There are many things I will do differently if re-elected, says Wada
In this interview with John Akubo in Abuja, former Governor of Kogi State, Captain Idris Wada (rtd), said he is the only one experienced enough to return the state to the path of economic growth and sustainable development.
After your years the saddle in Kogi, there seems to be a vacuum. What will you do differently if re-elected?
There are many things I will do differently because the first time you come in as governor, your perception of the state is different from the reality you meet on ground when you resume office. Therefore, you need a few weeks and probably months to try and match perception with the reality and come up with strategies to manage affairs to move the state to a better level than you met it. Generally, whenever you have an opportunity for leadership your goal is to leave the place better than you met it. So having gone through all those stages, I have a better understanding of the challenges facing Kogi State and how to proffer solutions to address them, first by developing a blueprint for the transformation of the state for over eight to 10 years’ period. I achieved some level of success in the implementation of that blueprint.
So if I go back, I will move it forward from where I left the state. There are certain people who worked with me at that time that would not work with me again, because they did not perform as expected; they did not discharge their obligations to the state. Some of them were a disappointment. I will select some more competent people. Some of them did extremely well. Those ones, by God’s grace, I will still work with again. However, I will bring in some new blood. I will give the youths a much bigger opportunity than my first tenure. They will be part of my government. There will be more ethnic balancing, religious balancing, and there would be women, to reflect gender sensitivity; so women will participate. I will also select a few areas to focus attention rather than to be all things for all people.
I will be a better governor than I was in my first tenure and there are many other things I will do that I cannot relay in this short interview.
Many of your projects at completion stages, which were targeted at generating revenue, are abandoned and the state is crying for funds to pay salary. How do you feel about that?
I must be honest with you. I’m very disappointed, because government is a continuum. None of those projects belongs to me; the projects belong to the people of Kogi State and the state is now one of the poorest in Nigeria. It is a disgrace that nothing is being done in terms of self-sustainability. The projects that I initiated, economic projects that should bring money to the state, that ought to increase the state’s internally-generated revenue have been abandoned by the present government. It is shocking; it is disappointing and it is difficult to understand. Why would a governor take-over the affairs of a state and does nothing to change the circumstances of that state in terms of self-sustainability.
Look at the 11-storey building here in Abuja. We did this project for N2.2 billion. I mean, no other state in this country has put up a structure of that magnitude at the same amount. You will hit N20 billion and above, you understand? Yet we brought it to 60 per cent completion. We were hoping that it would generate about N800 million annually for Kogi. That is a lot of money. Look at the mega park; from that park, we were hoping to generate N200 million monthly of revenue for the state; it is lying fallow. Why? Look at the vocational training centre built by our government in partnership with the Korean International Development Agency. It was supposed to be a centre of excellence for vocational training for West Africa, not just Nigeria. We would have earned revenue by attracting students from these catchment areas to Kogi State. It would promote the image of Kogi State as a centre of excellence. Look at Kogi Hotels; we don’t have any real hotel in Kogi. The concept was to develop a hotel with conference facilities, attract conferences from other states and Abuja, particularly federal agencies to come and hold their conferences in Lokoja. It will improve the economy of Kogi State; it will bring in revenue, improve economic activities and people will come to Kogi and relax. I was building a small gulf course because gulf is an ingredient and nucleus for tourism. It is now occupied by cassava farms. It is a disgrace.
It is one of the things motivating me now to return and finish the constitutional four years and complete these projects to bring in better revenue flow in terms of internally-generated revenue to the state to make Kogi self-sustainable. A vision of self-sustainability has nothing to do with party alliance. Whether I’m PDP or APC, Kogi State is Kogi State. It belongs to all of us. So, I’m surprised that the present government has done nothing about all of these.
What of the diagnostic centre? It was gathered that equipment have been procured and the building completed, what is delaying its use?
Honestly, I don’t know now but by the time I left all the equipments were on ground. I did everything I could to ensure that the civil work was done so that the installation of those equipments could be done. Unfortunately, my tenure ended, and I was not re-elected. These people took over, and their attitude was, ‘it is a PDP project, so no priority’. Again, that diagnostic centre was to be a centre of excellence that would attract patients from neighbouring states and all our own local governments. Instead of people traveling to Abuja, Enugu or Ilorin, people would be coming from other places to Kogi, because these are world class, high quality, efficient, high grade medical equipments. Why they are not installed is a question for the current government.
What comes to your mind when you think about the Kogi State University and its Teaching Hospital, which you constructed to near completion but are now mere shadows?
I feel terrible, sad, because education was one of the cardinal pillars of my transformation agenda. After a Think tank worked very hard to produce a blueprint for us, the summary was that we should leverage on agriculture, industrialization, and human capital development. Kogi is blessed with good manpower in terms of educated people. The other element to human manpower is health; people must be healthy in order to work efficiently. So, my vision was to combine the human capital we have in terms of intelligent, knowledgeable people, healthy people to leverage on the solid minerals we have in the state and the arable land for agriculture with which we can move the state forward to self-sustaining level.
