There is no doubt that since you came on board, Bauchi state has a success story to tell, but what would you say is responsible for the success story when it comes to agriculture, housing and other facets of Bauchi state, for which you recently received an award as the Urban Renewal Governor of the Year?
I think a lot depends on the commitment of the government. When I took over, I made a pledge that we were going to ensure that we have blocked all loopholes for wastages as far as the revenue affairs of the state is concerned and also, we would try our best to stamp out corruption in the running of government in the state. Everybody is aware that Nigeria is in recession and states like Bauchi are more affected because we rely virtually solely on the Federation Account for revenues of government. So, we have engendered a commitment towards ensuring efficient delivery of the services of government and whatever little monies we are able to garner, we make sure the people of the state get the greatest benefit of these little monies. The monies are little, but we thank God for the various interventions of the Federal Government, first in terms of bail out for salaries and second, in terms of infrastructure soft loan that was given to all the states. The achievements depend on the commitment of the government to use the resources for what they are meant without diverting them to other uses. For example, the infrastructure was a 10 billion naira loan but we rolled out a 21 billion naira project – a development project that is for the urban areas. We call it urban renewal and we are doing it simultaneously for the three major urban areas of the state: Bauchi, Azare and Misoh .We did not stop at that, we also selected certain key rural roads that have been in demand from the Second Republic to date. Before our time, all governors would come, they would take a look, make promises and nothing will happen but in our own case, we have commenced these projects and not only have we commenced them, we have ensured that every section of Bauchi state has one of the projects or the other so that everybody is jointly happy. The three senatorial districts all have developmental projects going on. In addition to all these, every nook and cranny of Bauchi state where you are, you have a primary school, or a junior secondary school whose route have been tarred. That requires any form of rehabilitation or the other. We have embarked on that rehabilitation; and we have completed over 80% of these rehabilitations. Wherever you see any primary school block that has blue roof over cream paint that is our project. We decided that since I am not one that will write my name on the road or anything we selected a colour that is common to us and we picked out the colours of the flag of APC. We picked the blue and we are using it to differentiate our projects from the projects of the other chief executives. Wherever you drive to in Bauchi state, left or right as you drive, check out villages and you see schools, you will see that blue roof and that is our project.
From the high-level performance that is the story of Bauchi under your watch, it seems you don’t have pressure from the political class – those trying to draw you back. How much of cooperation do you receive from the political class to be able to make all these achievement within this short period of time?
I must confess that if there is any state that has these elements of pressure from the political class, it is Bauchi state, because Bauchi is a state that has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. You know, in respect of all these kinds of political pressures, the most important thing is I have refused to be distracted. The pressures are on-going, the so-called conflicts are there, and I have been doing my best to amicably settle them because I have a great focus. The aim is for me not to be distracted so that we will not record failure in delivery for the good people of Bauchi state. I have learnt this from experience. I thank God I have learnt that the most important thing is to remain focused and concentrate on what you set out to achieve.
Your Excellency, the picture we get from outside is that Bauchi citizens seem to have a problem with the fact that you came in with a verification exercise, and it’s not something they are used to. What will you say is responsible for the reactions that you got?
When you see people doing things in a certain ways, by the time you will now come and try to introduce change, people will have the tendency to resist change and that is exactly what is happening. Take Kano state for an example: Kano state is said to be the most populous state in Nigeria. Kano state has the largest number of local governments in Nigeria -44 local in all. Yet, Kano state is said to have 92,000 staff for both the state and the local government services. Then juxtapose this with small Bauchi state of 7.6m projected population with 20 local governments. We are said to have 105,000 staff and today our which bill is N5.1 billion. There is no sane person who will take that. This was what necessitated the verification exercise and fortunately for the good people of Bauchi State, the clique that gives out the phenomenon of ghost workers is entrenched. They are strong, they are rich, they are able to use their ill-gotten wealth to fight back, so this thing is on-going. As I am talking to you now, biometrics captures are going on. That is the last resort. The verification was a necessity; we need to survive, because the other side of the coin is, you go on working for less than 1% of the total population of the state, at the end of the month we come to Abuja, and we get all the resources, 100% goes to pay civil servants only. The civil servants constitute less than 1% of the total population of the state. No sane person will accept that.
In the area of security, obviously the North- east has been challenged by activities of insurgency and Bauchi is part of the North-east. One will like to have insight into your security measures which have created the enabling environment for this accomplishment?
Well, I always respond to this question by first and foremost giving thanks to God Almighty for choosing us to remove the epic centre of the insurgency. Yes, Bauchi is located within the North-eastern sub region, but in his infinite mercy, God has spared us the full wrath of the insurgency. The next thing I do is to give thanks to the security authorities operating in Bauchi – a combination of police, the military, the civil defense, including vigilante and even hunters in Bauchi. All of them came together but then the most important thing is to give them leadership, ability to ginger them to put in their best and you do that by taking care of their little, little needs. When I took over, I discovered that even the security apparatus was not well taken care of. Their basic needs were not well taken care of and when I took over, I made sure I started paying them outstanding that I inherited. We got to a point that it was about to create problem but I was paying monthly as at when due. This is the kind of relationship that has engendered the successes we have been recording as far as security is concerned to the extent that now I can easily beat my chest and say that Bauchi is the safest and most peaceful of the North-eastern states.
