Long before his foray into mainstream politics and becoming the governor of Niger State, Muazu Babangida Aliyu’s peculiar leadership was already an attraction for political scientists. In 1983 when he first held an elective post as a member of House of Representatives, he had set the pace for a journey into the ideals that defined his philosophy of servant leadership.
In this interview in Minna, Governor Aliyu spoke on a variety of issues, including state and national security, developmental challenges in Niger State and Nigeria, the 2015 presidency, his campaign for book and reading. Against the backdrop of agitations for review of national revenue formula, the governor said the Federal Government is wasteful and makes a case for devolution of power.
Some people believe that the security situation in Niger State has shown a remarkable improvement compared to other cities in the North. How did you do it?
I am very happy with what has been happening in Niger State. Even when we were bombed at Suleja many times, I was explaining to the people, because, after observing and really researching the issues, I discovered that the bombs were meant for the FCT. But since they couldn’t get into the FCT for embarrassment purposes and terrorist activities, if they bomb a neighbourhood (like Suleja), it would be seen as if they had come very close to Abuja. But, what I did since I arrived here, as a governor, was to oil every security agency I found in Niger State, because they are here to assist us do our jobs. And that is why many of us are saying don’t just jettison the federal police. If you want to describe them as such, and you start looking for a state police, at the end of the day, you may have more conflicts in your hand. Of all the security situations we have, the police have done the best so far, and I am very satisfied with the role they have been playing.
I have worked with more than four commissioners of police, and I have never had any problem, in terms of either our relationship or official designation. They report and send to me everyday situation report. So, I don’t understand when I hear some governors say that they have instructed the police commissioners in their states and they said they needed to speak with the Inspector General of Police before carrying it out. Yes, if I give a police commissioner an illegal instruction, if he knows I am telling him to arrest my opponent, without cogent reasons, he should not carry it out.
In fact, even if you have a state police that you have appointed, the ethics of the job require that there is a line where he should not go, even if you are the one who has employed and been paying him. We must get this thing very clear. There are certain areas that whatever instructions you give will not be obeyed. I do not expect the IGP or the head of security agencies to carry out an illegal instruction from the president. The highest you can go is to resign and come public. As we go along, we may be able to talk about the state police, institutional police and others. We can have all those, but, at the state we are in, we must reconcile more with the security situation.
Daily, I have to raid certain places because some of these insurgents and terrorists find any little area to start training people. So, you have to be proactive, you don’t wait until something happens, then you go to prevent it. You prevent it before it happens, and I am very happy with the police and other security arms, the SSS and co, they give me intelligence reports, and I make sure I respond to such reports. Where I discover the report may not be very accurate, we will at least go into that area and ascertain the true situation. And whatever the police ask, particularly when we are sure that giving them will add to the job, we give them. That’s the argument some people make:that we fund the federal police.
We agreed, as governors, that we should contribute some money for the police, but, up till now, we haven’t been able to consummate that. I believe that these are some of the things we should consider, everyone of us. The security of life and property should, in fact, be the first assignment for any leader, because, without it, all other lofty ideals you bring may not be there. If a place is insecure, people cannot do anything. How can you be talking about your hospitals and other things? In fact, your hospitals will be stretched. So, first and foremost, ensure there is security of life and property, and then you can talk of education, agriculture. I have taken that very seriously. I have always said I would rather offend just one person than to start counting corpses in hundreds. I have tried it, and it has solved my problems.
How prepared are the police and other security agencies in your state to provide adequate security?
Another aspect of security that we should be talking about, apart from the agencies, is also the human aspect, the population. Once a community is at peace with itself, it observes and helps the agencies in knowing what is peculiar and what is out of place. We try to make sure we are prepared, and we mobilise other agencies. In fact, we don’t make much noise, because sometimes, in the process of doing so, you are alerting the other people to know what you have done. We have never had problems, and we don’t pray to have problems, and we will go all out to ensure there is no problem. The Niger State security agencies are ready and prepared. They know the amount of threat that will be on the ground, and they alert us and we give them whatever they need to see that whatever is that threat is no more there.
One of the major issues people have raised overtime is youth restiveness that has led to terror and horror we have been experiencing across Nigeria. What are some of the things you have been doing in Niger State to engage and placate the youths?
