- Obasanjo’s claim of honesty is questionable
- Why we introduced constituency projects
- How to tackle farmers, herders crises
Professor Daniel Saror is a former vice chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. In this exclusive interview, the former senator and governorship aspirant spoke on his foray into politics, the current administration, herdsmen/farmers clashes and many more.
You were at the Senate during the tenure of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, how was the relationship between the legislature and executive at that time?
I can speak authoritatively on this issue because I was a member of the Appropriations Committee from day one. I was also a member of the Finance Committee for eight years. In the Senate of 1999 to 2003, President Olusegun Obasanjo did not want to recognize the National Assembly as having a role to play in budget formulation or even approval. If you can remember the debate at that time was that we had no business meddling with the budget.
His budget implementation was very poor and I recall very well, we said look we were elected to the Senate before you because we were elected before the President was elected in 1999. We needed to show our constituencies that we were also there so we brought the concept of constituency projects. These projects were not supposed to be implemented by us. All that was required was that they would be included in the budget and the executive would implement them.
That was what we did. I am very proud to say that my own constituency projects when I was in the Senate were mostly water and education and I can tell you that the water project in Gungur was at my instance. The one in Jato Aka was at my instance just as the one in Vaase, including the one at Ushongo. I had boreholes in all the seven local governments, including outside. If you check the budget of those years you will see all these things. They were approved by the National Assembly and were implemented; I didn’t even know who the contractors were. Obasanjo never liked the idea.
Apart from the constituency projects, what were your other achievements at the Senate?
I must say that I did not enjoy my first tenure very much because I was not in the good books of the governor, though I was in very good committees. I had no rapport with the state. I was a member of the Appropriations Committee, Finance Committee, Education Committee, Agriculture Committee, Health and Communications. In fact I was chairman of the communications committee when GSM was introduced in August 2003. We introduced this GSM. The communications law which is now in operation was under my care; I did it almost singlehandedly with one Paul Usoro, now a Senior Advocate and the law is very good. In my second tenure, it was a lot easier. The late Alhaji Usman Albishir was the accepted leader of the ANPP; we met at the Army Officers Mess and thereafter I heard the BBC simply announced me as his deputy.
So I was deputy to him and became the Senate deputy minority leader. After a year or two there was a change in the ANPP leadership; Alhaji Usman Albishir stepped down and Senator Lawani Shuaibu stepped in as the minority leader. He had a disagreement with elements of the party and resigned as minority leader so I became the minority leader in his place. In that capacity I was a member of elections committee and a principal officer of the Senate. In terms of ranking I was the eight in hierarchy among the principal officers. I was also vice chairman of the finance committee when Senator Bob Effiong was the chairman. I was also a ranking member of the Appropriations Committee when Alhaji Maikafe Abubakar, Dan Masanin Bauchi, was the Chairman of the Appropriations committee. I served in the Education Committee throughout the eight years I was in the Senate; I also served in the Finance Committee.
What was the salary/ allowance for senators like at that time?
In terms of allowances when we first went to the Senate there was no salary structure for us; we were receiving N13, 000 per month as salary for almost a year. When the Revenue Mobilization and Physical Allocation (RMPAC) was later established they were mandated to set the salaries of lawmakers; so our salary was increased to N67, 000 per month. Up to the time I left the Senate that was what we were earning and I have a receipt to show for that. There was constituency allowance because we were supposed to have legislative aides in our constituencies and offices. My office in Katsina Ala here is still there and you can still see it on the road between Jurdaco old Hotel and the hospital, just outside. The building is still there and the staff I had were there. At the time that I left the Senate, our so called allowance was a few millions. Fortunately for the Senate or the National Assembly, after we left in 1997 and David Mark took over as Senate President, there was more money; indeed there was a lot of oil money. Again I can tell you that this excess crude account was established under us. I was a member of the Appropriation and Finance Committee when we insisted on it but it is now being abused by government and politicians. I am personally overwhelmed at the level of increase in the allocations accruing to lawmakers.