What have you done to the Abuja politicians that they seem to gang up against you and we hear discordant tunes about your representatives in Abuja who should actually be working with you to attract development from the National level to the state? What is the issue between you and your representatives? This question is against the backdrop of the fact that you have reported to the President, to the Sultan, to a lot of quarters?
The most important thing is that as exhibited, we are evidently delivering for the good of people of Bauchi, so if in our bid to deliver, some segments of the society or some elements of the society are unhappy about that, it’s too bad. As I have said, I came with a resolve to do things differently. I am setting my ways; I am over 60 years old so people cannot just come over night and try to change me. As far as I am convinced that what I am doing is right, I will continue doing it. Like I said earlier, I have been doing my best to amicably settle whatever rift there is. You know, I have not stopped but I am continuing every day. Recently, about two weeks ago, after I returned from Hajj, I paid courtesy on Emir of Bauchi and what I said was that I have called on everybody who supports me, not to answer everybody who abuses me with an abuse; they should rather be telling the world of the good things I am doing and I will continue to extend the hand of friendship to whoever feels aggrieved in Bauchi state and even beyond. So, I am toeing the path of peace. I do not like mentioning this conflict any more. The most important thing is that people, even the outside the state, are beginning to know, because one should understand the genesis of yesterday’s award. I never knew of the award until last Friday in the night and I never knew that AIT went to Bauchi. A group of AIT personnel went to Bauchi, they even interviewed me at the end of their trip but they didn’t tell me what they were about and at the end of the day, it formed the basis for this award. So, what this means is that, even the outside world, in addition to the good people of Bauchi, the truth about Bauchi is being told because what we keep on hearing is that nothing was going on in Bauchi, but now we have been vindicated from the various documentaries that have come out from the time we clocked two years till now. We are not going to relent, we are going to continue delivering for the good people of Bauchi state.
A lot has been said about Bauchi state and your office. Now let’s go to law which is your first love. How do you rate the performance of the judiciary in Nigeria today? Do you think they are doing well?
There are challenges, like in every human endeavour. Like in every human endeavour in Nigeria, all the pressures that abound in all other human endeavours abound in the judiciary. I think that’s what impedes the performance of the judiciary, but with the commitment of the current government, I am certain there is going to be improvement in that sector.
As we gradually wind down, what will you say is the high point of your government and what are those low points you would have done better, if you probably knew better?
Well, beginning with the low points, God in is infinite mercy made it possible for change to occur in Nigeria politically in 2015 by ushering in a new government, from an opposition political party, which had never happened in Nigeria before. After doing that in his infinite mercy again, he decided to throw a challenge to Nigeria with recession; the fall in the price of oil internationally resulted into a loss of about 70% of the revenue to Nigeria. I think that must be the lowest point for any right-thinking person in government because your ability to deliver depends on how much money you have; how much revenue you are able to garner. That was the lowest point. The highest point is the fact that we were able to bear this very lack of resources and in the process, we were able to pay all outstanding salaries in the state. I think the day we were able to pay the last outstanding salary was the highest point of my government in the two years and this happened when I was in faraway Port Harcourt. Actually, I went for a political activity in Port Harcourt; I was in the bus between the airport and the stadium where the activity was taking place, when the Account- General told me, “we had received the first payment of the Paris Club refund.” I immediately told him that he should pay all outstanding salaries. He said but Sir, if we pay all outstanding salaries, the state was owing only one month but the local government on the other hand were owing two months salaries, so if we give them the amount of money they needed to pay the outstanding two months’ salary, the money given to them will be more than their own share of the Paris Club. I said it does not matter, this is going to be a debt between brothers, give them what they require to pay this salary; the mileage we are going to achieve by paying them outstanding salaries far outstrips the fact that you are going to lend them something individual of 600 million, I think that is easily the highest point of the government.
The club you were, is one that is prestigious but not one everyone will want jump into, do you have time to relax?
I honestly do not, because you see , this is Abuja, Which is supposed to be far removed from Bauchi, so one will have expected that in Abuja at least the weight of the responsibility will be lighter, but you have been with me from morning till now, you have seen how this office has been. Imagine how it will be in Bauchi, where everybody is everybody who thinks he has a right to my time, to my resident. I find it very difficult relaxing. I relax by playing golf and I don’t remember the last time I was able to play golf, may be two months ago or more. I was able to play golf, you know but recently I have started using the gymnasium construction in the Government House to play a little Badminton which used to be my game before I started playing golf. I think I will now continue to make more time to relax because I need it for me to be healthy to carry on with the struggle.
Looking at you, you are a symbol of humility. What will you say is your motivating factor?
I think this was the way I was brought up and you will be surprised, the last thing I told my first son yesterday before going to bed, before biding him farewell to go to bed around 11: 35pm, was to tell him that, it is very, very rude that in today’s terms, when someone calls you on the person’s GSM, for you not to answer and not to call back. That being courtly does not pay you anything. I told him, I said that’s why you see me, I go to a village, I will come down from my car and I will shake everybody, at the end of it all I go back into my car as the governor of Bauchi state. Nothing will reduce from me, so humility is the best way of life. I have held high offices before and this was the way I behaved and people used to give testimony to the fact. I became a Commissioner at 32 years old, Attorney-General of my state. You know very long time, it never changed me. I was doing all things I was doing before I became a Commissioner and it served me well. But time came for me to leave the office of the Commissioner, I was able to resume my life. I was a National commissioner of INEC.