Restructuring remains our only pathway to national stability and growth, says Tambuwal
Ranching best solution to ending herders/farmers clash
Former Speaker, House of Representatives and Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal has been vocal on his conviction that restructuring is the only solution to political, socio-economic challenges confronting Nigeria. In this interview with some senior journalists after commissioning of the multi-billion naira diagnostic health centre in Sokoto, he disclosed that the House of Representatives as far back as 2014 had passed some bills to restructure the country. He insists that the way to attain peace and development of the country is to restructure. He spoke on his support for ranching, his presidential ambition and how he is financing several projects going on in the state without owing workers and pensioners. MUYIWA ADEYEMI was there.
Sokoto has history of being one of the most peaceful states in the country, but now banditry has worsened insecurity in the state, what are you doing about it?
Let me give you a background of how we got to where we are. Unfortunately, Zamfara State has been the epicenter of banditry and kidnapping in the Northwest, most of the states including Niger are getting the heat from Zamfara. What is the distance between Sokoto and Zamfara? Substantial part of about 14 local government areas are either neighbouring Zamfara or Niger Republic and what is happening in the Sahel region, which includes Mali, Niger, Central Africa Republic is permeating and creeping into Nigeria. Talking about banditry, ISWAP and all of that, agents of instability that are carrying out their acts around Sahel region they have a way of coming into Nigeria through our porous borders. The inability of security agencies to coordinate their operations in Zamfara against our own advice as governors of about eight states that have met the President several times in the last three to four years is responsible for the spike. We advised him and even advised Service Chiefs that whenever they are going to undertake this large-scale operation it should be simultaneous. They should have a blocking force in parts of Kaduna, Niger, Kebbi, Katsina and Sokoto simultaneously while they carry out the operation, they didn’t do that. Besides, the timing of the operation at the peak of raining season was not the best. One, the forest is thick. Two, the military and security agencies do not have equipment they can move into those difficult terrains, which also did not help matters. So whenever they carry out operations on the bandits in their camps, they pander towards our states that are open and porous. So instead of getting them and get done with them in Zamfara State, they disperse them into our state and most of those that come in to attack our people, do so as a result of those operations.
Another factor as I have said, they do not have enough equipment to carry out the operations, I mean the security services, no enough manpower, no enough firepower, and it’s not as if it is about the people of Sokoto State, it has more to do with the situation with our neighbours.
And talking about what we have done, there have been a lot of synergy with government and security agencies in Sokoto State from the beginning and I must commend them. They have been working together and we have been working together with them in terms of addressing the challenges, we do the much that we could and we are still doing more because there was never a time any of those security agencies approached us for support without getting it or having it. In the last four to five years, we have given out not less than 500 vehicles to security services in Sokoto State. It is on record, how many states have done that? As I said, we pay them their allowances from our coffers and we are up to date in the payment of those allowances. You can double check what I am telling you, we have refurbished for the police, virtually all divisional police headquarters in Sokoto State, we are building about 12 new ones for them and we have given them every support.
We have come up with a framework of engagement with His Eminence, the Sultan, the traditional institutions and other leaders, community support and all of that is being galvanised by the government and Sultan-in-council. So we are not sleeping, we have a standing committee headed by the Sultan, you know he is a retired General, that is also working on the issue of security in the state, we hold regular stakeholders meeting. Few days ago, we held one where we introduced yet another measure of outlawing a self-styled vigilante that was coming up; they call it el-zakee because they are part of problems in Zamfara State. A few individuals without cooperating with authority will just form themselves into self-help vigilante, they will start going from hamlet to another, identifying certain tribes and just killing them, so we outlawed them, it is part of the measures we are taking.
When the government of Zamfara State decided to go into that operation in collaboration with the military, I went on my own volition to Zamfara a few days to the commencement of the operation, I was there to condole with the family of Ambassador Adamu Umar, my boss under whose tutelage I trained in his law chambers, he died and I went to see his family. I went to see the governor, that was when he informed me for the first time that such an operation was in the offing and there was need for us to also pass an Executive Order and put up certain measures to curtail movement of fuel and motorcycles in certain areas and shutting down of communication networks. So, it was not as it we had discussed it with him before and yet we came here I convened the security council meeting and we agreed and adopted the same measure as adopted in Zamfara State.