Was there anything like budget padding during your time?
I didn’t see it as budget padding, but I was critical. Civil servants have a lot to do with what we call budget padding because they are the ones who put things in the budget. They are the implementers of the budget. I agree that politicians also do the same, but I can assure you that as an individual, I never put anything in the budget. What is called padding is the difference between what is real and what is contained in the budget.
You were among those who clamoured for change; will you say the APC government has delivered that change?
I remember when General Muhammadu Buhari was an aspirant of the ANPP in 2003, I was chairman of the committee at the Eagle Square for his nomination. If you were watching television I was in the rain throughout that night until the process was over and he emerged as the candidate of the ANPP. I believe in him; I believe he has a basic concept of transparency and equity and I have always supported him. I supported him again in 2011 and when he was contesting again in 2015. Of course there was a merger of three parties; CAN, APC and ANPP. I recall that I was at the Eagle Square when the ANPP was dissolved to become part of APC. I was nominated to be there by then ANPP Chairman, Dr. Ogbonanya Onu.
Our group went to Gusau for a meeting but I didn’t go there; I came to Abuja. The Peoples Democratic party (PDP) under Obasanjo and under Yar’adua and Jonathan was a sorry story. I don’t want to talk evil about anybody but even Obasanjo’s claim of honesty and all that is questionable. He brought this idea of third term and Kenneth Nnamani was living two houses away from me in Abuja and we knew what was happening. I saw money being carted around at night to people. I was personally offered a lot of money in order to support third term which I refused to take. So he was not honest when he said if he had wanted third term God would have given him. We rejected it. I even went back to the Tor Tiv and told him the plan and he said don’t accept it and I did not accept it. So then came Yar’ adua. Obasanjo knew Yar’adua was not well but he single handedly installed him as president. The rest is history. By the time Jonathan came on board, he was not a strong character. The PDP governors were unreasonably rich or had access to money and could intimidate him.
They, indeed, intimidated him on many fronts and he failed to ensure accountability for the money he was doling out to the governors. So a lot of stealing was going on; literally looting and there was nothing anybody could do. It was from top to bottom; even the Army was involved. I remember as a principal officer we were to be briefed on the security situation at the ECOWAS Secretariat. Late General Victor Malu was the Chief of Army Staff and he told us that the Nigerian Air force could not fight anything because there was no operational equipment. Now with what Buhari has uncovered, the misuse of army money that you saw (it was published); people collecting hundreds of millions on a monthly basis to buy equipment that were never bought or refurbished, equipment that were bought without functional value. These are the sort of things that caused a lot of trauma to Nigerians. Unfortunately, Buhari is also very slow. He has failed to seize on the anger and desire by many Nigerians in 2015 for a real change. I don’t know what his problem is but he has not been able to move fast enough. I can sympathize with him on his health ground; he still commands a lot of respect but his government is not as popular now as it was then because people can’t see the change that he promised them in many areas. I think if they want to win again they have a lot of work to do to convince Nigerians that they are really determined to take Nigeria to the next level.
What is your assessment of the fight against Boko Haram and other emerging security challenges like the farmers/herders crises, especially in Benue?
I am not a security person; I am a lecturer but I feel that Nigeria has not done well regarding the Boko Haram issue. When Boko Haram started and we who are non-Muslims were concerned that this thing was going to affect us adversely many of our Muslim brothers didn’t feel concerned enough; they just turned a blind eye until it started to hit them. Now we are all victims. When Boko Haram was burning thousands of churches in the North-East I didn’t hear anybody shout against it until they started burning their villages and so on. Boko Haram is an evil design by whomever to forcefully Islamize people in the wrong way. The normal Islam that we know is a peaceful religion. You won’t believe that most of my friends are Muslims. My own driver of more than twenty years is a Muslims and we are like brothers.
