Daily Trust: You talked about the debts your government inherited. How far has your government gone about repayment?
Abdullahi Umar Ganduje: We inherited about N300 billion as debt. That was what was reported by the transition committee and I knew that it might create a problem. So, I addressed a press conference where I said that it was not a crime for previous administration to leave a debt behind, because you cannot get a clear-cut expenditure like that.
I said that the government will be a government of continuity. We shall continue paying the debts and completing the projects, which by implication will take care of paying those debts. I am happy to inform you that we are managing that very well. We did not allow that to prevent us from embarking on new projects.
I remember that I had to pay an outstanding certificate of over N500 million on the longest flyover, before the contractor agreed to come back to site.
What really happened in the reported case of underage voters in Kano during the local government elections, which prompted the electoral body to set up an investigative committee?
Ganduje: The answer to this should come from INEC. For the sake of clarity, that local government election in Kano was the most successful local government election ever held in the state. This is not because we won all the seats, after all previous administrations also won all the seats. When you have a local government election where nobody was killed, nobody was hurt, no building was burnt and there was a large turnout of voters, we are bound to say that it was a successful election.
I have been around in Kano for a long time and can say in some cases local government elections were not held at all because of insecurity and some local government secretariats were burnt. I am still reconstructing some of such secretariats burnt during previous administrations. In our own case, we had a smooth one because of the level of public enlightenment we carried out.
Regarding the clip you are talking about, let me say that it was totally hypothetical. How can you see a queue of all children with no single adult? That was arranged in an artificial election arena. We did not use any card reader for the election and the child was holding a card reader. So, you can see that it was a photo trick. Yes, INEC set up a committee and they came to Kano. The chairman of our electoral commission showed them our records and proved to them that the clip was taken some years back. We used our ICT experts to prove that the first time that clip was posted on the internet was in 2015; you can always verify that.
So, I want to assure you that there was no underage voting in Kano. It was a kind of blackmail and anybody who is in doubt about the credibility of the election should go to court.
Which of the past administration’s projects would you consider as economically-viable for Kano State?
Ganduje: Of course, because of the change in economic situation in the country, there are some projects that cannot be completed as earlier planned. But we are working very hard on that. There is the housing project on the fringes of Kano. Those houses are very costly and there are a lot of liabilities on them. Even if we sell all of the houses, the money will only be enough to pay the contractors that have not been paid. We are battling to solve the problem. But I can say that it has added to the infrastructural development of the city.
The cardinal programme of the APC-led administration is the war against corruption. What is your government doing to stop this social menace and is corruption really ‘fighting back’?
Ganduje: Yes, corruption is fighting back. It is one of the cardinal principles of our party. Mr. President made it very clear during his campaign that he will improve on the security situation of the country, improve the economy and fight corruption. We have taken a cue from what he said during his campaign and since we came in, the security situation in Kano has improved and the economy is improving. We have taken the issue of corruption seriously and established an anti-corruption commission. We employed someone we call a ‘Junior Magu’, who is fearless. He is an activist who does not fear anybody and because of his activities, I lost a commissioner, some permanent secretaries had to leave, and even my Accountant-General had to leave and is facing some charges.
I gave that commission a free hand. We are constructing anti-corruption offices in all the 44 local government areas and we have sent five of our officers to the EFCC for training. We are sending some others to ICPC for training. Our law is on ground, the commission is independent and very effective. It goes into the civil service and even the private sector and nobody is spared. So, I am happy to say that Kano has been rated as having the best anti-corruption outfit.
Corruption is fighting back at the national level and even at the state level. We have people who hide under the guise of politics to attack the government because we want them to return what they have taken from the government. But we have to be persistent in the fight. What is important is to refine the system so that those who want to loot government funds will find it difficult. The issue is that our institutions are very weak. Unless our institutions are made strong, the anti-corruption fight will be difficult. I believe that Mr. President is doing a lot in that area.
Why did you invite herdsmen to Kano State to graze, amid farmer-herder conflicts?
Ganduje: This is a national security problem. In Kano, we are blessed with some dams and grazing areas. You must know that the Middle Belt is blessed with grazing areas and that is why the problem is concentrated in the Middle Belt because the climate is different. The climate is friendly there than in the extreme north. We have started providing some facilities and have identified five grazing areas and we are discouraging our herdsmen from going outside the state. We want to use the Falgore Forest, especially now that the security situation has improved. We have designed how to construct some dams. We had to start with feasibility study and that is what we are doing.