First, what we have done is to segregate, because if you just give a definition of "youth," then you are talking of a certain age bracket. But even among them, there are those who are qualified for specific things. There are those who, if you will, you can describe as no future ambition, because they are not prepared for anything more than the little stipend that they will, from time to time, get. So, what we have done is to say in Niger State there should be no graduate unemployment, because here we are urging parents to send their children to school; here we are giving free education so that they children will come to school but, then, if people finish from the universities or other tertiary institutions and come back home and there is no job, it psychologically discourages other people from sending their children to school. So, we took that position. Between when we started and now, we have engaged about 24,000 graduates, and these graduates will include both degree holders, NCE holders and HND holders.
Then we go down the segregation, we have what we call the OND holders and school certificate holders. If you look at the problem, even among those who are prepared to be educated, if our university system can only absolve 300,000 out of two million that finish their secondary education per annum, just do an arithmetic of that for four years – out of that number, only 1.2 million have been admitted, and you are left with millions of others without admission. So, if there is no deliberate plan for these secondary school leavers, many of them will think that education is just like a pyramid, it is not everybody who should go to the university.
But, then, you should be prepared for these ones, and that is why we should talk about our technical schools and polytechnic now. But the fact is that the ones we should be talking more about are those who haven’t benefited from western education or from a qualification-based training that they can go and do the job. And, believe me, those are the ones who are more horrible now. And what we are saying is that Niger State, with 10 per cent of Nigeria’s landmass, should be enticing these people to go to agriculture. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture is, this time, serious in what we are all planning to do. So, we have now the engagement of youths in agriculture, which is now called Youth Engagement for Agriculture (YEEP) programme. This is the one that will absorb many people. There is one area many of us don’t talk, particularly, politicians.
When the Americans had what they called the Baby Boomers, there was one period in the early 60s with so much freedom, and there were many children born then. They realised that there could be population explosion, and they planned. Many of those baby boomers are retiring, but, because they have taken care of that, it does not affect much on the economy. But here we are, and I always say it to people, when our parents bore us many, we were saying we were 20 or 30 in one family but that time, we were paid to stay in school. There were no school fees, particularly in my part of the world. The moment you said you were a farmer, you wouldn’t pay anything. In fact, I have kept repeating that we were paid to stay in school, because, even in the primary schools, we were given breakfast, while in the secondary school, we were given chop money, uniforms for class and outing. But, today, if you have 10 children, you are likely to develop hypertension, because you must think of their school fees, and that is where we have a problem, and I think that’s where Nigerians should start talking about.
I have had one wife for the past 34 years. I have had relations who have been urging me to take more than one wife without looking at the other dimension of success. So, we need really to look at that aspect of planning, because that is another problem. Apart from the overpopulation that we are not taking care of, you have to plan. Whatever you are doing today, if, for example, we plan for 2013, we have already 1.3 million in our primary public schools, and we are expecting more as a result of growth, by the time you are planning for 20,000 more to join, you will come and discover 100, 000 coming. So, those are some of the issues we should discuss. It is not just about discussing family planning.
In my reading of the Bible and the Koran, I saw what translated into taking care of your family problems. In my religion, the health of the mother is very important. It is not a thing of pride for a mother to say she will deliver 12 children so that somebody will buy a goat for her. People should be made to appreciate that the quality is better than the quantity. Those are the plans we are trying out, and our religious leaders are speaking on this, our traditional leaders are speaking on this, too. If you remember in those years we are talking about, the traditional leader might have the four compulsory wives and over a hundred concubines, and each one would be delivering children. So, you have an emir or traditional ruler having over 100 children, some of who he might never know. These are some of the things we have to talk about.
But we have to compartmentalise the different groups, including another major group the almajiri, and this is, again, a situation. In those days, it worked. If a father can give his son to somebody and he never comes back, the father has lost touch with that child and the child has lost the love of parents. So, when you hear that some people are slaughtering human beings, go and find out: these may likely be people who did have parental love and they grew up in a harsh environment.
Many governors in Nigeria have been complaining of funding, but it has been revealed that only 10 governors have been able to access their funds and some have failed in paying their counterpart funding. What’s going on?
I must be among the top three who have been accessing funding and my counterpart funding, because I discovered that is the best way to do some work. Many people take some priorities that are not typically political. For example, a typical politician cannot make education a priority, because they want to do something people will see and say, "he is an action governor." If you don’t get the result now, maybe the next 10 to 20 years, somebody will meet you on the road and say, "Sir, I benefited from your free education." I have had the case where somebody would tell me, "Thank you, sir. I am no more sick, my children came back and went back to school, and am no more developing sickness."
