
That is what those who are against it are afraid of because they enjoy the position. If position makes people subservient to you because you impose them on others so that they are only accountable to you, next time you also impose them. The political system of all the parties must allow and provide for a level playing ground.
The call for restructuring is gaining fresh momentum, with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar weighing in strongly in favour. Do you agree with Atiku that restructuring is inevitable?
I don’t even know what you people are talking about. First of all, those who are talking about this issue of restructuring and those who are saying we need to restructure, what do they mean? Those who are opposing it, what do they mean? I need to know what you mean by restructuring.
They mean that the states should have control over their resources within their domain and that we should have fiscal federalism where states have control and pay royalties to the centre.
Now we are talking about an issue we need to understand very well if we are talking about fiscal federalism. And I think that within the shortest possible time we will no longer be talking about one commodity.
But do you agree that fiscal federalism is the way to go?
It is possible. Perhaps the timing and the way people are talking about it are wrong. When we put the structures on the ground, in time it will automatically fall in place.
Why do you think President Buhari is opposed to it?
It all depends all what people mean by restructuring.
He doesn’t want to hear about fiscal federalism
I don’t believe that.
So, do you believe that President Buhari wants fiscal federalism?
That’s why he is diversifying. He said, first of all, let’s diversify the economy in such a way that we will no longer depend on one commodity. And for now, what we need to do is to put structures on ground to actualize it for every state because every state has natural resources. So if you put in place the right policy, the right structures, automatically the road will lead there.
Do you think the place to start is for the National Assembly to take another look at the 2014 National Conference?
The problem in this country has never been the lack of reports. It’s been lack of leadership. Which national conference?
The one convened by Jonathan…
Before then Obasanjo did his own and he never even opened it to see what is there. Then Abacha also had the constitutional conference to produce a report that made the recommendation of the minimum 13 per cent derivation and also created the Federal Character Commission. Nigeria has never been without reports. Is it about reports? It is about implementing those reports.
But President Buhari has said he is not going to look at the National Conference report.
I didn’t hear that…
He told us; he said he won’t look at it.
Then he has no need to look at it.
You enrolled your children in a public school in Katsina, to set an example. Did you face any pressure from family and friends when you took that decision?
No, I did not. For me, it was never an issue even though the mothers of the children may not like it.
You declared your assets on May 28. How many members of your cabinet have followed suit?
The Code of Conduct Bureau in Katsina did asset verification for everybody in my cabinet.
You are seen as part of Buhari’s kitchen cabinet. Are you concerned about the complaints of lopsided appointments against the government?
I am not a member of his kitchen cabinet; I am the governor of Katsina State. We happen to come from the same state. And the appointments are not lopsided. How many appointments are there in Nigeria and how many are in each of the zones? In fact, whenever anyone is talking about ‘lopsided’ in Nigeria, I look at him and see where he comes from and I can then understand why he is talking about lopsidedness. On the basis of equality and the ministers, I believe the Constitution is very clear. I know that some of the parastatals are very professional that if you dare put non-professionals, there would be a problem. And when you start talking about lopsidedness, what was there yesterday?
The president himself said in one of the interviews that he had to first deal with the 95 per cent that voted for him before looking at the five per cent.
Well, that is part of it.
Is it correct?
It is correct. You know there are two things. The oath of the office you take is for the whole nation. There are certain things that are indisputable that is for everybody. It is subjective. Rights is what is given to everybody irrespective of political leanings, irrespective of where he comes from but privilege is given to those who earn it. So you should ask yourself: have I earned it before you start complaining.
Since you are talking about privileges, there's public outrage over the pension that governors and their deputies earn, with some of them earning up to N5m monthly in some states and houses valued at N500m or more in the bargain. Do you think the states should review the laws?
I don’t think it is right because the pension is going to be on the capacity of the state. It is not uniform.
How much is your predecessor earning?
Well, he made so many amendments to the law and we are also looking at the law so that we can do something that is realistic. Some of the things they did are unrealistic.
How much is he earning?
I can’t really say immediately what he is earning.
But you don’t intend to earn what he is earning now when you leave office?
We are going to take what is open and known to everybody. I don’t need that; I don’t need too much money.
As governor, what gets you up from bed at night?
The finances of the state. If I sleep, I wake up and just remember something, then my eyes becomes clear.
What legacy would you like to be remembered for?
You know, when I was campaigning I went to my local government and I told them that if they elect me, I would not bring or give what they didn’t deserve; that when they see somebody from this area bearing my name they would say, ‘That we had somebody from this area and he did well. He was just and fair to us. So, we expect that person also to be fair to us as well.’ This is was my hope, dream and aspiration.