So, my first official action as governor on the day I resumed was to drive, unannounced, to Kogi State University to encourage them that education is my highest priority. In fact, the policy of Kogi State was: number one, education; number two, education, and number three, education! I wanted to send a message that our government would take education very seriously. Then I asked them what their immediate problems were. They told me lack of male and female hostels, borehole; I promised I was going to do them and I did them and they are enjoying those facilities till date. So for me, education was a priority. In fact, I look at Kogi State as one that can produce the manpower that can serve the Northern States and Nigeria at large and who would be remitting funds home to improve Kogi’s economy. So when I learnt that 150 lecturers have been sacked, accreditation is now a problem, facilitates are dilapidated, I feel very sad because without education there cannot be sustainable development and that is how I feel. The teaching hospital was meant to be another centre of excellence; we had provision of funds in the bond to complete it.
There was no project I started that I did not have a clear vision on how we were going to finance it to completion. What worked against me was time. I did not have enough time because when you resume as governor, you need time to understand what you need and to conceive what you are going to do. You need time to design what you are going to do and follow due process before contracts are awarded. Every contract has a tenure, a finishing period; it was time that caught up with me otherwise we went through systemic processes to bring out that project.
That was going to be the most modern tertiary health institution in Kogi State. It would have been a revenue generating facility, because again, it would attract patients from neighbouring state. The students were in their second year, and we had encouraging report from the committee of the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council which came to inspect our progress. They were very impressed that we were doing the right thing towards eventual accreditation, but now it is a very sad story. They will not give such a report now if they visited the university, because the students have been distributed to other universities. It is very sad.
These things do not happen by accident; it is by deliberate effort on the part of government. There must have the political will to drive these kinds of programmes. You have to find a way of funding; the funds are there, which we raised through bonds to finance that project; there is, at least, N12 billion balance left that can be accessed in the bond market if this government can get its act right and approach the Nigerian Security and Exchange in the capital market to obtain the money they need to complete that project. When I was building that project, it was for Kogi State. It didn’t matter whether Kogi East, Kogi West or Kogi Central. We have a tertiary facility in Lokoja; we have facility of Kogi State University, Anyigba. Building the University Teaching Hospital was a logical step to maximise the use of manpower and facility; it was for the betterment of our economic development of the state.
You said the state’s debt before you left was about N800 million, which had to do with UBEC/SUBEB counterpart funding. But with the state’s debt now running into hundreds of billions, if re-elected, how will you cope?
First of all, I will verify the debt, because some say it is N130 billion, while others say it is N128 billion. Since the state is a going concern, the first thing is to verify the debt, tidy it up, check the procedures for obtaining the loans, the essence of the loan, what were they meant for? Were those things done? We will check and once we know exactly where we are, we would look at them. I have a B.Sc in Business Administration, an MBA, and I have over 30 years of management experience in both public and private sectors. We would sit down with our team to examine these debts, see how to move forward, either through restructuring or tidying up the loopholes and the leakages in such loans and through the force of personal capacity and negotiation, I’m sure we would come up with a strategy to deal with the debt problem of the state.
There are more than 40 aspirants for the governorship, what gives you confidence that you will surmount the hurdle?
The array of contestants is a very sad commentary on the quality of governance we have in Kogi State now. Everybody thinks that if Governor Yahaya Bello can do it, I can do it better. That is why everybody is coming out. That is my view, because they did not come out like that when I ran in 2011. So with that kind of environment, everybody wants the opportunity to make a difference. In terms of how I will deal with it, that is not my own problem. I’m focusing on my own aspiration to impress the party that I’m the best candidate for PDP to invest in if they want to win the next election, because I have unique qualities. I have done it before; I have deep experience and knowledge of Kogi State. I know the problems and I have the capacity to deal with the problems. The party is the one that is challenged by the array of aspirants. The party will design its own methods and approach to be able to reduce the number of aspirants to a manageable level and if they organise a free, fair, and credible primary, according to the electoral law and the constitution of our party, PDP, any candidate who emerges would be supported by those who lose out for us to emerge, because at the end of the day, the challenge is the opposition parties, not within PDP. So for me, the best person to answer your question is the chairman of PDP, Prince Uche Secundus.
You said the people had wrong perception of your government, but now, after comparing you with Bello, they say you did well…
Most of those who did not see my government in any positive light are now seeing the successes we achieved. So, all I can say is, I thank You, God almighty, for having vindicated me. He has washed my body clean. The people admire me; they are the ones urging me to run. I’m not a do or die politician; I’m a contented human being; the little I have is enough for me. I’m not one of those who will kill themselves to be governor. I have been there; if I go back now it is going to be hard work to take Kogi out of the present mess we are in. So I thank God that, in my lifetime while I am still active, healthy and focused on the future, I have been vindicated. You see the mercy of the Almighty Lord. I thank him. I also want to thank the people of Kogi State for accepting the reality that we did well while we were there; they just didn’t understand then. My greatest undoing was that I did not patronise the media and this was because I come from a professional background. Professionals, they don’t sing their own praises; they just get on with the job. You see the job they have done and you recognise them as thorough professionals. I believed that my job would speak for me. I thank God again; in my lifetime, the job I did is speaking for me in Kogi State. If by the grace of God I emerge from the primary as the candidate of PDP, they will come out en mass to elect me to continue from where I left.