But this brand of Islam that came under the influence of Boko Haram is evil. I thank the President for devoting time to it. At least reduce their impact. But it is not over yet. More needs to be done in that area. The other thing that is worrisome is attempts by these miscreants to takeover vast areas of states ostensibly in the name of herdsmen. We know better; we know the plan and the plan is evil. I was a member of the committee on this crisis which Brigadier John Atom Kpera (retd) headed and what we saw was disturbing. If you want grazing land why go about slaughtering pregnant women and children? Why destroy schools? Why burn down churches? Cows don’t go to church neither do cows go to school. These people are well armed and the governor knows what he is saying when he says don’t take up a fight with them. They have a backup group that is also well armed. It is rather unfortunate that we are now pitched against the Fulani. We grew up with Fulani; if you go to our house in Zaki Biam you will see cattle routes where they used to pass. We used to play with them; some Fulani families have been in Benue for years and even married there. I have personally put so many of their children in school in Benue. But when these people come they are heavily armed, well trained with plenty of ammunition and motivation. For God’s sake who on earth is giving them these arms, money and training? So we are deeply worried that what they want to do is overrun us, take our land and convert it to what they want. Parts of Makurdi are being occupied by these people. When we went to Anyibe in Logo and Adzege in 2014, they destroyed everything and put up flags with Arabic inscriptions. Is that what the cattle will eat? So the onslaught on Benue is a design somewhere for purposes that we suspect but we are almost in a situation whereby if we don’t get up to resist it we will be enslaved.
So what do you think can put a stop to this?
Two people; the president and the head of the Sokoto Caliphate. The Sultan is the head of all the Fulani in Nigeria. He is also the grand patron of the Miyetti Allah. The herdsmen have adopted a new approach; before they were shooting people with AK-47 rifles they now avoid it. Their lawyers have told them that if they use gun, it could be traced to them and they can be convicted in a court of law. So they now use knives. Our president and our revered Sultan must do the needful to put an end to this.
What is your take on the clamour for restructuring?
What do you want to restructure? Do you want to create more states? I don’t really know what they mean by restructuring but I would like to see greater equity, greater fairness. You notice that these states and local governments were created by the military based on flimsy reasons. You see local governments in my state like Ohimini and Tarka. The voting population of Tarka is smaller than the voting population in my ward but they have become a local government. You go to areas in Kwande and Ukum, one local government is so large and you wonder why it cannot be split. If you take the population of Sankera, the voting population is higher than that of Bayelsa, which is a state. INEC and the National Assembly that are supposed to take a look at this are being careful because of politics. The restructuring that we want is not to divide the country but ensure that the units that are created are judiciously done and designed to bring government closer to the people to enhance development.
You have always been regarded as an educationist. So, how did your journey into politics begin?
When I left the ABU at the end of 1995, I took up an appointment on sabbatical at the Benue State University (BSU), Makurdi, where I taught Microbiology and Immunology. I was qualified to teach that because at my PhD level in the US, I had taken Microbiology and Chemistry as my minor. I am a veterinarian but had enough qualification to teach undergraduates in Biochemistry or Microbiology. At the end of that sabbatical in 1997 I was prepared to go back to ABU because that was the rule, but my elders at home, including my uncle who had succeeded my father as the village head, said I should not go back to Zaria because I had too many enemies there. That was when I went to Benjamin Chaha, former speaker of the House of Representatives and asked if he could introduce me to politics. I would, therefore, say I entered politics at his instance. Even though he had his own candidate, Professor Hagher, the people supported me. The students of ABU particularly came in their numbers to support me, at their own expense. So I was able to win election very easily in 1998. However, that election was abrogated when Sani Abacha died.