In Niger State, education comes first among our priorities, followed by agriculture, health and infrastructure. These are issues that, politically, will not earn you accolades. But, gradually, people will begin to appreciate them, and, if we have won re-election, believe me, those were some of the reasons. I told myself we must touch every ward, because during my campaign, I went to places where they said they had never seen a government official coming to them. It depends on your priorities. Maybe the state government (complaining of funding) spent more time building bridges. So, all the money it has is there in the bridges. Probably, there is no communication for people to get across to the government. For me, if you see me in the streets driving and you have a point, please, stop me, because that’s the only way you will know what’s happening. I made myself accessible to everybody, and, if I see you running away from me, I know you have done something wrong. So, I know when things are wrong and when people are okay.
None of us knows whether we will be around in 2013, 2014, and 2015 or beyond. But some leaders, instead of acting when they have the chance, won’t do so, and start planning for the future, a future you are not sure of. For me, my belief system is whatever will happen, will happen. More so, if I look at my history and the way I came into public office, I know there is another hand helping you beyond what you think you are doing.
Eight years away from the actualisation of your developmental agenda Vision 3: 2020, are you satisfied with the extent of its implementation?
Not, not at all. We must make this correction. Usually, you set a target so as to organise you to do some work. The target that was set up -2020, 2025, 2015 MDG or whatever, is for us to cross our minds. But, I think we miss the point when we ask, have we achieved it? If it is to galvanise you to action, that is right. With the MDG, for example, you had to make up your mind on what you want to do: to provide infrastructure, primary healthcare, etc. Then imagine if there was no vision and no institution, people would not have paid attention or they would have spent the money on another thing, etc. So, I am not happy we may not achieve what we set out to in Vision 3: 2020. We went to the Economic Summit, I think that’s the conclusion we came up with, that is, not to castigate the vision or the visioner, but it is to allow us to reflect on: what are things that we didn’t do or what is it that we have done wrongly that we need to correct in the next four, six, eight years that we have; by the time we get to 2020, will we be able to say we have achieved 75 per cent? If we did, whoever takes over after that time will have to readjust to what he has found to say, "This is my own vision." But anybody who says he is creating a vision and achieve at that time is making a mistake.
You are the chairman of the Northern Nigerian Governors’ Forum, and the North has taken it for granted that it will produce the next president of Nigeria. What’s the plan?
Nobody takes anything for granted. But, in the process of politicking, you try to show your position and you make certain statements for the purpose of unity. If you follow the pattern, particularly the politics of PDP, the zoning system, politically, every northerner should think 2015 should be theirs. Yes, first we had it (with the late Musa Yar’Adua); but, when you are talking of zoning, you don’t discuss death (because we might have said clearly, in the event of that, the zone would still produce the president). But, again, if you did that, that could have been PDP constitution, because the Nigerian constitution simply looked at the President and Vice President and said, in the event of the incapacitation of the president, the vice president takes over. So, that was what happened. But, for the purpose of party political, it is very logical for the North to arrange to see that it gets the presidency, but that is beyond talking; it is an issue of negotiation, discussing with other people and letting people who may not be in actual competition think that it is a logical thing to do, but you must also prepare. In electoral matters and politics, it is not always what you want that may necessarily happen.
With the experience of the North in 2011 in adopting a consensus candidate, will you still adopt that strategy in 2015?
We have learnt our lessons. I don’t think we will follow the same route. But one belief we have, whether Christian or Muslim, is that God has already elected the next president.
What’s your take on the agitation by governors for new revenue sharing formula?
Let’s look at it from two dimensions. Whenever you discuss about revenue allocation, they mistake it for derivation. Derivation has always been in our constitution since independence. Since independence, the regions have been enjoying derivation. At that time, it was 50 per cent, but now it is 13 per cent. That is what we are questioning. What we are saying is that from independence in 1960 to 1966, regions came to create a Federal Government. Therefore, regions that should have the residual powers, because of the crude and unitary nature of the military politics, the Federal Government that should now be at the mercy of the federating states, has become bigger and now wasteful.
Items on the exclusive list have become more than 60 or 70 per cent of the provision of the constitution than the issues on the concurrent list. And even the residual list –because in other countries, they will say the exclusive list is for the Federal Government and the concurrent list is what the state and the Federal Government will share, and then whatever is not mentioned there comes to the state. So, we are saying the Federal Government has become amorphous and should, therefore, devolve some of its responsibilities to the state, where the people actually live. I was a permanent secretary in the federal system and, believe me, I can tell you the amount of waste that is happening as a result of incapacity or as a result of people not being directly challenged.