There are some rivers and dams in the forest which we have to harness to provide some facilities for herdsmen. When we launched our free vaccination, we vaccinated over one million for free. We sponsored the children of herdsmen to go and be trained in artificial insemination. The first qualification for that training was that you have to be the child of a herdsman because we didn’t want a situation where we train you and you abandon the trade. We sent 70 of them to Turkey for training. And right now, they are practicing artificial insemination. We constructed two modern artificial insemination centre where modern animal husbandry is being practiced. It is a programme we have taken seriously and one that will be a blessing to Kano State if they can come. We know that our environment is not the best for herdsmen, but since the Israelis can convert the desert to one of the best irrigation areas in the world, we can do the same in Kano.
During an interview, you said that Kano State is targeting a point where there are rice pyramids. How far have you gone to realise this dream?
Ganduje: The original groundnut pyramids were put up during the colonial period, because they were considered as raw materials for colonial masters. They did not allow us to have companies that will process the groundnut because they wanted to ship the groundnuts to their countries. Talking about rice pyramid, what the federal government has succeeded in doing is to reduce the importation of rice so that there will be an increase in the consumption of locally-produced rice. So, we have not yet reached the stage where we will have the rice pyramid. What we require now is to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining. We have so many rice mills now and we cannot be talking about rice pyramid yet because the intention is to feed ourselves first and shun importation.
So, we are working round the clock, with the anchor borrowers’ scheme and providing the environment, especially irrigation and fertilizer at a controlled price. We don’t believe in subsidizing fertilizer. I am the first person that said I will not subsidize fertilizer because it encourages corruption. You subsidize fertilizer and the farmers go and sell it. They buy it for N3,000, for example, and sell it in the open market for N9,000, which is more profitable than the farming. That is why we had to install the fertilizer blending plant. The company has installed a new line and produce fertilizer which is sold at controlled price. We get profit from the federal government input because we get paid for any fertilizer we blend. So, we are creating a conducive environment for that.
What has your administration done differently since coming on board?
Ganduje: When we came in, we said that our administration is a projection from the previous administration. That was why when we were campaigning, we said that our government would be a government of continuity, government of consolidation, a government of fine-tuning and a government of new initiatives and ideas. The issue of continuity in governance is very important and it is one of the problems in developing countries, particularly in Nigeria, where there is always the urge to come up with new initiatives and leave what has been inherited in the name of development so that the person in power will have what he can call his own programme.
So, we decided to take stock of all those abandoned projects by previous administrations because as time passes, it becomes difficult to distinguish between what was left behind by one administration or the other. Whatever was started by the previous administration was started with public funds for the benefit of the people. So, it is only fair that we continue and complete what the previous administration started.
For example, the Ibrahim Shekarau administration started two gigantic hospitals, but they were abandoned at 30 per cent completion. We took the drawings, fine-tuned, modified and completed them. After that, we started looking for the most recent hospital equipment. I am happy to inform you that the two hospitals are 100% completed. Right now, our staff are being trained on how to handle those sophisticated equipment and very soon those hospitals will start operation.
It is not going to be business-as-usual because we don’t want to run them the civil service way with a lot of bureaucracy. If we allow that, very soon most of the equipment will break down and the huge amount of money spent on them would go down the drain and they will not be able to provide the needed services. So, we decided to enact a law to enable us run them like a private sector hospital, but in conjunction with the state government because they are referral hospitals. We are doing that because apart from providing health services to the people of Kano State, it is our intention to reduce medical tourism.
Also, we inherited a hydro-electricity project. As you know, I was deputy governor in the last administration. There are two hydro-power projects; one in Tiga and the other in Challawa Dam. I believe that by July, the Tiga hydro-power project will be completed. We have also awarded contract to evacuate the electricity to our mega city, while work is continuing in the Challawa project.
There is the longest flyover bridge in the north, about two kilometers long, which was also abandoned at about 30 per cent completion. We continued with that project and I believe that before the end of the year, that project will be completed. It is costing us about N14 billion. These are some of the mega projects we are executing though there are still others.