Deputy Governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Mukhtari Shehu Shagari, in this interview with Mohammed Aminu, spoke on the ongoing constitution review, the recent rating of the state as the poorest in the country and national security, amongst other issues. Excerpts:
The National Bureau of Statistics recently rated Sokoto as the poorest state in the country. Is it true?
I think that is really an issue that one can say was purely political. I believe the people who came and did that statistics don't know Sokoto State and had never been to the state as they claim that they have done by speaking to some people in the state. This government has been doing everything possible to improve the lots of the people. We have been giving employment to the youth and providing conducive atmosphere for businesses to thrive.
We have also empowered thousands of our youths and if you go round the Sokoto metropolis and the local government areas, you will discover that businesses are springing up everywhere. You should remember that Sokoto is an agricultural state and about 70 percent of the population engages in farming. And in all the 23 local government areas, we have Fadama lands and people are practising irrigated agriculture, some of it formal and some of it informal. I can take specific areas and speak about it.
For instance, the first area is Shagari local government council, where the people are now fully engaged in irrigated agriculture producing water melon, cassava, beans, tomatoes, onions and they are also engaged in fishing. There is so much wealth when you go there now. I remember about four years ago, when about 100 hajj seats were allocated to Shagari local government area, people hardly have money to pay for the seats but today during the last 2012 Hajj exercise, 300 hajj seats were allocated to Shagari local government and we had more than 600 people who were ready to pay for the seats.
And the so called 300 people went for Hajj and those people paid for themselves. You can go to Shagari council and see what is happening there now. In the past, the youths used to travel to places like Lagos, Warri, Ibadan, Enugu and other parts of the south in search of means of livelihood and what to do but today, it is no longer the practice because they have something they are doing and properly engaged. You will be surprised to see one single person engaged in producing watermelon worth N500, 000, N1 million and even several millions.
If you go to Sabon Birni local government area for example, it is the biggest producer of water melon in the state, you will see hundreds of trucks loading water melon and heading to Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt and other places in Southern part of the country. If you go to places like Goronyo local government area, you will see the kind of agricultural activities that they are engaged in. You will see hundreds of trucks and traders from the southern part of the country coming to Goronyo to buy onions, garlic and rice. As I am talking to you, I bought a bag of onions at the cost of N20, 000 few days ago while four months ago; it was sold at N2000 per bag.
So, the statistics by the National Bureau of Statistics is sadistic, unjust, unfair and simply calculated to tarnish the image of the government and people of Sokoto state and we condemn it in totality. And we will do everything possible as we have been doing under this government to ensure that the people of Sokoto are happy and that the living standard of our people is improved.
But unemployment in the state and the North in general is on the rise. What are you doing to tackle the trend?
In fact, we are focusing on almost everything that will create employment for our people. We are particularly focusing on agriculture like I said earlier. Sokoto is an agrarian state and over 70 percent of our population engages in agricultural production. So, we are concentrating on that. You are aware that Sokoto state is partnering a Turkish company that is going to cultivate 50,000 hectares of Fadama land for the production of rice. Already, Sokoto is one of the states where rice, tomatoes and onion is being produced in abundance and where fishing has become one of the most lucrative ventures and businesses that people do in the state.
We will continue to give the support and encouragement to our business community to ensure that there is employment for not only our youths but also ensure that there is enough food in the state. We will continue to do what we have been doing to help send food to other parts of the country particularly the South and the present government is determined to make Sokoto a state that is going to be a model for creating employment for our youths and this we are doing.
What is your view on constitution review?
Actually, my view is that constitution is always dynamic. Many things happen politically, sometimes things happen which the constitution cannot give you an answer. So, what you do is to simply amend it. I believe it is okay as long as the amendment that will be made is going to be for the interest of Nigerians and promote unity. I am in support of anything that it is going to help in the areas of creating peace and security, promote economic development as well as ensure our togetherness.
Some politicians particularly those from the South are clamouring for sovereign national conference in view of the current security challenges in the country. Do you agree?
Well this is the beauty of democracy, if you have an idea you have to say what it is and people are entitled to their opinion. At the end of the day, Nigerians will decide whether sovereign national conference is the answer or whether constitutional amendment is the answer. I am a firm believer that every Nigerian has the freedom to air his opinion on any matter and that is the beauty of democracy.
Do you subscribe to views by Northern governors for a review of the revenue sharing formula?
The issue is this; I actually belong to what is called the Northern Governors' Forum of which my governor is a member. And whatever decision taken by the Forum on any national issue, we are all bound by it. So, if at the end of the day, the Northern Governors' Forum takes a decision, we will abide by that. I don't want to talk further because I don't know what positions the Northern governors are going to take when they sit down to finally take a decision.
Are you also in support of agitation that power should return to the North in 2015?
Such politicians should refrain from making unguarded utterances and overheating the polity. As for me, politics is not about threats, politics is about democracy, and it is about fairness and justice. It is about serving your people and striving for the development of the society. For me, I think 2015 is still far away. I will not want to talk about 2015 now when we were just sworn in 10 months ago for a second term. We have important matters that we are currently facing, so I don't want to talk about something that is still far away. What I am focused on is how to help my governor fulfill the promise made to the electorate.
But there are speculations that you have already begun to strategise for the governorship election in 2015?
It is premature for any PDP member in Sokoto to start talking about 2015. Like I told you earlier, we were re-elected 10 months ago and we are working assiduously to fulfilling the promises we made to our people. My responsibility is to support Governor Wamakko to meet the yearnings of the electorate. I will continue to be loyal to him and will do everything possible to support him in his quest to bringing development to all parts of the state.
My loyalty to Governor Wamakko is 100 percent and I will not be part of anything that will distract him. My call on the people of the state is to rally round the governor to ensure that he delivers on the goods so that by the time the next election comes, people will be happy and vote for PDP. My main preoccupation now is to support the governor to achieve our set objectives. Politics to me is not all about generosity and doling out money to people but about creating opportunities for them to prosper.
People should begin to understand and realize that politics is not about going to politicians to seek for money because in that manner you cannot expect development. So, in my view it is wrong for people to see it as a business. Politics is a calling to serve people and improve their living conditions, improve infrastructure, provide functional health facilities and qualitative education to the people as well as promote mutual understanding among various ethnic groups. It is a tool that can be used to eliminate religious bigotry and enhance unity.
Can you assess the President Goodluck Jonathan administration?
So far so good, you know that governance is not an easy task. I am a member of the PDP and from what I have seen so far, Jonathan is making efforts to rehabilitate the railways. As you can see, the trains are back. We have seen the inauguration of the Lagos-Kano track and this is a good development for our country. He is also trying to improve on power and roads are also being rehabilitated.
Jonathan is also striving to address the security challenges in the country. You see, in a democracy, there will always be critics who will never see anything good in what the government is doing. It is not surprising for people to blame Jonathan because the bulk ends on his table. But what people should understand is that our responsibility as citizens is not to dwell on the failures of our leaders but to always pray for them. We should pray for our leaders at all levels for them to be successful because anything they do affects us whether good or bad. I am not one of those people that will dissipate their energy criticising the president instead of proffering solution. The issue is that we should advise honestly and give constructive criticisms. So, if I have any advice, I have access to the president and I will go directly to Aso Villa to talk to him but that will not be on the pages of newspapers.