We are doing quite well in terms of sensitising people, supporting the security forces, so it is not as if we are sleeping. But we have problems with informants, members of communities who compromise and are bought over by the bandits and they are collaborating with them to give information on movement of security personnel. Before you know it, they lay ambush on security detachment that is out on operation. It is a whole lot of complex situation that we have been managing.
But you know limitations of every governor in Nigeria, they are very clear for anybody to see, not that a governor is not doing what he ought to do. No governor can do more than what I have told you, I have not seen any governor who has taken a cutlass, not to talk of a gun and pursued a bandit or Boko Haram in the bush. At best what we do is to support the security agencies and give support to IDPs.
Have you talked to your northern colleagues on having a regional security outfit?
Over the years, we have had sub-regional governors meeting in the Northwest including Niger. At a point in time, each of us contributed N100 million as initial contributions for operations to be carried out by the military, and this was almost five years back. For those who have Niger Republic as our neighbours, we have been having meetings with our colleagues from that country, we go there and they come here. So it’s not as if that we have not been having regional cooperation. But we have not discussed forming a regional security outfit because of the perception associated with that, however, we are working with the security and strengthening our vigilante at every state level and aligned them to work with the security services. The Amotekun and Ebube Agu are not better than the vigilante, they are similar version of vigilante, so what we are doing is to put them under some training by the police and support the security services.
There are many projects going on in the state and you have less than two years to complete your tenure, is it possible to complete all these projects before leaving office?
Are you worried about timing or about resources? Minus any unforeseen development, as we say it, force majeure, covid-19 is a force majeure and it slowed down a lot of things in the world. Minus any such occurrence, I can assure you by the grace of God that all the projects you have seen and those you have not seen are going to be completed by this administration. We have our timeline and we have put aside resources to complete these projects.
Have you been able to improve on the IGR of Sokoto State since you came on board?
Yes we have, it has been low until recently that we did a lot of reforms with the state revenue services and we have new laws and new rates that we are charging and the management has been turned around. 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 for people to have a buy-in. Revenue has also increased because in the past, we were very well concerned about whether people would agree to introducing new rates or taxes because there wasn’t that confidence that the resources will be judiciously applied, but now because they have seen what we are doing and the prudence of management of resources they are willing.
This is a state where we don’t owe salaries, we don’t owe 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, we are managing effectively and judiciously, so they are getting value for whatever taxes they are paying, their trust level in government has increased.
You’re paying minimum wage, not owing and many projects are ongoing. Where are you getting money?
The key is planning, one we had to raise money and part of it is through prudent management of what we get from FAAC and IGR and some loans that we have obtained from banks and some financial institutions; and most of the loans are payable within the lifespan of our administration. You know that banks and financial institutions hardly give approval for loans unless they are sure that the state is healthy to carry it, in any case Debt Management Office (DMO) is there, Federal Ministry of Finance is there to do the background check. So, it is a combination of resources from the IGR, FAAC and some loans that we obtained.
You talked about trust in Leadership, what are the sacrifices you made to drive the process?
We as elders are not working with spirits, we are working with fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters and we all know ourselves. If because I am governor of Sokoto and I am within the four walls of this Government House, I begin to assume and deceive myself into believing that people do not know what I am doing, I must be joking. If you are such a leader that dips his hands in public coffers they know, even the people you collaborate with, either the Accountants or Directors of Finance or Commissioners of Finance, they know and the story goes out. So, whatever you do as a leader, especially at this level of being a governor it is known to the public. Your conduct in office and how you carry out your assignment and how prudent you is known to the public. Our lives are open books, available for everyone to read. So if you are transparent, reasonably honest and accountable they all know and that is how you get the trust of the people. There is no secret in this thing, we are not running secret cult, governance, especially at this age is reduced to all these small, small gadgets that you have, social media everywhere. Before you know it, if I should give an approval that is suspicious people will know it and there is price intelligence everywhere with Google. If they know that you are transparent and accountable, you’re meeting the good governance indices, they will trust you, whatever you are doing they know, so I believe it is all about that.
