These are two different worlds; the House of Representatives at the National Assembly and then Sokoto State. In the House of Representatives, you have representations from over 300 constituencies of Nigerians who are from different and diverse backgrounds. Coming with them are different degrees of experiences; some definitely older than you, some with more academic laurels than you, some richer and wealthier than you and some younger than you. But all are holding equal mandate representing their constituencies with different worldviews and perspectives on issues and all of that. Here in Sokoto, one can say that the people in the state are largely from the same background even though you have the Fulani, Hausa, Zabarmawa, some Kanuris and other Nigerians that are here living with us. It is not the same with what you have at the National Assembly. When you talk about leading the two, where, by the grace of God and the support of my colleagues, I served as the Speaker of the House of Representatives and here that I am serving currently as governor in the last six years, they are different.
First is the constitutional role and second, you are dealing with two different sets of people if I may put it that way. Yes, even here, some people are richer than me, some are more educated but in terms of close contact and micromanaging, it is a different ball game. At the House of Representatives, you are first among equals as the Speaker but in the state, it is not the same scenario. In the state, you are the Chief Executive, so it is a different scenario and not as if you are just first among equals. That alone tells you that the experiences are not the same.
As governor, I can say you deal more closely with the minutest of issues. As governor, if somebody’s wife has a stillbirth, they say it is you; if their tap is not running, they say it is the governor. So, it is not the same experience either as a parliamentarian at that level or even as a Speaker. That is why I said they are two different worlds and experiences. That relationship, solidarity and working together like school mates exists at the House unlike here where I am the Chief Executive virtually; minus my deputy who was elected alongside with me, every other person is my appointee. It is part of what I am missing and of course, the debate. Most times at the House, you are always talking about national and bigger issues.
Insecurity is gradually becoming an issue in Sokoto which hitherto used to be one of the most peaceful states in the country. What is really happening and what is your administration doing to curb the menace?
Before you ask me what is happening and what I am doing to curtail it, I will give you a background of how we got to where we are at the moment. Unfortunately, Zamfara State has been the epicenter of banditry and kidnapping in the North-west. Most of the states including Niger really are getting the heat from Zamfara. And what is the distance between Zamfara and Sokoto? Almost about 14 local governments are either neighbouring Zamfara or Niger Republic. And what is happening in the Sahel region, which of course includes Mali, Niger and Central Africa is permeating and creeping into Nigeria. Talking about banditry, ISWAP and all of that, all these agents of instability that are carrying out activities in the Sahel region have a way of finding themselves through our porous borders into Nigeria.
So, one by geography being neighbours to Niger Republic is part of the problem and secondly being neighbour to Zamfara, the epicenter of banditry and kidnapping in the North-west. And to a large extent, especially recently, the inability of the security agents or agencies to coordinate their efforts and operations in Zamfara against our own advice by governors of eight states. We have met the President several times in the last three, four years. We even advised Service Chiefs that whenever you decide to undertake this large scale operation, let it be simultaneous. Have a blocking force in parts of Kaduna, Niger, Kebbi, Katsina and Sokoto, and carry out the operations simultaneously. They did not do that. Secondly, the timing for operation at the peak of the rainy season.
One is that the forest is thick; two is that the military and other security agencies do not have the equipment that can move into those difficult terrains. That also did not help matters. So, whenever they carry out an operation and attack on the bandits in the camps, they pander towards states that are close to Zamfara. Instead of the security agencies to get them and do away with them in Zamfara, they disperse them into our state. And most of those that came in to attack our people are as a result of those operations recently. Another also is the fact that as I said before, they do not have enough manpower, firepower and equipment to carry out the operations. So, it is not as if it as about the people of Sokoto State. It is more to do with the situation of our neighbours.
Then when you talk about what we have done, there has been a lot of synergy among the agencies in Sokoto State. I must commend the security agencies. We have been working together with them with regards to addressing the challenges. We do the much we can and we are still doing a lot because there was never a time any of the agencies approached us for support without getting it. In the last four, five years, we had given out not less than 500 vehicles to security services in Sokoto State. It is on record. How many states have done that? And as I said, we pay them their allowances from our coffers; we are up to date in paying those allowances.