In 1999 when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came on board, I was among those who worked with Chief Barnabas Gemade, Chief JKN Waku and Dr. Iyorchia Ayu. We brought the PDP to Benue State and I easily won election against two prominent politicians: Wantaregh Paul Unongo and Jack Tilley Gyado. We were all in the same senatorial zone. I beat them easily because I had so much support from parents, students and some other people who didn’t know me but heard about the trouble I had in Zaria.
Things turned a bit sour shortly after we came into office because George Akume, who was the governor, picked up quarrel with Waku and said he should be recalled because he abused the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. But I told Akume that he would not be able to recall Waku because the procedure was cumbersome. But he made Waku and I feel unwanted in the PDP. So when new parties were created in June 2002, we joined the United National People’s Party (UNPP). The decision was taken in Chief Gemade’s house in Maitama, Abuja. But he told us that he would remain in the PDP.
The UNPP primaries were practically rigged in favour of Mike Mku, so many of us felt offended and left the party. Myself, Lawrence Onoja, the current chief of staff to Governor Samuel Ortom; Terwase Orbunde, Engineer Abuwa, all left, and the UNPP died. In 2003, I contested election in the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). I must thank Pius Anyim, who was the president of the Senate at the time. He called the late Chuba Okadigbo on phone and asked whether he could accommodate me in the ANPP. Okadigbo told him that they had already given the flag of the party to Paul Unongo and that I should find him wherever he was and see if he would accept me. I walked through that night and eventually found Unongo around four o’ clock in the morning in Broadway Hotel, Abuja. It is a long story, but I eventually became a flag-bearer of the ANPP on a short notice and won that election for the Senate. You can see that I had a wide degree of acceptability among the Benue electorate, particularly those in Zone A.
How were you able to convince Unongo to hand over the ANPP flag to you?
He was already the governorship candidate of the party. He asked me to go and see his party people in my zone. Boniface Ukende, who is now the secretary-general of Mzough U Tiv and Samuel Zakka, as well as other officials, interviewed me even though they already had a candidate in the person of Dr. Shija. They asked him to step down for me, which he did so graciously. By the way, Unongo is more or less my in-law; so we have that relationship.
So money was not involved?
Not at all!
Tell us about your governorship attempt?
I contested for governorship seat in 2007, and honest people in Benue would tell you that I won that election. Our former governor, George Akume, admitted that he was the one who installed the then governor, Gabriel Suswam, just as he installed Samuel Ortom.
Why didn’t you challenge the outcome of the election in court?
I wanted to go to court, but the late Tor Tiv, Dr. Akawe Torkura prevailed on me not to do so because it would cause too much instability among our people. He said I should withdraw the case, which I did.
Did you receive any form of compensation?
No, I didn’t. To say that I sold my governorship election really infuriated me. Anyway, my politics ended at that level in 2011. I went into that contest to exonerate myself; I knew I didn’t have the resources. On the whole, I think I have enjoyed a lot of political support among the people of Benue State.
Please share with us your early experiences…
I was born in Zaki Biam in 1941, and I grew up with my parents. My father was with the Dutch Reformed Church Mission, so I went to the Dutch Reformed Mission Primary School, Zaki Biam. I completed in 1956 and proceeded to Gindiri Boys’ Secondary School in the present day Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau State. I completed and passed my school certificate examination in Division One.
I went on to do the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in the same school. Upon completion in 1963, I was among the northern Nigeria boys the late Sardauna of Sokoto, the then Premier of Northern Nigeria, conscripted to go to the United States on a UASID scholarship, which he had acquired from the Federal Government. All of us, northern youths at the time, who studied sciences, were given the opportunity to go to the US to study Agriculture, Veterinary Medicine or Home Economics. I was among that group of persons. My contemporaries were Professor Garba Aliyu of ABU, Professor Idris Abdulkadir, also of ABU, the late Suleiman of Akwanga, Mr. Toryima Orga of Benue State and several others.