Southern governors at one of their meetings agreed that presidency should come to the South come 2023. Given that you may be interested, will your ambition not offend your friends from the South?
Let me tell you this, when you look at my history, I find it difficult to talk about zoning. When I got to House of Representatives in 2003, ANPP caucus was not comfortable with the leadership style of the then leader of the caucus, minority leader of the House. Somewhere in 2005, there was a change in leadership and as at that time ANPP had zoned the principal officers positions; Minority Leader to Kano/Kaduna/Jigawa; Whip -Sokoto/Kebbi/Zamfara; Deputy Minority Leader to Borno/Yobe because that was where we had ANPP and Deputy Whip to the South-south. Based on this arrangement, leaders of ANPP emerged in 2003, when members felt they were no longer comfortable with them and there was a change, they themselves altered the zoning and Don Etiebet, the chairman of the party issued a statement disagreeing with members of the House that they must go back to zoning.
Meanwhile, rules of the House provided that leadership should emerge amongst members, so relying on members to carry out change of guards and I came in even though from the bloc where it was supposed to be the Whip of the House in the minority caucus of ANPP, but I became the Leader against the zoning of the party. In 2011, PDP zoned speakership to Southwest, members of House of Representatives came together to say look, we are looking for a Speaker with certain qualities, they approached me, all that went on went on and I emerged as Speaker and I am not from Southwest.
Clearly, from the two scenarios, based on the assessment of members and their own criteria of the type of leader they are looking for I have enjoyed these two privileges in the past, that is why I said I find it difficult to really talk about zoning. But when you talk about what my friends, the governors from the South said, they are entitled to their opinion, when the Northern governors met in Kaduna they said their own, so it is now for political parties to sit down and look at the issues and plan how to win elections, that is the bottom line.
Will you give presidency a shot in 2023?
You know that in 2018, I participated in the PDP primaries held in Port Harcourt and I thank God, I came second. Several people are talking to me to give it a try at this moment, all I can tell you is that I am going to commence my consultations and whatever feedback I get with the prayers that I have been doing then I will make my position known very soon.
By January or February next year?
Somewhere along the line.
Sokoto State has attracted some investments during your administration, what made that possible?
When you go to the report on ease of doing business by an outfit of the Federal Government of Nigeria, Sokoto came second. People did not just wake up one day and saw the variables in place, we did a lot of work in terms of reforms, in terms of giving tax holidays, supports to businesses, creating and establishing one of the best on-stop shops in Nigeria where virtually all the agencies, be it federal and state are under one roof. All these efforts made Sokoto State attractive including of course, giving people lands. When Dangote came, we decided to give them land without paying a dime, the same thing for OCP, the fertiliser plant. Government paid compensation to the land- owners and gave the lands to both Dangote and OCP-Morocco to encourage them, so it is all about policies and our approach and that is why they are coming here. As I said, we have simplified a lot of permits, granting of Certificate of Occupancy (C of O), if you can get C of O within 48 hours, what else are you looking for? In some other places you get C of O’s in months and years. The policies are going to remain in place for as long as this administration is there, so we expect more, barring the security challenges, we would have had more investors coming to Sokoto.
Less than two years, you will complete your second term as governor, what legacy projects do you hope to leave for posterity?
When we came in we set out to transform the education sector, healthcare and agriculture, general human capital development and rural development. As we speak, I cannot say exactly, but we have exceeded 700 small towns and villages in our water schemes for small communities. When we came in, there was hardly any local government headquarters that was having pipe-borne water; we have so far executed not less than 18 out of the 20 with about 3-5km reticulation in those local governments.