I believe you can check what I am going to tell you. We have refurbished all the divisional police headquarters. We are building about 12 new ones for them. So, we have given them every support. We are not sleeping; we have a standing committee that was established under his Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto (you know he is a retired General), that is also working on the issue of security in the state. We hold regular security meetings. Even two, three days ago, we held one when we took a decision on outlawing self-styled vigilante groups because they were part of the problems in Zamfara State. Again, you know the limitations of every governor in Nigeria. So, for everybody to imagine it as if a governor is not doing what he ought to do, nobody can do what I have told you. I have not seen any governor who has taken a matchete and not to talk of a gun and pursued a bandit or Boko Haram in the bush. At best, it is to support the security agencies and the IDPs.
Are there plans for a regional outfit to contain the insecurity situation?
I told you that over the years, four, five years ago, we had Northern Governors meeting and we had Nigerian Governors meeting and we have had sub-regional meetings. At a point in time, each of us contributed N100million for operations to be carried out in the affected areas. And for those neighbouring Niger Republic, we have also been having meetings with our colleagues from Niger Republic; we go there and they come here. So, it is not as if we have not been having regional cooperation.
On the issue of forming a regional outfit, we have not discussed that because of the perception problem associated with that. But what we have done and we are working with the security agencies is that we try to strengthen our vigilantes at every state level and allow them to work with the security services. The Amotekun or Ebube Agu are not better than the vigilante groups. They are just a similar version of the vigilantes. What we are doing is putting them under some training by the police and then supporting the security services.
Southern Governors met and said that the 2023 presidency should come from the South, and we know that you may want to join the race in the next general election, what is your view on that?
When you look at my history, I find it difficult to talk about zoning. First, when I got to the House of Representatives in 2003, the ANPP caucus was not comfortable with the leadership style of the then leader of the caucus, the minority leader of the House. Sometime in 2005, there was a change in leadership and at that time, the ANPP had zoned the four principal officers’ positions as follows; Minority leader Kano, Kaduna; Whip Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara; deputy leader Borno, Yobo because that was where you had ANPP; and deputy Whip to South South. We had Etiebet from Akwa Ibom. Based on that arrangement, the leaders of the ANPP caucus emerged.
When members felt they were no longer comfortable with Dr Salik Ahmed Salik and there was a change, they themselves altered the zoning arrangement. Don Etiebet, the then chairman of the party issued a statement disagreeing with members of the House of Representatives that they must go back to zoning. Meanwhile, the rules of the House provided that the leadership should emerge from among members. So, relying on that, nobody carried out the change of guard and I came; even though I came from the bloc that was supposed to be the Whip of the House by the arrangement of the ANPP caucus, I became the leader against zoning. In 2011, the PDP zoned the Speakership position to the South-west but members of the House of Reps came together to say look, we are looking for a speaker with so and so qualities.
They approached me and all that went on, and I emerged the Speaker of the House; not from the South-west. Clearly from the two scenarios, based on the assessment of members, and in their own criteria the type of leader they were looking for, I enjoyed those two privileges in the past. That is why I said that based on my history, I find it difficult to talk about zoning. But when you talk about what my brother governors from the South said, they are entitled to their opinion. When the Northern governors met in Kaduna, they said their own. But it is now for the political parties to sit down, look at the issues and plan how to win elections. The bottom-line for any political party is how to win elections. When you are talking about democracy and elections, you must think about demography; where are you going to get the votes.
Will you again join the presidential race in 2023?
Why are you asking me that question? In 2018, I participated in the PDP primaries that held in Port Harcourt and I thank God that I came second. Several people are talking to me to give it a trial. At this moment, what I can tell you is that very soon, I am going to commence my consultations and whatever is the feedback I get and with prayers, I will let my position be known.
The Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission has been going around to change their ratings for states; are you happy with where Sokoto is on the table?
It is not about Sokoto. No state is happy with where it is. Not even Lagos or Rivers; so, if Lagos and Rivers are not happy with where they are, how do you want Sokoto and others to feel? We are all looking for money and resources. Not even the Federal Government is happy with where it is. They have the lion share but they are looking for resources. Go and ask them; they borrow money to pay salaries.
So, it is not about Sokoto but what people have been talking about the need for restructuring and devolution of powers in the country. We must review and restructure away all those things from the centre. I said it at the PDP Retreat. It is first our pathway to stability, growth and development. The Federal Government must shed weight and devolve more powers to sub-nationals where the people are in the states and local governments. That would give less attraction to the centre. Let the Federal Government be dealing with issues of immigration and other normal issues that a federal system should be concerned about.
There are still many big ongoing projects in your state when you have less than two more years to go; do you think you will be able to finish the projects with the time available to you or will you leave some of them as abandoned projects?
