Governor Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko of Sokoto State was at Media Trust's Corporate Headquarters in Abuja, recently, where he spoke on a wide range of issues affecting Sokoto State, the North and Nigeria. Excerpts:
Are the Governors of the Northern States alive to the many problems that bedevil the region?
The northern region faces challenges of security, economic downturn and many other problems. We are totally committed to addressing them. We meet periodically to review the situation and decide on what to focus on. I am the chairman of the Northern Governors' Committee on Security. I was given that position during the last meeting we had in Kaduna. Since then, I have gone round almost the entire northern region in trying to know the real concerns of the stakeholders--their opinions, the obstacles and how they can be overcome.
Last Friday, I was in Maiduguri. We went round and saw what was happening. I was also in Kano, Kaduna and Jos trying to get feelings from across the board with my committee, harnessing information and trying to see what can be done.
But let me tell you one thing. These issues are not for governors alone. All stakeholders---elders, scholars, traditional rulers and even you the media, because sometimes small matters suddenly become big due to the way the media reports them, as a result of which they at times spin out of control.
So we are working hard to ensure that the issues that affect the region and the entire country in the areas of unemployment, youth restiveness, agriculture as mainstay of the economy in the region and the current security situation. We are doing the best we can but we try not to talk too much on the issues because...Somebody who did not know I am the security committee chairman wrote that I was in Maiduguri to ask the governor to come over to PDP! He didn't know why I was there. I can't go to Maiduguri and ask the governor to come to PDP. It is not my duty.
The problem in the North is Nigeria's problem. It is not the problem of the North alone. If any part of your body is sick, the entire body is sick. When we had the issue of the Niger Delta militants, every Nigerian was concerned because it affected the whole country. When we had OPC in the West, all of us were concerned. But now some people are trying to limit the problem to a particular region. We are a country; whatever affects one part of the country affects the entire country. That's how we should see it. But if we only want to trade blames here and there, then we may not get anywhere.
What about the economy? Many of these insecurity problems might be caused by the state of the economy.
We are tackling the issues one by one. Two and a half years ago, we [i.e. Northern governors] met in Kaduna and addressed the issue of healthcare delivery. We adopted a program. In Sokoto, from that time to date, 18 of our 23 local government areas now have General Hospitals and we have built 210 primary health centers across the state, in one-and-a-half years alone. We have mobile clinics that move round the state, even in the rural areas. In addition, we are providing free medical care to the elderly, pregnant women and children under five. I cannot say everything we have done in one interview.
In the area of agriculture, we were producing all our food but when oil came, as a country we abandoned agriculture. We abandoned cocoa, groundnut and cotton and we went to receive the oil bonus every month, which made us lazy. The whole country became lazy. Even the oil producing areas were more active economically before oil discovery.
So to ensure that we economically empower citizens across the North, we are doing more in the area of agriculture by subsidising agriculture to some extent, by producing the required implements...getting our farmers well informed in modern ways of farming, livestock production, poultry, fish farming. We are doing all these in many parts of the North. We are addressing the issues of youth restiveness and unemployment.
We take decisions across the region, and when we come to the Governors Forum we learn from one another. The problem may be in Sokoto, but tomorrow it can be in Kogi State, Ogun or Abia State.
The charge is that Northern Governors are not living up to the legacy of Sir Ahmadu Bello.
I so much appreciate what the Sardauna Sir Ahmadu Bello was able to do when he was Premier of the North, but it is good to know that the forces working during the Sardauna's time are not the same forces working in our country today. The level of awareness, the level of exposure to Western things that have come to affect our culture, the level of media exposure that has made leadership very difficult today were not there in those days. The population was smaller and society was more cohesive and more disciplined in those days, so governance was more effective.
For you to judge today's leaders, you have to take all these into account, what Nigeria was at that time. How many were we? What was the mainstay of our economy at that time? What changes happened from that time to date?
People are trying their best today. How many kilometers of roads were there in Nigeria in those days? In one state alone today you can find 10 times those kilometers of roads. We had only one university, ABU in the whole North then. How many universities do we have in the North today? We ought to be fair to today's leaders too.
The day I was sworn-in as governor, I abolished school fees for all Nigerians living in my state. No Nigerian pays a kobo from primary to secondary school. Since we have one country with one Constitution, we should not have indigenes and settlers. Until we take care of these things, we will continue to have problems as a nation.
So in the areas of education, agriculture, healthcare delivery, infrastructure and many other spheres of life, the governors of the North are doing the best they can. They may not all be going at the same rate because each state has its own peculiar nature. In Sokoto, the challenge I have is you find 1,000 little villages scattered all over, each wanting electricity, roads, water. That notwithstanding, we are doing our best so each community benefits, against the background of the little resources that come our way. We are also working hard to expand our revenue base so that we'll not sit and wait for allocations.
Have the efforts of the Northern governors yielded results in the area of insecurity?
We don't control the security agencies. They are controlled by the federal government, though we are shouldering 80 to 90 percent of their responsibilities. We provide the police with transport, logistics and equipment. The SSS too is supported by state governors. But when the governor as the chief security officer has a problem and he calls the Police Commissioner, he will say he must liaise with Inspector General, who will have to clear with NSA, and the NSA must clear with the President, while the governor is the first to feel the heat.
We don't have to write in the paper whenever we meet with security chiefs, traditional rulers and opinion leaders. Something is being achieved, but there must additional collaboration between states and the federal government on this issue of security and many others.
What kind of collaboration?