I went to Kansas State University in Manhattan and read Veterinary Medicine and graduated in 1970. Before then, having completed my HSC, I was employed by the Northern Nigeria Government when Alhaji Abu Maushi was the chief veterinary officer for the North. I was employed as a livestock assistant and posted to Jos. I worked under the headship of Dr. Lund. Alhaji Haliru Kano was the principal livestock officer and we worked closely with him.
He introduced me to the Fulani way of life. I stayed in the bush with Fulani herdsmen near Du in Bukuru area of Jos. Before I returned from the US, the ABU, under the leadership of the late Professor Ishaya Audu, had established a College of Veterinary Medicine with the assistance of the United State Government. They went to the United States and scouted for potential staff of Nigerian extraction to man that school. As a student, I was privileged to be offered appointment by Professor Ishaya Audu, even before I completed my course. Upon the completion of my course in the United States in May 1970, I returned to Nigeria by June and took up appointment in the ABU as a lecturer in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Pathology, Public Health and Microbiology.
You said Alhaji Haliru Kano, the principal livestock officer, introduced you to the Fulani way of life. Was that what influenced your choice of Veterinary Medicine?
No! I was employed as a livestock assistant, so I was already working for northern Nigeria. When the Sardauna of Sokoto had the opportunity to train young Nigerians abroad, I and several others were conscripted, more or less, to go to the US and study. I was lucky to be among those who were qualified to read Veterinary Medicine. I must say that my performance at the school was quite good.
Was Veterinary Medicine a choice profession for you?
No! I wanted to read Medicine or Biochemistry at the University of Ibadan (UI), but that plan could not come to fruition because I was already on my way to the US in 1964.
What was your experience at ABU?
My stay at the university was quite eventful. I had the opportunity to do research in a number of areas of interest. I was able to establish baseline values for blood for domestic animals in Nigeria, mainly cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. I did my research for PhD at ABU, having gone back to the United States for master’s in Pathology and Microbiology in the University of Minnesota. I studied a condition that was quite prevalent and important – that of tripanosomiasis or what you call sleeping sickness. The disease was very prevalent in northern Nigeria at the time. Cattle that were exposed to tse-tse fly readily came down with the disease, so many of them died.
If you noticed, Nigeria had two institutions dealing with tripanosomiasis. There is one in Vom and another in Kaduna. I studied how the disease developed in cattle. I was able to publish a thesis in that area, such that between 1980 and 1981, I rose through the dint of hard work from lecturer 2 to professor within 11 years. By October 1981, I was promoted to the rank of a professor of Veterinary Pathology at the ABU. I served the university in many areas. I was head of my unit in Clinical Pathology in 1982.
By 1983, I became the dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. I served as dean for two terms of two years each and completed my two terms in 1987 and was immediately appointed the dean of postgraduate school. While serving there, I was appointed by Professor AM Mohammed, the then vice chancellor of ABU, as deputy vice chancellor, academics.
While I was deputy vice chancellor I was privileged to be among those approved for senior management training by the British Council in the United Kingdom. I went to a university in Glasgow, Scotland. Upon my return in September 1991, I got to know, at the Kano airport, that the former vice chancellor, Professor A. Mohammed had left the ABU and that I was appointed the acting vice chancellor.
I did not know about my appointment. Chief Arthur Mbanefo was the chairman of Council in ABU at the time and General Ibrahim Babangida was the president. How they got me appointed I did not know, but I faced the challenge of leading a university; something I was not quite prepared for because I didn’t ever think of being the vice chancellor. But I thank God for giving me the opportunity even though I had four tumultuous years.
In specific terms, what made those four years turbulent for you?
There were a lot of misunderstanding and political intrigues. Remember, it was during the era of the late Chief M.K.O Abiola, who was believed to have won election. Some elements in the northern hierarchy felt that I had supported Abiola, and that became a problem for me. To cut a long story short, there was a lot of intrigues by local people who probably felt I was not the right person to lead the university and they created a lot of problems for me. Thank God I was able to overcome most of them. During my stay as vice chancellor in ABU, I had a relationship with the northern establishment.