Are you worried about the timing or the resources? Minus any unforeseen developments, as we say in law, Force Majeure( COVID-19 was a Force Majeure as it slowed down a lot of things in the world), I can assure you by the grace of God, all of the projects you have seen and those you have not seen are going to be completed by this administration. About timelines, that is why we are committed and we have resources that we are working hard to ensure that we complete all the projects.
Have you been able to improve the Internally Generated Revenue(IGR) of the state since you came in?
We have. It was very low until recently because we have introduced a lot of reforms with the state revenue services. We have new laws and rates that we are charging and the management has been turned around. And the level of awareness has been raised that you have to have more money for government to be able to carry out its responsibilities. And the confidence of the people to have a buy in, in generating more revenue is also increased because in the past, they were worried and concerned about whether people would agree to introducing rates or taxes because there was not that confidence that the resources would be judiciously used; and the prudence of management of resources we have been able to do in the past. This is a state where we do not owe salaries, pension and we are still doing what we are doing. Members of the public are aware that we are not squandering their scarce resources. We are micromanaging and managing the resources effectively. So, they are getting value for whatever taxes they are paying. The trust level of the people on the government has been increased.
You are not owing and projects are going on; people would ask, how are you getting the resources?
The key to the whole thing is planning; we plan how to raise money and part of it is the management of what we get from IGR and with augmentation from some loans that we have from both banks and other financial institutions. And most of it, are payable within the lifespan of this administration. You know that banks and financial institutions would not lend money to you unless they are sure that you are healthy and that you can carry it. In any case, they would do the background check to assess and even agree to endorse your request. So, it is a combination of the resources from the FAAC, IGR, loans from banks and financial institutions.
Is there a reason that you have consistently allocated more funds to education and health sectors of your state?
The indices on education development of Sokoto State were not encouraging. By the time we came in, we had about 1.6 million out of school children. Also, the indices in our healthcare were not good. So, we did that as a deliberate measure to upscale the quality, numeracy of education in the state, and to address the challenges of Almajarai and out of school children. Yes, because, it is when they are out of school that they engage in all forms of criminality. It is because of this that we decided as a government that we must give priority to education and human capital development. Second, healthcare is of paramount importance. Without a healthy society, you cannot go anywhere. As I have said, the indices have not been good. At a point in time even before I came in, so many of our development partners had written us off because of their experience with the immediate past administration in terms of collaboration, partnership in working together to address some of these challenges in healthcare.
By the time we came in, they saw that yes, these are people they could actually do business with. They came back and we assembled experts both in education, healthcare and agriculture. In dealing with our tertiary institutions under education, we set up a committee under Professor Attahiru Jega who advised us on the way to manage our tertiary institutions. So, the reports from these committees, guided and are still guiding our steps in the education sector; be it at basic, secondary or tertiary level. The same thing happened and is happening in healthcare and so also in agriculture. So, we saw the gaps and challenges and the need to really do more in education and healthcare. That is why we have been consistently prioritising education, healthcare and agriculture in that order.
Did the committees you set up lead to the establishment of the Child Rights Act in your state?
The Child Rights Act has been on the card and table of virtually every government, year in year out, time in, time out even in Sokoto State. The child Rights Act was passed by the National Assembly in 2004. It was not passed because of certain considerations that had to do with culture, religion and beliefs of the people. So, we had to do a lot of sensitization with the Ulamas, religious leaders and community leaders under the able leadership and guidance of His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto. It was for us to convince members of the public that look, nobody is trying to Westernise your child by passing the Child Rights law; that was how we were able to build the consensus for us to be able to pass it at the Executive council level.
But do you foresee problems in enforcing it?
All of the concerns have been addressed by the committee. It is not as if we adopted the Act the way it was without attempting to fine-tune and domesticate it in consonance with the culture and religion of the people. So, I do not see any difficulties. By the way, before even we signed that law, I believe that Sokoto was either the first or one of the very first states in Nigeria to sign a law that made basic education compulsory to every child. So, it is not as if Sokoto is new to it or that the whole idea is coming as a new thing to Sokoto State. We have the contributory health scheme. When you talk about health insurance like Sokoto communities especially, for those who have different understanding of it in terms of Islamic perspective, it is always difficult to convince people to do that. But we were able to do that with the guidance of His eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto and other religious leaders to fine-tune the health insurance laws and make them adaptable to our own situation and we came up with the contributory health scheme. So, it is all about the approach and how you engage the people, how you sensitise and make them to understand and have a buy in of what you are trying to market to them. It also has a lot to do with their trust in the administration.