We have renovated schools, we have built many primary health centers, general hospitals and we have even introduced another layer by establishing three premier hospitals of 150-bed capacity each in each senatorial district. There is no local government now without a General Hospital and the last one will soon be completed. We have begun to go to bigger communities in the local governments outside the headquarters, we are doing four more hospitals now and the biggest of them all is the Sokoto State University Teaching Hospital, which is about 1,200-bed capacity. So when you talk about legacy projects, if you are talking about physical infrastructure, I will mention the College of Health Sciences, I will mention the flyovers we are doing, before now we had only two in the state capital, we are doing three more now, I have awarded two and the third one is coming on.
We are doing housing estates, new stadium, indoor sports hall conference center, but the one that I may say is dearest to me is the Secondary School in Gudu Local Government, which is almost the only local government in Nigeria that has no senior secondary school. The Girls Science Academy, which is part of our legacy project, is almost a replica of the one we built in that local government in Gudu, so these are some of the legacy projects including the Revenue House that we are going to build and several other road projects.
Did the ban on open grazing by southern state governors put pressure on Sokoto State?
Maybe, because of the geography or the state or the climate, I can say that we have no pressure as a state as a result of that ban because we don’t have many cattle rearers from Sokoto moving around. So if they say herders should go back to their states, you will hardly find them coming back to Sokoto because they did not go from here. But we have Fulanis in Sokoto who are herders and we have grazing reserves, we have been trying to upscale and modernise the grazing reserves for the herders and on top of that, we met a scheme by the past administration on animal husbandry and animal insemination, the scheme was abandoned. There were programmes to import some species of cattle from Argentina, when we came in, we looked at it and realised that it is good. We took it and completed it and brought in some of these species, as we speak we are having another consignment of those species from South Africa coming into Nigeria, whereby we subsidise them to our farmers and ranches, we encourage people to go into ranching. So we have for long been on ranching in Sokoto, even before the Federal Government project of ranching came on board, so it is an issue that we have been living with.
It is not that we don’t have our issues with the herders and farmers in Sokoto. We have some of them coming from Niger Republic and we have been having fair share of that problem over the years, decades, even centuries but we have been managing it. The local herders and farmers used to have their clashes and a number of their cases go to the traditional rulers or the courts and whoever is found wanting is made to pay compensation.
You have been in APC and PDP, what is the difference between these two parties?
It is on record that for PDP even the name has remained PDP right from 1998. APC was formed as recently as 2014 and it is the amalgamation and coming together of about four to five political parties, CPC, ACN, ANPP N-PDP and APGA with the sole objective of taking out Goodluck Jonathan, with so many strange beg fellows working together for that objective. Almost immediately after 2015 elections, problems began to manifest because the relationship was not cemented. I can tell you that virtually all groups are still seeing themselves as what they were before APC and, we don’t have that in PDP, it has remained as one political party, whether you go in or out of it. It has not merged with any political party and that should be noted. And in terms of building political culture, we can at least say that PDP has been there since 1998 with its positives and negatives, ups and downs, highs and lows, you cannot say so of APC.
PDP has only 13 states and APC controls 22, yet people are still moving out of PDP, will this not affect your party in the next presidential election?
How many states had APC in 2014? ANPP was having Zamfara, Borno and Yobe, n-PDP was having Sokoto, Kano, Adamawa, Kwara, ACN had Lagos, Osun, Oyo and Ogun and Ekiti was lost half way and CPC in Nasarawa and then APGA in Imo, making about 14 states against 21 states of PDP. Now it is 14 against 22. Yes the gladiators have changed, dynamics and variables might have changed as well, but you can use the Anambra example as a test case, you can also use what happened in Edo and here in Sokoto.
As a governor of Sokoto, I could not deliver the state to PDP at the Presidential and National Assembly elections, Akeredolu in Ondo could not deliver his state to APC, Obaseki with Adams could not deliver Edo to APC, so it is not about sitting governor delivering the states, it is about what the political situation is in the country and that is why I said PDP should be talking about how to win elections and not zoning. It must also be about leaders that can do the job. In Sokoto, the difference between President Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is about 120,000 to 130,000 votes, within two weeks the dynamics changed and I won, yes with a slim margin but I won.