You were refused bail out fund to pay workers, yet the present government that got it couldn’t pay workers. What really happened?
There is no sensible explanation for the failure of the present government to pay workers. The money was to cover historical shortfall of payments for the local government workers. Local governments are over staffed; there are too many workers in the local government system… These are legal commitments between the worker and the local government; so you must be careful. When you do screening, you screen them systematically and carefully. Give them the benefit of the doubt until you can prove they were wrongly employed, they are not qualified or whatever, then you can ease them out and pay them off. I was careful about sacking people because every worker in Kogi State has six or more people that depend on them. So if you sack one man you are sacking six persons; therefore, I was very careful, very systematic, orderly. I did local government screening three times. We reduced the number of staff from 30,000 to 24,000 before I left. So that without being seen to sack anybody we were able to clean out the so-called ghost workers or those who were claiming double salary and all that. We were able to do that systematically. We did screening of the state’s civil servants; we were able to trim down by a couple of thousands.
So this bailout was meant to pay. If the money coming in is not up to the amount you need to pay salaries you can pay a certain percentage. We calculated that for five years for the local governments and that came to about N45.6 billion, which we were to borrow through the bailout; it was approved. As at the time we are talking, we were not owing any worker, but the allocation that came was too little. Sometimes in June of 2015 or so, we called Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and told them we wanted to pay level 1 to 6 100 per cent while level 7 to 17 will get 60 per cent, so that we would have money left to run other affairs of government. Why level 1 to 6 should get 100 per cent is because those ones have little or no saving; those people are at the lowest rank of our staff arrangement in the civil service. So, we say let us protect them by paying them 100 per cent.
Those on level 7 to 17 could take overdraft in the bank; they could borrow or probably have some savings, so they can manage for a few months while we are struggling to see how we can pay. Remember that prior to this I was taking overdraft to cover payment of salary. However, once you are approaching election, no bank will give you overdraft because they are not sure you are going to win the election. So this was what happened. That bailout money given to the government of Bello was meant to clear the historical problem; it has nothing to do with current salary. So, why he is not paying salary for 38 to 40 months is inexplicable. I can’t understand it. If you can’t pay 100 per cent because of shortfall in allocation, pay a reasonable percentage and prove that is the money you have like we did. That is why the NLC worked with us. The two months we owed was with an understanding with NLC leadership, because I was transparent; I was open and honest and I took them into confidence for us to solve the problem together, but they misunderstood our intention. They said we should keep the money so that when the next allocation comes we should combine and pay complete. I asked him if that was what he wanted, as I would prefer to pay people whatever was available than keep their money. He asked if I could commit to them that I would not touch their money, and I said, ‘yes, I’m a man of my words; the money would be there. If you like I will give you access to the account so you monitor the money, that this is their money, is not mine.’
I kept the money for one month and when the next allocation came we combined and paid them. That was how the gap of two months came. So immediately we noticed this, we applied for the bailout loan. We owed only N800 million, not up to N1 billion. That was why President Muhammadu Buhari did not hesitate to approve the N50.8 billion bailout for Kogi State. However, it was the non-release of the bailout that put us in the mess we are today. If they had released the bailout to me or they allowed a director or a management staff of the Central Bank of Nigeria to come and make the payment; I told the Central Bank Governor to send his own people to pay; I wanted the money to get to the hands of our workers. I wasn’t going to use the money for election. I would not do that, but he did not take up my offer and that is why Kogi workers are still suffering today.
You eliminated thuggery even in your own re-election bid, where thuggery and violence are weapons for winning elections. Do you regret that decision?
You know, when you elect a leader it is the grace of God. When you become governor of a state it is the grace of God. God is the one who creates life; He is the only one with authority to take life apart from the legal system, where the law courts can sentence a man to death, but they can’t just take his life; they must go through that process. So when God makes you a governor, your first duty is protection of life and property and security of the people. You second duty is their welfare. By that token, I see thuggery as a criminal endeavour. I see it as abhorrent; it is an expression of the lack of dignity of the human being. I’m totally against it. I made sure that I used the security forces, I motivated them, I tried my best to equip and support them to stamp out thuggery, and I said whoever was caught must be prosecuted according to the law, without any escape route. No matter who you are, we are all equal before the law. And people saw clearly that I was serious about that. I put in place machinery to ensure the implementation of that vision; thuggery had no place in Kogi State. We stamped it out and
I was very proud that it was one of the legacies I left behind.
What is happening now is wrong. Let our leaders understand that they would account to God one day. At the end of the day if you tolerate thuggery, which denies people their fundamental rights, when young men and women would seize people’s handbag on the street, beat people, seize their properties, break into their houses, shoot people, treat people anyhow, you must account to God on the leadership opportunity he gave you as governor in protecting lives and property of your citizens whose money, public fund is used to maintain you and your own family. Why then do you allow others to kill people who have not committed a crime or who have not hurt them? So, I have no regrets for that policy and the effective action we took and if I have the opportunity again, let the thugs be warned, as I will not tolerate them in Kogi State.