Professor Babatunde Fafunwa was not happy with the existence of the Interim Joint Matriculation Board (IJMB), which was housed in ABU, so he was determined to kill it. The late Sultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki, got wind of it; and when I explained the import of IJMB being in northern Nigeria to him, he asked me to write a memo to him, which I did. He took the memo to the then president. I don’t know what happened thereafter, but the idea of killing the IJMB was quashed. I consider that a major achievement. The second major achievement I recorded was the production of the second edition of the Hausa-English dictionary, which was first published in 1934. The second impression was done in 1951and it died. Somehow, I was lucky to be one of the authors of that document. I brought somebody from Canada who produced the second edition in 1993 when I was vice chancellor. I introduced this dictionary to many northern leaders and emirs. I also made it available to many schools because it was produced by ABU. I felt it was my own contribution to the North.
In the early 90s, the Structural Adjustment Programme was introduced and the universities were having a rough time. I took over the university at a time there was financial crunch. There were lots of allegations against me. Some of the young northern lecturers ganged up, using the platform of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to accuse me of all manners of wrongdoing. It was a very sad experience for me because I felt I was doing an honest job; I was transparent. I was among the earliest people to introduce due process in the university, both in terms of staff recruitment and development. I did the best I could, but I was intentionally misconstrued to be working in favour of my brothers and sisters in Benue and Kogi.
What kind of relationship did you have with MKO Abiola that prompted the allegation that you supported his election?
It was just a reaction. My detractors felt there were too many Yoruba people in ABU as members of staff. And I explained that they were employed long before Professor Ango became the vice chancellor of the university. In my submission to the panel, I gave details of the staff list and their dates of appointment. I succeeded because facts don’t lie; I gave it to them as it was. I had a young man who was a computer wizard; he arranged all these things in graphs and tabular form, very detailed.
In the face of these upheavals, were you able to make any meaningful impact during your tenure as vice chancellor?
I recorded some achievements, which I am proud of. For instance, we established the Department of Mass Communication. The Student Centre and the ABU Community Bank was also established during my tenure. And it still exists. Perhaps it is the only university-based bank that still exists. Alhaji Mutallab was very supportive; he gave us his building in Samaru to use, but it has since moved to the main campus. So there were notable achievements, but political intrigues attempted to make it look like I was not competent. But it did not fly. On the whole, I came out happy with myself that no debt was found on me.
I must also mention that the issue of admission into universities was of much concern at the time. But I and Dr. MS Abdulrahman, who was the principal, School of Basic Studies in ABU, worked closely to secure the image of the North and to make chances available to qualified northern youths. I recall that almost on a yearly basis, in January (before the release of the results) he would bring the results and we would sit down to look at the performance of students in every state in the North in order to manage the cutoff point for admission.
We did that regularly to encourage northern youths to get into school, but some states like Kebbi, Bauchi and Taraba were very deficient in some areas. Unfortunately, that was blamed on me even though it was not my making. But I thank God that I do not hold malice against anybody and I am always proud to go back to ABU. Whenever I go there, the level of reception I receive is overwhelming. If I ever thought I was not treated well in ABU, that feeling was eliminated a few years ago when the alumni association of the school made me an ambassador of the university at a forum in the International Conference Centre, Abuja. Very important people in the North were on that list. I felt it was the highlight of my career in the university. I still maintain a good relationship with the current Vice Chancellor, Ibrahim Garba. We speak regularly. I visit my former vice chancellor, Professor Ango Abdullahi, who is a mentor and friend.
As 2019 approaches, do you still nurse any political ambition?
No. I will be 77 this year, so I think it is time to hang up the gloves. I can offer political advice, but I am no longer contesting for anything. I am not even an active member of any political party. When the Tor Tiv stool was vacant, I made a declaration that I was going to disengage from active partisan politics, and I have kept to my words.