Collaboration in terms of reaching out to share opinion on regular basis is lacking.
If you are picking the bills, they should be receptive to your opinion and demands.
That is true but is that what you have on ground?
Why did it take two years for the Northern governors to set up the security committee? The problem has been there since 2007.
It became problem for the governors in the past one year. All along it was Federal Government's issue. suspects were arrested by the SSS and brought to Abuja. But now a stand has been taken that governors must be actively involved in their states to ensure security of lives of their citizens.
The insecurity problem does not seem to affect the Sokoto axis as much as other parts of the North. Is it due to something you have done?
I can only speak about Sokoto. I am doing the best I can to ensure there is security in our state. In our forum, we resolved that each governor should do the same. I want to believe they are doing the same.
During your early days as governor, we heard there was an Area Boys problem in Sokoto. Looks like it has reduced now. How did you deal with it?
I don't want to use term Area Boys because it is derogatory. I prefer to call them unemployed youths. They are our children. The name we give to them sometimes compounds matters, just like this Boko Haram. They have a name for themselves but the media calls them Boko Haram.
When we came into office, there were so many unemployed youths in my state. I had promised to make them more productive and give them something that would make good citizens of this country. So we introduced numerous skill acquisition programs across the state. Youths were trained to live on their own. Instead of coming back to government looking for jobs which are no longer there, we trained them in simple areas of need---carpentry, building, masonry, solar panel making, pole making, soap making, shoe making, GSM repair. We first trained 13,000 youths in the state, gave them computers and money to go and set up businesses. And many of them have taken advantage of this to learn a skill and live on it.
We also engaged traditional, religious and opinion leaders to take an interest in the movement of their children. The problem of the community is shared. Government alone should not be left with the task of monitoring the movement of young persons. Parents must be involved. We thank God that with the little we did and with continuous prayer to Almighty Allah, we were able gain something.
Although you are paying stipends to the destitute in Sokoto State, street begging still persists.
Maybe because you are based in Abuja you don't know the impact it has had. Come to Sokoto and see for yourself first. We came up with the program to stop begging in the streets. You know it takes times to stop these things because it is an old culture. We preach in mosques and churches telling people to understand that begging is not condoned by any religion. We make them feel that they cannot go out begging for these alms all the days of their lives.
Recently, I had a meeting with the Sarkin Kutare, Sarkin Makafi, Sarkin Guragu etc. they have agreed to make a pronouncement banning street begging across the entire state. It is better for them to do it themselves than for government to ban begging. It is more effective that way, and in Sokoto we try to show everyone that his views count.
We will have a final meeting with them and in three weeks' time they are going to make a pronouncement. They have brought some of their demands and we are working to meet all the demands. Their demands are easy to meet.
How many of them are on the payroll of government?
We have 6,755. Last Monday I asked the committee to go round and identify all those that need to be included.
How much do you spend on them?
Right now, we spend N45 million monthly on them. In the same way, the committee on Zakat which used to get N2 million but now we have made it N20 million monthly. The committee is reaching out to widows and other needy in society who are normally not in this list.
How much does each one of them earn?
N6,500. That was the minimum wage at the time I made that pronouncement.
Aren't they asking for N18,000?
During the rerun elections, critics said you encouraged idleness by allowing boys in your house and giving them money.
It is good you said from the critics. Do you expect critics to say good about me? Those boys are our children. They are not foreigners. They should be shown love and respect. If you disregard them, they may go to the highway and become a bigger problem for the nation. As a teacher, I cannot abandon any child. I purposely build respect and show love.
How about the small beggars, the almajirai? At what point will you stop some Malams going to the villages to collect children and bring them to the city when they have no food or accommodation?
It is an old tradition that we can't change overnight. We started the largest almajirai school in Sokoto State. Pupils from all over North came. Along with Islamic education, they are taught Western education so they grow up to be responsible people in society. I don't agree that almajirai are the source of insecurity problems. The almajiri I know is somebody in search of knowledge in an informal way. We discourage taking children from one village to another. That is why the committee on Zakat was established. That committee goes to each community to ensure that Malams are given support to stay in their places and teach the children. They must stay in their communities. No child is taken elsewhere to be abused in the name of seeking knowledge.
Many people come from cross the border, but this almajiri system will soon be a thing of the past. It takes time to tackle an old problem like this one.
What is the timeline for this change because if you leave office tomorrow, your successor may pretend that nothing has been done.
It is typical of us in Nigeria to always start afresh. In governance, when taking over we should appreciate the administration of our predecessors, build on it and then bring our new ideas. We shouldn't condemn everything and start afresh. That is why we are in the stage we are now. I only pray that whoever takes over from me will have the same concerns that I have.
My time frame is a four-year term. I'm already in the fifth year. How can I give you time? I will do my best until I leave office. All the countries we imitate had their crises over the years, including civil wars. They overcame these challenges and they became powerful nations to emulate.
The Sokoto State government recently imported big turbines for a power project but there is no pipeline to link Sokoto to any refinery.
Before we went into that project many studies were done. We didn't blindly jump into that project. We felt it is achievable and the result will be worthwhile. We are talking of generating 30 megawatts to complement what Power Holding Company produces. You don't need to have a gas pipeline to operate a 30 megawatts turbine. At one time we were far away from the refineries but by the grace of God, we are now near the refinery in Niger Republic.
Have you ordered for oil from Maradi?
Not yet, but in event we need it, we can get it.
Mannir Dan Ali, Mahmud Jega, Theophilus Abbah, Sulaiman Bisalla and Ben Atonko