When you are talking about presidential election, you must also consider demography, how are you going to get the votes, who are you fielding that can bring you the votes, that was what APC did, APC believed that President Buhari was having 11 million votes and it’s part of what was used to convince the leadership of APC that we should go for Buhari. So you need to factor all of these, it is not about the political party. APC won not because it was APC, certain factors were in place; certain variables were at play and so many things added up in favor of APC. So in 2023 candidates are going to play a very important role in which party gets it. And you must also remember young people. They said they want a leader of their own generation – ‘Sorosoke’.
Are you happy with where Sokoto is on the FAAC table?
No state is happy with where it is, not even Rivers or Lagos, so what do you want Sokoto, Nasarwa and Gombe to say? We are all looking for resources. That is why people have been talking about restructuring and devolution of power. We must review the structure and I have said it at PDP retreat recently. Restructuring is our pathway to stability. Federal government must shed weight and devolve more powers and resources to sub-nationals where the people are, states and local governments and that will give less attraction to the center and we will have more stability. Federal Government should be dealing with issues of immigration and normal issues that the federal system should be concerned about. What is the business of the federal government with primary health center or primary schools not talk of building roads, we must look at all of those issues and that is why in our attempt at the Constitution amendment in 2014, we proposed as a House of Representatives certain amendments that could have addressed the challenges of either devolution or restructuring.
In that amendment, we said that the offices of the Accountant-General of the Federal Government should be separated from that of the Federation, that would have engendered transparency and more fiscal responsibility and openness but the system now is opaque, fraudulent and people at the center are taking advantage of it.
We said office of the Attorney-General of the Federation should be separated from that of the Minister of Justice, because Minister of Justice is a card-carrying member of a political party and an Attorney-General of the Federation is supposed not to be a partisan individual, it is not rocket science, we said certain items should be shifted from exclusive legislative list including power, railway and prisons to concurrent, so that if the states of the South-south for example, want to have a rail system within the South-south, they can.
In Sokoto for example, we have not less than four to five sources of energy, Solar, Wind, Gas, Hydro if you get 20 megawatts energy mixed of each that is 80 megawatts, we don’t need up to that, if we generate why must we transmit to the national grid, why? If a village can come up with their own electricity system based on solar and service themselves, why not? We have not sufficiently unbundled the power sector and it is part of restructuring, so all of these, unless we are able to do that we can hardly really unleash the potentials of this country. With the number of able bodied, young men we have, when we talk about security even to recruit is a problem. As I have said before, must we wait for America, UK or Russia to recruit and raise the capacity and strength of our armed forces when we have millions of unemployed youths that are ready and willing to join the service and they are prepared.
Unless we are able to look at this and do the right thing, we can hardly get it, so it is not about Sokoto getting lower revenue from national purse, if we do what is right, states in Nigeria can actually generate revenue to run their states, that is our target in Sokoto with the reforms we are introducing in governance.
Are you promising restructuring if you become president?
Look, if I become the president of Nigeria we will drastically move away from the current system and it is all about leadership. Do you imagine what it means if tomorrow President Buhari takes a bill to the National Assembly on State Police by himself, he takes a copy to the Senate and a copy to the House of Representatives and addresses them and say please in the interest of this country and for us to engender security I want us to devolve issue of security and loosen up through state police. He should be the chief advocate of his policies and programmes, it is about reaching out. If for example the President decides to go round every state of the federation before the budget year, sits down with stakeholders in the states, including members of the National Assembly from those states, identify the priorities of that state and come up with a plan, the ones that can be finished within one year and those that can be finished within two-three years in collaboration with the National Assembly members, irrespective of the party, do you know what that will do to this country. If the President identifies issues and comes up with a National plan on those issues, the one that they can do, states to do their own and remaining for the local government, devolve and give funding, it is all about building trust and engagement and providing leadership and it is achievable.