But, if you devolve some power where the people are, you will get more challenge from the people, because if, for instance, N200 is to be spent on a particular thing, and they discover you spent N50, they will easily know. Probably, the villagers can walk up to Abuja and start talking. Instead of the 52. 8 per cent that goes to the Federal Government, the Federal Government can do with 40 per cent and the state and local governments can do with 60 per cent, because they will provide services to the people.
Your brainchild, the MBA National Literary Colloquium, has gone into a second year. What mark do you want to make with this innovation?
At two many levels. One, the colloquium is to continue to let people know that books and reading are very important. In my case, many people thought I schooled outside (Nigeria), but I had my primary and secondary schools here. I attended teachers’ training college here and went to Bayero University, Kano. It was only when I was at Bayero University that I started travelling outside, but not for school purpose. When we were in school, we were encouraged in extracurricular activities: debating society, drama club and reading club. And there are many things you learn outside the classroom that may become more useful to you in your life. Many of the things you learn in the classroom are what they call book knowledge. But the actual practical knowledge is what happens outside the classroom. So, we are encouraging people through the colloquium that they have to go back to the book and reading (everybody is now on the social media and nobody reads).
I had a programme with civil servants from level 14-17, and I asked for a book, and I couldn’t get it. I asked for a magazine and I couldn’t get any. So, I asked: what about newspapers and only three people raised their hands. But when I asked them to tell me the headline in the papers, they said they were just reading the sports pages. Those were the issues. I do hope that I have long life, this colloquium will continue. When I leave office, I hope to float a foundation that will continue with some of these ideas, and I am sure you will even contribute to the success.
What would you like to see in the new proposed Nigerian constitution?
Left to me personally, amending the constitution is not it. Two hundred years of American constitution had only recorded seven amendments. You don’t look at the entire constitution and say you are reviewing it every two years (2010 and 2012). Test the constitution in the court – that’s the whole essence. If there is a problem in a particular place, let the court interpret it, and the issue becomes an amendment of the constitution. If you change a constitution, the value of the constitution is what is in the minds of the people – the respect they have for the wordings; otherwise, it is a simple book. If we don’t change our attitude, no matter how beautiful that constitution is, it is nothing. If I must have something in the new constitution, it is the devolution of power I mentioned before. For example, railway and aviation are in the exclusive list. If the aviation industry is functioning properly and the railway is functioning well, do you think anybody would like to buy a private jet? No! This is why we are saying we should devolve power so that these sectors become more efficient. Where the government is not efficient in handling these things, give to the efficient agencies that can handle them.
You are seen as a bridge between the North and South, the town and gown and your admirers hail you as the Sardauna of the North. Is there a possibility of you morphing into the Sardauna of Nigeria in 2015?
Amen! May it happen! (laughs). I guess what people think is that, because we have allowed ourselves to be so compartmentalised, the humanity should be missing. No matter where we come from, there is one humanity in us. If you are happy or suffering, it will show. The blood is the same colour, and each one of us, given an opportunity, can rise and become noble, and, if given another motivation, can be the worst criminal. For me and taking the nature of where I was born and my family, Minna is a creation of a railway line. So, we have grown up in Minna to see a city comprising different ethnic groups. There was a time the Igbo population in Minna was larger than any other ethnic group. All the time, we grew up with the Yoruba in our classroom and related with them well that you didn’t know the difference among us, probably, until the civil war came. As patriotism and nationalism requires, if you only think of your little corner, then you will never grow beyond this corner. But if we think as a nation, whatever may be good in the West, East or North may be good anywhere.
What’s your message to Nigerians?
We should not be expecting all solutions from the government. Actually, the major solutions are within us: individuals, our families, and our groups. Many of the issues we can solve, sometimes we wait till the government comes in and when the government does not come, the problem is compounded, and it becomes complex that even, when the government comes, it may not be able to solve the problem. For security, for instance, the individual is the chief security officer to himself. He knows the nature of what he does, where he goes, and the people he relates with. As a community, you already know who you are and members of that community. Any stranger you see, it is your right to ask who he is and what he doing in your community and if you are not satisfied, then you report to the appropriate authorities. In other words, people must really ensure that they secure their lives before expecting authorities to come.